Thursday, February 22, 2007
Highway Through Hell
We drove from Niamey, Niger's capital, to Maradi on Tuesday, where our partner organisation has a second office. Although it was a ten hour drive, it wasn't as bad as I suspected. The road between these two main commercial centres is quite good, although some stretches are pock-marked with pits and cracks in the road. Our jeep has a good air-conditioning, so the heath was bearable through most of the journey. And I managed to keep the sludge in my intestines and out of my pants, thanks to an overdose of Imodium. For the same reason I politely refused the lunch I was offered halfway in a rather dubious restaurant where 'hygiene' and 'fresh' were stuffed with other garbage in the back of the filthy toilet in the back of the garden.
Despite the importance of this trade route, which branches out to neighbouring Nigeria and Cameroun, there wasn't a lot of traffic. But when we met vehicles, they were impressive. Trucks are chronically overcharged here. There loads balloon out and over the whole vehicle. Not surprising then that there is a huge number of them that literally breaks down. I gave up counting the number of trucks that had lost their wheels or that had come to a scraping stand-still when one of their axes broke. All in days work for a Nigerian truck driver.
Some 150km out of Maradi we got a call from a delegation of another partner NGO that was also underway to Maradi to meet us there. Their car had broken down too, and they were stuck in the middle of nowhere. We found them with a burned-out engine. Nothing we could do there, so we asked the very friendly people of the nearby village if we could store the wreck in their compound. We left it there under the loving care of their goats and set off. We crammed eight people and a baby into a jeep with four seats, which meant that a couple of us had to sit on the luggage in the back. Road safety is a flexible term in this part of the world.
With some delay we arrived in Maradi, where I've been working like a horse ever since. For me it's a very interesting time, but I'd probably bore your pants of if I'd go into detail about that. So I won't.