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  t was evening when we finally arrived in Niamey, and our first impression of Niger's capital wasn't very favorable; people were neither friendly nor helpful.  
Niamey; photo:web
  he first two nights we slept at the Youth Hostel, where we made the acquaintance of two French guys who'd been robbed of 40'000 CFA; it was all they had.  
  We were more lucky, though the expected letters from our friends weren't at the Post Office, there was at least some money. Not only could we now indulge our appetite for some good food, but also buy a few other necessities.  
oon we had managed to rent a simple round straw hut, one of a group of several making up a small settlement at the outskirts of town, near the river Niger. This accommodation was very convenient because of our animals, and because we hadn't liked the rundown Youth Hostel at all.
our new accommodations
  lean drinking water was our only problem; after witnessing daily how people not only used the nearby Niger to wash their clothes and cars, but, simple straw huts having no toilets, also for their elementary bodily needs, we didn't fancy drinking the river water as our neighbors did. After some negotiations, we found a young boy willing to supply us with fresh well water.  
  The camels had been in pretty bad shape on our arrival, and as we now had a bit of cash, we took them to a vet who prescribed daily shots of calcium and vitamin C. To reach the veterinary clinic we had to ride across town; a novel experience in a bustling city with high rises, traffic lights, cars and buses.  
  fter the morning visits to the clinic we'd usually return to our hut to prepare lunch and relax. In the afternoons we'd saddle the camels once more and ride for an hour or so along the river bank. Riding had become a habit like walking or breathing to us, something done automatically, without consciously paying attention. One such afternoon, the air hot and sultry, the camel swaying comfortingly and my mind, after a few potent smokes, lazily trailing some stray trains of thought, we were riding along our usual route. Next thing I knew, I found myself down on the stone hard, dried mud ground, totally stunned from the fall and my butt, or, to be more precise, my coccyx hurting bad enough for me to imagine it shattered to pieces.  
  My camel, probably in a similar dreamy mood as myself, had taken a misstep on the cracked dry mud and as it stumbled and its leg folded, my feet had lost their hold on its neck. Luckily, the worst was the shock of finding myself suddenly looking up at my animal from a very unfamiliar perspective; the only thing actually shattered was my pride. Although my bones hurt for a day or two, nothing was broken.  
  ack at our dwelling place, two policemen were expecting us. While X. talked to them, I covertly entered our home and, my heart beating loud enough for it to be heard out front, quickly hid our stash in the hut's straw walls. That done, I went to join the discussion.  
  The cops asked us, not very politely, to accompany them to the police station. Rather nervous and not knowing what to expect, we tied up our camels and went along to the commissioner's office, where it transpired that we were thought to be Tuareg escapees from one of the refugee camps.  
Niamey street scene; photo: web
  That obvious error cleared up, the police chief, a stocky, arrogant fellow, still wanted to keep us at the station for the night, a prospect we didn't fancy and consequently did our best to talk him out of. In possession of our promise to turn up again at seven next morning, he reluctantly let us go.  
  Early the next day, after we had waited for an hour and a half for the superintendent's appearance, we were brought downtown to the head offices of the Surreté. There we came to know that the police chief was planning to expel us from Niger.  
  After some discussion we were allowed to consult with our country's representative and to return to the Surreté at ten the same morning. By taxi we found Switzerland's representative, a local bank director, who made a call back to the Surreté, where we also returned immediately, only to be informed we were to come back once more in the afternoon. Exasperated, we did as told.  
  In the afternoon the police chief told us that due to our camel's conditions and the fact that we were waiting for money, he'd allow us to stay at his own responsibility, but advised us not to be too visible around town.  
  eturning to our hut, we found a young guy introducing himself as a police agent who'd obviously had been waiting for us. Making out to be our friend and on our side the man told us some bad news about the police chief. Among them the story about how he'd kicked out a French professor who had a few grass plants in his garden and had let various foreigners stay at his place. Those stories were probably true enough, nonetheless the fellow himself didn't seem overly trustworthy either. He also told us that on the previous evening, while we were at the police station, our hut had been searched for dope by him and several more police officers.  
  Thank heavens I had thought of sneaking in to hide the grass, who knows what would have happened otherwise. Without enough money for a fat bribe, we'd probably have ended up in real trouble.  
  From the police agent we also got news from old friends, the French couple we'd traveled together on the date truck from southern Algeria to Ingal, who, as he said, had stood at his place:  
  nly later, after all that hassle with the police did we hear about the military coup of a few months prior.  
  Niger had gained full independence in 1960, and Hamani Diori was elected president unopposed. With some help from a sympathetic French administration, he remained in political power for 14 years. When food stockpiles were found in the homes of Diori's ministers during the drought, it marked the end of Diori's rule. A bloody coup ensued and in April 1974, Senyi Kountché, a military officer, was put in the driver's seat.  
  The political change brought a new chief of police, who thought it necessary to throw his weight around and to impress the new government. That he chose to pick on Niamey's foreigners for his show of resolve was just our bad luck.  
  few days later, doing some shopping at the huge main market in town, we ran into our old friend Joe, the lad from Chad we had spent a few days with in Tahoua. We were glad to meet him, if only to have somebody to talk to about our problems.  
  he better we came to know Niamey, the less we liked it. It was there, from all places, we happened upon the only specimen of typical African wildlife we were, apart from the occasional vultures, to see in nearly a year of traveling through West Africa: A single monkey balancing on the railing of Kennedy bridge.Even this surprise encounter didn't help to enhance the city's appeal for us. Kennedy bridge had been constructed by the United States in 1970; it was the only bridge connecting the two riversides  
traffic on Kennedy bridge; photo: web
  ur minds had been set on continuing on towards Timbuktu, where we expected to meet our friends from Germany, by camel.  
  To our dismay, in Niamey we learned that further south the climate wasn't suitable at all for our animals; they would invariably perish within a few weeks. That was bad news indeed, and after being told how, if one indeed made it down to the coastal region with a camel, one could put the animal in a tent and charge spectators not only to look at it and touch it, but make additional profits selling dried camel droppings, we were convinced.  
  The prospects of having to part with our animals didn't help to improve our mood. With heavy hearts, knowing that our camels wouldn't survive the journey down south and warned that the police could kick us out any day, which would mean loosing our mounts anyway, we decided to sell them, leave Niamey as fast as possible and continue our trip by local transport.  
  eanwhile the two French travelers who'd been robbed had received return tickets and some money from home. To celebrate this improvement of their situation, the two invited us for a fine meal, a gesture we much appreciated, as it gave our mind a welcome break from all the problems confronting us.  
  ur bad luck wasn't complete though without me stepping on a thick thorn that pierced the leather sole of my sandal as if it were made of paper, imbedding itself deep into the flesh of my foot. Instead of getting better, the following day the wound was all red and inflamed, the foot swollen and hurting to an extent of making it impossible for me to walk.  


  s my injury prevented me from going along to the camel market to sell our mounts, X went alone. During his absence, I had a surprise visitor: a local friend of the French boys. Not too pleased at his appearance, I exchanged some polite remarks with him. Next thing I knew he casually told me he'd never had intercourse with a white woman, asked if I'd ever made it with a black and if I'd like to give it a try! Not understanding much about local customs and quite dumbfounded, I didn't know how to react, so I just asked him to leave immediately.  
  X returned from the camel market with a paltry 35'000 CFA, only half of what we had paid for our animals back at Ingal. Not only was Niamey not affected by the drought that had forced prices for camels to rise in the Sahel region, but the animals also weren't in much demand in a modern city. Worse, and to my great dismay, I learned that camels were sold and bought in Niamey solely for their meat value. We felt terrible for having led our camels that far only to end up at the butchers  
  My foot looked worse the next day, so with the help of a wooden stick and leaning heavily on X, I paid a visit to a nearby a dispensary run by the "Red Crescent", the Islamic equivalent of the Red Cross. My wound got examined and I received three horrible shots deep into the soles of my foot. It was the worst injections I ever had, it hurt badly and I'll never forget the noise of the needle piercing the hard flesh. At least that's how I remember the shots, if there really had been an audible sound or not, I can't be sure, it rather seems a bit strange.  
  ur decision to leave Niger as fast as possible was further reinforced by yet another visit from the Police agent, who had passed at our place to tell us it wasn't save for us to stay in Niamey any longer, as the police chief still was after us. The moment I was halfway able to walk again, we moved back to the Youth Hostel and got the necessary visas for Benin. We could hardly wait to leave Niamey behind and went to check out for transport at the bus station. The fat owner of a bus company told us he had a bus leaving next day at eleven.  
  Before our departure, we checked once more in vain at the Post Office; neither a letter from our friends nor some more money from Germany had arrived.  
  On the morning of our departure we happened to run into Joe once more, who'd disappeared a few days back with the 1000 CFA we had given him to get me some pain killers. Of course he couldn't return the money, so we just said good bye and wished him luck.  
  t was still early, maybe ten o'clock, when we reached the bus station. Had we known that our bus wouldn't leave until five in the afternoon, we'd have hurried less. As it was, we passed the day squatting in a corner of the bus station, drinking soft drinks, eating snacks of boiled peanuts and watching a group of Peulh, metal zippers adorning the women's hairdo's, selling a few old rags and obviously having a good time frolicking and joking among themselves. Their childlike gaiety was a welcome change from the sourly demeanor and constant quarreling of the other locals, so we thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle.  
river Niger at sunset; photo:web
  Finally the tiny bus, crammed with 30 passengers, made off in a black cloud of smoke. After only a few hours drive, dusk made an end to our marveling at  the lush greenery on both sides of the road. We reached the border to Benin late at night, too late for it to be still open.  
  This meant we could roll out our straw mats right on the road near the border post and spend the night under the starry night sky, with no need to further deplete our meager funds.  
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