by Fr. Mauro Arrnanino, Niamey, November 2019
The new Christian cemetery in Niamey is located on the road to Ouallam that leads to Mali. From the first overpass in the country, called Mali Bero, we head towards the ‘Village of the Francophonie’, so called, with a little imagination, because of the homonymous games celebrated in Niamey in 2005.
I was going to the cemetery, for the commemoration of the dead, it was still dark, and it was difficult to distinguish the living from the dead. They were both like shadows trying to appear without showing it. What connected them, it was the tombs which, as it is known, to give the dead a legal identity. Here too, in the new Christian cemetery, the tombs differ and are proposed as social diversity. Those built of soil are for migrants just passing through Niamey, then those built in concrete for precarious residents, those in Chinese-made tiles for the wealthier, and finally those built in stone or marble for entrepreneurs who have made their fortune. To each his own grave according to the economic and social genre. The inscription of the name is consequent as well. In painting, carved in marble or imagined according to the financial availability, all is decided before the last moment. The last one is what the cemetery assumes with ease as its own that erases everything.
For us, inhabitants of the Sahel, the boundary between life and death is more than limited and to understand it, it is enough to see how things proceed on the road that leads to the Village of the Francophonie. We are used to it because for us the frontier between life and death is a simple matter of details or priorities, as it is on the road’s traffic’s rules. Here we know how to die because we know how to live despite adverse circumstances. Now there is also the terrorism, or, if you will, the armed terrorist groups that are the cause of thousands of deaths, injuries and displaced persons. It will do no good because life will, as always, win by force of habit. Imagine if these self-styled bandits cloaked in religious ideology will be able to win over us. They do not know or have perhaps forgotten that we, here in the Sahel, know how to differentiate between those who come to give or to take life. They have understood nothing of Africa that it is reborn every time from the graves that these groups think they are making eternal. They do not even imagine that we, on this side and in this season of the Harmattan wind, live in dust and dust. The desert wind makes us unique and our graves are a testimony of this. We are witnesses of sand and we are proud of this.
Come and see. The road to the cemetery is an analogy for our life and our destiny. Death does not scare us because we love life without permits or plans. We like to live it as it happens and the road to the Christian cemetery in Niamey is full of signs. Rare are the bicycles that pass as if they were illegal cyclists who ride them. There are signs of tire dealers, and repairers of generators, and pumps on sale, at every turn. A parade of bought-used cars is likely to stop for breakdowns between a circle and the other. Then pass carts pulled by donkeys with the trash picked up from door to door; and the peddler of tea, with hot water thermos that passes next to us. The vehicles with NGOs plates and Government and Diplomatic cars are of dollar green color to distinguish themselves from others that carry the color of sand. There are hundreds of taxis in service. They show off the white and red color and, having stopped beside the client they then decide if the passenger is going in the direction decided by the majority. Then follow the carts carrying water bags just taken from the spring. And occasionally a bus passes to take students to the State University who will find the classrooms deserted due to another teachers’ and researchers’ strike. There are now countless motorcyclists who, without or with a helmet, challenge the most elementary rules of the road.
Take the risk to use the walkway to cross the street on the newly painted asphalt strips, done by the Chinese Government, and then you will see. It is difficult for pedestrians to get away and walk on freshly painted strips. You will offer a too easy target to drivers who are not inclined to stop for so little. On the road a little old truck passes behind which you can read ‘Thank God’.