How Things Get Done in Niger

In purchasing gifts for 29 women for Christmas, a Nigerienne friend and I came up with idea of giving each a bucket filled with some rice, bar soap, and another small item as yet to be determined. Afterwards, I thought about what this exercise would have looked like back home in Colorado. So, just for fun, I would like to make some comparisons between how I get things done in Colorado and in Niger.

Colorado – drive to Big Lots and buy 29 buckets. Check!

Niger – go to the local market, walk up to the first vendor of buckets and ask the price. He tells me 2500 cfa per bucket. I think I’m only supposed to pay a third, which is about 750, but I suggest 900 cfa per bucket. He says maybe 1500. I say 900. He says ok. Then I say I want 29. He says he has 7. I say I’ll think about it and maybe come back. I walk through the market, looking for someone who has lots of buckets for sale. I walk by a vendor I know. He doesn’t sell buckets. He asks me what I’m doing. I tell him. He says to stay with him. He walks me to another vendor close by and negotiates the price for me, makes sure the buckets are clean and stays with me as I pay. I get 29 clean new buckets for 750 cfa each, and the vendor wipes the dust from each one before putting them all together for me. He then has a young boy help Mark carry them all to my car. Check!

Next, I tell my friend that I need one more item for each bucket, other than the bar of soap and bag of rice.

Colorado – My friend says maybe a Starbucks gift card? And, buckets? Really?

Niger – My friend says that, of course, I must put in a liter of cooking oil. He walks me through the market and stops at the door of a dark tiny shop. I peer inside as he speaks with the vendor. Mohammed negotiates for me to buy a huge container of cooking oil from this guy at 20,000 cfa  – about $1.40 per liter. I buy it, but I’m looking and feeling doubtful. I tell Mohammed that I’m not sure how I will get it all separated for each bucket. He’s way ahead of me. He nods and tells me to pay the vendor another 250 cfa (40 cents) – which I do, and the vendor sells me 50 small sachets – one liter plastic bags. Then, he motions to a young boy who walks over. Remember, school is not mandatory, and there are many young boys hanging about looking for something to do. He tells the boy that I am going to pay him 1000 cfa ($1.80) for him to pour the oil equally into 30 sachets. Then, we leave the boy and go back to his shop.

We sit outside Mohammed’s shop and talk while we wait. Mark is sitting with us, listening to Mohammed tell me about what’s going on lately. We’re able to talk because Mohammed had been working at his sewing machine, but the electricity is out, and he was sitting patiently waiting for it to come on again. I never realized that people who make clothing for a living must build in time of no electricity when they tell you when your clothes will be ready to be picked up. Mohammed asks me what I think of Trump. I say he’s not someone I would choose to lead a country. He laughs. He asks me what I think of Clinton. I say she isn’t someone I would choose either.

A young woman walks toward us and sits down. Mohammed introduces me to his daughter, telling me she has given him two grandchildren. She is eighteen. She smiles shyly. Mohammed and I talk for a few more minutes. Then, I see the young boy winding his way through the dirt track of the market with a cardboard box balanced on his head, the large empty oil container banging against his left side as he moves toward us. He walks up and looks at Mohammed and me. Mohammed says he will dispose of the container for me if I would like. The boy puts the box on the table and Mohammed opens it, showing me nicely tied sachets of oil that are perfectly clean on the outside of any greasy oil. I hand the young boy the 1,000 cfa. He says, “Merci Maman.” I thank Mohammed for his aid. Mark, the boy and I walk to our car. I tip him a little extra for carrying the oil for me, really just for being a polite boy. Mohammed expected him to carry the oil for us, and when Mark went to take it, Mohammed waved him off.

When we got in the car, Mark asked me how I knew Mohammed. I said just from walking through the market, stopping and talking sometimes. Also, it helps that Mohammed has good French. Mark says he really liked Mohammed and what he had to say to me about life here. I agree.

Colorado – I go home and assemble the buckets with the rice, soap and bags of cooking oil in each.

Niger – I go home and open the 50 kilo bags of rice to divide between the buckets. We discover that there are live bugs crawling inside. Not a lot, but they are there. Adama is with me, and she catches my expression. She bursts out laughing. Then she asks me if I have ever seen rice like this. No, but I would return it to the store if I did! There are no returns in Niger – not allowed. Adama says that even if it were allowed, I would basically never be able to buy rice in 50 kilo bags because they are all like this. I must admit to you that I had Will and Mark finish the job of dividing the rice into 7-8 pound sacks. Then, I had them place all of the sacks in my deep freeze to kill those darn bugs. Not very Nigerienne of me, n’est-ce pas?

Lastly – Colorado – I would have completely missed out on the blessing of giving to these women!

Niger – We delivered the buckets. The women looked inside and exclaimed. One of them said that if I had just brought buckets with nothing in them, that would have been such a great gift! They each thanked us profusely. Will received a marriage proposal on the spot! (though I think that was because he had recently grown a beard.) I see Mohammed a few days later. He asks what the women thought of his oil idea? I told him it was a hit! They loved it! He smiled and said he had told me so! Ok, so maybe that would be the same thing that a friend in the US might say. J

So there you have it. We’re still adjusting, learning, and understanding what is useful. Would you pray for Mohammed? As we become friends, we learn more of the challenges he faces. We hope to share The Way of Righteousness with him – to give him hope. The verse we would ask you to pray over us this week is found in Micah 6:8 – that we would act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

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One thought on “How Things Get Done in Niger

  1. Julie – I love your stories! They are such a great reminder of what purpose God has for each of us. To love others and share Christ with them, whether in Niger or here.
    Saw Eli a couple weeks ago at a speech & debate tournament. We are trying to keep our heads above water in that world, but finding it to be very beneficial for Emery. Wish we were running into you there. 🙂


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