On Missing Niger

Giraffe&Tourist

My family and I spent an academic year in Niger, West Africa in 2006-2007. I was there as a Fulbright fellow, teaching 19th century American literature and writing and researching articles (like this one, “Looking Up,” which was a cover story for Smithsonian Magazine and this one “A Crusading Publisher Pushes Niger’s Limits,” published in the Christian Science Monitor).

Most Americans have never heard of Niger.

It’s one of the poorest countries in the world.

It’s also one of my favorite places on Earth.

I miss Niger with so much heartache, like missing a best friend.

Inspired by this article on how to get motivated to exercise, James and I took the baby for a run yesterday. Even though it wasn’t seven o’clock, it was already unpleasantly hot in Ashland, Oregon.

James is lean and fast. He runs a lot. I am not-so-lean (remember Jack Sprat’s wife?) and very s-l-o-w. But I was spritely yesterday and James was flagging. His stomach hurt.

“I feel like I’m going to have diarrhea,” he said. “This used to happen to me when I ran in Niger. I have to keep my butt cheeks together so I can’t run fast.”

Excessive heat. Bowel troubles. Sweat. All of that came with living in Niger.

But that was only part of it.

Heartbreaking landscapes of sand dunes and gawo trees. Incredible friendships. Debating Emerson’s notion of self-reliance with young men and women who had never thought of non-conformity. Taking the most refreshing shower of my life using one a bucket of water. Appreciating the small things. People who have so little but do so much.

When Hesperus was small we lived on the East Coast. My best friend Sue lived in Oregon. We would visit and I would start to miss her even before we left. So would baby Hesperus. “Miss Sue,” she would say and then sniff sadly. “Miss Sue.”

I felt like that about Niger yesterday. I feel like that about Niger today. I hope to go back soon. Even if I do, I think it is a country I’ll be missing for the rest of my life.

Niamey's Petit Marché is a riot of people, colors, wares, sounds, and smells

Niamey’s Petit Marché is a riot of people, colors, wares, sounds, and smells

James and Athena riding a camel

James and Athena riding a camel

Etani and I pose for a photo with our dear friend Illiasou and his family

Etani and I pose for a photo with our dear friend Illiasou and his family

7-year-old Hesperus in the pool in Niamey, Niger

7-year-old Hesperus in the pool in Niamey, Niger


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