HADJARA IMITATING INDIMA CRYING: I hesitated to make a second post about Hadjara, but she is so hilarious, that I couldn’t help myself. Before I took this photo, she grabbed Soryia’s superman cap off of his head and made a series of silly faces. Then, when Indima poked at Hadjara’s bowl of rice paste and ochre sauce, she happily began feeding her. Indima gladly ate with this new grandmother figure. At one point, one of the kids did something to annoy Indima, causing her to cry. Hadjara attempted cajoling her. Seeing how ineffective sympathy was, she began imitating Indima, crying wildly… so wildly in fact that Indima stopped crying immediately to stare in awe at the screaming old lady.
HADJARA: I’ve walked past Hadjara for years, always feeling a little intimidated. She typically returns my salutations with a scornful glance. Yet occasionally, she has demanded that I stop, while reaching into her sale basket to pull out a little trinket for my babes. Even while bestowing a gift, she frowns. I have been both grateful and confused. But this year, something clicked, allowing me to welcome her apparent disdain in response to my hellos.
One morning a few weeks ago, she handed over a little toy gun with candy ammunition to Indima, and made a motion pretending that she was going to shoot us. Later that afternoon, I ran into her begging for money from a group of men sitting at their fada (hangout). After she left, they commented on “that crazy old woman”. She did not seem crazy to me. Before witnessing how the men treated her, I had focused on her scowl instead of her generosity. And yet, she had only ever given to me, without expecting anything in return. From that moment on, Hadjara seemed bold and fearless; I admired that she acted without pretense, without concern about what others think of her. Early the next morning, I looked for Hadjara. I found her sitting in front of her home and gave her the equivalent of $2. I don’t usually hand out money, but the men’s rejection on the previous day felt like a personal affront to me. The moment following my gift, she smiled for a split second before making me promise that daily gifts would become a routine. Later that day, I walked past her again, this time with my troupe of kiddoes. She was playing mancala in the sand with her granddaughter. She scurried over to retrieve a toy for Indima from her treasure basket. When Soriya whined, she grabbed a toy for him, all the while making comical noises, imitating his complaints. We sat with her a while, as I questioned her about her life. She was reluctant to answer, preferring to make jokes or play the clown, saluting me like a military sergeant, and placing my hand to her heart. All I know is that she grew up in Niamey, and loves children. But she pokes fun at them when they complain or cry. I finally pulled out my camera, and here is her duck face response.
UNREST WITHIN ROUTINE or INTRODUCTION TO THE RECASEMENT QUARTER: In this photo I am walking toward the third laterite of the Recasement quarter in Niamey with my daughter, Indima. I have lived in the Recasement quarter since 2012, and it has since become my home. I walk over two hours every day to discover its hidden treasures, and meet the diverse people that make it such a calm, lively, and serene place to live. I find solace seeing the same people day in and day out, knowing exactly where they will be and what they will be doing, and anticipating who they will be sitting with throughout the day. At the same time, I am bewildered by their unchanging lives. I envy them… their capacity to handle daily routines, their ability to look toward another day without fearing that it will be almost an exact copy of every single day that they have lived previously. And yet, I am reminded that uncertainty and the unknown also accompanies the reassurance of day to day activities. For instance, Aichatou the pancake lady, wonders if she will sell enough pancakes to be able to pay for lunch for her children. Abdoulkarim, the donkey man, questions his ability to find work transporting chairs to family events. If he does not, how will he pay school fees? Abdoulaye runs the neighbourhood borehole, and holds a little boutique on the side. He too asks himself if ends will meet at the end of the month. What if one of his children catches malaria or meningitis? He does not have wiggle room to pay for medicines and clinic fees. And so, while I see the unwavering smiles of my neighbours, and share friendly “fofos” (hello in Djerma), their lives are so much deeper and complex than what I see on a daily basis. Through my next series, I would like to share a fraction of the reality of their lives with you. I will attempt to delve deeper than their day to day routine, to understand their joy and concerns behind their smiles.
FIRST KISS. FIRST LOVE. (3/3) In this photo, my son Soriya gently kisses Fatoum Zara. Soriya’s name comes from the word Soyeya in Hausa, which means “love”. In Sanskrit, Soriya means “light”. If you know Soriya, then you know that he is a fiery ray of love and light. Fatoum Zara was named after me; Zara is the Djerma version of Alzhara, a beautiful evanescent flower of the desert. These two beings, so true to their names, made this moment of innocent love simply perfect. I had to share it with you.
This series of my children kissing their friends in Niger opens the door to my next series, which will be about my friends in our neighborhood in Niamey. The three children that they are kissing are important members of our neighborhood, two of which (Mariama and Fatoum Zara), are our housemates. Ibrahim and Halimata, their parents, are our best friends, and share our home. They care for it as their own when we are not in Niger. They care for us, as if we were their own, when we are in Niger.
Since these three photos also emanate pure love, let me share another beautiful quote on the selflessness of true love, by Robert Hugh Benson: “When a man falls in love, suddenly his whole center changes. Up to that point he has, probably, referred everything to himself – considered things from his own point. When he falls in love the whole thing is shifted; he becomes a part of the circumference; someone else becomes the center; for example, things he hears and sees are referred in future instantly to this other person. His entire life, if it is really love, is pulled sideways. He does not desire to get but to give. That is why it is the noblest thing in the world…”
FIRST KISS. FIRST LOVE. (2/3) My son, Fassely and Mariama in adoration, lounging on a pirogue drifting along the Niger River. Mariama and Fassely are now both 9 years old. She and her sister, Cheriffa, are Fassely’s lifelong best friends and soul sisters. Their family has been living with us since both Fass and Mari were two years old. Cheriffa and Mari have both travelled to France with us, and we support them so that they can attend a well reputed public school in Niamey. Their little brother, Abdoulkarim, is my son Soriya’s best friend, and their little sister, Fatoum Zara (my namesake), is my daughter Indima’s best friend. We are closer than blood, and I feel certain that my children will always have a soul connection to this family. So will I… as I have adopted them as my Nigerien children.
This shot reminds me of a beautiful Mary Oliver poem, “Not Anyone Who Says”:
Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be careful and smart in the matters of love,” who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,” but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all but were, as it were, chosen by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable — only those know what I’m talking about in this talking about love.
FIRST KISS. FIRST LOVE. (1/3)
In this photo, my daughter, Indima is kissing our neighbor, Adam. While I sat outside their squatter hut with Adam’s mother, Haoua, chatting about life, money matters, and happiness, Indima fed Adam pistachios that we had brought back from France. Adam must be very special to Indima for her to want to share her special treat. She would pop one into her mouth, and then the other into his. Then, every once in a while, she would bend over to kiss him and hold his hand. Goodbyes were difficult; as we left to eat lunch at home only two houses down, she cried and cried, waving goodbye to her first love.
JEWELRY THAT TELLS A STORY: This beautiful woman of the Bagzan Mountains wears her traditional jewelry of silver, ancient beads, and cowrie shells. The silverwork is made by the Touareg Inadan, or craftsman. Today, traditional Touareg jewelry is becoming harder and harder to find; given that the price of silver is sometimes unaffordable, young inadans are melting the older jewelry to transform into modern pieces. They are determined that these will sell better on the international market. I also find it interesting that the woman is adorned in cowrie shells, which come from the Indian ocean. Continue reading “Jewelry That Tells A Story”