Niger is quite literally off the map. Coming here, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I couldn’t find much at all in written or in photo form. Would it be lush and green like so many parts of West Africa, or more Sahara-like like it’s more northern desert-country cousins. Google provided little help in my futile search of assessing the geography and environment of the new place I would soon call home.
And I am surprised, after having travelled a bit more extensively throughout the country, with the exception of the north. That it is really neither like West Africa nor the Sahara, at least in the southern border where the majority of the population lives.
Niger in of itself is largely a desert country. Four fifths of it is made up of the southernly creeping Sahara, leaving the southern band from Benin and Burkina Faso out to Chad via the Nigerian border, the bread basket of the nation. Millet and sorghum fields are peppered in every which way across the landscape.
But several days ago, I went on a small hiking excursion out to two different sand dunes about forty-five minutes outside of Niamey. A small otherworldly enclave amidst the farmers’ fields, the landscape reminded me of both Mars’ rocky red ground, and the savannah that lies in our western imaginations, a brown green terrain with small grasses and the occasional baobab and acacia tree.
As I got away from the Niger River valley, which I live on, the air became drier and the background noise of life seemed to get quieter as I focused on the serene tranquility of the place. I came with a group of American, Welsh, African, and French expats, but ended up sitting instead with two long time residents, two French women who talked of their life in Niger while sipping on dry white wine in crystal glasses. We watched the blazing red sun set into the gray coolness of the night and I sat wondering about the contradiction of this place.