Master's Research Programs
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENERGY
My visit in Niamey, Niger (West-Africa)
Most of the days were filled with the day to day activities, conversations, literature reviews, setting up and performing interviews, requesting data and filling paperwork. But sprinkled throughout, memorable things happened, tidbits of conversations that stood out, insights of lifestyle differences, etc.
A few days had passed on which I had gone to buy a hot plate for my room, some food and went to church, played basketball and gotten an internet access, as well as gone with Thierry Odou, a WASCAL student from Benin, and Djibrill Mousa, the WASCAL driver, to exchange money with a black marketer that gave almost full rate of exchange.
From what I had seen during my first days in Niger, I had been impressed by the ingenuity of Nigerien mothers to carry their newly born offspring tied to their backs with blankets and from simple every day stuff for locals but first impressions for me, like a camel carrying cargo being led by a man.
During my stay, I came to know of two strikes, one of students and one of school teachers. The strike of university students I witnessed firsthand on the first week of my stay in Niger.
I had arrived on Niger on a Wednesday, on the following Monday I arrived at the office I had been assigned to share with Doctor Nouhou Ali, who had spent 10 years in Germany for his studies, early in the morning. He was already hard at work.
The students of the university, I don’t know of which faculties, had been on strike since the day I arrived because the scholarships on which they depended on had stopped arriving since about six months’ past. It had been a peaceful strike until that Monday, when the students and the police collided, that collision I learned afterwards lead to the death of one student.
Luckily, I had arrived at the office earlier than the confrontations because not long had passed when Professor Rabani Adamou, program WASCAL’s director and my supervisor, showed up in the office biding us to remain inside because the strike had turned violent and it was safer to be inside. He hadn’t finished talking about it when I saw through the window of the office (which is on the ground floor) people whom I took for students running past.
Not a couple seconds later gas canisters were thrown just outside the office’s window and two police trucks sped by.
The window of the office was not air tight and so we got a healthy dose of the pepper gas. I had never been on a riot before so I checked that of my to-do list and breathing pepper gas off my first-time list.
When Doctor Nouhou, research assistant for project RARSUS, tried to go outside the office to get some clean air we found that the cleaner air was by far inside the office so we stayed put. And after some nose and eye burning and manly tear sheading the gas passed and we resumed out work.
Doctor Mounkaila Moussa, also research assistant of project RARSUS and lecturer at the University Abdou Moumouni, was supposed to arrive that morning, but one of his children had woken up sick so he was to be late. When he tried to come, he called and said that it was nearly impossible because there were still roadblocks on the street preventing the access to the university and that the confrontation between students and police was still going on.
Doctor Mounkaila managed to arrive before lunch time by driving through side roads and we managed to do what needed doing. Just as he left and we were about to go out for lunch the hostilities renewed. More people running in front of the office window and a hungry afternoon.
Not long after lunch time I decided to head home as soon as it was peaceful outside. Doctor Nouhou came back after going out to try and find someone selling food but all the people had fled and there was nobody manning the food carts, so he showed me 3 mangoes he had collected outside and asked if I wanted one. After respectfully refusing, he offered to accompany me on the 15 min walk from the office to what was my home for the next three months.
The next day I found that the order had been given to close the University installations to all students who lived outside campus until the further instructions. This to avoid the same thing that happened the day before. This was no hindrance to my own work as my room was inside the campus.
Of the multiple conversations, interesting and not, there were pieces that caught my interest:
I had closed my laptop to take a break and read one of the eBooks I have on my phone. Doctor Nouhou, with whom I shared an office, then looked at me and said:
-If your battery (pointing at my laptop) is low you can plug it (in the office, there was only one working plug he was currently using, the second one was broken).
To which I said – No! no, I’m only taking a break, thanks-
He then smiled and said – Oh, you can take a longer one and stretch your legs outside-
Me with incredulous tone and raised eyebrows – Under the sun?!?-
To which he laughed out loud and said: Yes, bad weather.
To any who doesn’t know, April is the driest, hottest month of the year in Niger and it’s the month when the solar radiation is the most intensive. This I came to know threefold: by people telling me “Survive April and you are good”, by what the climate data I was working with showed, and first hand every time I stepped out. The rainy season, I was told, was predicted to start sooner this year (around mid-May) but instead arrived late (around mid-June) testifying to the unpredictability of the weather.
On another night, some students from program WASCAL and I were gathered for dinner in my room.
After some ice breaking conversation about sports we switched topics to the African energy sector and how and what we were each of us doing on our thesis work.
After some idea exchanges one of them got passionate about the topic and started to expose his ideas. Turns out he is a good orator. After speaking for about two hours, I realized that he had and interesting set of conflicting views: he saw the obstacle that is development in Africa and was, in a way optimist about it, seeing the possibilities for it but the added difficulties of corruption had left him pessimist as well.
It was as if he could see the mountain that needed climbing, saw a way of how to get there, but looking at it up close realized that it is too tall for him to climb and so decided to, instead of looking up towards the goal, he was going to focus on were his feet were going. That way he would appreciate his own efforts and be happy instead of realizing that despite all his efforts to reach the mountain top, the mountain kept growing faster than he could climb and despair.
On another occasion, Professor Rabani showed up in the office to let us know the time of the presentations we had set up for the same day.
Before leaving he made an interesting comment though: Now you will understand when they talk about climate change and adaptation. Referring to the difference in Germany’s and Niger’s climates. Which rang to me more of a warning to facing climate change with a business as usual “we can adapt” mindset, not to mention the still existing nay sayers.
Part of what my research in Niger entailed was looking for, selecting, and working on a village without any kind of electrification.
For this, DoctorNouhou; Doctor Mounkaila(a doctor from the Institute of Radio Isotopes), who lives close to the area where the villages pre-selected were located; Djibrill, the WASCAL driver; Abdoullah Fahad, another student from Bangladesh (from my same university in Germany conducting his own research in Niamey as well); and me, traveled south of the city.
On the way we were rewarded with impressive scenery. Possibly, for someone from the area, who travels daily the roads we traveled, the scenery might have become routine and therefore invisible; to me they were amazing. Landscapes that I had only seen in documentaries, and despite knowing that we were close to human settlements, had me glued to the car window expecting to see lions, giraffes, elephants and gazelles.
We visited multiple villages. On the first one we visited we were received with faces both happy and relieved to see us. Some village elders discussed with the driver and doctors in the local language for a while and then a pregnant woman was helped into the car and with other two villagers departed to the hospital.
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