The goat was protesting as we loaded her into the back of the rapidly filling 4WD. Three adults, six kids, one goat with her baby, all our luggage, and sixty litres of water. We were in Danja, having met up with our friends the Short family for a weekend trip. They live in the bush with Fulani people, in a tiny village that depends on a well for water and millet for food. We had got up early to catch the bus from Galmi out to Maradi, the third biggest city in Niger and for us like visiting a bustling metropolis.
From the city lights of Maradi we headed out bush on a twisting sandy track that meandered through tall grasses and fields growing millet and sorghum. The Shorts live on a small piece of land that belongs to their Fulani neighbour, the chief of Yoole village. Some time ago they approached the village members with a plan to live amongst them with the intention of learning their language and culture. The village community have welcomed them and a small TIMO team, living in four small houses dotted through Yoole and the neighbouring village.
The Shorts’ house is basic but comfortable, built from mudbricks coated with cement. Water comes from the communal well, drawn daily by each village family using a set of bulls and a very long rope. There is some solar power for a few small lights. They eat similar food to the Fulani (as well as some good Aussie meals that don’t need a fridge), grow crops in the sandy soil and keep chooks. The goat (plus kid) was a happy addition to the scene.
During our stay in Yoole village we had opportunities to visit the neighbours. Each family group lives in a small collection of huts with circular grain storage buildings dotted around. There were a number of neighbours needing dressings and help with health issues. Some twins were born unexpectedly just before we arrived, and sadly the much smaller second twin died after a few days. The difficulties for Fulani in this village to get and afford good healthcare were painfully obvious.
The Fulani were invariably welcoming to us, inviting us to sit with them and drink millet in various forms – a thin drink of very fine millet flour called shutem, and a runny millet porridge laced with ginger and chilli known as kunnu. Millet is the staple food, and each morning before sunrise we could hear the women pounding it with their big wooden mortar and pestles. We all had a go pounding the millet – it was very hard work just to get it to an edible stage, let alone the six day process of pounding it to a fine flour, soaking it, pounding it again and again, and cooking it. It made us appreciate how readily people shared what they had.
The kids had a fantastic time climbing trees, harvesting peanuts, playing with chooks and goats, and experiencing village life. It was so special to be part of village life in a place so different to our experience.