Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I went walking just after sunset through our neighborhood, watching Hesperus, the evening star, bright in the western sky--violet-grey below, and indigo above interrupted by golden Saturn. Mercury peeked out for a while. The air was warm with low, hanging dust, and some pleasant odors, if dry, musky and bitter as they tend to be here. An incense, some baking, then a momentary reek of pipe tobacco that brought me back 30 years to my grandpa John in his basement in Troy-Del Way, standing in front of the home bar with an open-mouthed smile, holding out his arms. Then the scent drifted away and took the strength of the memory with it--what is it about smell that can make a memory as vivid as life, after decades of oblivion? It made me smile to remember, though long gone.

Tears are the salt of memory. They don't embitter it, but let us savor what has passed away as all things do. With time, they turn sorrow into nostalgia--the 'ache for what is ours.'

Monday, January 22, 2007

The five of us went to a dune just outside town among some mesas, with a dry riverbed alongside that must fill up in the rainy season. It's about 200 feet high and nothing but sand. Our friend Pascale took us there in her 4x4, and the kids played while we had a picnic and watched the sunset.

The hippo we saw from that dugout canoe on the river. Hesperus kept saying, "But he's going to upset the boat!"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We went down the Niger River on a dugout pirogue a couple weeks ago, and saw hippos in the river with us. Here's the view with Etani on the other side of the boat:

Monday, January 15, 2007

When we were about to leave for Niger, a friend who had lived in Africa told us that for the first two months we wouldn't get anything done except getting everything set up. We laughed--Jennifer had already lived here, and I'd already lived abroad in Italy, which is not the easiest place to find a place and get the utilities working.

She was underestimating.

But the house is in a nice neighborhood, and has a beautiful garden and pool. I swim every day--even the coldest days of the year in Niger are like summer back home. In fact, though I've never wanted a pool before, but having one here and going in each day, I've learned to swim well enough to really enjoy it. There's a rope swing over the pool, too, which makes it the best pool in town, according to the kids.

I set up a tree swing in the yard, and occasionally throw a rope over a limb of the huge gawo tree outside our gate--you can see a picture of this on our next-door neighbors blog:


It's in their entry on "AKA Margulis-di Properzio," and has a picture of us, too.

On our way from Ashland to Niger, we drove to San Francisco, stopping at a playground on the way. This is me and Athena there.

free-range giraffes

Niger has the last wild giraffes roaming in their original habitat--they're not in a game preserve, they just wander around the countryside, among villages of grass huts, not 30 miles from Niamey. As a kid watching 'nature specials,' I always thought I'd go to Africa sometime; but to finally walk right up to a giraffe in its natural environment, in the land where they evolved--and where we evolved--is like taking a step into your own imagination, and finding that all along it's been more real than your everyday life of computers, images, cars and cellphones.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Four kinds of hot

When people ask me about the weather in Niger, I say there are seasons here--but they're just four kinds of hot. Hot, hot and humid, hot-windy-dusty, and REALLY hot.

We arrived last summer in the rainy season, which is 105 F and 100% humidity every day. When the rains stopped in the fall, it was still just as hot.

It's January now, wintertime, so it's hot and dusty, with the harmattan winds blowing off the Sahara, coating everything with dust-sized sand. It goes up to about 90 F, and it cools down at night. We go swimming every day, all winter long. It's the only tolerable season.

The completely intolerable season comes in March, April and May, when the temperature mounts into the 120s, the 130s. It cools down at night...to about 100.