Hippos and things my mom doesn’t want to know

The first night I slept in a house where the door wasn’t locked, the guard was nowhere to be seen, and although I was dropped off at a guesthouse to host me, it turned out they didn’t have a room as the person who was supposed to leave, had not left as he was sick. I had to go with my colleagues to another guesthouse, and sleep in the room next to the kitchen – where an extra bed is put, for these kinds of situation. I had to clean the floor, as the layer of dessert dust was really a bit too much. But it was fine, I slept well, and the next morning we could go out to look for breakfast. Fortunately one of my colleagues already knew where to find a shop for eggs and bread as there was no further instruction from our office.

The next day it was Sunday, and although we work for most of the day to prepare our workshop, we were invited by a humanitarian colleague at the guesthouse to go on a small boat trip on the river Niger to see hippos – le piroque sur le fleuve – of course we wanted to go, but we agreed would check whether there would be any lifejackets on the boat. Hippos are in the end the most aggressive and deadly animals of the African continent – to add a bit of drama. We never made it to the boat, not because we did not go, but halfway we could not cross the road that would lead us to the river. It was blocked by the military, the president was supposed to pass by and they close the main road, waiting until he passes, which can take over 2 hours. After a brief discussion, we decided to make our way to a café called ‘le café’, and at least have a drink there. One colleague however decided to go back. She was fed up, but also knew something we didn’t know yet. It is extremely hard to get a taxi in Niamey. We however made our way to ‘Le café’ and were dropped off. From the outside you cannot see whether a place is open, and while the driver drove off the gate turned out to be closed. ‘Le café’ had a day off. We looked at each other and simply laughed, this Sunday was doomed, but we didn’t give up. Our humanitarian colleague knew another place close by, which we could walk to, and she didn’t lie, we were there 10 minutes later and the gate opened! Our luck however was following us and the waiter informed us they were not open yet. We couldn’t believe it, but asked, ‘By what time do you open,’ ‘6 o’clock’ was the answer. We looked at our watch, it was 5pm. We decided to wait, and were fortunately allowed to sit and after some pleading even received a fantastic mango juice, and guess what – they had a big wooden hippo next to our table.

We managed to finally relax, have our juices and even eat a delicious meal, but the last challenge of the day was getting home. Our driver of course was long gone and we did not want to disturb his Sunday afternoon further. We asked the people of the restaurant to order us a taxi, but this was for some reason beyond their capacity. We laughed again, and the only thing to do was to go out and walk to the main road – which was now open again, at least the president had passed – to get a taxi. We ended up the four of us, on the back seat of one taxi as the two front seats were occupied by 3 people. Fortunately not the driver’s seat.

We got home safely, we saw at least one (wooden) hippo and an introduction to the challenges of transport and traffic in Niamey. I think my mom can at least appreciate that as we certainly did.

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