The date is November 6…..
How the hell did that happen?
What happened to September, October?
It seems like mere days ago when my friends and I played at the 45th anniversary celebration for Peace Corps Niger. But here I am on this day scratching my head, wondering how can time pass this quickly. Well I can’t answer for the whole 10 months but I give a story about something that happened after my cross country trip
A strange trip…..
Approximately two weeks ago I came to Maradi to meet a pair of my boss’s for site development which means to help evaluate a village near by for placement of a new volunteer. My goal was to work on some projects, help with site development, and then travel with the “higher ups” to the furthest reaches of Peace Corps Niger, The Zinder Region.
But as we all know, a true journey never goes according to plan.
The Zinder Zone…
Zinder is the furthest east that Peace Corps works in Niger, this is also one of the most scenic due to the incredible mini-mountains and random boulder piles. Zinder is the barren remnant of what was once an ocean thousands of years ago. Traversing through the region my thoughts ran wild as my imagination recreated what was there so long ago.
As beautiful as this region is, lord am I happy not to live there. Zinder makes my sand box of a region look like the garden of Eden. In Zinder the soil is even more nutrient deprived, the rains less frequent, naturally the temperatures are blistering.
My goal traveling to Zinder was to retrieve an abandoned mandolin (mission accomplished), visit my friends village, and discuss some agriculture topics with other volunteers interested in adapting some of my ideas for next years growing season.
Traveling east on the national highway past the city Zinder I was going to visit my dear friends Emily and Henry (Hemily)and experienced possibly the most bone jarring ride yet since being in Niger. Good thing we left too early to eat or drink anything, if I had, it would have been liberated within the car or worse yet on one of my boss’s.
Upon arriving in their village, the car stopped on the road and one of boss’s said, “Okay here’s the village get out and find your way, we are going to keep going and visit some sites. See you when we get back.”
How hard could it be to find the only white peoples house in a village of about 3,000?
Finding Hemily’s house wasn’t too difficult oops sorry, Hemily is what I call them since they’re married, they have a pretty remarkable village, geographically speaking. Hemily’s village is located smack dab in the middle of some of the most very infertile locations yet seen in Niger, yet their village is an oasis. Seriously an Oasis!!! I have always wanted to see one!!!! Seriously people life checklist kind of stuff!!!
Located beneath the village an underground river flows and supports an agricultural microclimate well suited for gardens, and a range of non typical crops not grown in the region, such as sugar cane. Passing through the transition from oasis back into the Sahel is a process that one only needs to take a few steps away from the green and lush to be reunited with the Sahelien brown.
Passing through this microclimate taught me how uncharacteristically forgiving the Sahel can be with its gifts but reminded sharply within less than a hundred meters why the sahel has such a harsh reputation.
So shortly after being shoved out of the car and left to fend for my own in an unknown place I reached my friends house, and then asked a woman where Henry was, (Emily was in Zinder). Our Discussion:
Ina Muhammedu? (Where’s Henry) Muhammedu is his Hausa name.
“Ya a Gonashi” (He’s at his field)
how far is his field?
Tomodalla Ka iya gwada mini gonashi?
Good enough for me, can you show me?
As luck would have it she just happened to be going that way, so with my mandolin strapped to my back, half a liter of water, and two pieces of homemade beef jerky I embarked to see my friends field. How exciting.
Kilometers later, the Mountains that were once in the distance were now nearly casting shadows on my path, and as I arrived at my friend’s field my phone which hadn’t had service in nearly two days went off.
It was my friend Henry asking where I was. He was working in his garden that day and waiting for me. Back at the oasis. GARRRR!!!!
He felt terrible.
“What, You have a Garden!?!? Gee Whizz!!! I don’t even know what those look like anymore. No worries, its an adventure, this place is amazing, see you soon”
So turning my bad luck into a good adventure it was worth it to walk out and seize the opperutnity to explore and observe people’s fields and discuss agriculture with them. It was an incredible chance to factor in new environments and imagine how my mode of farming would mold to such a contrasting environment than my own location.
I know from reading my blog you all might misconstrue the notion that I am indestructible and 10 feet tall, but really I have weaknesses. Heat is my kryptonite.
Under the surface I was slightly worried to be so far out, having no idea of my location, alone, and to top it off being way out in the bush during the middle of the day with no water, Not to bright.
If you would read my medical history, it speaks of having survived some pretty nasty heat injuries, the worst being heat stroke a couple of times.
I was concerned yes, but not worried.
I can handle this. It’s a Journey.
Fortuitously a neighboring farmer approached and said Henry didn’t come out to his field today because he was waiting for me.
Bastard!!!! It would have been very helpful 10km back to know this!!!)
(actually said this in English along with a couple other colorful explicatives)
But it so happened that his wife was sick with a bad headache so he was returning to the village to get here some aspirin. (20km round trip) and he would be happy to show me back to the village.
At this time I had been in Henry’s field less than 5 minutes, realizing that I had no water I asked him if he could spare some water, and he produced a 25 liter jug that his wife had just carried to their field on her head. (maybe that’s why she had a head ache)???
Water never tasted so good, all I had to do was imagine something else instead of thinking about the brown sewer water being drank.
In these situations its recommended you drink what ever you can, and take the meds later. I had a sip, it was really bad, I lied, Henry was on the move, he was going to meet me half way.
Within 5 minutes of walking back I asked my sprite of a guide to stop, the first warning sign of dehydration had set in, I went behind a bush, runny poo!! Bad timing…
Only 10 km to go, its midday, my watch calculates temperature and it said “cracka you crazy!!” It was over 115 F out in the open sun.
We trudged on, I regulated my breathing and pace count, focused my mind to numb out the pain and we speed walked the first 5-7km or so. After this initial push I took a quick breather to keep my confidence steady, we continued, and then the bottom fell out. All at once breathing became erratic, I then realized that my body stopped perspiring k’s back, and my behind was seriously dragging. I tried to keep on, but about every ¼ to ½ kilometer I need to rest for a couple of minutes and then every 10 minutes, 5,….then I collapsed under the shade of a Gao tree.
The Gao tree has some merciless hooks for thorns so when I crashed under the tree I landed in a pile of these suckers, but the pain went unnoticed, my body was numb, limp as a boned fish. I was helpless.
My concern was on the brink of panic.
Despite the blurry vision, and a serious heat injury settling in, the last remains of my energy were devoted to my salvation. No not praying, but with the coordination of a punch drunk fighter my fingers jumbled a message that stated.
In trouble, send help ,have water!! Hurry
As my thumb searched for the send button I lifted my head from the sand and what can only be described as seeing a mirage, my friend Henry an angular six foot three man with a round straw cap, and Olympic marathon aspirations walked over the dune, he was not carrying water. Bastard.
For about 45 minutes we discussed Hemily’s experiences and sat patiently catching up as my strength recovered. Eventually I was well enough to move on, only a couple of Km’s to go, ashamed I had to ask Henry to do something I never asked anyone to do before. He had to carry my mandolin the rest of the way.
In all my years of hiking, road marching in the army, and other outdoor adventures I have never had to ask anyone to carry my gear.
But I like living, so I guess its an even trade off.
So Henry carried my mandolin, and I hobbled back on what ever reserves of strength that could be mustered. My strength came from the joy of knowing that I narrowly escaped a very grave situation, yes I would live to hike another day.
My panic waned, this is adventure.
A couple hours later as we rested, rehydrated, ate some lunch and caught up on more things, generally feeling much better, Henry’s phone buzzed with a text message, it was my message.
In trouble, send help ,have water!! Hurry
Damn we had a good laugh.
Welcome to Zinder, it felt like the farthest I have ever traveled on this incredible planet.