GREAT STORIES:A Nightmare
Yields Glimpse of Missing Past
November 7, 2004
We leave the village the
way we came – meaning, at high speed on a road that
rides like one long rumble strip. Nasser, gifted with
more enthusiasm than actual skill, accelerates through
craters that bounce us against the ceiling, the vehicle
fishtailing as it lands.
by Sarah J. Glover|
Two Nigerien women walk near
the Niger River with their babies in Tera Village,
175 km from Niamey, Niger. The babies are being
carried in a hampy, which is a Songhay/Niger term
for a baby wrapped in cloth on one's
Somehow, we reach the
ferry crossing the Niger River without injury. The
boat's ramp is lowered into the muddy water, so that the
line of cars and trucks must drive down into the river
and then up a steep and slippery incline to the deck.
This challenges the skills of even the most experienced
driver. And then there is Nasser.
When our turn
comes, he stomps the accelerator and we hit the ramp
with a jarring thump. Our wheels whine and spin, seeking
purchase on the wet metal, but to no avail. We slide
back into the water. Nasser backs up to take a longer
run at the ramp, but we just end up in the water
At this point, Kedidia's had enough. She
bails. Sarah decides to stay in the car because she is a
professional photographer with thousands of dollars
worth of equipment at stake. I decide to stay because I
am an idiot.
One more time, Nasser gives it the
gas. The car bolts forward and slams the ramp, wheels
squealing. We begin to slide but then, without warning,
the tires catch and the vehicle leaps onto the
Straight toward a row of parked
Nasser spins the wheel and the car skids
left, now sliding toward where the passengers are
seated. Miraculously and – thank you, Jesus – we stop
short of tragedy. Nasser backs triumphantly into
Other vehicles follow, some with livestock
tied on top. One van has a bunch of birds – chickens, or
guinea fowl, I can't be sure – tied by their feet,
hanging upside down. All seem resigned to their fate in
someone's cooking pot except one feisty rebel who keeps
cawing, flapping his wings and lifting above the van
until the restraints on his feet are stretched
The three of us cross the river in
gathering darkness, the ferry engine chugging loudly.
The sun is an orange disk in a sky the color of dust.
The river is placid and brown.
Half an hour
later, we are speeding toward Niamey, when I chance to
glance at the gas gauge. The needle is poking
I point this out to Kedidia and she asks
Nasser if we have enough gas to make it back to
"Maybe," he says.
The sun goes
down. Blackness settles, featureless and impenetrable. I
slump into my seat, mentally calculating what it might
be like to spend the night stranded in one of the more
remote places on earth. No cellphone signal. No gas
station. No auto club.
And little in the way of
food or water.
Eternity passes twice before
When we pull up at the hotel, I
blow kisses to the building. In the darkness beside me,
Nasser chuckles softly.