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Niger: Here comes the rain

The storm brewing near Zinder town at about 10 am
The storm brewing near Zinder town at about 10 am

The first rain is always a big event, but with the food shortages this year it has been even more anxiously anticipated. The rain means people can return home — from ‘exode’ in Nigeria, from begging in towns, from working for others — and plant their crops. During my field visit last week I was able to watch it unfold in Zinder, Niger.

At about 10 am we were filling up the truck with gas when the sky turned almost black. I’d seen this before — it was the sand building up in the distance to announce an incoming storm. The question on everyone’s minds was how much rain would it bring?

As we stopped for some bottled water and snacks, the sandy wind began to whip by. Everyone in Zinder  began to run inside to escape the painful sting of the sand on their skin, and women walking along the street wrapped their scarves tighter around their faces to protect themselves. Soon, the sky and air around us turned clay-brown with all the sand.

Determined to make it out to our next site, we continued driving through the storm. However, visibility got so bad that about 20 minutes into the ride our driver, Siddo, had to stop and wait it out.

On the ride out to the health centre, we soon lost site of the road in front of us.
On the ride out to the health centre, we soon lost sight of the road in front of us

And then we heard the most welcome, exciting, precious sound — the slow-starting pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof of the 4X4, speeding quickly to a wonderful crescendo of heavy downpour.

It must have been music to the ears of those waiting to plant. We probably could have been more concerned — the road we were taking to get to the health center was sand surrounded by dried millet fields. But the cooling presence of the rain was a welcome event. And thankfully we didn’t get stuck in the mud!

We came to the village near the health center and found a ghost town. Village life in Niger is mostly outdoors, so it is strange to see what a village looks like when everyone is inside. We could see in doorways of small boutiques or tailor stalls that they were filled to the brim, their occupants excited and anxiously waiting out the storm.

We passed a millet-pounding station — the place where women in a community come together to pound the daily supply of millet — and found it deserted and a bit flooded. I imagined that the women of this village were probably also happy to have a day off from the back-breaking chore.

An flooded millet station means a day off for women in the village.
The flooded millet station

By the time we actually reached the health center, the rains had stopped and the sun had returned, and all seemed calm. But as we had our visit at the center, there was a flurry of activity going on throughout the newly-soaked area. Men, women, children, grandmas, grandpas, leaders, even babies strapped to backs all headed out to the barren fields armed with hoes and seeds.

Fathers and big brothers walked down the lines swinging their hoes effortlessly to make neatly spaced pockets. Little girls, boys, and moms followed, clutching a precious calabash of millet seeds, dropping one into each hole and pounding it closed with their foot.

By the time we were back on the road driving back, the land that had just a few minutes before looked like nothing more than a blank slate, was now lined with holes — signs of hope for the next harvest.

Newly cultivated fields that we passed on the drive back to Zinder town.
Newly cultivated fields that we passed on the drive back to Zinder town.

Find out more about our work to help drought-stricken families in Niger

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