Time to go

On the way back to Niamey we met a father and daughter; the daughter supports a school in Zinder, for boys and girls from various villages in the region. We had flown out with them and then saw them at the hospital. We had learned from the hospital director that they were related to a late French president, bearing his name. We had fun using our smartphones to figure out their precise relationship with the late president. A few searches on the internet and we knew who they were; in fact we knew a lot more about them then they could have imagined. We checked out the family tree, and then pictures until we figured out their precise relationship with the late president. And then we went over to meet them and had a nice conversation in the waiting room, and then in the plane, sitting next to each other. We learned about the school and how they had set it up, keeping girls from getting engaged at the age of 12, staying in school, the negotiations…and then the pride when the first batch got their Bac. I thought of Razia Jan.

The networking immediately had its effects: they needed a physical therapist for one of the girls in their school and my colleague was able to connect them to a PT in Niamey. It helps to be extraverts and have done one’s research.  And then at the airport, we meet again, waiting for the plane to Paris. We would be sharing our third plane ride in a week.

I went for a very long swim which was both cleansing and meditative after our trip home from Zinder. The flight is not long (2 hours) but with all the waiting it takes a good part of the day; and there is always the sand, the dust. I ordered a large plate with fruit. Our diet at the guesthouse in Zinder had gotten a bit stale after three days: tough and stringy chicken – served the same way no matter what we ordered from the limited menu, and only cabbage, onions and a few carrots under the heading of ‘vegetables.’  We were never served fruit, even though I did see giant papayas in the market. There are few products that are grown locally such as watermelon, melon, papaya and giant pumpkins, cabbage, onions, potatoes but not a whole lot more. Pineapple, bananas, oranges, apples, grapes are all imported, either from the coastal countries south of Niger, South Africa or Morocco.

Every morning we were served a greasy 3-egg omelet with onions, and then there was Nescafe. That too had gotten a bit stale. After my swim I splurged and ordered the pricey Nespression as it is called here.

In the evening my friend from long ago picked me up and, once again, took me to the restaurant that doesn’t serve African meals. It was the security that made her decide not to go local. People here are worried about what is happening in Mali; as if to justify their worries, another attack took place this morning a little to the west of Niamey, again, near the Malian border – Niger’s Wild West.

On Saturday I called the one person I had missed seeing at our reunion in the basement of the stadium with the team that had reactivated the center in Zinder. When we started the leadership program they had picked that as their ‘project’ – it was inactive despite salaries being paid – but no patients.

She brought me to her home that was heavily guarded. Her husband is the minister of finance and she is third highest in another ministry; I was moving around in high circles – yet she was quite down to earth. I met two of her 6 children and learned she was widowed when the last one was born. She had remarried many years later and now has a guard in front of her house. She too is afraid of what is happening in Mali, and told me ‘when Mali has a cold we sneeze here in Niger.’ She too was unnerved by the attack this morning. I promptly received one alert (level 3) and then another with a level 4 alert.

It is strange that suddenly Niger is on America’s map. People now know there are soldiers here who die because there are many very bad people hiding in the Sahara, where there are no borders and lots of weapons. I guess it is time to go.

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