A Journey Through the Desert

We’ve made the trip between Maradi and Niamey, Niger over the last 15 years countless times.  Literally.  But I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a blog post specifically to the trip.  So here goes.

Niamey, the capital of Niger, is located in the south-western part of the country.  The majority of the population also lies on the southern border, known as the Sahel Region.  Not many people live up in the north, because that’s the Sahara Desert.  So this journey takes us about halfway through the country, from West to East, along the Southern border.

Niger Map

We once completed the 388 mile road trip  in 6 hours 45 minutes.  That was years ago. And I know that’s not going to win the Indy, but when compared to our longest time…. What was our longest time you ask?  Well that’s up for debate.  Do you count the trip with the 6 flat tires?  Or the one where the front tire actually flew off the vehicle?  Or what about the time the whole thing seized up and we had to leave our vehicle on the road and take public transport the rest of the way home? Or how about when the brakes went out and we had to completely turn around and go home to get them fixed and leave again the next day?   I could go on.   But I won’t.

This particular journey was just a couple of weeks ago.  We went to Maradi to celebrate the New Year.  Tanika was home visiting and hadn’t been in Maradi in a few years.  Since she spent nearly 9 years of her life there, it was time for a visit.  But I digress.  This is about the actual road trip.  Besides Neal and myself and Tanika in the vehicle, Tobi was of course with us, as well as Sukala and his new wife Rakkiya.  So the 4 of them were pretty cozy in the back seat. But the fun made up for the squishiness.  I think.

The road is always in various stages of repair and since we’ve lived here has never been completely good.  By that I mean there has always been a significant section of road that is in bad shape.  And I mean really bad shape.  Right now it’s the portion between Guidan Roumdji and Birnin’ Konni, closer to Maradi.  I can’t really say the actual distance, but it takes about 3 hours to get through it.  It shouldn’t take that long.  Fortunately, it is being worked on.  I’m trying not to notice the part of the road that is starting to deteriorate which will soon become the next really bad section.

Most of the rest of this post will be photos, most taken on our return trip to Niamey from Maradi.  But a few pics are actually from the trip to Maradi from Niamey.  Like this one.  This is the Niamey gate as we are leaving the city.  The sun is coming up.  We are driving toward the sunrise.  Pretty, but makes for a couple of squinty hours, even with sunglasses.

IMG_2713

And now here we are on the other end.  Leaving Maradi, January 2nd, 2014 – the Maradi city gate.  We left at the same time as we did in Niamey 4 days earlier, but sunrise here is earlier.

IMG_2758

The sun is behind us this time.

IMG_2762

The open road.  Sort of.

IMG_2765

All 6 of us, ready for the long journey.  Again – sort of.

IMG_2953

This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.

IMG_2766

Overloaded trucks.

IMG_2775

Often turn into this…

IMG_2768

No potholes!  And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side.  Often, we share the road with them.

IMG_2769

Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.

IMG_2772

Check out the camels on the left.  Another mode of transportation.

IMG_2774

There are countless small villages along the road.  All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!

IMG_2777

No, we weren’t off-roading.  This was a detour of sorts.

IMG_2781Hopeful signs of road construction.

IMG_2782

On a journey like this, one does not like to hear unfamiliar noises coming from any part of the vehicle.  A couple of hours in, we heard such a sound.  And it wasn’t a good one.  First thought – a blown tire?  I can’t really describe the sound except to say it was loud and sounded like kind of a big deal.  We slowed and stopped with no problems (except for the sound).  Sukala jumped out and immediately saw the problem, which turned out not to be much of a problem at all.  The bull guard came loose/off.  Wonder how that happened?

IMG_2783

It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.

IMG_2784

And to be on our way.

IMG_2785

Lots and lots of trucks on the road today – both directions.  A railroad system in this country would go a long way to saving the roads!

IMG_2788

Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.

IMG_2789

These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.

IMG_2793

And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.

IMG_2794

This is the time of year that dry season farming is done.  There is no rainfall to speak of, but it is done in areas that can be irrigated.  These are onions growing.

IMG_2797

Getting close to a town.  Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.

IMG_2798

Tight squeeze.  The trucks really are road hogs.  But check out the palm tree!

IMG_2799

This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.

IMG_2804

More water being transported by the beast of burden.

IMG_2806

Following trucks also causes this problem.

IMG_2808

This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.

IMG_2812

Time for a pit stop.  Boys on the left side of the road, girls on the right.  I’m guessing Tobi and Sukala didn’t know I took their picture!  =)

IMG_2815

The ladies bathroom.

IMG_2816

The ladies exiting the bathroom.

IMG_2819

And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time.  Fried locusts!

IMG_2821

I’m not kidding.  These guys really love them.  In fact it was a request Tanika had when she got here.  Tobi looks like he’s enjoying these bugs way too much!

IMG_2828

Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.

IMG_2829

Not me.  I’ll stick with fried fish.  (Thanks to the last team that was here!)

IMG_2831

When homes are made out of the ground they are built on, they can be pretty hard to spot.  As can be seen (or not), by this village in the distance.  The white structure that can be seen is the village Mosque and is located in the right, front part of the village.

IMG_2830

Some sections of the road are quite nice.  And what a view!  You should see it during rainy season.

IMG_2832

This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…

IMG_2836

This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory…  We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.

IMG_2838

Another town, another mosque.

IMG_2839

This is Galmi Hospital.  A hospital that is run by SIM, a mission organization that has been working in Niger since the 1920’s.  They have served thousands and thousands of people using medicine and the Gospel.  I actually had surgery here when I was pregnant with Tobi.

IMG_2840

One of countless cell towers erected in the middle of nowhere.  What stood out to me was the dish covered in red dirt…Anyone got a hose?

IMG_2843

This man is carrying a generator on his head.  Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!

IMG_2844

Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.

IMG_2845

More positive signs of road work.

IMG_2850

Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.

IMG_2852

More onions for sale.

IMG_2856

Fuel stop.

IMG_2864

And it’s full service!

IMG_2860

This is not Quick Trip, but there are lots of things that can be bargained for – Tanika and Tobi I think were buying bread.  And check out the King Tat candy bars being held out for Tanika to consider.

IMG_2865

Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.

IMG_2870

This camel really is owned by someone.

IMG_2872

So are these cows.

IMG_2874

We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.

IMG_2876

This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.

IMG_2877

The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…

IMG_2881

This is what happens.

IMG_2887

As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!

IMG_2932

Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle.  That’s what the sign on the right is.

IMG_2933

More onions!

IMG_2888

This is a section of road that was repaired a couple of years ago.  There’s water here most of the year, but I have no idea the source.

IMG_2889

These little boys are just having fun in their cart.

IMG_2891

Islam, the predominant religion in Niger, is required to have beggars because they have to ‘give alms’.   So  as sad as it is, seeing beggars of all shapes and sizes is part of the culture and landscape of this nation.  This man is camped out at a speed bump, asking for those alms – or anything one wants to give him.

IMG_2892

A church!!  There aren’t many as you make your way across the land, but there are many more than there used to be.  And they will continue to increase as we stand on God’s Word that He is giving us every place we put our feet!

IMG_2893

This is a market place.  But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.

IMG_2896

Yet another overturned truck.

IMG_2918

This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.

IMG_2924

For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.

IMG_2925

The people you see walking are students.  It’s noon, and the schools are out.  They will go back at 3pm.

IMG_2927

Another one!

IMG_2929

The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.

IMG_2937

I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.

IMG_2938

Dosso city gate!!

IMG_2942

Yep – there are even traffic lights here!

IMG_2944

This station looks pretty much like the first one.  We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.

IMG_2947

Horsin’ around.

IMG_2945

Standin’ around.

IMG_2949

This station actually has a locked toilet that as far as I can tell is reserved for foreigners.  It flushes and has running water.  BYOT.P.  Unless of course all you need is the plastic tea kettle conveniently located.  As nice as it is, this isn’t always the best plan though,  because as opposed to the ‘bush toilet’ where everyone can go at the same time, this is a one -umm, ‘seater’,  so takes more time.

IMG_2946

I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.

IMG_2954

This is a common way to carry babies, even on motorcycles.  There are 3 people on this one.  The little guy is tied to his Mom with a piece of cloth.

IMG_2957

As we get closer to home, we have the option of getting fresh chicken at a ‘drive-through’.  We turned down the opportunity though, as it was a bit too fresh for me.

IMG_2963

This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.

IMG_2968

You know those transport busses I mentioned.  These passengers got an  unplanned break.  They’re probably waiting for another bus to come and rescue them.

IMG_2969

This one is a bit fancier.

IMG_2973

Mango trees!  And they’re starting to bud.

IMG_2974

The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.

IMG_2977

I don’t know what’s inside this truck, but the all those things hanging off the sides are plastic teapots – like the kind in the fancy bathroom.  These are very common in this culture, because the Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they go through a ritualistic washing process before every prayer time.  That’s one of the main things they use these little kettles for.

IMG_2978

Firewood is being loaded onto this vehicle.  It will likely be taken to Niamey and will be sold.  So I guess you could say this is the warehouse.

IMG_2985

Same thing here, and believe it or not, they are going to add the firewood to that load.  There is always room for more stuff.

IMG_2989

Getting close now.  This is the entrance to the ‘giraffe reserve’.  By entrance I mean the place you go and pay and pick up a guide.  By reserve I mean that the giraffe are protected, but as far as I know not really followed that closely.  We rely on the guides who rely on their good or not so good tracking skills.  Some are definitely better than others.   You drive your vehicle into the bush with the guide on the top, armed with a stick.  We’ve done it tons of times and it really is a pretty cool experience.   Not today though.

IMG_2992

I like taking pictures of tractors.

IMG_2994

The top of the van is loaded with goats.

IMG_2995

Pretty impressive section of road.  It’s all about perspective…

IMG_2996

Water tower.

IMG_2999

Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.

IMG_3002

Outskirts of Niamey.

IMG_3006

This is called the Peage.  This is where you pay your road tax.  You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.

IMG_3007

I snuck this picture a little closer.  That’s one thing I didn’t get pictures of that are a major part of this journey.  All the checkpoints.  Not a good idea to have your camera out at these.  A checkpoint is essentially a rope that crosses the road, that is often hard to see.  But that’s ok, because you can pretty much expect them in every village.  And there are 2 types.  Sometimes they are together and sometimes separate.  One is simply checking that you actually paid your road tax.  The other one is a police checkpoint.  More often than not they just wave you on, but sometimes they want to see your papers, and sometimes they just want to chat.  Especially if they discover you speak Hausa. Over the years, I have found that almost always the people at these checkpoints are very friendly and they smile a lot.

IMG_3008

Niamey city gate!!

IMG_3013

The airport is off to the right.

IMG_3017

Airport entrance.  You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.

IMG_3018

Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.

IMG_3020

Getting busier.

IMG_3022

This young man is selling boxes of kleenex.  The Grand Mosque is in the distance.

IMG_3024

There it is as we drive by.  This is the main mosque for Niamey.

IMG_3026

Getting close to the new overpass.

IMG_3030

Going under the new overpass.  It’s really quite fancy.

IMG_3031

I really like those carpets on the left.  They’ve been displayed there for quite some time.  I wish someone would buy them!

IMG_3034

Some might find this sweet or productive, but for some reason it drives me crazy!  There are several intersections in town where these little guys sneak up from behind with their squeegees and wash your windows, uninvited.  They always startle me because they just appear, even when you’re looking for them!  I think the thing that annoys me is that even if you tell them not to smear your windows, they never listen.  (And to their credit, they actually do sometimes clean them).

IMG_3055

A bike and a car meet unexpectedly.  Unfortunately a common occurrence.

IMG_3035

We have arrived at Sukala and Rakkiya’s house.  Unloading their stuff.  They are both from the Maradi area, and this was their first trip their since their wedding.  So they are unloading gifts they were given.  Well, that and the bull guard.

IMG_3037

A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.

IMG_3038

Thanks for the memories.

IMG_3039

Sukala heading into his home.

IMG_3040

Continue on to our home.

IMG_3041

Our road.  Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.

IMG_3043

Our gate.

IMG_3044

Home Sweet Home.

IMG_3045

Unloading…

IMG_3046

Guess she missed her pillow.

IMG_3047

More stuff to unload!

IMG_3048

Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days.  I think.

IMG_9017

So, there you have it.  A trip through the nation of Niger!  It’s not for the faint-hearted.  But much can be learned about the country and the culture as you journey across this vast and beautiful desert land – especially if you have a breakdown.  Which thankfully, we did not.  This time.

10 thoughts on “A Journey Through the Desert

  1. Danette, This was absolutely delightful. Thank you for taking the time to produce all the pictures. I will stick with you on the “fried fish”! I am surprise to see Tanika there. Has she returned to school yet? Have a blessed New Year! Love you, Karen

  2. LOVED this, Danette! It is a really good memory for me, and I’m sure for anyone who has taken that trip even once. Praise God you had a pretty “uneventful” trip, as far as problems, and a very wonderful time there! Thank you for this post! God bless you guys!
    kim

  3. I loved this post….brings back some very fond and vivid memories! And Praise God there were no breakdowns …this time. How well I remember those times too!!! :). Memories….ahhhh. Thanks for letting us share your journey with you.
    Love you much!
    Lenoir and Joe

  4. Hello, I found your blog quite on accident, maybe it was God. Either way I loved the post, your sense of humor is great. Hope you don’t mind that I’ve done a pingback to your blog for my readers to find you. See I started blogging from Russia a little over a year now, been absolutely loving it. That said, the reason for the pingback is that I have a section in my blog called mirror reflections, it’s to show just how much we really are all alike. Friends back in the states needed to see that Russia isn’t all about bears and the Mafia. If you are interested come take a look at hague6185.wordpress.com and have a look.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s