As some of you may have noticed, Niger made it big yesterday, scoring a New York Times article (www.nytimes.com/2009/07/14/world/africa/14niger.html) about the political crisis here. The article is pretty good, although it fails to mention what I consider two important points relating to the August 4 referendum (which is set to take place 3 days before I leave, so that will be an interesting time for me). First, while the article makes it seem that everyone is against the president, public opinion polling doesn’t exist here, so it’s impossible to know for sure. Second, there is a good chance that rural, illiterate, and largely uninformed communities will support Tandja, whether due to misinformation, bribery, intimidation, or a simple lack of commitment to democracy. And there’s always fraud. So in the end, a Tandja victory is likely, so there is real reason for alarm.
On a lighter note, I rode in a taxi the other day – a small, old Toyota Corolla – with four other people and two goats, which I didn’t even notice until five minutes in, when one of them let out a loud bleat. People buy chickens live here, not as shrink-wrapped, boneless, skinless filets, and you see those in taxis as well, in people’s laps or between their legs. I prefer that over the mice we’ve been hunting down at the house, not to mention the myriad insects that the rain has brought to life.
Of course, Niger’s main pest is the malaria-vector mosquito. As a “rich American,” (with a grant from Haverford) I am able to afford the very expensive 2670 francs CFA per day ($5) for the latest malaria medication and, of course, repellent spray. I also set up a treated mosquito net each night – you’d be impressed watching me tie the knots and whip that whole setup into place on the porch every night. Still, I manage to get at least one new bite every day, so I’m grateful for my Malarone. Malaria causes high fevers that can definitely kill you, and African kids – lacking anti-malarial medications and often simple bednets – are infected an average of 2.3 times per year! If you’d like to help, an organization called Nothing but Nets (www.nothingbutnets.net) works to provide kids with the nets that can prevent malaria transmission.
I recently had a series of typical “summer” experiences, Nigerien-style, involving basketball, haircuts, and everyone’s favorite, ice cream!
I watched a women’s basketball game at the Palais des Sports on Saturday, while a football match went on next door at the Stade Général. I was drinking a Fanta on my way over, and among the various requests for money, one kid just pointed to my five-sixths finished bottle and asked “cadeau?” It felt odd giving it to him, since few American parents would let their children accept it, but the nice thing is that you never have to waste food here because people on the street will gladly take care of your leftovers.
Last week, in order to reap heat-reduction and cleanliness-improvement benefits, I got my hair buzzed short. Oh, the other reason for this choice was that that’s the only hair style Nigerien barbers know how to do. I went to the local guy and paid more than three times the
normal price (okay, it was still only $2) because “white person” hair is like the DaVinci Code to these guys, a total mystery. The next day, I passed by and found the coiffeur I’d visited locked up, with a government sign declaring it “Closed for failure to pay taxes.” This seemed serious until I noticed that half the shops on the block were in like state, and most opened up again that afternoon. I guess tax avoidance shouldn’t surprise me in such a poor and poorly-governed country.
I made an intriguing discovery Saturday night, walking home from dinner at Chez Chin, a tasty Chinese restaurant. The shop at Total gas stations (a French company, bien sûr) sell mostly imported French stuff, making these convenience stores some of Niamey’s finer shopping
outlets. It totally made my day to discover they sell Magnum ice cream bars, which I discovered in Europe, even if the price was steep even by Parisian standards. Nigerien ice cream is available in a number of places, but it’s relatively expensive and doesn’t hold a
candle to American or European stuff. A tub of Dreyer’s (Edy’s, eastcoasters) Cookies and Cream is going to be one of my first projects back home.
Kala ton ton!