The Republic of

Niamey - the Capital City of Niger

After our long and dusty journey from Ouagadougou, it was a real relief to be clean, in fresh clothes and comfortably cool in our 'luxury' air conditioned surroundings. We decided that we deserved another treat, so we ordered a full blown European-style meal in the Hotel's restaurant. Having passed a horse riding school and numerous large Foreign Embassies and Consulates on the way to the hotel .. and by looking at our fellow elegantly dressed diners .. it soon became obvious that despite the drabness outside, our new abode was THE place to eat for the local moneyed society.

The food was very welcome and tasty and we relaxed with our coffees ( well, tea for Alaghi ) in soft armchairs in the lounge bar, watching a wildlife program about the Arctic on a large screen TV.
A greater difference between the ice-filled, minus 60 degree temperature pictures on the TV and the dust-blown, plus 40 degree desert scenery outside our hotel, would have been difficult to find !

When Alaghi overheard the cost of our meal treat, he almost had a fit .. at CFA 18,000 it was somewhat more than the cost of the nightly CFA 13,000 price of our room .. and probably some
CFA 16,000 more than the cost of an African meal that we would normally have eaten !! There are many Africans who enjoy being treated to European 'luxury' and then ask for more. Alaghi is one of my many good friends who do enjoy the occasional 'treat'.. but insist that I shouldn't be spending so much money on them and start making plans for much cheaper alternatives in the future :-))

In situations such as this, the enormous differences between African and European prices and values has to be recognised and if possible, a fine balance maintained to avoid the obvious thinking of your guest that the Toubab has more money than sense to 'waste' such a colossal amount on just a meal.

Not applicable at all with Alaghi, a good man and an honest and trustworthy friend who realises the vast differences in our lifestyles, but it is often a good test of a new Toubab - African friendship to judge their reactions in similar situations. Those that always want more are just with you for as many handouts as they can get .. others who show concern for 'foolish' ( in their eyes ) overspending on them personally, are often your truest of friends.

We both slept soundly and awoke to have a wholesome breakfast, served at snail's pace, but an envisaged stay of three or four days to get the local atmosphere .. and for Alaghi to introduce me to his friends and fellow countrymen, meant there was no need to rush at all. Travelling from one country to another in Africa is often a non-stop affair of planning and following up leads to potential means of transport, followed by long hours of waiting for it to leave and then sitting on the journey.

After a couple of weeks of almost constant travelling, we were travel-weary .. and to have a few days with a base and no immediate itinerary to keep up with, was quite a novelty. We hired a local taxi for an hour ( CFA 2000 after some spirited bargaining ) to have a drive around the City, see the sights and get our bearings. Although Alaghi was born in Niger, his tiny home village was some
300 kilometres away in the bush and he had always visited Niamey as trader, never as a 'tourist' !

Niamey is a mixture of ultramodern buildings and much poorer suburbs. The modern areas are more modern than Ouagadougou and just as clean .. the suburbs are in somewhat less clean surroundings, not helped by the dust from the sandstorm which was still swirling around us.

All the time we were there, the temperatures were hovering around 45 degrees C during the day and only a few degrees less at night.

Luckily humidity levels were low and the constant local power supply was keeping the city shops' refrigerators running, as stops for cool drinks were frequently necessary.

Having toured the city, our taxi left us at one of the local food markets and we wandered through

the stalls, Alaghi greeting long lost friends whilst I was taking some interesting and unusual pictures of the people and goods on display.

This was the first time I had seen these local delicacies on sale in Africa ( pictured below left ) but despite many light-hearted entreaties from their sellers to buy a kilo or two, we decided that we just weren't hungry enough. No prizes, but can you recognise what they are?

Next on our tour was a visit to Naimey's tourist / craft market, to search for beads. For such a large city, it has a surprising small craft market .. with only around 30 stalls selling traditional musical instruments, ancient stone, wood, leather, silver and brass items, although seemingly having very few customers.

Niamey with its hot climate, is so far inland and well away from the normal holiday routes, that few tourists pass that way and business, I was told, was far from good and getting worse.

The traders were mostly Hausas .. and mostly recumbent on their wooden stools and chairs for hours on end, apart from regular calls to prayer in a communal praying area in front of their stalls. Some I already knew and had met before in other West African countries .. most were having a short rest with their families before setting out on their travels with a fresh supply of Nigerienne goods to sell or exchange. Hausas are the travelling traders of West Africa, obviously through necessity .. they must take their wares to find customers, as not many customers travel to Niger.

Both Alaghi and I were warmly welcomed, offered drinks and the best seats and .. after a lot of greetings and catching up with news from the countries we had been to .. asked about what we were looking for. The fact that a new Toubab customer had arrived, but was only in search of beads, was not entirely welcomed with great rapture by the traders looking for some good business at last .. for as it transpired, very few of the traders had any beads at all. Nevertheless, we were bombarded by trader after trader trying to sell us everything under the sun, apart from beads !

Almost out of sympathy, I bought the only two part-strands of rough looking Czech mid-1900 beads that were on offer and listened to promises of hordes of beads which they could arrange to arrive especially for us over the following days. A local African meal of spaghetti and some sort of meat, on the way 'home', saved us paying another 'fortune' at the hotel, where we merely troubled the barman for two bottles of ice cold water to rehydrate us.

Both very tired from all the walking and talking during the day's heat, we had an early night.