First Kiss. First Love. Pt. 1

First Kiss First LoveFIRST 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.

Flying Bags of Poop

Flying Bags of Poop

FLYING BAGS OF POOP: I was exhausted from the day’s heat, and tired of conducting questionnaires.  Even though my research was fascinating, I wanted to play with kids, and take a break from the gruel of my work.  I had spent all day walking from one household to another in the village of Goumbi Kanno, conducting interviews with women to inquire about their hygiene and sanitation practices. I was feeling a little strange asking such personal questions to women I hardly knew.  A break was in order.

Upon leaving one household, my research partner, Rokia, and I entered a small, twisting alley.  It would have been cute and inviting had it not been littered with filth and waste water.  As I walked, I fell deep into thought. In contrast with the Fulani women I had interviewed, almost all the women in this Hausa side of this village were cloistered, meaning that they were not allowed to leave their household during the day.  They could leave at night to visit lady relatives, and to use the toilet in the fields beyond the village boundaries.  I had never heard of cloistering before.

This was a relatively new phenomenon in Niger, and a direct consequence of rising poverty.  The men of the village, obliged to seek financial opportunity as migrant workers in neighboring Nigeria, brought back with them radical Islamic practices and beliefs that they learned abroad.  Not only did this extreme change in culture strip the Hausa women of any right as an autonomous being, it also took away all ability for them work outside of the household, and contribute to the family income. How contradictory, given that their contribution was direly needed.

Still deep in thought, I tried to imagine how things worked out for these women in a more practical sense.  Where, for instance, did the women defecate during the day?  None of the households had pit latrines.  Did the women just wait until the evening to do their business in the dark of the night?   The answer to my pondering came from the sky.  Rokia screeched, “Watch out for that bag.  Don’t let it hit you on the head!” she yelled out.  “What?” Sure enough, a black plastic bag went whizzing over the concession wall.  Seconds later, lying on the ground beside my feet, lay a bag filled with human excrement.

Indeed, it was time to find some children to play with far off in the fields.  This Fulani child and his siblings offered me reprieve from my work, and fun enough to digest the events of the day.

Photo: Fulani child from the village of Goumbi Kanno, Niger.

That’s a Camp?

That's a CampTHAT’S A CAMP?  This little boy and his mother were the first Wodaabe that I met in the Azawak.  In fact, their camp was the first Wodaabe camp I had ever seen.  When I met them, they were sitting together in the middle of grasses underneath the blazing sun.  The mother was mending a shirt, and her son sat patiently next to her, intently observing my every move.

Far off to the left of them sat some indistinguishable objects.  Moustapha, my research assistant, pointed to the objects, “see there, that’s their camp”. “Their what?” I responded, confounded.  Nothing about it looked like a camp, or a homestead.  He explained, “look, there is their traditional bed made of wood, and next to the bed is a table covered with calabash bowls. “But where is the tent”, I asked. “There is no tent”, he responded. “What if it rains?  And how about this sun?  How do they get away from the sun?”

Almost as soon as I had said this, a little girl crawled out from under the bed. “They go under the bed”, was Moustapha’s answer. “And where are the other people?  Don’t they live with groups of families?”. Moustapha was amused by my naïve questions. “No, during the rainy season, they live separately, each family setting up their own camps.  They live with their immediate family and their cattle.” Fascinating! I had never seen anyone live in such a way.

The woman got up after a while, and guided me over to her table covered with calabashes.  In broken English that she had learned as a migrant worker in Nigeria, she proudly showed them to me one by one. These bowls represented her wealth and were her most prized objects.  Her son reached over, took one of the bowls, and sipped milk that had been left to curdle.

Twin Magic

Twin Magic

TWIN MAGIC: Twins in Niger, and among the Touaregs in particular, hold a special status.  Giving birth to twins is considered a great honor. Twins are both feared and venerated, as they are considered to have magical powers.  For instance, if you make a wish, you should think about a twin, because twins have the power to make wishes come true.  If the wish is granted, you must offer a gift to the twin as a token of gratitude, otherwise a bad omen may befall you.  Furthermore, NEVER doing anything bad to a twin, otherwise bad luck will haunt you as long as you have not regained the trust of the twin you have hurt or dishonored.

Ahoudan, my Touareg “father”, often tells me stories of maleficence that have befallen those disrespectful of twins.  A cousin once slapped one of Ahoudan’s twin grandchildren.  Immediately, the cousin’s sewing machine broke.  He was unable to repair it until, a few days later, he apologized to the twin.  Very soon thereafter, the sewing machine began working again.  Ahoudan himself, one day, did not give cement to a twin who had requested it of him.

Ahoudan needed it for his own house.  But everything he did to continue building his house after that moment backfired.  The masons never showed up.  Rain destroyed the parts of the house that he had already constructed.  But the day he apologized and gave the twin cement, his efforts to build his own house resumed successfully.

Yet another example Ahoudan gives of twin magic: when the government and rebels waged war against one another in his village of Tabelotte, bullets flew everywhere.  Everyone prayed God and twins to stays safe. Miraculously, no one got hurt.  Twins were greatly celebrated the next day for successfully saving the village.

The Flea Infested Camp

The Flea Infested Camp

THE FLEA INFESTED CAMP: I do not know this Touareg child’s name.  But I will never forget her gorgeous smile.  Nor will I ever forget the few days I spent in her camp, located deep in the middle of nowhere.  Truly, her camp was lost at what seemed the end of the earth, perched in the middle of a vast expanse of low lying hills hundreds of kilometers away from anything even approaching civilization.

My first memory, as soon as I stepped out of my pickup, was being covered by fleas.  And there was no escaping.  They were everywhere.
The first tent I visited was this child’s family tent.  She and her brothers and sisters were joyfully playing, their glee seemingly undisrupted by the brutality of the fleas.  The children were caked in dirt.  I asked how long it had been since they had taken a bath.  The answer: the last time it rained.  Their last bath dated from six month prior.

It was not their fault; there was simply no water to wash with during the dry season.  They hardly had water to drink.  I had seen desperate conditions in the Azawak before, and in many places in Africa… but this camp won the prize.  The kids were severely malnourished, and only had a small amount of rice or millet to eat in a day.  Not even enough to be considered one entire meal.  And the unbearable fleas… I’m not sure which was worse… the lack of food and water, or the fleas… I’ll admit, I cowardly fled this camp two days later.  I had to find water, and I had to escape the fleas.  I escaped so fast I didn’t even play with the children and learn their names.

Today, many families of this camp have relocated to the village of Tangarwashane, where @ammanimman built a borehole in 2007, and continues to help the community.

The Smile

The Smile

THE SMILE:  This is Bintou, a Touareg girl from the village of Tchinwagari in Niger.  She was and continues to be a major inspiration for our work with @ammanimman. Before we helped build a borehole in her community, her family spent hours a day pulling water from the 600 foot deep well of the village.

When the well ran dry, they walked over 30 miles a day looking for water.  One day, as I was fetching water from the village’s well (occasionally it has water, most of the time it is dry), my wrap fell off in front of many of the men of the community. I think that incident has become even more legendary than the fact that I got them their borehole built. Today, she has water nearby and children from her community can go to school instead of spending all their time looking for water.

Mother’s Day Everyday

In this photo, I am dancing with my son, Soriya during a cultural festival at what was to become his school in Niamey, l’Ecole Primaire “Alliance”. How blessed I am to be a mother of three sparkling, curious, hilarious, and brilliant human angels; to share every single day’s adventures, joyful moments, and frustrations with my teachers in life.  With them, I am humbly learning to grow more patient, and to view the world through their innocent eyes of love and understanding.  In return, I share with them the world, exposing them to cultures and ways of life that permit them to question what they know and understand, so that they can shape their life view, with a better understanding of a global world; so that they may develop tolerance for the unknown and unfamiliar; so that they may welcome discomfort and question what the world presents and exposes to them.

Sunday was mother’s day in the USA.  While I actually believe that every day is mother’s day, I would like to dedicate this next week in particular to mothers around the world by showcasing mothers through my pictures. I would like to display the universality of motherhood: the joy, the love, the frustrations, the questioning, the concerns, the daily life, the struggles, and the brilliance of what it is to be a mother.