After almost getting mugged on the streets and stuck in a war zone, and living for two weeks in a mud brick house, I can say that I would gladly do it all over again!
Niger is a country neatly tucked between Mali, Nigeria, and a couple other neighbours. For some, they won't really know it existed until you look at the map again. Niger, is a gem. Like all gems, hard to find.
Here, the leaves don't blush a crimson brown, the snow doesn't settle on the roads, spring is unknown. Just the Sun refuses to leave.
When I was exiting the Niamey Airport, I tried my best to set aside the preconceived notions people have about 'Africa'. The stereotypical thoughts of sandy roads, mud brick houses, and children running around on the street.
Turns out, it was all true.
The one thing which was familiar though, was taxi drivers chasing my luggage as if that reserved me as their customer. After battling to get my baggage back, I "peacefully" sat in a cab and was on my way to my new home.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, I knew that before I entered, but it has a kind of wealth no other country does.
When I reached my house, the main gates were closed so I was about to get out and open them. Just then, my would be neighbour saw us and hurried to the front to open the gates. A humble gesture. I got out and thanked him. A year later I found out he's Niger's Education Minister.
I started school at American International School of Niamey. The whole school, from Kindergarten to Grade 12, was just 83 kids. Everyone knew everyone. A 12th grader would be seen helping a 2nd grader on the swings, the teachers would be having lunch with the students, and dessert was shared by all staff and students. Lunch time in that school was no less than Christmas.
After a few peaceful months, terror started to set in. The ongoing war between Mali and Nigeria victimized Niger. Several terrorists and refugees fled to Niger and while walking on the streets, you could see a clear distinction between Native NIGERians and NIGERIAns. There was a time when I would go to get my phone recharged, and the person next to me would be a militant from Nigeria wearing a white turban and checked scarf covering half his face. My only protection? The people. The natives on Niger who would come forth as a mob if the militant even tried to talk to me.
My school was adjacent to the American Embassy there and every morning during the terror months, we would drive to the Embassy, then enter through the back gates, into an underground tunnel, and climb the ladder. The ladder exited in the middle of our common room, at the heart of the school. That was a part of my daily adventure.
All the classrooms had bullet proof doors and no windows. Every classroom had a cupboard with tin can sustainable food and litres of water, enough to feed 30 people for 30 days.
There would be times when we're sitting in our classroom and outside we see the sky slowly turning red. For a happy cause of course. It was the majestic sand storm. The city's red sand would rise slowly to meet air and spread all across the city. It was like being trapped in Strawberry Sherbet. The red was so intense that you could not see what is 5 meters ahead of you, much like Delhi's foggy winters.
Right after the sandstorm would be a joyous rainfall. I remember the red droplets that once splattered my white t shirt. It was a sight to witness.
Winters there were beautiful. A nice 20 degrees Celsius for 3 months. My birthday was around the corner and I asked my parents to do something which soon became a family tradition.
We went to the nearest bakery and bought literally all loaves of bread they had. After a fully loaded stock, we entered the car. I opened one window and called over a little girl to hand her the bread. Another boy saw and rushed over to get some too. The boy’s mother saw and she rushed with her husband, and infant strapped around her chest. Viewing the little crowd, neighbours, friends, everyone, even the man we just bought all the bread from, rushed over. There were people surrounding the five inch pulled down window. If I could freeze that moment, I would devour all of life’s serenity. The smile on a mother’s face when she found she had dinner for her children tonight, the grin on a child’s face simultaneously eating and smiling, the tears shed of a disabled man realizing he could peacefully enjoy a meal tonight, all astounded me beyond words to describe. Unquestionably beautiful.
That was the beauty that Niger possessed. A gem hidden in the middle of war torn countries, with a tightly knit community all looking out for each other. Niger is a utopia while the rest of the world in caught into the metropolitan madness.
"Africa fed the world, but the world eats without Africa." - Dr. E. Obiri Addo.