After arriving in Zinder, I immediately went to the old part of town to explore. I was curious to see this part of town, and had heard various stories about it. Without a plan, without a map, I just enter one of the narrow streets south of the Sultan's Palace, and start taking in the sights. All houses are made from adobe, and I soon run into houses with peculiar decorations on their outside walls. Geometric designs, often in white, are plastered on the adobe walls, making some houses stand out. As always, I am a little cautious with my camera, but I soon feel that people have no problem with me taking pictures of their houses. Before I know it, people start asking me to take their picture: mostly daring kids who surround me with shrieks of joy, but sometimes also shier adults.
It turns out to be pure joy to walk the dusty streets of Birni quarter, and I just follow my intuition, and manage to make a two-hour walk in a kind of big circle through this old part of Zinder. There are open spaces, there are narrow parts, and wherever I go, there are people around. When I told people in Agadez I was heading to Zinder, they told me that people would be closed, and would not let me take pictures as easily as in Agadez. I find the contrary to be true. People are wonderful, very open, welcoming me to their humble neighbourhood. Always greeting me, rarely asking for money or a small cadeau or present: they seem to be genuinely happy to see a foreigner walk their streets. A bunch of boys is playing football; when they see me, they stop playing, run to me, and get into a group pose for a picture, fighting between them to be in the front row. After I have taken a couple of pictures, they run to me to see the result. Not only do they thank me for taking their picture, they also all kiss my hand before running away again. The grown ups under the next tree turn out to be their parents, who are as nice as their kids. They, like so many others here, invite me to have tea and talk, but I am running out of time.
When I continue my walk, I come across girls with prayer boards on which they have written Koranic verses which they need to learn by heart. A little later, I meet some older men, one of them a marabout, and next door, I see a madrassa with, to my surprise, only girls studying the Koran. They scream, the teacher does not seem to have much impact, and they gladly have their pictures taken, although I am not sure the teacher is happy with that. The next day, I roam the streets of Tilacoco, another part of the old town of Zinder, right next to Birni. I have a long chat with girls in the street, and to my surprise, I find more girls speaking French than boys. They fetch a very old lady from her modest house, and tell me she is 98 years old. They insist I take her picture. I try to imagine what this woman must have seen in her life - born in a French colony. She seems pretty sharp, and how I wish I could talk to her and ask her lots of questions. The girls laugh, especially when they push the most beautiful of them towards me, and propose to marry her. I get to talk to her great-grandfather, who seems a little embarrassed by the situation. A little further on, I talk to an older man, who then shows me his energy bill, saying it is much higher than the previous month. I explore Birni again, find the house Heinrich Barth lived in back in 1852, but it is nothing compared to the well-maintained house in Agadez. The old part of Zinder - great to see its architecture and pretty houses, but after two days in its streets, I now think that the main attraction are the fantastic people.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Zinder Old Town (Niger). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Zinder Old Town. Read more about this site.