The flights to Niger were uneventful, which is always good, and I even had a 50% success rate at talking my way out of a middle seat. 🙂
I arrived in Niamey in the late afternoon. Passengers descend from the plane directly onto the tarmac, since there's only one flight per day (if that) to Niger. This entry point allows you to immediately feel what you're getting yourself into — heat and dust! But for me, I instantly felt like I had never left. And at the end of my first full day here, I'm still amazed that even as Niger slowly grows and modernizes everything remains so familiar.
While in Niamey I'm staying with Gaston Kaba, my former Peace Corps supervisor, and a friend of both Reuben and me. Gaston is unique among Nigeriens. One factoid sums him up well – citizen of a country with barely an 18% literacy rate, and where many villagers never even travel to the nearest 'city,' Gaston became friends with Kareem Abdul-Jabar at UCLA where they were dorm-mates in the 60's. His personality and charisma are one of a kind. So, I had the benefit of having Gaston escort me through customs, where the officials waved me through without a glance.
Gaston's family are generous and kind hosts. Their house is simple and clean, with all the amenities of a good hotel — A/C, fans, hot water, and very few mosquitos. Of course, it only takes one mosquito to find me, which it does immediately upon my entrance into a room. Good thing I remembered to take my malaria meds yesterday.
I've just been relaxing and spending time with Gaston's family thus far. I'll be in Niamey until Monday morning, when Gaston was able to arrange an official visit to volunteers in the Gaya region, where I am headed (most conveniently). In preparation for my trek to the village, tomorrow I'll go to purchase a bunch of mosquito nets, which I plan to either hand out to targeted groups (i.e. mother's with young children; kids enrolled in the school), or sell at a reduced price to families who don't yet have a net. I'll see what Gaston and the PC volunteers recommend, based on their similar projects. I've been busy researching other projects, and am excited about the potential of starting a garden with the school kids, or planting a fruit tree for every family. We'll see…
For now, it's time to tackle this jet lag.
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