The other night I had a dream that I was going through airport security and yelling at people. I was also not working for an NGO. I was a teacher at an international school. I’m glad this was not reality, as my dream students must have suffered greatly under my tutelage and my temper. Anyway, I woke myself up from the dream and thought, “This is the kind of dream one has when one is always traveling.” At least I get to yell at people in my dreams, as I don’t generally yell much in airports.
|I just like that FAA is translated: |
Autorité Américaine de l'Aviation on this sign in
Niamey Airport. Those dang Americans and their authorities.
At any rate, travels mean stories, and stories means blogging so that I don’t have to write lots of emails and whatsapp messages to each family member repeating myself. Also because I’m documenting my life for posterity. At the rate I’m going, by the time I have children from my frozen eggs, I’ll probably be near senility and it will be good to have this blog to fall back on to bolster my failing memory.
So even though Asky Airlines did their best to ruin my somewhat carefully laid plans that I made 3 days in advance, I made it to Mali and Niger, two new countries to add to my list. And of course I do have a list. But it is private and personal information that I can’t publish online. Like my bank password and social security number. Anyway, I can think of almost nothing I would not do to add countries to my list, be it humiliating myself or someone else or crawling under razor wire while being chased by a pack of rabid dogs and angry armed soldiers or what have you. It’s an obsession.
|Paul is kind of tolerating us|
Unfortunately, my trips were a bit short, but they still count. Mali trip was with Daniel Z, IAS CEO and all-around cool guy-Viking-raised-in-Africa living in Morocco and Sweden, and Paul H, calm, collected, very unsure of what to make of me and my constant effort to shock him into a sense of humor, Kiwi-living-in Niger. And me—Americanish, raised in Asia, currently adventuring in Africa, living in Chad. We were a veritable United Nations of country investigators, without all the scandal and bloated budgets, oversized salaries and excellent vacation packages. Though we did get to see how the other side lives, as we spent some time in Embassy housing with DZ’s cool sister-in-law who has been working with the Swedish Embassy there, though she is leaving now. And this is the place to note how I started thinking how great it would be to be from a sweet little country like Sweden. You only have to walk through one (!) metal detector to get into their embassy. There are no pat-downs from guards. No one takes your phone. No one makes you wear a visitor’s badge on a grimy, germy string around your neck. And hopefully the terrorists who read my blog won’t decide to attack the Swedish Embassy because of this helpful information I’ve provided them. I mean, they could have found that out themselves long before this, if they were really wanting to.
|Proof of meetings|
|The good life. Sometimes I think I want to be a|
trophy wife for the Swedish Ambassador to Mali...
Mali was full of meetings mostly, but I also really enjoyed the nights we went out with DZ’s SIL. One night we went to a live music show and dinner at the French Cultural Center and that was really great. The food was good and the music was better. And because the SIL’s boyfriend is Kenyan, we spoke English instead of Swedish. Another night we went out for pizza by the river. Unfortunately, their cooling mist system was a little more like a “wet-n-wild” ride at an amusement part, and instead of getting lightly misted every once in a while to cool down, we seemed to be continually drenched every 5-10 minutes. But it was nice to be out by the river. And I was reminded about why it’s a good thing I’m not one of those girls that wears make-up or puts a lot of effort into my hair style. I mean, maybe I would be if I actually knew how to do that, but ignorance has its perks, clearly. I did find my eyeshadow, which I thought I’d lost, stuck into one of the pockets in my backpack where I put irrelevant objects. It was good to have it because some of our meetings were fancy and if I put on eyeshadow, it made it look more like I was trying. And I mean, I WAS. Eyeshadow (the way I use it), adds about 1 minute to my preparative toilet.
In Bamako I kept thinking, why don’t we have stuff like this in N’Djamena? We have a river. We have musicians. We have a large foreign population made up of diplomats and militarians looking for entertainment to distract from their sad lives. But it IS true that our river is the border with Cameroon and maybe that is a security issue. But Herve says he will take me to see live music some day.
Niger was an add-on to this trip, but in terms of my work goals, it was the more important stop. I stayed at Paul’s house along with another visitor, a lovely Kiwi girl with YWAM and Paul’s family. It was fun to hang with the girls. We played Dutch Blitz, which I am super good at, and they braided my hair, which they are good at. I tried to warn them about how awesome I am at Dutch Blitz, but they didn’t believe me. They won the first game while I warmed up, but then after that, no one had a chance. And then they decided we would play other games. It’s ok. I understand that mentality. I also don’t like playing games I can’t win.
|Paul's daughters getting ready to make me beautiful|
|Braiding hair...sometimes pulling it...|
Here I’ll take a brief moment to talk about work. You may remember how we made biosand filters in Chad? In Niger another organization is also making them, and they are making them out of clay. This project is one that I really like because I love projects that can be completely run and maintained by locals without needing large inputs from outside the country. Ideally, they start doing this without my involvement, and I let them keep at it, making their own profit, and I go somewhere else. And someday, when the world can finally function without me, I’ll go find my deserted island and live the hermit life by the beach. I estimate this to be possible in about 1.5 years. Once we get this clay biosand filter project started in Chad. Donate now because I really want to go live on that island.
|A clay biosand filter|
|Water source for the area|
Anyway, in Niger I met Fatih, a lovely widow from Niger who is the one who figured out how to make the first clay filter on her own. She is now making them and training other women to do it. She is an amazing spunky woman who immediately offered to come to Chad and teach the ladies here. Unlike most women in this part of the world, she is totally up for an international adventure in a country where she only knows a bit of the language. She showed me how to make the tube where the water comes out while I made a little elephant out of clay. She was impressed. It was beautiful, of course. I’m the offspring of an artist after all.
|My beautiful creation|
|Selfie with Fatih|
After the clay time, we drove around town with the driver, seeing the sites and getting a feel for Niamey. It’s very similar to N’djamena. I can’t decide if it is more or less developed, so probably it’s about the same. I went on another tour with Denis and James, the Ugandans who had been with me in Chad the previous week, so I could see it again. Also because I like them. They laugh at my jokes, unlike more serious colleagues I’d been spending time with.
We went first to the Niger Museum, which is basically a weird zoo. Denis and James were very excited by the dinosaur skeleton. I mean, I was too—I love me some dinosaurs, but they had thought that dinos were not real, just something made up for awesome movies. So finding out that they really do exist would be like me finding out that I have latent super powers that are finally manifesting in my 30’s. Those powers are, of course, the ability to fly and teleport and move things with the power of my mind. I especially need the ability to teleport in light of the new airplane travel rules, which are super inconvenient and will inevitably result in the theft of my computer.
|Denis, James and me at the Dino exhibit|
Simple. To the point.
None of this "Velociraptor" or "Triceratops" hard to spell crap.
The Museum also offered me the chance to pet a hippo. While observing our group observing the hippo, a kindly employee decided to lure him out of the pit with some grass-type food. The hippo obliged, moving right up to the fence for some great photo ops, conveniently close enough for me to touch. “I’m going to touch it!” I said. “No, don’t do it,” said everyone else. What do you think happened?
|Of course I did.|
After that we made our way around to other sad-looking caged animals. I had serious discussions with them to let them know I was informing PETA of their situation. I will do that by tagging them in this blog, and I hope that they will take the necessary measures to free these abused animals instead of picketing at KFC. Chickens are stupid, tasty animals that deserve to be eaten. I myself almost freed the pair of lions when another employee sidled up to me and asked if I wanted to buy them.
“How much are they?” I asked, curious.
“10 million francs for both. So you’ll buy them.”
“Sure,” I said, because why not?
“I’ll go get the account books, “ he said.
Then I grabbed the guys and made them leave so that I didn’t actually buy the lions because I was afraid I wouldn’t stand up to temptation, and 10 million francs is a bargain!
|Save him, PETA!!!|
|My almost-pet...we would have had such a good time together in my little apartment|
|I also had to touch this snake skin the shoemaker was washing.|
I entertained him while he was working by asking lots of questions like:
Did you kill this snake? Do you sometimes hunt for snakes to make shoes?
After the museum, I convinced them all that we wanted to go for a nice boat ride on the river to hunt for hippos. The boat ride was fun for everyone except for Denis, who took it upon himself to bail out the water that kept seeping into the boat. I was happy that we at least got to see one hippo out in the distance.
|I washed my feet off in the water, but the tan lines stayed.|
|Photo enlarged to shoe hippo head.|
|The driver bought me ice cream. He liked me. He laughed at my jokes.|
I liked the ice cream and also he was cool.
All in all, it was a pretty fun trip, but I was happy to get back home to my sweet home in N’Djamena, with a newly-fixed toilet, thanks to my wonderful coworker who stayed in my house while I was gone and noticed that it needed help. He was basically the opposite of Goldilocks, that terrorizer of innocent porridge-eating Bear families.
Bonus story: while sitting in the airport in Lome, waiting for my consistently delayed flight, I decided to plug in my computer and do some work, aka watch movies on my computer. While searching for a plug, a fellow passenger motioned me over to where he had a functioning outlet I could share. Grateful for his help, yet not wanting to strike up a friendship with a potentially eligible young man (clearly this is why I’m still not married), I gave monosyllabic answers to his questions. He took the hint, but one question bothered me. “You’re going to N’Djamena too, right?” He’d said. He was, of course, right, but how did he know? We were not sitting in a designated gate area and our flight went through Douala anyway. I always keep my passport and ticket covered because I play a game where I try to see everyone else’s information without them seeing mine, and I’m pretty good at it (lots of practice). I knew he couldn’t have seen my information. I didn’t question him there, as I was still uninterested in developing this relationship. Once our flight was finally announced, I went to the bathroom while everyone else got in line. Coming out of the bathroom, my new in-spite-of-myself friend, motioned me over to cut in line with him. And far be it from me, Raised-in-Asia girl that I am, not to cut in line whenever it is socially (or not) acceptable. Since we were in line and moving, I decided to ask him how he knew I was going to N’Djamena.
“Oh, I recognized you,” he said.
“We’ve met?” I asked, a bit worried that I’d somehow offended a dear old friend by my silence.
“No, I see you running in the mornings. In Sabangali right?”
So basically, I’m famous. Also, all those seminars I’ve been forced to attend about How Not To Be Taken Hostage have not sunk in at all because I definitely don’t change up my route enough. It’s OK though. Sometimes I do Jillian Michaels kick-boxing work-outs, so I’m totally prepared for any attacks.
|My souvenir from Niger. I ate it for breakfast in the airport.|