The closest major city to Zinder is Kano (pop. 700.000, 200km. away), one of the most important cities in Northern Nigeria.
Although present day Zinder is a mix of many tribes, the majority is Hausa who have culture and religion in common with the people of Northern Nigeria.
Historically, and still nowadays, the cross border trade is very important for Zinder more so than any other. Zinder is flooded with cheap manufactured goods from Nigeria that local people trade for farm-, animal and crafts products. You can also buy cheap, smuggled petrol here!
As everywhere in Africa (and Asia), you see many people, mostly women and (pre-) pubescent children, go around busy places to sell all kinds of stuff ranging from local food to medicines or pocket calculators.
Usually they are working for a bigger shop or trader against minimal commission. I always use to buy from these people as business is always badly needed. It doesn’t hurt to buy something even if you actually don’t need it and make someone else happy with it later (opportunities abundant). In every case this is much more respectable than just hand over money or pens to begging kids!
In the Birni Quarter a lot of children walk around with all kinds of trade. See for examples the travelogue. From one prepubescent girl I bought a whole basket of popcorn packed in tiny portions (total sum EUR 0,50), and I had quite some fun consuming it together with two dozen of kids!
I know I shouldn’t stimulate child labour and I know they probably don’t go to school, but hey, even here in Holland children come door to door to sell flowers, oil balls and whatsoever!
When you walk around town you will see young children studying the Koran under an Islamic teacher.
Many of these kids were send from outside town without anything to learn prayers by head and to write excerpts from the Koran in Arab on writing boards. For food they must beg, and usually people who can afford it give generously.
For most children in Niger, this is the only education in school they will ever get.
And they are really proud if you ask them to read some Arab phrases!!
Thursday, Big Market day. I woke up early, just to enjoy the relatively cool climate and because I expected huge activity.
I agreed with Mustafa to meet me this morning, not because I couldn’t find the huge Grand Marché on my own, but because I liked him and he needed the job. It was almost 8am when he finally showed up.
We took pain avec café au lait at the breakfast stall where I usually arrived earlier than the owner. But what the heck…it should be possible to have breakfast at 8am, shouldn’t it?
When we arrived at the Market at 8.30am, it was still almost deserted. “People have to travel from far”, Mustafa explained. I could understand that it takes a long time travelling 25+ km by packed donkey or camel.
Nevertheless I was surprised, since in many other countries that suffer from tropical heat, the markets were usually finished around noon, and were liveliest between 5 and 6 am. The big difference might be that this town in the Sahel lacks a lot of greens and fresh fruits.
Sleepy Zinder comes alive very slowly.
Of course the market also counts several small mosques. Prayertime is prayertime, no matter where you are or what you do!
So around these hours you will notice numerous boys pushing carts full of 25 litre water barrels to the market to serve the different mosques.
Men wash hands, feet and face and not much after the rows between market stands are lined up with praying Muslims!
A low hill covered with huge boulders and 2 structures arises from the centre of Zinder. While I wandered around there, I almost lost my camera!!
During the 6 days I spent in Zinder, I was the only tourist. Which meant that I was Mustafa’s only potential source of income during that period and it was sometimes hard to say that I didn’t want his company. But that Friday morning I preferred to explore Zinder unaccompanied and left the hotel even before breakfast.
I walked across some tiny footpaths towards the hill with on top a fortified tower and a colossal water reservoir. I found the formations of huge boulders particularly very interesting, but when I took some photo’s suddenly a soldier showed up , shouting and waving aggressively. I apparently had sneaked in a military complex!
He took me to a small office where I was questioned by an officer. They demanded me to hand over my camera. He determined it, while I tried to convince him that I only had taken pictures of a woman doing dishes. I convinced him that I was just a tourist, lost in the maze of Zinder. He gave me back my camera and let me go. That’s Niger, one of the tourist friendliest countries I’ve been!
In a country with 95% Muslims, religion is a very important aspect of daily life in Niger including Zinder, that historically was a very strict Muslim State.
During the 5 daily prayer sessions, most of the activity in Zinder comes to a halt. Bush taxi’s stop, shops and street stalls close, hundreds of litres fresh water are carried to the mosques.
Mustafa had invited me for the Friday 1pm prayer session, which is the most important of the week. During normal weekdays people pray at local mosques in the neighbourhood or at home, but on Fridays at 1pm, Muslims gather in one of the two Grand mosques. The biggest is the new mosque near the Sultan’s Palace, while the mosque at Boulevard de l’Independence –that I visited- is more interesting for visitors since most of the Muslims are praying outside.
When I arrived, only few men were sitting outside on their mats on the square and streets in front of the Mosque. But at 1pm, hundreds of simultaneously praying Muslims had surrounded me, while I was sitting there on a bench.
I found it very impressive and interesting to experience, since non-Muslims are normally refused to enter mosques during prayer times. And for those who wonder, no, not even one men gave the impression to disapprove my presence!