Do we really need a choice of forty kinds of toothpaste? Thats one of the burning questions I brought back from vacation in the United States. After living in the midst of Nigers wretched poverty for a year, one notices such things. Im delighted that we have great wealth, and I believe that as a nation weve earned it. We certainly dont "owe" any "reparations" to anyone. Nonetheless, though Ive never been a big fan of foreign aid especially in Africa, much has been wasted and little has been used effectively Im driven to wonder if we shouldnt find more ways to effectively share our abundance.
Peace Corps is one such way, and some of the non-governmental organizations, such as CARE, do good work. The trade and private investment associated with globalization are raising some countries out of poverty, but have been of little benefit to Niger and others among the poorest of the poor.
I dont have the answer, but the question wont go away.
The blessed rains
The rains have also brought cooler temperatures. In August, we found the weather in Niamey more pleasant than in Washington. Or perhaps that should be "less unpleasant." As Mark Twain wrote about India, here in Niger "cool weather" is "merely a conventional phrase, and has come into use through the necessity of distinguishing between weather which will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy."
Nevertheless, thanks to air conditioning, we find it quite tolerable.
My most recent trip to Iferouane, however, was not to visit the Volunteers but to evacuate them.
We had been increasingly concerned about the security of these Volunteers because of difficulties in communicating with them and transporting them in the event of an emergency. (Iferouane is a hard two-day trip from Niamey.) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature project in the Iferouane region, to which the Volunteers were attached, was supposed to provide them a radio link and a vehicle when necessary, but it was foundering and scheduled to come to an end soon.
One of our two Peace Corps nurses, together with a vacationing Volunteer who wanted to see the Sahara, was on the way to Iferouane to look into the situation and stopped for the night in Agadez. There, they met two of the three Iferouane Volunteers, who had hitched a ride into town. The four women went to dinner at a hotel/restaurant in the heart of Agadez that primarily serves foreign tourists. After dinner, when they emerged from the restaurant and got into the Peace Corps vehicle (a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser), a man in Tuareg dress approached the drivers window, pointed a pistol at our nurses head, and instructed them to get out. They did so. The man and an accomplice got into the vehicle and drove away.
The hijacking made my decision to evacuate the Volunteers from Iferouane an easy one.
Early the next morning, the Peace Corps Administrative Officer and I left Niamey and arrived in Agadez just before sundown. We found the nurse and the three Volunteers still somewhat shaken but unhurt. The following morning, we all proceeded to Iferouane, accompanied by a squad of gendarmes. The préfet (governor), at our request, provided the gendarmes, but we had to pay for their fuel and food. (This felt a bit like getting robbed a second time, but it was the only expeditious way to assure a security escort for the mission, which I felt was a sensible precaution under the circumstances.)
In Iferouane, we packed the Volunteers belongings and Peace Corps property, said goodbyes, and returned to Agadez the next day.
I called on the préfet to officially inform him of the Volunteers departure and inquire about the search for our vehicle and the bandits. He assured me that the government was making every effort to find both. In light of its failure to recover the vehicles or arrest the perpetrators in several similar cases, however, it is difficult to be optimistic about the governments ability to do so.
We got back to Niamey the next evening. It was a long, tiring, difficult trip.