Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Balleyara Market, Niger

This is part of a much longer (and pretty interesting) story. For this post, I'll stick to the basics that relate to my point.

When my husband and I visited Niger, we took a bush taxi from Niamey- the capital city where my sister was living at the time- to Baleyara for the weekly market. This normally 2 hour trip was a bit harrowing, to say the least. For starters, there is no schedule. The bush taxi only leaves when it's full. We lucked out and left in a reasonable amount of time (maybe an hour or so). The other challenging part was that the driver dictated where each person sat. My sister and I were placed in the back two rows. I was squashed in so tight that only my left buttock touched the seat. The rest of my backside rested on the Hausa man to my right. Meanwhile, my husband- a male in a Muslim country- sat comfortably in the front row only three people across to our five.
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We hurtled on down the road at what felt like 80 miles per hour until we were stopped by the Military Police. They collected everyone's papers, including our passports. After a scary exchange with my sister, who no longer carried her passport everywhere because she lived there, our passports/papers were returned and the bush taxi continued on its way, minus the one passenger who was removed by the police. Needless to say, this left the three of us on edge. I was already uncomfortable being separated from my family on the bush taxi.  Our interaction with guys with big guns had left me more anxious.

So, a short while later when the bush taxi veered off the road and stopped, I was alarmed. The driver got out and demanded we all exit. Once outside the vehicle, we realized the problem- a flat tire. This wasn't surprising since we were driving on bald tires, but it was a problem considering we had no jack.

The solution?

All of the men, including my husband, lifted the bush taxi and propped it on a block so they could change the tire. The driver and several other men had waved my husband off, like he didn't need to help, but we were passengers just like everyone else. There was no way my husband would take a privileged position and refuse to help. Once the new bald tire was secured, they lowered the bush taxi and passengers began reloading. The driver clapped my husband on the back and said, "Let's go, my brother."

The lesson: don't act like a tourist, too afraid to interact with locals or worry you'll ruin your vacation by getting dirty. For us, this momentary exchange was significant. Until that moment, the driver was pretty quiet. After my husband's help, he called my husband brother. They worked together to solve a problem and a new level of connection, no matter how brief, was established. It also calmed my anxieties- we now had a "friend" driving us to Balleyara.

Have you experienced a brief moment of connection like this while traveling? Not the kind that leads to long-term friendship like I experienced in Morocco, but important, nonetheless?

And, a final question... Have you traveled to West Africa? Can you identify the large pieces of wood that look like giant golf tees? A language barrier prevented us from figuring it out when we were there!

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