Memory Lane

This visit to Niamey is a trip down Memory Lane. Last week I met someone I had not seen for decades and who I had in one of my classes at CESAG in Dakar in the early 90s. Today it was someone else. We calculated we had not seen each other for about 24 years because she was pregnant at the time and the one in her belly is now 24 and studying in France.

We talked and talked over lunch, having to pause once in a while to eat. So much had happened in our lives. The best thing (to both of us) was becoming grandmothers. We exchanged pictures –our grandchildren are about the same age.

Our careers had taken very different paths – I remained at MSH all these years, somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy, while she had been minister of Population, Women’s Affairs and Social Protection; a tough political job from which it took some time to recover. She considers herself a technical (public health) person, not a politician, but at the ministerial level you have to play the game. She did that reluctantly and is glad it is now in the past.  Since then she has retired.

It is quite common here to find people younger than myself who are retired. The societies here still consider people over 60 old. Maybe that has something to do with life expectancies – although certainly not the life expectancies of the elites – they share European or American expectations for longevity.

Obligatory retirement at 55 or 60 means that people can be put out to pasture for several decades. This is one of the bigger contradictions I have found in a country (and on a continent) where everyone always complains about ‘not having enough human resources.’ The other contradiction is the African ingenuity for making do with things, inventing new uses for discarded materials, but not able to make this add up to significant economic capital.

We schemed a bit during our lunch about what we could cook up that would be win-win-win proposals – but this will take more watering and fertilizer. We promised to see each other before my departure next week.

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