I'm sure you could tell that we enjoyed the time we spent with Dov. I hope that it was the first of many meetings. But I don't think I need to visit Niger again any time soon.
Niamey, the capitol city, is pretty strange. It reminded me of Garissa, the dry, dusty town where we stayed when visiting the village of Dertu in eastern Kenya. But Niamey is the capitol city. As John said, "This is as good as it gets in Niger." Niamey is dry, dry, dry. Soft red dirt covers everything. There are goats roaming the city, like the cats in some other cities.
There are no street signs in Niamey. People somehow find their way around, and since all mail is picked up at one's post office box, there is no need to make things workable for the mailman.
People shop in roadside stands or at one of the very large town markets, which sell meats as well as vegetables. Laundry from all over the city is picked up by the launderers, washed in the Niger River and hung over bushes and clotheslines on the riverbank to dry.
Niger is a real backwater in other ways as well. There are no atms in the whole country which accept US bank cards. We don't usualy carry traveler's checks but happened to have them this time. We went to 3 banks before finding one able to exchange them, and then at a 25% service charge. Finally we got Liz to send funds Western Union, which was an adventure in itself. "Dear Liz, Please send $500 as soon as possible." "Dear Mom, Are you ok?" Someone here joked, "At least she didn't ask, 'Do I need to send it to the local jail?'"
We were there before the hot dry season By April and May daytime temperatures will reach 120 degrees F !!! Niger's nickname is the frying pan of the Sahara.
I know my French is nothing to brag about. My only consolation is the comic relief I provide to the natives. I"m leaving them laughing in my wake. So I think I have the right to pass along a quote from the sign in our Niamey hotel room: if you have a problem with your room, seize the Management of the hotel.
Leaving Niamey was an adventure all in itself. We had a 5 hour layover in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. People in Niamey pointed out that since we did not have a visa we would be unable to go out and see the city, but that there was an air conditioned restaurant where we could hang out and have dinner during the layover.
What they didn't realize, though, was that the airport is being renovated. In the meantime, they have closed ALL the buildings except for the gates. You arrive, pick up your bags in a temporary shelter, and exit to the parking lot in order to re-enter the departure side of the airport.
We presented quite a conundrum to them. We had not been advised to get a visa for Burkina Faso, being only in transit. The police really wanted us to have a visa, and they could provide a day visa. We came to agree that this would be best. However, the police photographer (2 photos required for a visa) was not to be found, so that was not an option after all.
So the policewoman wrote us a small receipt and told us to leave our passports on her desk, collect our luggage and then go have dinner and come back at 10 pm (the flight was scheduled to depart at 10 pm). We had a lot of conversation about this (did I mention that all of this negotiating was in French) but ultimately John was convinced that we should do it
"Leave our passports on a desk in an airport where there isn't even any airport there???". I couldn't believe he wanted us to do this. "It will be an adventure," he said, "something we'll look back on and laugh about." "We'll only laugh about it if we get our passports back," I said
So we go out into Burkina-Faso sans passports, collect our luggage (thank heavens still sitting there after our lengthy conversation with the police), and go outside. Only then did we realize that the departure area was also closed for renovations. All that was left was another temporary shelter, where you check in before going to your gate.
Now what? We're standing in the parking lot surrounded by taxi drivers who are explaining that because of the renovation there is no air-conditioned place to sit for 5 hours and have dinner. They say we should go with one of them to a nice place, a hotel with an air-conditioned restaurant. Whoever we choose will bring us back to the airport in time for our flight. All in French.
And that is exactly what we did. We pick Amadou - the oldest, sweetest, most harmless-looking one of the bunch and start off with him. One of our new advisors stops us, saying "No. First you must ask him the cost. Then you go off with him." That done, we put our luggage in the oldest cab in the lot and go off with Amadou.
And guess what? We had a lovely cool afternoon sitting in an air-conditioned restaurant 5 minutes from the airport. Dinner was delicious (everybody serves "capitaine" - Nile Perch and it's fantastic. The French influence. I suppose), and spent the time writing the letter about Farmers of the Future. (Ruth and Liz, it reminded us of those long afternoons in the Athens airport except no one was smoking.) Exactly at the agreed upon time, Amadou returned us and our luggage to the airport, where our passports were waiting with the police.
It was not all smooth sailing after that. At every step in the departure process - and there were many - we were challenged as to why we had no visa. The line took forever to work its way through all the checkpoints. We did not reach security until after 10pm. We were really worried we would miss the flight and have to stay in Ouagadougou until the next flight - two days later!
We needn't have worried. The flight was 2 1/2 hours delayed. By the time we arrived in Bamako, checked into our hotel and got to bed, it was about 4am. The only saving grace was that Bintu, from the MDG Centre, met us with a limo - on the tarmac! - whisked us off to the vip lounge, handled our immigration details, and then bundled us off to bed.