I don’t like to bargain. I just want to know a price and make a decision, not play the negotiating game. So, when we went to the market today in Niamey, Niger, I was out of my comfort zone.
Ambria Hammel and I are on a trip to West Africa with Catholic Relief Services. Today, our schedule had us traveling to some rural towns to see the work CRS is involved with, living out Catholic social teaching. Things didn’t work out that way, though.
Gunmen kidnapped four aid workers from Niger Oct. 15, according to Reuters. Also, neighboring Mali is an ongoing concern. CRS has put safety measures in place, and the locations where we are traveling are no where near the violence.
Still, as I understand it, we took an extra day to be safe after news of the kidnapping. We spent the day in Niamey, visiting CRS’ homebase as well as a market in Niamey. Niger has been plagued by food shortages. This week, we’ll learn how CRS is helping the people of Niger deal with food shortage.
Niger has been called “the least livable country on earth,” by the United Nations. “Niger has bounced from drought to coup to famine for centuries,” according the CRS. In 2005, a food crisis led to the malnutrition of 3.5 million people.
So, long story short, when we went to the market, I really felt like I should buy something. I smiled a lot, but said a lot of merci, mais no. There’s a lot of stuff to choose from and when you show up, you’re immediately engaged by vendors.
“Come over here, just look, please, just have a look.” If you don’t speak French, pas problem. They point to their eyes and then to their shop, and motion you over. Like anyone else, I wanted to buy it all. They had lovely elephants carved out of wood, and silver jewelry to buy for the ladies. Knives, too, and all sorts of woodwork, beautifully crafted. And they’re the friendliest people you’d ever meet.
I just couldn’t bring myself to buy something, though. I had made up my mind before we got there, I just wouldn’t do it. I don’t like to bargain. I get apprehensive. I don’t know why — maybe I saw too many Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fud cartoons. And once you take your money out, then what? Then you have a million friends, with lots of beautiful merchandise. It’s too much. I’d rather hand over my money to friends and have them pick something out. I get stressed out just writing about it.
A few of my fellow travelers bought items from the market and then our hosts took us to watch the sunset from the top of a sanddune just outside of Niamey. It was beautiful. A woman walked back to her village with her two daughters, carrying firewood. A young boy walked his cattle back from pasture.
From the top of the dune, you can clearly see where the vegetation ended and where the red desert began. Ambria made the observation later, but all the men were at market and the women seemed to stay back home doing other things — like fetching water and cooking and caring for the children. Hard and important work, no doubt.
It’s obviously going to take more than one journalist from the United States buying a wooden hippopotamus to fix Niger. CRS is taking the longview here, as I know they have elsewhere. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’re helping the people of Niger cope with such unstoppable problems. As Bill Rastetter, CRS’ representative in Niger, said in passing earlier today, most of the problems people face in Niger aren’t their fault. Instability and drought are beyond their control.