I HAVE BEEN in Niamey, Niger, several days, working on a rural health program. Today promises to bea day of leisure. Eating breakfast at poolside of the Grand Hotel, I can see men and women washing clothes along the banks of the Niger River. The river is extremely low; near the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge, small boys wade across.
In my job, I spend half my time in Africa developing new projects for Africare and the other half in Washington administering projects and raising funds. Monday
At the hotel reception desk I find an invitation to the fifth anniversary of the military government - traditional dress or dark suit. Not having packed a dark suit, I spend the afternoon trying to borrow one.
The evening is grand: The honor guard in bright orange and green; shaking hands with President Kounche; hundreds of guests seated at tables outdoors with food and drink. A 30-member Malian troupe entertains - singing, dancing, drumming highlighted by a 24-string korro. A military band plays, then a local dance band. At 11 p.m., mishwi - sheep cooked over open fires and put on spits placed around the grounds - is served. Everyone, in traditional style, helps himself, eating with the right hand. Tuesday
A national holiday. Jim Toliver, Africare representative, and Hugh Sylvain, Africare agricultural adviser, come to the hotel at 10 a.m. We are going to Tara, 200 miles from Niamey, to visit Africare's irrigated agricultural project. Bottled water and canned provisions are packed.
The temperature is 110 degrees. The Sahel dry season is in its sixth month. The red laterite soil is dry and dusty. Occasionally I see a goat or camel stretching high to eat leaves from the sparse trees. Bob Wilson, our agronimist, says it takes 10 hectares (about 25 acres) of this land to feed one head of cattle.
At Dosso, we stop at the prefet's office. Closed. Eating lunch of steak and french fries at the Djerma Hotel, we discuss the toughness of meat from grass-fed versus grain-fed animals.
The road worsens. The Peugeot sputters, jerks, stops. More by luck than mechanical skill, within half an hour we are off again. We reach Tara at 5 p.m. Immediately Harouna Alzouma, Nigerienne director or the Tara project, piles us on the back end of his pickup truck to inspect the canals and pumping system. The unusual lowness of the river is making it difficult to pump enough water to the fields. The government engineering division, Genie Rural, must find a solution.After dinner of rice, sardines, and baked beans we talk until midnight. Sleeping under a mosquito net, the night is hot and sticky. Wednesday
Awakened by Voice of America on Wilson's radio. Back to the pumping station. Genie Rural is there working. We inspect the site where a dispensary and cooperative center will be built. The wide-diameter cemented well is under construction. The villagers have dug 30 feet by hand but have hit rock. We must meet with the government well construction department in Niamey.
Ready to return to Dosso, we learn the prefet is coming to Tara - in three hours. While waiting, we cross the river to Malenville, Benin, a small, duty-free border town. Goods are from around the world. A cold Schlitz all the way from Milwaukee costs only 50 cents. We meet the prefet. I'm back in Niamey by 8 p.m. Thursday
The small Fiat taxi I hail already has three passengers. At the office, Alameda Harper, our health specialist, says our meeting with the health officials won't be before Saturday. They don't understand why a five-page agreement must be supplemented by 37 pages of general provisions required by AID. They don't realize we've labored diligently with mission director Jay Johnson, adviser George Jones and contract specialist Herb Sultan to reduce it to that much.
The telephone isn't working. We go to the well construction division to discuss the well at Tara. The director is out. Come back later. The rest of the morning and afternoon, broken by siesta frim 12:30 to 3, is spent in the Africare office.
At the bank, balance-of-payments and dollar fluctuations become real and personal. Since last week the dollar has dropped from 218 Central African francs to 215. It has ranged from 240 to 190.
The morning is spent with Toliver, Wilson and Joy Nathan, administrative assistant, reviewing vehicle insurance policies. Terms such as "third party" don't necessarily mean the same to a French insurance company as to an American. After an hour and a half at two companies, I think I know what we have.
At the Terminus Hotel for lunch, I run into Dr. Grover Murray, former president of Texas Tech and Africare board member. He has just arrived to visit a cereals project involving AID and a university consortium.
After work, we have drinks on the terrace of La Damsi, which faces Place Kennedy. Modern and traditional come together - Mercedes, Toyatas, bicyles, mopeds, camels crossing the bridge, donkey carts, and mud houses, multi-storied buildings, open stalls lighted by kero sene lamps. Friday
Our meeting scheduled for Saturday, I find out, will be next week. There goes my tightly drawn itinerary of visits with Africare staff and government officials in Upper Volta, Maliand Zambia. Scheduling flights across Africa is always a juggling act. I love the people of Africa, but I hate the long waits for infrequent, often delayed flights.
Two members from our Diffa health project, 800 miles east of Niamey, have arrived for a monthly staff meeting. Raymond Robinson, auto mechanic, and Dr. James Cahill, gynecologist, still dusty from their trip by Land Rover, join Dr. Dorean Shillingford, health adviser, to work on the new anethesiology machine. It arrived air freight two months ago, but is useless because several small parts weren't included. Raymond will do some welding. Working all day with excellent cooperation from the government hospital, adaptations are made. The machine is tested. Now all have to do is figure out how to haul it to Diffa without damage. Saturday
I go with Toliver to look at housing for new staff. Three houses are still being built. They are too expensive. A modest house rents for $500 to $600 a month.
At 11, the staff meeting begins. It lasts until 6. We head for the Grand Hotel for cold drinks.
Later I go to a birthday party for a Nigerienne airlines hostess. It is typical Afican or non-Western. Chairs are lined up so everyone sits. The music is Congolese, Africa-Cuban, disco. Each new arrival goes around and shakes everyone's hand. There are guests from Ivory Coast, Congo-Brazzaville and Togo. We dance and drink. The food is lamb, rice and stew is eaten in Western and traditional style, some eating with knives and forks, others with their hands from a common plate, washing from a bucket of water placed nearby. By 1 in the morning there is little thought of tomorrow's kept or unkept meetings. CAPTION: Picture, Joseph C. Kennedy is the director of international development for Africare, a private, non-profit organization engaged in development in rural Africa. Kennedy's work involves spending nearly half the year in that region. He received his B.S. and M.A. degrees from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.