Pet Peeves about Niamey

I don't consider myself a city person. Cities get me mad and frustrated. Waiting at lights. Traffic. Pollution. Noise. Lights. The pace of life. I prefer life in the country, with fresh air, quiet, and God-made scenery. So, when we made our move to Niamey, it was with some regret because Niamey is the capital of Niger and has over a million people in it, more than most cities in the US! It's not easy living here, and I have a lot of gripes. There are advantages, I will admit. In another blog perhaps I'll talk about some of the advantages of living here, but right now I want to sound off. Here are my top ten pet peeves about Niamey:

10. The fast pace of life. It never lets up. At least in Tera we had times where things slowed down a bit. This is probably true of most cities and not unique to Niamey, but it's been quite a shock to me.

9. You don't know your neighbors. In Tera we knew everybody, and everybody knew us. Not only that we looked out for each other and borrowed from each other. Here, you don't know most of your neighbors unless you work with them. Often your neighbors change from year to year. High walls, guards, and gates keep you out of other people's yards. People are suspicious of each other. Fortunately, we live in a small complex with two other missionaries: the Rideout family (Ian is a pilot and Becka is currently our guest house hostess) and Jeanette James (the principal of Sahel Academy). So we have some interaction with neighbors, but we know almost no one else on our street. Many of them are French and very aloof.

8. Well-dressed children asking for money. There are many legitimate beggars in town. This is partly due to Muslim influence and partly due to the extreme poverty of the country. But there are many children relatively well off who simply ask any white person for money as though it were some kind of greeting. That annoys me no end. We did not have that in Tera.

7. Cars turning left from the right-hand lane right in front of you. These people seem to think they own the road and have no consideration for others. They probably don't even look to see if you're there.

6. Cars running red lights. Often cars will pass a long line of cars waiting at the red light using the lane of opposing traffic and go right through the red light into the intersection. They must be more important than me.

5. All the bicycles, motorbikes, animals (camels, sheep, cattle, and dogs), donkey carts, and pedestrians in the road. Many of these don't know the rules of the road and don't know anything about "right of way." It is nearly impossible to avoid all these obstacles and maneuver around them. You have to keep an eye on everything coming at you in every direction. It's exhausting. One new missionary said he prefers driving in downtown Philadelphia to Niamey. His blood pressure was skyrocketing just after a ten-minute drive. And Niamey is nowhere near the worst place in Africa for driving.

4. The slow trucks piled beyond the gills with goods. These vehicles block up traffic, give off enough smoke to rival the smog in Los Angeles, and often break down. I've seen them loaded so high that they touch electric wires as they pass under them!

3. Traffic cops who pull you over for minor traffic violations that really would not result in any major accident. I have never received a single ticket in the US, but I have received 8 tickets in my 24 years in Niger. Yesterday (29 Dec 08), Nancy got pulled over for "not signalling". She had signalled to turn right, but the traffic cop did not see it. The steering wheel may have cut the signal off before she completed the turn, but she did signal. But the cop would hear none of our protests, and she now has to pay the fine.

2. Merchant stalls crowding the roads. This is a problem almost anywhere in Africa, but especially in bigger cities. In the major market areas, the problem is so bad, there's barely enough space for one lane of cars to pass when there are supposed to be two lanes of traffic.

And my number one pet peeve:
1. Power cuts. These are more frequent and longer than anything we had in Tera. And the people in Tera are rejoicing because they are now erecting high tension power lines to take power from Niamey to Tera so they won't have to rely on their diesel generator. I've told them to hold the celebration. They may be sorely disappointed. Power cuts in Niamey come without warning at almost any time. And they can last from an hour to a day. During the summer we had terrible power cuts lasting as long as 24 hours. We had to empty our freezer and use the stuff in it or put it somewhere else where it wouldn't go bad.

You've probably noticed that a lot of my pet peeves relate to traffic and congestion. I get tired of feeling cooped up in cities and waiting around for people. I always feel cramped and like the wide open spaces outside the city. In Niamey you also have to think about how long something should take and then double it to get the actual time it takes.

It's been a while since I've written. That reflects the pressure I've been under as well as the fast pace of the city and the time it takes to do everything. I hope to be able to post a little more often in 2009.