I should have done it before we left the US. Got a haircut. But I didn’t, because I was in D.C. and the person I trust to cut my hair is in MI. Because we’re never in 1 place long enough, I end up being a ‘walk-in’, and that can be risky. And anyway, I have Roger’ (that’s Rojai) in Niger. He’s a Lebanese man that has been cutting hair in Niger for years. He has a very nice shop, including air conditioners. But I knew finding time when we arrived was going to be challenging. And after yesterday, I was really wishing I would have just had it done in the US.
My appointment was for 9am. So, I left in what should have been enough time to get there. I didn’t leave much of a cushion for mishaps though. I should know better. Had I known that Tuesday was a day designated for student demonstrations, I would have changed my appointment. I didn’t realize it was such a day until I reached a very large crowd of students covering the road. We are not alarmists, but one thing I do know is that it’s not wise to drive into a crowd of demonstrating students even if they are in my spot on the road. No worries though – there are several ways to get from point A (my house) to point B (the ‘Salon’).. I just turned down a different road. Of course that meant changing the route I planned to go. Even though there are several routes, I tend to be pretty single focused when it comes to how to get somewhere. Meaning, I only know one way. In my defense, there are no street signs (at least none posted), and there are crazy roundabouts and each ‘spoke’ kind of looks the same to me. Until I take the wrong one and realize I’m on the wrong road. But there is no ‘going around the block, because there is no block. It is like a bicycle tire and the spokes are roads. Take the wrong spoke, and you’re practically in a different part of the city!
Back to my story…at this point I wasn’t lost, I just realized that my confidence was in taking the road that goes through the Petit Marche’ (small market). Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not small. It’s just smaller than the ‘Grand Marche’ (big market). I’m not talking about your neighborhood grocery store. I’m talking about an open market that covers nearly half the road at times. It is an exercise for your senses. All of them. There are people carrying things on their heads – from live animals to fried dough balls and fish. There are as many types of transportation as there are vegetables during vegetable season. There are feet, bicycles, small motorcycles, large motorcycles, cows, taxis, land cruisers, wheelchairs, donkeys and carts, camels, goats/sheep, wheelbarrows, and did I say taxi’s? The road is meant for 2 lanes of traffic going one direction. However there are so many traders that they have taken up one of the lanes. That doesn’t mean anything to the taxis though, as they create their own lane by forcing you aside (or you could be stubborn and risk them scraping the side of your car – doesn’t really matter to them). All this and not to mention that the market is a great place for socialization (if you’re not trying to get to a hair appt.) so there are many people gathered in small groups simply chatting.
I was focused on wedging my way to the traffic light (yep, there is a traffic light at the end of all this) all the while promising myself that I would never drive here again. Never. There are alternatives. I finally made it to Mona Lisa (the actual name of the Salon) and apologized to Roger’ who looked surprised to see me and said he thought it was tomorrow. The look of terror on my face probably led him to tell me that it was no problem, he would take me now. Communicating with him can be challenging since I speak no French, and he speaks limited English. He’s a great guy, but we sound pretty funny talking. Me telling him not to cut it too short. Him saying “Oui, enough longer?” Yes, enough longer. But Roger’ has a reputation for making a trim a full fledged haircut. That’s ok I guess. Hair grows. But I digress.
I got my hair done and enjoyed it. I was on my way home – NOT by way of the Petit Marche, but by the other way I know. Neal called shortly after I left to ask where I was. “Don’t go by the bridge”, he says. “The students are demonstrating there and it took me an hour to get home.” Hmmmm. OK. I reply, “I’m on the road by Buropa, what do you suggest?” Well, the road by Buropa is near the center of one of those bicycle wheels. So of course he had no idea what direction I was even facing, and I had even less of an idea. I am not ashamed to say that I’m severely directionally challenged. Well, I’m a little ashamed….Anyway, I’m in the midst of lots of traffic and honking horns so I have to make a decision. My decision takes me down to the Grand Marche. Yep, the big market. As I got my bearings I realized I was going the wrong direction. But the Grand Marche’ happens to be a square, so I feel like I can manage that. I’m just going to go around the block. I make a left turn. Not realizing until I’ve already turned that it’s a one way street. Oh, that’s right. You can only go around that block in one direction. What!?! I back up. That sounds so simple. Realize I’m in the big open market. People and cars and all other sorts of traffic are not happy with the crazy white lady. So I just smile and wave as I back into traffic. I drive until I’m able to make a left turn because I KNOW that is the direction I need to be heading. My turn onto a dirt road turns into what would be considered an alley. It wasn’t dark though. I keep driving until there is a suitable road to make another left – because I’m quite sure that’s where I need to be. But alas I drive into another (albeit smaller) group of demonstrating students. There was nowhere to go but straight. Made it through with just a few students banging on the car doors and saying something that was not recognized by me. I just wanted to turn left again. Which, I finally did. And I found myself in a part of Niamey that wasn’t at all familiar. I knew if I kept driving I would eventually come to something I recognized. Determining my direction was impossible to me, because the sun was directly overhead. When you’re in an alley, and the sun is overhead, as far as I’m concerned, any direction could be West! And thinking was becoming more difficult because I was having bladder issues. Why I didn’t use the bathroom at Mona Lisa was another bad decision in a string of bad judgment calls. Especially since Mona Lisa has one of the few (usable) public restrooms in the city. There would be no stopping at 7-Eleven.
I did come to a big road and made my left turn. I was feeling pretty good about where I was. Until I came to an intersection, and was now looking at 2 big roads and was forced to choose which one to take. I wanted to go right, but hesitated and went straight instead. I should have turned right. It didn’t take long to realize that I was headed to the airport road – the complete opposite direction of my house. Well at least I knew where I was. I took my turn confidently, but then remembered the bridge. What to do. That road would take me back to the bridge, the place I was avoiding in the first place. So, I made a quick right, pretty sure of what I was doing. Incidentally, I ended up right down the street from Mona Lisa. But it was too soon for another haircut so I kept going. I’m tooling along as I realize that the only way that I’m completely sure of is, yes, the Petit Marche road. This time I have to drive around all 3 sides of it, because it, also, is one way. While I am literally inching along behind donkeys pulling carts, cringing as taxis squeak by and am waiting for the sound of metal scraping metal, I remember something…. I had not but 90 minutes earlier promised myself that I would not drive this way again. Ever. But I broke my promise, all to avoid traffic on the bridge. And that, I did accomplish.