Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bringing out the mares

This afternoon, Ali came over with Chinada to take both the mares to the race track. Chinadahas not been around much after they moved to their new home. During the weekends, he has been away (there has been racing in both Magaria and Matameye) and during the weekdays, I have not asked him to come. Chinada has not been in my good books since he asked me for a motor cycle, and I think Ali wanted to patch things up a bit - as Chinada is like a second son to him, and Ali knows he has my confidence.

A funny and unexpected thing happened though: Ali galloped for the first time since I don't know when! People were cheering "Ali, Ali" as he spurred Sahara into a cantor just as he passed the crowd. I was thrilled! You see, Ali used to be a jockey in youth, but stopped galloping after he started training them. Don't ask me why, that's the way things are done. I understood that when he refused to run with me in October and I set off alone instead.

Now, Chinada had other horses to run as well, but Ali did a good job keeping the two mares together, even though both of them were full of anticipation.

Now, greetings in Niger are very important and at the race track, there is a unspoken rule that whoever arrives last has to walk around and greet all the people he knows; both his friends and the people that are higher in hierarchy (meaning, those with more money or influence). Being neglected is one of the worst insult here and if you do not get around to greet everyone by the end of the day, they will feel slighted and think that you do not care. Now, I always take care in greeting all my friends, but as you know, I don't always follow the rules. If Ali greet me and takes my one hand with both of his, I will answer by giving him both my hands as well. This is a gesture that shows equality and makes people confused; for in their eyes, I am a "horse-owner" while Ali is simply a "horse trainer". Now, today, I was not the first to arrive, but the three of us (Anette, Sofia and I) started by walking straight to the track. The first ones we greeted were of course Ali and Chinada. After a while, I turned around and walked over to the Snow Man, a friend of mine, whose company I enjoy. The Gold Man however is not among my aquaintances, and I so I never walk up to greet him. Despite this, we have never yet missed out on a greeting - ever - since we started meeting at the race track. No matter how much distance I keep - at the end of the day, he will always have found an occasion to barge in, wherever I am. Having worked hard on his social skills, all my friends are now his aquaintances as well and as soon as I approach them, he follows. Though he will not adress me first (he knows better, because I might just turn him my back and nothing would make him more ashamed than to be slighted publically), he will start talking to whoever I am speaking to. After a minute, he will turn around and greet me as if I am his best friend, but by then he knows that I am waiting for my friend to continue my conversation, and will not leave my friend just like that. Now, on top of it, my jockey is now his jockey as well and my horse-adviser, Ali, has also started doing some small jobs for him. I actually asked the Snow Man which horse he thought Chinada would end up riding if both a horse of a mine and a horse of the Gold Man were to participate in the same race. He answered without the slightest hesitation: "Yours!" Fortunately for the Gold Man that I have only two mares then...

For Sahara, today was her very first offical race, and she proved to be the exact opposite of Arwen last year (when Arwen did her debut), possessing top speed (which Arwen lacked) but having little endurance (which was Arwen's strong point and the reason why she did so well right from the start). Sahara started off well enough and kept pace with the other horses for about half a lap, before starting to lose ground. She came in last (as last as you can be) and I lost €5, but I did not mind because I wanted her to get the experience. Besides, I actually prefer working with an underdog than all the expectations in the world. Believe me, there will come a day when all the other horse owners will refuse to let their stallions race against her, but she is young and does not need to hurry. She's already doing a good job just eating like a horse, developing her social skills and growing in width.

Fortunatly for my honour (if I even care about it), I still had Arwen left and she was very keen to be taken to the race track.

Pregnant or not, my mare wanted to race! Which she did...

She ended up on second place, beaten only by a horse that the Gold Man bought for about fifteen times as much as I bought Arwen... Though Chinada was satisfied with his "revanche", he did not feel that Arwen had her usual "gudu" (speed), so maybe it was little junior helping out.


Dental Care Needed Soon...

...when Rez the baboon is fed sprite from the bottle!

You'd be amazed by his technique! Now that's what twenty years of practise does to you... Can hardly believe he has reached half his age already. Where have all the years gone, huh? It wasn't long since we were approximately the same height, him and I... Oh dear.


Hunting cloth at the market

We started the day with breakfast, and then head out to the market to see what tissue we would find. Sofia had already aquainted herself with Ringo (the tailor), but the cloth she used was part of my little hamstering collection (a trait I have inherited from my mother!). Because you never know when to find nice tissues at the market, I always buy the ones I like. I might not be using them for a long time, but when the time comes - or for instance, you get a visitor who wants Ringo to make her some African-inspired clothes, they always come in handy...

We did find quite a lot, and both Anette and Sofia appreciated the prices (between €1 and €4 per yard, depending on the quality). It did take some time though as we had to look through all the piles! Anette cannot understand how I can spot anything at all in these piles of tissue, but you just need to concentrate on one little piece at a time. Which was impossible after my concussion in January...

Now, this was probably Anette's last visit to the market during this particular journey (she only has ten days left) but if you ask her, it won't be the last!


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Introducing Sofia to the race track

Since I haven't been able to ride for a long time (I'm still waiting for my wound to heal, not wanting to aggrevate the infection), I decided to stimulate myself visually instead. So Anette, Sofia and I went out to the race track, hoping to get a glimpse of one of the "sprattelgubbar" - as Anette so kindly calls them: the jockey wannabees that sit on top of exhausting horse, jumping up and down with the most amazing fury you've ever seen (it's incredible how they manage to stay on top of the horse, despite its lack of energy) trying to squeeze out the poor horse's last drop of energy... It's a highly entertaining sight, but I have never seen it work, nor have I seen any of the "real" jockeys do it... (Chinada would just dare!)

Ali was quick to come up to us. He was riding Satellite, one of the horses that he cares for (owned by a certain Elhadj at the other end of town) and had "dressed" him in the headset I had given him as a token of appreciation for the work he had done for me this summer. Had to help him put it right, but the stallion definitively looked a lot more handsome!

The race track may have no fixed times, but there is certainly a fixed order. First, the race horses arrive and walk a lap around the track. The horse carers then hand over their horse to the jockey, who will only ride them if their owner has arrived (by car). It's a very hierarchical place, which I love turning upside down.

The horse owners are mainly the richest men in town. Depicted on this picture, you find the Snow Man and the Gold Man, as we now refer to them. The Snow Man generally dresses in white which is the colour that shows that you do very little practical work yourself, or you would get dirty... The Gold Man has a doubtful background and believes that money will buy everything. However, success at the race track comes with a lot of hard work and (if you wish to take a short cut, which I do - not possessing enough patience to do things the Nigerien way...) innovating ideas. Since he has neither, and still wants to be on top of things, he solves the issue by buying himself a new horse about once every second month... Costly habit!

Now... Who wants to follow a race?

Step "1: Abbas and Chinada preparing for the start, which is never organised and takes about 15-30 minutes every time... (on top of things, the horses are so full of adrenaline that they can hardly stand still).

Finally, off they go...

... leaving behind a trail of dust!

After the first three hundred meters, they disappear behind the euphorbia hedge, only to reappear again for the last 400 meters.

Though they rarely do any wonder, whips are hailing during this last part, even though every race horse will always do his best to win. In the end, it all comes down to food and training. And some innovating ideas!


The Sultan's palace

Today we went to see the sultan's palace - one of the few historical buildings that have been preserved in Zinder after the arrival of the colonials.

The sultan's palace, dating from the 15th century. The modern art depicted on its walls however is from the 21st century...

Hausa architecture at its peak... And what better fram than a bright blue Nigerien sky???

The sultan's courtyard, where the former prison cells open up to. Choose between the ant cell, the scorpion cell or the death sentence...

We didn't get to go upstairs this time (security reasons...) which was unfortunate, but we had a nice tour anyhow.

Our guide was a calm Nigerien who asked me more questions than he gave me information (as I had already been there twice before, I knew all the details, right?). I enjoyed his style though (calm and thorough) but unfortunately, we did not have all that much time.

Anette behind the camera (which Renate by her side)...

... and me and Sofia in FRONT of the camera! Anyone surprised...? Actually it was Sofia's mother who had asked for this picture: she wanted to see if we were still looked as much alike as we did on Smögen this summer... At least we did our best with matching outfits (as it turned out!), but apart from that, it is mostly 90% of Zinder that have a hard time keeping us apart. Especially when Sofia is out walking in our neighbourhood: the kids call her Ishtar and ask her questions she doesn't understand... It's tricky being in a country where you don't know the language, but when you have a lookalike (or when you are a lookalike!) you can just smile and say "oui, oui" and they'll be just as much your friends next time you meet.


Friday, November 24, 2006


The day after Sofia's arrival, I got an aggressive infection in my left leg, causing me to limp and take things slow. It was the second infection in a row (in closed wounds), which quickly spread to a third, and when that happened, I knew I was in serious trouble, my immune system being down to nothing. Probably due to lack of sleep, a lot of worry and too much stress. On top of things, I also got a virus which got a good grip of my head and neck muscles and lasted for about three days. I am now - finally!!! - doing better, although I still have yet to go out riding again and it has actually been nearly a week and a half! Anyway, just wanted you to know that I will start posting again very soon. Stay tuned, because we had a fun weekend, going to the sultan's palace, the race track, the market and then back to the race track again... And now I don't only have one camera woman with me, but two! So we cover even more angles now than we did before! :-)

During Sofia's first week in Niger, I was a pretty weak hostess and so Anette had to stand in for me... Baloo here tried to cheer me up as I helped the girls out on a ride, but at least Sofia did not have an eventless week!!


Monday, November 20, 2006


Today, Aissa came over and stayed for dinner. Believe it or not, but we were having tomato soup again! It's Anette's favourite... Anyway, it was very nice to see Aissa again. She's my oldest childhood friend, we met in 1986.

She is currently working for the American Red Cross in the Tanout region (as a translator). We drove her home - actually it's her sister's house - and stayed for the siesta.

Anette and Sofia were keen to go with me and they enjoyed the visit, even though neither of them speak much French (Anette is picking it up, though!). It's a very peaceful thing to sit and talk in a Nigerien courtyard, surrounded by red brick walls and a deep blue sky.

They asked me about my mother and when I told them how things are going, they cried. She's being missed by many, but then again, she is a very special person. A mother to many.

They offered us mint tea and just watching Aissa's sister-in-law prepare it was a treat. It's such a ritual - I never get tired of it.

There are three servings of which the first one is the strongest. We drank two. Guess which ones my dear friends enjoyed the most...?

Anette behind the camera, as always!

Aissa's father (Daouda) was there and it was very nice to see him again. I have only seen him a few times since I stayed with them for a week in 2000. I asked him how the family was doing, and he told me that they were doing well (they are nomads, living in the bush) but that there was little fodder this year. He had lost a lot of cows last year, about forty, and only had twenty left.

Although I felt ill before we left, I'm happy we went there because it was a very nice afternoon. Though I worry about many things right now, you can't stress under the African sun and I needed the time-out. Just being there, sitting there, talking about all and nothing, laughing, crying, drinking tea and not thinking so much about life. Yes, I needed that.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pictures of the house

The house we live in. Be warned for here comes Aslan the guard dog!!!

The monkey cages on the side of the garden, where you sit down, enjoy the view and forget about time.

Lady Rosie Amalia is curious but shy...

Her younger brother Julius wants to show Anette what a ferocious baboon male he is!

Anette however is more afraid of the lizards in the garden (though she's getting used to them after four weeks of their presence...). Margouyas, they call them here. Sofia thinks they're cool! (And she's the one who managed to catch five of them sunbathing on the same spot!)


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Back in Kano!!!

Yesterday morning, my father and I drove to Kano to pick up Sofia at the airport. First however we spent the afternoon doing errands in the busiest city I know!

Kano, a city where the signs say you can find anything you're looking for...

The hotell where we always stay

We were beat when we finally came back to the hotell and were so hungry that we ordered far more food than we actually wanted to eat! Having not slept very much lately, I was looking forward to a slow pace before going out to the airport at eleven pm to pick up Sofia, but the hotell owner wanted Dad to help him install his scanner and printer, so we ended up having to hurry nonetheless.
The plane was early (!) and Sofia got out of the custums' just as we had parked the car and were 30meters away. She had not had any trouble at all, which was amazing for a first journey!

She was happy but tired and fell asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. That's what happens when your mind is bombared with new impressions!