Stefan and Camille were probably the only two people on the entire 2600 miles of the Niger River wearing life jackets. Camille rode on the bigger boat with all her friends; some friends, Peter, a crying Stefan, a boatman and I were on the littler boat, a canoe, called a pirogue.
When Peter and I hear "pirogue," we think it's going to be stuffed with cabbage and cheese and you buy it from the crabby guy on 10th and Irving in San Francisco.
We went up river for half an hour, passing morning-glory like wildflowers, waterlillies, little grassy islets. I didn't have to paddle, so it was very pleasant, except for Stefan crying that the canoe was too "tilty," he worried about sharks and if hippos bite.
I saw them first: a hippo coming out the water to take a breath. Then another, then everyone saw them and I was happy I wasn't just imagining them. Unfortunately, they won't stay still for a good picture. But none of us wanted to get any closer. The best thing was hearing them: hippopotamus deep breathing.
Camille's boat stayed longer, until two of the hippos lumbered up out of the water onto the shore. But they didn't get the bonus excursion we did:
After our hippo sightings we turned around and floated back down the river. Our paddler beached our boat. Not back at the restaurant/boat launch area, as we expected, but rather a forced "detour" to see the hippo tracks in the mud near his village, also, grain storage huts, school, and cow. The chef of the village was trotted out, and seemed disappointed at our meager, uh, cash gift, but we thought we were going directly back to the restaurant and were caught off guard by the side trip. I don't know why we all didn't start complaining, "Take us back! We want our lunch!" but it didn't occur to anyone until later when we did get back and were sitting around drinking cokes and eating brochettes. Americans, sheesh.
Last Friday I took the day off because I've accumulated some comp time and if I don't use it, I lose it. But I came in to cash a check and send a draft of the school board minutes I had forgotten to do the day before. Sure enough! In come the patients. I kept trying to deflect but they had issues that required my attention. My co-worker was great in seeing most of them but I still became involved. So the day off turned out to be a working day and the jokes been on me ever since.
I caught a strange illness. Nothing specific. A lot od vague symptoms which bring patients into the clinic but drive health practitioners crazy. "Feeling blazay" is the only way to describe it. Sunday was a low energy day. I forced myself to go into work on Monday since my symptoms were "nothing." Then, during a meeting, I suddenly felt I might throw up. A few beltches produced a few surprises but I managed to keep it all down until the meeting was out.
My illness resolved itself but the kids got sick. First Stefan got a bad cold with a cough. He burned up with fever and stayed home 3 days. Half way into it, Camille came down with the same thing. Dina had to stay at home and play nurse (I love that image) while I dealt with work, patients, insurance companies (would you believe a Foreign Service plan that won't ship overseas), and meetings.
Yesterday it got busy with patients. My co-worker ordered some take out from a local Nigerien restaurant. We split some rice with spicy chicken and were sitting outside in the shade of a mango tree. I was about to eat my food when a pigeon dropped it's poop right onto my food! We salvaged most of it but somehow I lost my appetite.
Today is only a half day here at the embassy. We were trying to tidy things up in preparation for an inspection coming up and a visit from my mentor. We finally completed eliminating all expired pharmaceutical medications and had to flush the old meds and narcotics down the toilet. The first flush eliminated the over-the-counter meds without any problems (leave the best for last). But when we filled the bowl with the narcotics, the toilet wouldn't flush. The water to the embassy was turned off by the water company. No one knows why or for how long. It's not that I think for one second that someone is going to take those meds floating in the toilet of the womens bathroom to get high. It just looks funny when you see all those colored pills. I signed the waste since I witnessed it (sort of).
There are a bunch of guys who sell leather goods and fresh produce outside the French School. One of the most difficult things here for me is having someone walking next to me, trying to sell me green beans or a necklace. I'm not shopping right now, okay? Going to pick kids up is like running a gauntlet past the pushy vendors. Is this the time to sell me a cushion?
I have made a point of not buying anything from these guys. Until a couple of weeks ago when a guy flashed a cauliflower. The only strawberries, broccoli and cauliflower I have seen in five months have been flown in by Air France and sold at the French grocery store at a price that includes jet fuel. Can you believe I got excited about seeing really fresh cauliflower? Well, believe it. So imagine my face when he walked up with a box of strawberries. These are local, and I'm sure they will be gone with the cool weather in a month. I ended up buying two, maybe three pints of strawberries. I berated myself for spending such a ridiculous amount of money on strawberries, for god's sake; until I got home and ate one. It would have been worth $8 for even one single strawberry.
Then the next day, Peter found peas.
I had a few scheduled patients. A new family coming in that needed briefing on the common Montezuma's revenge, malaria, and and don't eat that yellow - oops! Wrong country. Of course there were a few walk-ins. That's usual. But why on a day that I have to go to a luncheon? Here in Niamey, a lunch out can take over 2 hours. It got really busy. I even had to cancel an appointment with a well-child check.
A guy who works for the Department of Energy has been here for 2 years and is leaving with his wife back to Australia. I was invited on short notice to Le Pilier, a very nice French-Italian restaurant. Ironically, Dina had been invited there for lunch by her friend as a Birthday present and was making good on her word. It took some planning so that Zuri could pick up the kids from school.
I was seated at a large table with about 30 people there to see the man off. My back was turned to the the other diners but when I would turn around (often), I could see Dina looking beautiful in a cute dress. She would occasionally glance over and flash that stunning smile! I must have been looking too much because all of a sudden, the waiter came up and pulled a curtain just enough to obstruct my view of them. "That's my wife," I exclaimed, blushing! "Well I'm glad to hear that," replied a TDY'er.
Our weather has been mild (60 - 80 degrees) but the air quality is really bad. The sand and dust is blown off the Sahara desert, called Harmatan. I'm seeing a lot of upper respiratory illnesses. Everyone is complaining about their sinuses. People with allergies are also having a time of it. I even see people riding on their mopeds and motorcycles with surgical masks on. But fortunately, our family seems to have a healthy immune system.
Do you remember the story of God asking Abraham to sacrafice his son Isaac? And at the last minute God, said no, it's okay, kill a sheep instead? Around here, this is one of the biggest holidays of the year, Tabaski.
Like I showed pictures of my kids with Santa, Zuri, our housekeeper, spent almost a day's pay to have a picture printed for me of what she bought with her Christmas/Tabaski bonus. After fattening it up on our old, stale bread, she had the sheep trucked, on top of a truck, to Benin to her mom and two little boys. I think this was like sending, all in one furry package, tree, lights, presents and Christmas dinner.
This is what Tabaski looked like on our street. Hope it was joyous for you and yours. (Jim McManamon, I'm counting on you here.)
In other animal news: Jennifer's fabulously well written article about the giraffes of Niger appeared in today's Christian Science Monitor.
Well, don't get too excited but I'm posting FROM HOME! Thanks to the Fulbrights, who weren't quite as beaten down about internet access as I was. Here they are, on Tabaski, in front of their house, next door to our house.
Jennifer and James, Hesperus, Etani and Athena. They live in Ashland, Oregon, when they aren't doing this to themselves.
When they aren't getting books published and sitting adorably on the couch writing an article about the giraffes, they are making sure their neighbors share in high speed internet goodness, convincing me to use more whole wheat flour and doing cool things like making this swing:
Jennifer's book, Why Do Babies Do That, is featured on Wondertime.go.com and you can read about their adventures here in Niger at literarymama.com