New Friend Marks High Point of Niger Tour

CRS information officer for West Africa, Lane Hartill, visited Niger during the last two weeks. In Bermo, he met with students and parents who have benefited from CRS’ education program.

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CRS regional information officer Lane Hartill (right) makes a friend during his travels in Niger. Photo by Musa Tambaya for CRS.

I showed up at the market, nosing around, looking terribly out of place. With my swollen backpack and photo paraphernalia, nobody would mistake me for a local. I was following Ruwa, a single dad who was selling a rail-thin goat (he made $12) to buy food for his three daughters. The oldest, Fatchima, 13, goes to a school CRS supports for nomadic children. There was no auctioneer. An intermediary shuttled between the buyer and Ruwa, making the deal. Surprisingly, nobody paid any attention to me. I couldn’t believe it.

Then I wandered over to the main market. The harmattan, the wind that blows off the Sahara desert, had started to kick up and so much sand was blowing across the ground it looked like yellow smoke. I wished I had brought my turban, as I was vacuuming up mouthfuls of the powdered grit with every breath. My Red Sox hat wasn’t cutting it.

I go to a lot of places that are out of the way. It’s the best part of this job. Here in Bermo—one of the more out-of-the-way places I’ve been to—the place was packed with nomads who had loped in on their camels or who had put their head into the wind and slogged through the sand. All of them had tightly wrapped turbans and sunglasses that looked like they belonged on Hollywood hit men.

It’s astounding that someone like me, asking questions, snapping pictures, is always welcomed with open arms. And this was certainly true here. Nigerien men greeted me through their turbans, never pulling them down below their mouths, but talking right through them. The sun winked off the metal handles on the swords bouncing on their hips. The swords are used to fight off bandits. In their voices you could hear the hospitality, you could see it grow around their eyes during the conversation.

Then I spotted the only skyscraper in Niger. He was checking out the price of millet from on high. At 6’4″, it’s rare I look at someone at eye level. When I asked to take a picture with him, he seemed pleased. Then he wanted to know if I could give him a copy. The next time, I’m in Bermo, I said, I’ll give him one.

He won’t be hard to find.

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