In Zinder I met two teenagers from Cameroon, who were, like 1000’s of others, on their way overland to Paradise Europe, and trying to make some money for the next leg. They took me to the Stadium.
These nice fellows, convinced of having good chances of become a professional football player, already lost their passports to the police in Nigeria, and spent their savings already to the police in Niger. So now trying to make little money in Zinder. In the end they hope to reach Libya, and eventually cross illegally to Italy or Greece. With a good chance to be sent back.
Anyway, these guys were good rappers and performed at the Stadium together with a bunch of other local stars. It was really nice but only a small audience showed up. The entrance fee was way too high (EUR 0,80) so that hardly anyone could afford it to get in.
Besides enjoying the regular music performances and dance parties, you can meet here youngsters outside the siesta hours every day, playing soccer, basketball or just socializing.
Although not as important as more north towards the Sahara, camels are abundant and a popular way of transporting goods.
Traders and farmers often come from far to bring their trade to the important market in Zinder. Donkeys and cows, the much cheaper alternatives for camels (or dromedaries), are less suitable for long distance travel in the heat.
As I like camels a lot, I really enjoyed the sight of the small camel caravans from the villages. Especially on Thursdays, the main market day you can see many of them in the morning coming into town with heavy loads, but also in the evening when going back home with supplies for the rural markets.
I visited Birni Quarter on two mornings, one time accompanied, the second time alone. It turned out to be 2 different experiences, both highly enjoyable.
During the first time with Mustafa the children kept more distance as we wandered around some of the “highlights”.
The second time I went alone, just to meet the people, and to see how mad children can behave. I kept taking photos there.
By the way, besides Birni, Zinder has another Old Quarter called Zengou, which is actually more lively than Birni and definitely worth a stroll too!!
Despite the "photo-thing", I really liked to hang around with those kids in the neighbourhoods.
Especially in situations like here, where I couldn't make much conversation with people, I really appreciated that contact with the kids and teenagers. I liked the smiles on their faces when making fun, and it offered some good photo opportunities too!
Moreover, It's though them that I often met their parents too, sometimes visited their compounds.
The children in Zinder are equally poor but still very polite and enthusiastic, very different from what I experienced in some other parts of Niger (Agadez, Niamey) and in Togo and Benin.
The closest of being a hassle in Zinder is that the children annoyingly try to have their picture taken, especially if you have a nice display on your camera.
During my unguided walks around the Old Quarters, they jumped into the photo frame every time I looked like taking a picture. With the somehow annoying possible result that there’s waving children on every photograph you take. But when I showed some irritation and tried to send them away, the elders around assisted immediately.
By the way, elders are much more shy and most of the times when I asked for a photo, they rejected me.
The next morning I woke up around 7am, an hour later than usual. I wasn’t especially fit, but I had an appointment at the Computer Training School at 7.30am, for a third attempt to establish internet connection.
But again, our mission failed.
When I came back at the square in front of the hotel, the owner of the breakfast stall just returned from prayer at the nearby tiny mosque and I ordered pain avec omelette et Milo (a sweet chocolate drink).
Not long after Mustafa showed up. Together we would visit the Sultan’s Palace, the Grand Mosque and the old part of town, the Birni Quarter this morning (see must see tips).
Note: At the 4th attempt later that day I got more luck. They have to call in at a Niamey based provider about 900 km. away. That makes it very expensive at 175 CFA (0,30 EUR) a minute. But it was fast at least and only 5 minutes were enough to read 2 messages on Yahoo Mail.
On the square, men were roasting kebabs and chicken on charcoal, a man served great pain avec salad, and women presented all kinds of local food from huge aluminium bowls.
I took a full plate of rice and macaroni with sauce and ¼ chicken (EUR 0,70).
A small mass of hungry people gathers around the stalls, especially children, carrying a plate or small bowl hoping for something to remain. And they know there will, as it’s custom to never finish your meal completely. Even before you can rise from the bench, one of the unfortunates will snatch your plate.
I bought a frozen Tampico Juice (a Fan Milk product imported from Togo) from the well-stocked Arab owned supermarket next door, the only one in town, and returned to the hotel. At this time, the outdoor bar was still quiet, just a snowy TV screen, some prostitutes hanging at the bar. I went to bed and fell in a deep sleep immediately, amidst the thick smoke of 3 mosquito coils that I had set on fire simultaneously.
you can find some cheap restaurants too in Zinder, but - unless you want to spend a lot of time dining -I would highly recommend these foodstalls
At my first steps outside the Hotel gate, a local man named Mustafa approached me. He spoke quite good English and presented himself as a friend who could accompany me around town.
Normally I would probably have sent him away, but now I was actually happy to meet him. It had been a long while that I had some decent conversation and this man, who knew West Africa in general and Zinder in particular very well, was polite and friendly, not pushing or asking for anything.
Of course I knew he expected to be paid for possible guideservice, but that’s quite normal isn’t it? And it would be up to me what to give him. I decided to keep him as a friend.
I didn’t make it very late that first night. The square in front of Hotel Central was a great place to be in the evenings. From around 8pm, after the last prayers of the day, several popular food stalls started business.
Zinder might be the second largest city in Niger with some 125.000 residents of mixed origin, but when I arrived at about 4pm, in nothing it looked like the hectic streets and the bustle I encountered in Coastal West African countries. I decided I liked Zinder!
Here and there a donkey cart, a tea stall, a few moto taxi’s waiting for customers, shops closed, men relaxing at siesta time.
I checked out the Hotel Central and Hotel Damagaram. Hotel Central had incredibly run down s/c rooms, but I checked in anyway. I liked the location in front of a nice square along the main but not especially busy crossing to Niamey, Agadez, Chad and Nigeria.
About hotels in Zinder
** Hotel Central cost ca. EUR 8 after bargaining;
** Hotel Damagaram has by far the best rooms and cost ca. EUR 15;
** Hotel Kalkadanu is another cheap choice with less appealing rooms a bit away from the others and cost EUR 7.