Last night we had a sad occurrence. Our cat, Midnight, died. I did a blog on her on 12
Dec 07, so if you want to read more about her, go to that post. She had been our kids' faithful pet for almost 16 years. It was sad to see her go, and it broke one more tie that we had to our "home" in Tera.
That isn't what I wanted to write about, but so much has happened in the past few weeks. What I really wanted to write about is THE BRIDGE. I use that word with the definite article because it is one of the few bridges across the upper reaches of the Niger River. In fact the bridge across the Niger in Niamey is, to my knowledge, the only bridge across the Niger for over 1000 km between Niamey, the capital of Niger, and Bamako, the capital neighboring Mali. Between here and there, the river makes a huge inverted U-shaped bend the passes through the southern reaches of the Sahara Desert.
But let's introduce the bridge more foramlly. The bridge is called the Kennedy bridge. It was funded by the US during the Kennedy administration in the 60's. It is about 1 km (o.6 miles) long and connects the two halves of Niamey on either side of the Niger River. It is well built and has stood up well to the traffic and ravages of weather and time. Unfortunately, it was never designed to accomodate the volume of traffic it now must sustain every day. It is a narrow, two-lane bridge which carries lots of super-loaded trucks, heavy car traffic, donkey carts, a gazillion motorbikes, many pedestrians, and even camels loaded with huge mounds of grasses and bags of who knows what. IT looks quite peaceful in this photo.
The bridge can be quite pictuesque, especially at sunset when the blazing orb of heat and light sets over the right bank of the river (to the left in the picture at right). At night, the streetlights blaze a curving arc over the main channel of the river. Camels bouncing across the bridge can seem very exotic, but you get used to them after a while, and you hardly even notice them. There are also the humorous sights like the spooked cattle wandering all over the bridge or the people doing laundry in the river and laying the clothes out on the island in the middle of the bridge to dry.
But mostly the bridge seems like a necessary evil. As the only artery connecting the two parts of the city, it is often clogged up by massive traffic jams. All it takes is one broken donkey cart to cause a traffic jam. And if a truck breaks down or there is an accident, it's chaos. When the president or a government official goes by the access road on the left bank of the bridge (a common occurrence as it's one of the main roads to and from the presidential palace), the bridge can be locked up for 20 or 30 minutes. We joke a lot about people going to the bridge specifcally to break down, and it often seems that they position their broken vehicle in the most awkward position to obstruct the maximum amount of traffic. There's always an adventure crossing the bridge. The speed of vehicles apparoaching and crossing the bridge is horrendous, and you have to make split second decisions sometimes to avoid disaster. Rush hours always tend to make me nervous. And if that isn't enough, sometimes the students or civil servants like to block the bridge to make their point about their grievances. They have even burned tires or smashed and burned vehicles on the bridge. The only university in the countrty is located on the left bank of the river just at the end of the bridge, so it is nice and convenient for the students.
The problem for many ex-pats is that they have business on both sides of the bridge. Sahel Academy is on the right bank of the bridge; we live on the left bank. That means a dangerous , polluted, and crowded commute to get Suzanne to and from school each day. Also, the Bible School is on the right bank. Many of our colleagues live on the right bank, some of them on the Sahel and Bible school compounds. The SIM Office is on the left bank, near our home. The airport is also on the left bank. So is the American Embassy. And many ex-pats live in the more up-scale sections of town on the left bank. So, we have to cross the bridge almost daily.
Niger is now about to build a second bridge across the Niger in Niamey, about a mile downstream from the current bridge. It is desperately needed. This time it will be built and funded by the Chinese. There are many Chinese contractors in town doing a lot of building right now. Recently, they bought up so much cement (partly for the bridge) that there were spot shortages of the commodity and the price went way up. That made it difficult for us to find and pay for cement we needed for ongoing building projects in the country. Oh, well, at least we'll be getting a new bridge. I hope it gets up soon. The old bridge needs some relief, and it can't come a moment too soon.
Ah, the power is back on, and I can post this before I head back home (I'm working at the office. We have no Internet access at home).