Damn Good Biking

Damn Good Biking
Mammath Mountain

Friday, August 10, 2007

Yellow Fever. A modern day gold rush

On the road...

Okay currently returned from a wonderful road trip to the river basin area of Goethe it was amazing. I have to admit openly that my feelings were hurt when my language assignment was to Hausaland. My only preferences for the Peace Corps was put me somewhere with rivers, mountains or forest to disappear in from time to time. But make it Africa, but we know how this ends so we will leave it at that.

In the Goethe region there are a couple of friends who wanted me to come and visit and since the work in my field was completed there was a lull period perfect to escape from my village and come to Niamey and visit some new country. This trip is practically my first real trip on my own, until now my travels have been with others to group events.

This was my first experiance of feeling confident enough in my own abilities to wander off in my fashion into new territory. So off to river country I went, armed with my trusty mando and a change of clothes my goals were to visit with my agropheliac friend, play music, and help him work in his field while hang out with the Goethe “A-Team” afterwards.

Matt is an odd ball socially-awkward Iraq war veteran who never seems to stop moving until collapsing in a exhausted heap, and also happens to be my favorite musician to play my mandolin with. Plus it was time to come out west and boast on the greatness of my field (It turned competitive with matt). He has a good field but the bone head hadn’t planted trees yet!!!

On my way to his village I learned of a gold mine shanty town and then talked with my friends about visiting the place if time permitted. Turns out they were needing to go anyways to sort out some plans. So after a long day of planting trees and thinning out and weeding his sesame’ field we decided a hard days work should be rewarded with a rest day. We considered our rest day to be a 18km round trip walk through the bush in 100F+ heat to visit a gold mine boom town.

When I first learned of this place the oppertunity to witness an African shanty town ripe with the yellow fever was to tempting to pass on. Sure beats watching reruns right?

Prior to arriving my mind wandered onto all the tales of western gold towns and the global similarity of the corruption, culture, and societal ills that plague every establishment of the raw extraction of precious resources. Congo Moussa was found not to be devoid of these preconceived notions. Guised as real work our goal for the day was to observe the conditions of the settlement and speak with the chief gendarme and a very generous woman wishing to establish with an impending Peace Corps event related to AIDS education and safe sex.

Walking into the shanty town one immediately sees the red clay covered equipment used to separate the unearthed clay in search of the yellow. Cesspools of stagnate water signify each camps purpose for taking up residence in this shanty town. Distinct in the cultural regard that nearly all the people met thus far seem to be farmers first and something else second. In congo everyone is mining for gold first and working something second, or thirdly. Life appears temporary and difficult in this place everyone has their own dreams but they all share the same dream while burrowing through the subterranean veins.

The only signs of permanence are the mud bricked cafes that double as commercial stores to buy prepackaged fresh water and other items such as milk, tea, coffee, batteries.
The lack of permanent structures and the most basic of essentials such as a fresh water supply is absent in this town. To choose to live in Congo one has to scrounge to survive and pay for everything in its inflated market value.

Congo is isolated many miles away from a market town and separated by a temporary river than runs voluminously during rainy season. Despite its isolation “Congo Moussa aptly provides everything from flashy clothes, radios, liquor and prostitution. This community is everything expected one would expect to witness first hand as a typical place to strike it quick and spend big when gold is found. Everything is in abundance to bleed the irresponsible dry.

We had a Nigerien guide from Matt’s village who quietly showed us the location of the abysmally dangerous holes where the men lowered themselves in on long vines strewn together consisting of tree branches and ripped chords to fasten from nylon sacks. The one meter circular holes are hand dug and bore straight down to luggie guesstimated measurement of ninety feet. At the bottom of the shafts there is networked labyrinth of dangerous lateral tunnels sprawled underneath the settlement. Our guide in his fashionable clothes, accessories and athletic shoes weaved us through the village and even pointed out the hole he once worked in. With an emotional detachment he spoke frequent of deaths attributed to cave-ins and the numerous health hazards such as black lung. I do not recall on him commenting on the prevalence of STD’s related to the sex industry but from our first five minutes in congo “Eye Spied” working girls.

As stated earlier the mission for the day in Congo Moussa was to establish an opportunity to conduct sensibilisations on safe sex and HIV/aids awareness. Due to not speaking the local language (Zarma) or being from this region my goal wasn’t to do anything more than focus on observing activities and taking in the local culture. With my goal achieved an incredible experience was gained and my understanding of the reoccurring theme of precious natural resource extraction and the modern day exploitation and culture related to gold mining was acquired. Our journey into the bush in search of this village was an incredibly educational and pleasurable experience for all of us. These types of trips are crucial to understanding the dynamic of this culture and its desperation to cling to any resource available.

My goal for the next few months is to embark on as many trips as time allows and observe, interact, and learn as much about Niger as possible.

Or maybe I will just continue to do what I love most which is just to wander and pick out a few tunes on my mandolin and learn about life somewhere else.

And some think Peace Corps is just a two year vacation......... Well okay it is actually.

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