At Moussa’s House

In International Development, Niger on September 26, 2010 at 2:28 pm

(Note: I wrote most of this on my iPhone while sitting at my friend Moussa’s house this evening.)

I’ve been hanging out at my friend Moussa’s house in Yantala for a few hours now. Moussa is a long-time Peace Corps driver. Anyone who works in West Africa gets to know the drivers really well, you spend a lot of time with them.

Moussa has 6 kids, 3 boys and 3 girls.

He was moved from Konni to Niamey, so they’re still moving in. They’re burning trash.

The girls have been cooking and generally doing housework. I’ve occupied the youngest two, Souley and Fati, with my iPhone, shooting a video, letting them play some simple games. Souley and Fati are my kids age.

The sun’s set and it’s still warm. I’m glad I’ve been taking my anti-malarial, I’m definitely getting bit. The prayer call has gone out, you can sense the urban pause for prayer. There’s less motor noise, talking, music.

They’ve just let me kind of hang out and watch them arranging stuff, getting their sheep in a corral, moving their satellite dish. I’m kind of forbidden from making myself useful.

I don’t speak Hausa that well, so there’s kind of a language barrier. Otherwise it would be cool to at least explain some of the photos.

Two men came in to hang out, right before dinner. They greeted me, then sat down and proceeded to have conversations in Hausa.

It’s been a few days since it’s rained, so there’s a lot of dust in the air – so much that I can see about as many stars as I can see on a clear night in Northern Virginia. Which is to say, way less than in the Nigerien bush.

The dinner is rice tuwo. Moussa’s oldest son Faisal opens the pot to show three large, steaming and pounded rice-balls. A separate small pot with salty, oily meat sauce is nearby. He hands us all spoons and says, “Bismillah.” And we start eating. I haven’t taken any chances with local food since I’ve been here, so I’m game for the experience and the Nigerien home cooking. It was tasty and filling. I could feel my energy coming back after the shopping we had done earlier today.

Conversation ran around a bit – the cost of a trip to America is often an important topic for Nigeriens of all creeds. I used to lower it in my village, but I told them how much it actually cost. Moussa’s youngest son Souley told me, in super cute Hausa, about his Nintendo, how there’s Mario and another game with a Monkey. When you converse in a very foreign language that you’ve barely spoken in 10 years, a lot of the conversation is saying, “what’s that mean?” This is usually followed by a labored, roundabout explanation – it’s basically the process of a local person figuring out exactly which words you understand, and then catering everything they say to fit those words.

I spent the afternoon with Moussa at the Grand Marche, I had a few things I wanted to buy and he was into helping me bargain. However, I hung too close and he wasn’t able to get the best prices, which frustrated him way more than me. He found me a Nigerien Soccer uniform, which when I just tried it on at my hotel, looks more like a cycling uniform than a loose, flowing soccer outfit. Oh well.

The Grand Marche was a good experience though, it’s a classic African market – if you can’t find it there, it doesn’t exist. It’s labyrinthine, haphazard, with constant motion and sound. Shopkeepers kept making efforts to get my attention; I was a walking dollar sign. This used to offend me more when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, but you have to accept it. All you can do is be friendly and not intimidated, they’re just making a living.

Moussa’s sons had been half-heartedly making tea almost the whole time I was there. In fact, Moussa had them throw out the first round of tea leaves because it had been over cooked while they were distractedly taking care of moving-in chores. After dinner, the two men left – one of them wants to contact me tomorrow for an internship at IRD. Faisal gave me the first round of tea. All the beds with their mosquito-nets had been set up – most of the kids had gone to bed, except for Moussa’s wife and the oldest two boys.

Moussa then drove me back to the hotel on his motorcycle. Niamey’s dusty roads were calm. Lots of bushy Neem trees overlooking small stalls with the occasional food stand or guardian, making tea or smoking. The top of the Al Nasr building – one of the bigger parts of Niamey’s skyline (such as it is) – is a big ad for Zain now. He drops me off and I shuffle back up into my cool, smoky, French oasis where I finish up this blog post for you now.


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