Thursday, March 18, 2010

Yesterday's Camel

Rounding the last corner walking toward our house, Chris saw a man leading a camel. The man stopped and asked/insisted that Chris go on a ride. He demurred, but the man had the camel lower itself...

Really, who can pass up a camel ride? First, though, Chris called Hilary, knowing that she was home, and asked if she wanted to step outside and see a camel. It is moments like these, more frequent than one might guess, that make traveling so rewarding.

The neighbors gathered, Hilary took the reigns, the camel munched on trees and made sounds like one hears Star Wars animals make, and all was well.

After Chris had ridden up and down the block, we convinced our guard to take a turn.

Finally, Hilary had the kind of idea that Fulbright Scholars have: we will take a camel ride through the city, including passing through a large market and crossing the Niger River. We will, of course, post the experience in the blog.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Everyday Life: Rainbow Brooms, Beautiful Asses, and Calabashes

At any time of the day, but especially mornings, you can see women sweeping away trash and leaves from their compounds or stalls where goods are sold. The brooms are comprised of long strands of what seem to be a hearty grass, and are sometimes variously colored. You’d better have a strong back if you plan on sweeping here!

Even in the city animals used for labor are extremely common, including camels and donkeys. The donkeys, when healthy, are actually quite beautiful. Unfortunately, too often their drivers are heavy-handed, whacking the donkeys with large sticks.


Calabashes are hollowed out gourds, and they are used for a variety of different things. Some are used to store water, some for spoons, basically anything that one would need a big bowl-type thing for. The gourds are hollowed out and then decorated. Below are pictures of their creation and use (note the millet beer in the final photo; yum!)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Coup d'etat!

Hilary woke up Thursday morning not feeling well, so decided to cancel her surveys for the day, stay home, and rest. A bit before 1pm, a friend called us from the embassy and told us there were shots being fired near the presidential palace, and that we should stay home, turn on the radio, and wait for further news. We locked our gate, sat on the porch, and listened to gun shots and explosions in the distance. This went on for about an hour total, very intermittently. In between filling water bottles, searching for news on the radio, checking international news sites, we got text messages from friends all over the city telling us to stay home, that everyone was safe, and that something political was going down.

News trickled in, mostly from the internet and international sources, that the president had been taken by mid-level military officers, and the government had been overthrown. The national radio started playing military marching music (only military music), and that was the signal that the military had succeeded, and there had been a coup d’etat. Here are a few links of news stories so you can get more information: New York Times, BBC, and Washington Post.

From our perspective, things were relatively mundane. We cooked some food, checked lots of internet mail, called Nigerien and American friends for information, watched “Best of Show,” called our parents back home, talked to neighbors, and laid low. Last night was quiet on the streets, but this morning things seemed to be getting back to normal. Schools and shops are open today; we ventured out to our neighborhood bakery for some croissants and pain au chocolate, but for the most part are continuing to stay near the house and keep a low profile. It is still unclear who is the acting president at this time, so it is best to just stay inside for a bit while things are worked out.

It is really interesting to be here right now. It is the first time we have experienced something like this, something that you read about a lot, but never had the chance to witness firsthand. It is interesting to see how daily life happens in the midst of uncertainty, and how people who already have a rough time just make do with whatever situation they confront.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trash and Beard-less Chris

This is a typical site in the city. Americans can easily take for granted trash removal systems. When there are too few trash trucks and trashcans, when there are not sufficient funds to enact reform, and when (for whatever reason) there is not an aesthetic to maintain clean public space, places can look like this.

This neighborhood is on the northern periphery of the city. Note the wide road and the open space ahead.

Chris removed his beard, which he had grown three years before to give the impression of increased age to his rambunctious teenage students. That was three years ago… he hasn’t gotten any younger… is the beard any longer necessary?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Daily life

For several months Hilary has, with the strongest of resolve, conducted neighborhood surveys. Despite melting heat, long days, and any number of random circumstances, she is nearing the completion of this aspect of her research! Here are some images from her most recent surveys.

Pictured are Hilary’s two research assistants and their “guide” for the day. The guide is a person usually recommended by the “chief” of the neighborhood; he will be recognized by anyone in the neighborhood, thus giving credibility to Hilary and her assistants as they ask their questions. The bowls hanging from the ceiling are called calabashes, and come from gourds. They are used to hold grains, rice, water, wine, beer, etc. Some of them have geometric designs burned onto the outside.

This well appeared to be about fifty feet deep. It was nerve-wracking to watch people stand inches from the opening, pulling up heavy buckets of water.

In the same courtyard as the well was the tree pictured below. It had the appearance of being wounded somehow, possibly because of the purplish knots that resembled bruises. We learned the bark is shaved and boiled into a concoction that helps to easy high blood pressure.

Occasionally during her surveys, Hilary has met people whose stories are unforgettable. During this last day of surveying, she met a woman that carried sixty liters of water up to six times a day from a neighbor’s house to hers.

That is the equivalent of more than 130 pounds! She was of average height and slight in build, and pregnant. Look at the men try to even pick up the load she transports.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Valentine’s Day 2010 was our fifth as a couple, and second while married. We exchanged small gifts and had dinner at our favorite riverside restaurant. Here is a picture.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


About an hour outside of Niamey are giraffes. Niger is home to the last free roaming giraffes in West Africa. The protected area started in the 1980s, at which time there were about 80. Today, the number is over 200!

In entering the park we immediately saw seven giraffes, including three three-month-olds. They ran away because the young aren’t yet accustomed to people. We then drove for nearly two hours on bumpy roads and through fields, searching and searching, with our guide even climbing trees for a better vantage point. Finally we saw giraffes, and then we couldn’t stop seeing them! We saw a total of 47!

They are such amazing animals, unique yet familiar, resembling in some ways goats (the way they run, and their cloven hooves) and horses (they have manes). Similarly, their heads and long legs remind us of camels; in fact, in local languages giraffes are called, literally, ‘bush (countryside) camels.’

They are surprisingly pretty, in a feminine sense, having big, curious eyes with long dark eyelashes. They are extremely gentle, and will allow people to come close enough for good pictures.