Tyler is our Content Strategist, and part of his job is traveling to the places where we work in search of inspiring stories about the people we serve in the field. As he travels, he likes to keep his friends and family up to date on his adventures. We wanted to share some of his colorful and hilarious updates with you. Here are his latest emails from Mali and Niger.
Hello from Niamey, Niger! Now that we’ve been here for a few days, I wanted to send you all an update.
I’ll start with the setting — because I didn’t know what to expect, and maybe you can’t picture it either…
Niamey is a bustling and scrappy city on the edge of the desert. It’s a dry, hazy, orange-tinted place with lots of motorcycles. Goats, donkeys and camels are everywhere, and security is high (ex: a guy circles our vehicle with a mirror on a stick to check for bombs before opening the gate to our hotel).
Just outside of Niamey is a massive, flat, bush/tree-speckled expanse of dirt. You travel on one main road and then break off onto rough sandy paths to get to the communities we’re visiting. It’s dusty and windy and the sun is hot. But it’s also beautiful. Especially when you bring people into the picture. Females here wear these bright and colorful dresses and robes. Men wear sweet scarves and turbines or funny little hats on the very top of their heads. It’s a very striking visual… incredible colors in the middle of a very monotone setting.
We spent our first day (Saturday) visiting communities that have clean water already — to get a sense of what it looks like and how it changes things. We saw schools with empowered student governments, busy health centers and massive gardens. Lots of very good things.
Then today was a day of rest for our partner organization, so we had time off. This doesn’t normally happen, but I’m not complaining. We played tennis on our hotel’s 75 year old court this morning (with camels passing in the background– surreal) and then explored Niamey in the afternoon. We toured an incredible leather market, bought exotic swords out of a car in the parking lot and enjoyed Taureg tea on the floor of a silver store. Not a bad day.
Tomorrow we head back out to visit communities that charity: water will bring water to later this year. So we’ll get to see more of what it’s like to live here without clean water… and that’s what I’m anxious for. That will drive a lot of the story we tell in the future, so it should be an insightful day.
That’s really about it.
More stories soon.
Well… we made it to rural Mali. But it wasn’t easy. My grandmother uses the phrase, “going to your ankle to get to your elbow”… that’s how it works in West Africa. You can’t fly to a neighboring country without stopping in two other neighboring countries first (side note: thank you for your hospitality, Nigeria and Togo).
The good news is that Mali is awesome. Much different than Niger already. It’s actually safer too. I didn’t think that would be the case. Police escort isn’t required here, which is freeing (although it also means that I’m back to peeing alone).
After getting into Bamako yesterday evening, we spent today traveling by car to San– the region where charity: water will hopefully provide funding later this year.
It’s a little over six hours on roads that sometimes aren’t roads at all. Imagine driving across Nebraska in the hottest part of the summer and taking the ditch instead of I-80. That’s what it was like. They call it “African Massage.” I call it “Future Chiropractor Bills.” Or “tons of water down the front of my shirt.” Or “the impossible nap.” Or “my stomach: the washing machine.”
I’m not kidding. Our partner brought a neck brace for the ride. It was rough.
But… we made it.
And while we found some great stories in Niger, the community we visited late today was one of the coolest we’ve seen yet. Which is encouraging. This village had mud walls that kind of divided up the community into small neighborhoods. It was almost biblical looking.
Anyway, I think it’s going to be really unique.
More on that later. It’s late, and I have to get up early. But we’ll be here tomorrow, Friday and part of Saturday visiting more villages, so I’ll try to send a more detailed update with some photos soon.
Hope you all are doing well.
Here we are. Last night in Mali. I’m currently hunkered down inside my mosquito net fortress on a two inch-thick foam pad with a pillow that feels like a bag of sand. I don’t smell great, I’m wearing this pair of underwear for the third time and there’s about a 25% chance that I’m coming home with malaria, but I’m happy. This trip has been incredible. And surreal.
Are you familiar with the idea of “playing not to lose?”
It’s when a team has the lead going into the end of the game and instead of continuing to play the aggressive offense that had put them in position to win, they start playing a little nervously — simply trying not to lose. The lead slips away. Suddenly, they’ve lost the game.
In a way, I feel like that’s the situation here. Except the people don’t have a choice. They’re not in a position to play to win. All they can do is play not to lose. They’re fighting to survive.
It’s heavy… women with thickly calloused hands from pulling water up a well by rope one bucket at a time for hours every day, kids with bloated bellies from malnutrition, fathers sadly sending their sons to a nearby city to work so they can earn money and send it back home. These people lack food, water, health, education… you name it.
It’s (once again) different than anything I’ve seen.
But (once again also) it’s fixable. We got to visit communities who now have clean water and see the impact of that too: Women with more time to take care of themselves and their families, thriving vegetable gardens, healthy kids attending school. It’s the exact opposite. And water is the start to all of it.
Best yet, the people are just delightful. Especially in Mali. Warm, welcoming, conversational and kind.
Yesterday, all four of us were given chickens by a community. To thank us for visiting them. Chickens that cost about $4 each from people who earn about $6 per week. Chickens that could be feeding literally-starving kids and families who struggle through a “hunger season” each year when their grain runs out months prior to the rain returning. Chickens that don’t fit into a carry-on bag.
No, seriously- it’s been very special. I’m eager to come back here and thrilled to know how much will change as a result of the work we’re doing.
That’s it for now. I need to get some sleep before the broken roller coaster ride back to Bamako tomorrow morning. Thank you all again for following along — for emails, thoughts and prayers. You’re my favorite people!