Sunday, September 19, 2021

Fashions for Fictional People

 Annamaria on Monday

Perhaps because I am in Italy where it is so important fare la bella figura--that is "to make a good impression,"--I have been thinking a lot about what the characters in a work of fiction wear.  I am editing my own work in progress and critiquing a draft for a friend. Out of doors, I walk around looking at Florentines dressed with style and flair and tourists some of whom look like they are headed for the beach rather than for the Uffizi,  All the while my head is also spinning with the people in those two stories, living in the deep and distant past. They are wearing period clothing, in one case in a very exotic location.

Ordinarily, I think about a couple of things when working when drafting a story.  One is, of course  what the characters are wearing, and also I have to make choices about the best way to describe the clothing. I'll take these subjects in that order.

Who was that masked man?

Dressing a character is one way an author reveals what kind of person the reader is meeting.  And also what activity she may be headed for. To be extreme about it, for instance, a man in a tuxedo is not going out to wash the car.  Well, maybe, if the man is James Bond, and the car is an Aston Martin! The clothes may be fashionable or drab, attractive and fit well or undersized for the protagonist's body. They may hang off the person's emaciated frame or be the best tailored clothing ever seen in a remote place.  

All these things can tell the reader about the characters' physical capabilities, economic status, etc. They can help to inform the reader, to say whether or not the writer wants the reader to trust the character, or worry about her. They can speak of what the character's lot in life is, her personal habits, and also, of course, what the writer wants the reader to think about the wearer of the Rolex watch, what judgments the writer wants the reader to make about the child in rags holding a shotgun.

Along with other clues in the subtext, a reader may conclude that the man whose suit is too tight is overindulgent or too out of shape to be helpful when danger comes.

For historical novelists, clothing gives the reader information about what age the story is set in. Every epoch has its own special style. Many of us of the historical persuasion try to keep readers in the long-ago by embroidering into the text little reminders that the reader is not being taken to a contemporary experience. A woman wearing a cloche hat and a knee-length frock with a fringed hem is going to dance to Charleston, not a quadrille.

And nun wearing a wimple is most likely living in a medieval convent, not riding to Washington for a demonstration with the other Nuns on the Bus.

Sometimes, we writers go looking for clothing to put on our characters. This, like a lot of research became easier with the Internet. These days you can find examples of all kinds of clothing from all places on the earth from any century with the click of a button.  When I was composing City of Silver, I read a chronicle that spoke of what the ladies wore in Potosi in 1650, but I had to rummage through several other books and take trips to the Frick and Metropolitan museums to see paintings of the era to give me an idea of what those wealthy ladies living at 13,500 feet on the Altiplano of Perú might have been wearing.

What intrigues me and challenges me most about dressing characters is how to deftly insert this information in the text. I don't like to do with gratuitous sentences informing the reader of what the person has on. It is tempting to take the other common expedient, and have my character look in the mirror. But when I do that, the words seem clunky to me, and I scold myself that I'm not trying hard enough.

My difficulties here are ameliorated because I write third person, multiple points of view. The most likely way you will find out what my characters are wearing is when another character takes notice of or remarks about the clothing.

Another technique that I find useful in blending in these sorts of details is to have the clothing itself have an effect on the person who is wearing it or to have the environment have an effect on the clothing.  Clothing that binds or itches for instance can be a metaphor for something troubling the protagonist or the villain's wool shirt may irritate him.   Or vice versa. A breeze can lift lift a scarf or a skirt can drag on the stairs is the heroine descends.  Wearing the wrong clothing by mistake can have an effect on the characters confidence, or conversely being perfectly turned out for an event that comes with a threat help the hero blend in and disappear to the crowd.

The options, of course, our endless. And I confess that I know full well that writers who insert paragraphs of fashion descriptions in their work can often be giving the readers exactly what they want. And I understand that my difficulties with finding subtle ways to create those pictures in the readers minds maybe overly precious in the extreme.

I am hoping that my fellow authors here will weigh in on this subject. Not only for the edification of our readers, but also for mine.

Why is Violence Against Women Still Not Being Taken Seriously?

Zoë Sharp


Last week, a report was published that used the word ‘epidemic’—but not in relation to Covid-19.


Instead, the comments came from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). This government-run agency’s task is to independently assess the effectiveness and efficiency of both the police and fire & rescue services, in the public interest.


Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Zoë Billingham, said there was “a once in a generation opportunity to permanently uproot violence against women and girls, which is now epidemic in this country.”


This year’s report is not the first time the police in England and Wales have been found wanting in this area. In 2014, another report by the HMICFRS concluded that: ‘The overall police response to victims of domestic abuse is not good enough. Unacceptable failings in core policing activities, investigating crime, preventing crime, bringing offenders to justice and keeping victims safe are the principal reasons for this.’ 


The latest report, commissioned by the Home Secretary, looked at all local forces in England and Wales, and opened by saying ‘Fundamental cross-system change is urgently needed to tackle … violence against women and girls (VAWG).’  VAWG offences are classified as acts of violence or abuse that disproportionately affect women and girls (in this report, girls are seventeen or younger). This includes rape, domestic abuse, stalking, and many other crimes.


Although the report allowed that ‘the police had made vast improvements in the response to VAWG over the last decade, including better identification of repeat victims and improved safeguarding measures,’ it followed this by saying that it had also found ‘several areas where the police need to improve, including grave concerns about the numbers of VAWG cases closed without charge, and major gaps in the data recorded on VAWG offences,’ and suggested that the police could not tackle the problem alone. ‘The whole system—including policing, health and education—must take a fundamentally new approach.’


It is hard to believe we have entered the third decade of the twenty-first century, and this level of VAWG is not only still going on, but seems to be getting worse.


And, if not getting worse, then certainly it seems to be taken less seriously.


Police forces across England and Wales were listing priorities such as counter-terrorism, organised crime, so-called county lines gangs (which operate across different force areas), and some forms of child abuse. Ms Billingham said: “Violence against girls is not highlighted specifically as a priority within strategic policing requirement, the only real signal the government has to state what its priorities are.”


The report underlined data showing that ‘huge’ discrepancies were found in how different forces used the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS), which was designed to supply confidential information about a person’s past criminal activity to someone who is believed to be at risk of future abuse by that person. It is intended to reduce intimate partner violence.

Clare Wood

Clare’s Law


The DVDS is also known Clare’s Law. It is named for Clare Wood, who was murdered in her home in Salford in 2009 by a former partner with a severe record of serious abuse against women. He had been imprisoned three times—six months for breaching a restraining order; two years for harassment; and six years for holding a woman at knifepoint for twelve hours.


Unaware of this frightening history, Clare met George Appleton on a dating website in April 2007. They began a relationship, which was ended by Clare several months later. At that point, Appleton turned nasty and began a campaign of intimidation towards Clare.


Although she was interviewed several times—and Greater Manchester Police were aware of Appleton’s criminal background—in February 2009 Clare was raped and strangled by Appleton, who then set fire to her body. Days later, he was found hanged in a derelict building. Clare’s father, together with various politicians and journalists, mounted a campaign to give sufferers the right to know if their partners had previous history of domestic violence.


Clare’s Law was first implemented in England and Wales in 2014, although it is not, in fact, a law, but takes the form of guidance issued to police forces. It has since been extended to other police services in some areas of Australia and Canada.


Perhaps because divulging information about a person by the police raises issues over privacy, less than thirty-nine percent of DVDS applications by partners of potential suspects, or other concerned members of the public, end in disclosure.


And only fifty-two percent of proactive DVDS applications by police forces resulted in that information being passed on to a potential victim.


Three out of four domestic abuse cases reported to the police are closed early without any charges being brought. The HMCIFRS found that police forces were closing such cases either because of lack of support from the victim, or lack of evidence despite the victim wanting to proceed.


Ms Billingham said: “It is the police’s job to build the case for the victim. In many cases, it isn’t clear that forces are taking all the opportunities to undertake an effective initial investigation, or that they desisted from pushing back the decision onto the victim… When was the last time any of us heard of the police asking a burglary victim if they wanted the police to take action? It doesn’t happen but it happens repeatedly in crimes of domestic abuse.”


Perhaps the most worrying aspect of all this is that the data informing the report was collected in the year to March 2020—before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, with the resultant rise in domestic violence.


When I first came up with the character of Charlie Fox, more than twenty years ago, she started out teaching self-defence classes to women in a northern English city. Over the course of the series, she moved on from that into professional close-protection work. It is sad to realise that the need for those lessons she taught back then—how to avoid being strangled; to escape from a wrist lock; even to deal with an attacker armed with a knife or broken bottle—has not decreased. If anything, that need has grown…


This week’s Word of the Week is hüzün, a Turkish word for the gloomy feeling that, bad as things are at the moment, they are probably going to get worse. One can take comfort from the fact that this state of affairs happens so universally, there is a word in another language for it.



Saturday, September 18, 2021

A Reluctant--But Necessary--Parody




I enjoy doing parodies of great poems. The exercise detaches my thoughts from reality, no matter how thorny the subject matter may be–a process some might argue, in my case, has proven irreversible.  Here’s my reworking of Reluctance a particular favorite of mine by Robert Frost. Its putative metaphor relates to the change of seasons, something soon to be upon us. My version addresses something already upon us.


Here’s my version of Reluctance:

Out through the streets and the hoods,

Past folk living where I have traveled,

I’ve witnessed the passing of those

Among both the rich and the bedraggled,

Left to face their fate all alone,

As each life unraveled.


Many are gone now from the earth,

Even more struggle to survive,

Cursing as they battle

An enemy well equipped to thrive

On souls not believing that

Jabs will keep them alive.


As the not-yet-dead lie lost and still,

Their minds drifting to what might have been

Had they listened to science–

Not trusted the cursed false prophets’ din;

Now in their fervent prayers to live,

We join in as next-of-kin.


For let us never forget,

That in this battle we’re related,

By a single urgent truth:

End Reluctance, be elated,

True salvation lies for all

In getting vaccinated.



And here’s the other guy’s original version.




Out through the fields and the woods

And over the walls I have wended;

I have climbed the hills of view

And looked at the world, and descended;

I have come by the highway home,

And lo, it is ended.


The leaves are all dead on the ground,

Save those that the oak is keeping

To ravel them one by one

And let them go scraping and creeping

Out over the crusted snow,

When others are sleeping.


And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,

No longer blown hither and thither;

The last lone aster is gone;

The flowers of the witch hazel wither;

The heart is still aching to seek,

But the feet question "Whither?"


Ah, when to the heart of man

Was it ever less than a treason

To go with the drift of things,

To yield with a grace to reason,

And bow and accept the end

Of a love or a season?


–Robert Frost



PS.  Just a subtle reminder that this month my tenth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, THE MYKONOS MOB, is available across all e-book formats for $1.99 via this link.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Bloody Scotland Weekend

Happy Days at Bloody Scotland 2? 3? Years ago?

Today is the first day of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival. The festival this year, after much thought and deliberation, - and trying to cover any and every eventuality-  is hybrid. They decided to do some live events, some events online and generally have the bar open as long as possible which was the most important thing. 

I contributed in a minor way by providing some covid guidelines. These were the recommendations  sent to my business by a very sensible human being in the council re what to do in events of such size re covid, masks, distancing, sanitisation etc. The language of it was encouraging and more 'do this and this and this', rather than 'Don’t do that!'

A little social distancing, popular events being online as well as live, masks when moving around the venue were recommended. No masks outside, lots of sanitiser amongst the other forms of alcohol that are available.

I had already made up my mind not to go. Just felt it was too risky with the day job, too much cross contamination possible from both sides and to be honest, the rules are now so complex that even well intentioned people are getting it wrong esp "the isolation of a double vaccinated person who has spent fifteen minutes or more  within two metres of a person who has tested positive,  has to isolate themselves for ten days unless  there's an R in the month and Jupiter is aligned with Pluto."

In the next two weeks, we should be getting the booster jab for the Pfizer- the third one. The studies are showing the drop in immunity and the rise in the delta variant are going to have a perfect storm over a cold but wet winter, so we are bracing ourselves.

But the Bloody Scotland event was like a beacon of normality on the horizon. Then a rather weird but familiar thing started to happen; a  strange tingling in my legs, a sense of weakness and, knowing these symptoms, I suspect that my little fracture has fractured again. No trauma, no nothing, just a disconnect between my brain and my legs. 

There was lots of swearing.

I'm now lying flat on my back typing this on a laptop. I’m waiting for notification of an MRI scan, and there’s the problem.

Our GPs are not seeing anybody face to face. It's all  phone call consultations. So many people, in pain, unwell, concerned about something, are waiting until out of hours and calling the 111 system in an attempt to jump the queue or get the attention they deserve depending on the patient. At 111 you speak to a nonmedical person who types the patient's answers to a questionnaire into a computer, that document is then looked at by a nurse. Somebody calls the patient back  within 4-6 hours and tells you what to do. 

Urgent cases are heading right up to A and E. This has resulted in a bagatelle of patients being bing bonged  around the system, often getting no where. Because we do have a truly marvellous system of free health care, underfunded for many years, we have very few private hospitals. The outpatients department at those private hospitals are now fulling up with those too worried or in to much pain to  wait on the NHS- bearing in mind that these patients will not have had a face to face consultation with any health care professional.

To put it in perspective.  Healthcare is free, a scan takes about 6-8 weeks on the NHS – obviously urgent things are put higher on the list- they will scan during the night etc if needed.

Precovid there was a wait of 2 years for  a hip replacement, it's now up to four years in some areas of Scotland. 

My research this week has shown that an MRI privately, normally occurs within a day or two, now has a five-week waiting list. The cost of this will be about £350. One surgeon was telling me that privately, his hip replacement surgery was now at two years due to lack of operation theatres and staff.

And as I can’t really get up and walk around until we see what’s going on with my strange spine, it's a bit of a waiting game to see what happens first where.

 So, its going to be interesting. 


                                                              some Scottish crime writers- best avoided!

    Caro Ramsay


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Orca. The answer to global warming?

Michael – Thursday

ORCA, Iceland

Last week a new plant opened in Iceland at the Hellisheidi power plant near Reykjavik. Its purpose is to filter carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air and convert it to a solid, thus trapping the gas and keeping it out of the atmosphere for good, or at least for a very long time. The plant can remove 4,000 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year, and that’s a lot of gas. On the other hand, it isn’t really very much. By 2050, if there is no reduction of CO2 generation, we will need to remove more than a billion tons a year for carbon neutral.

In a way the technology is simple. CO2 readily combines with other chemicals to form carbonates which are stable solids. In practice, though, the engineering is clever. Air is forced through spongy filters in large cylinders that collect about 90% of the CO2 in the air. Then the cylinders are sealed and heated to around 100 degrees centigrade which frees the gas again. It’s mixed with water and pumped into basalt caverns where – over years – it reacts with the rock and deposits as carbonates. Of course, the CO2 collected can also be used for commercial purposes such as gas for carbonated drinks. But then it goes back into the atmosphere again. So in reality, this is a technology that governments have to support (as Iceland has).

There are some obvious other issues. You need a suitable underground storage location for the CO2 to react and solidify. That cuts down the suitable locations, although, of course, the gas can be stored under pressure and shipped elsewhere. Then there is the energy to run the process. It works in Iceland because Orca has been built next to a geothermal energy plant which taps the free, clean, heat energy that powers the whole country. Again, that’s a special feature of Iceland. I’m certainly not writing the technology off, but it’s not the solution.

Seeding cloud with reflective particles

In fact, there is no single solution. There are plans to block some of the sun’s energy (a high level dust cloud has been suggested by Bill Gates, and aluminium reflectors in space is another). We need to look at everything. In the meanwhile, if everyone makes a small contribution to less fossil fuel energy usage, it may buy the time to bring the clean energy and other approaches to fruition. We can get through this.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021



Kwei Quartey scratching a donkey's forehead in an Agadez livestock market.
Making equine friends at the Agadez animal market (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Getting oriented
On July 13, 2021, I left Nigeria, where the chaos at Lagos Airport had me worried I wouldn't get on the plane, Fortunately, I did, boarding an Asky Airlines flight packed to the rafters to Niamey, the capital of Niger, via Lomé, Compared to Lagos, Lomé's airport felt serene and well run.

During the flight to Niamey, I thought I might practice my rusty high-school French by striking up a conversation with one of my seat mates, who was from Niger. My tongue certainly needed some limbering up.

I landed late afternoon. Designed by Turkish company SUMMA, Niamey's new Diori Hamani Airport is only two years old. I snapped a pic as I emerged from the aircraft, but my ninja technique was imperfect and an official caught me red-handed and wagged her finger at me.
Shiny new Diori Hamani International Airport (Photo: Kwei Quartey)
The new, glistening Niamey Intl Airport

Customs and immigration weren't a big deal, and a mysterious Nigerien official helped me whizz through without incident. I was going to give him a tip, but he had vanished as suddenly as he had appeared. I wonder who he was.

Coming out of the airport into the balmy dusk, I spotted my Niamey guide, Abba Djitteye, of Timbuktu Explore Traveler, waiting for me. He had taken care of my Niamey transport and accommodation arrangements. On the way to the hotel, I was looking around for all the danger I had been reading about on the Internet concerning Niger (see my previous blog), and was frankly stunned at what the reality was.

I spent only one night at the Niamey Noom, a lovely 5-star hotel, leaving for Agadez early the following morning. It wasn't a direct flight and made several stops to pick up passengers on the way. My Agadez guide, Ibrahim Alhassane, an enthusiastic young man with a bright smile and easy laugh, was there to meet me at Agadez's tiny airport. Within minutes of my arrival, I realized that cars were few and far between. How was I going to get to my hotel with my luggage? In one of these:
Agadez vehicle, a yellow taxi
Tricycle taxi cab (Photo I. Alhassane)

Was there actually room for three adults and a suitcase? Yes, in Africa, all things are possible.

The hotel, Auberge Azel, was reportedly the best in Agadez, "where the American ambassador stays when he comes here," I was told. Auberge was no match for Noom, but this is something one must get used to while traveling in Africa: in small towns or cities, hotel accommodations may not rise to the standards of the large metropolises.

Classic ochre walls around the courtyard at Auberge Azel Hotel (Photo: Kwei Quartey)
Ochre walls surrounding the Auberge Hotel compound (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

The material and color of the ochre is quite classic in Agadez and elsewhere in Niger. They are often starkly beautiful. After some confusion between the kitchen staff and me over the menu (I was trying to figure out which items were vegan), I retired to bed.

Beginning the research
The 2022 Emma Djan novel, LAST SEEN IN LAPAZ, will tackle the difficult and tragic phenomenon of West Africans trying to migrate to Europe as they flee from famine, drought, poverty and persecution. The migrants hail from Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Benin, and Ghana, but the majority by far are Nigerians--male and female

Migrant routes to Agadez (map by Shutterstock, modified bit Kwei Quartey)
West African migratory routes to Libya and Europe (modified Shutterstock map)

Reaching Agadez is the first stage of the migration. Then it's on to Libya by a perilous journey across the Sahara to Libya. The idea is to leave Libyan shores and get to Italy. Other routes include Morocco via the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, or Algeria to Spain. The real outcome is often far from the goal: sometimes the migrants get stuck in North Africa for a year or more because they don't have enough money to proceed farther.

Ibrahim had arranged for me to talk to some migrants in Agadez. But before we got to that, he had to set me straight on one issue. No way would we be going around town in tricycle taxis--they were so slow, might as well ride a tortoise. I needed to join the majority who used the single most important mode of transportation in Agadez: the motorcycle. "Okay," I said sheepishly.
Ibrahim on his motorcycle, Agadez, Niger (Photo: Kwei Quartey)
The charismatic Ibrahim (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Like other men in Niger, Ibrahim wears a veil and headrest not for any religious reasons, but as protection from the sun, sand, and wind. I tried one of these veils but found it made me feel even hotter than I already was in the 100-degree weather. I was drinking gallons of water as I was sweating buckets. Ibrahim? Not even the faintest veneer of perspiration anywhere.

So, climbing onto the rear seat, off we went on his motorbike, which I must say was pretty nifty. Ibrahim dodged the potholes with ample dexterity as I got used to the sensation of being on a motorbike. The most important requirement is to trust the rider.

Talking to the migrants
Before meeting the contacts, we dropped in on a refugee camp run by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Agadez. At the time, the camp was empty, but the guard, who knew Ibrahim, let us look around. There wasn't much to it. The IOM has branches all over the world, and they concern themselves primarily with repatriating migrants.

Later on, Ibrahim took me to another part of town where I spoke to four male returnees from Libya: a Nigerian, Guinean, Beninese, and Gambian. They had all had different experiences, some more harrowing than others, but there were a few takeaways:
  • The desert crossing is a desperately dangerous affair with threats of banditry (outlaws attacking and robbing the convoy of trucks); physical and sexual abuse by smugglers; severe dehydration and death.
  • The convoluted web of agents, smugglers, "connection men," and madams, and who among these gets paid is confusing and riddled with inconsistencies, lies, and brutality. For example, a migrant soon discovers that the money they started out with is insufficient to make the whole journey. The only way to get that money is either to work as a prostitute, or in some more conventional setting (but finding work in places like Agadez is easier said than done).
  • The very worst thing to happen to you is to be accosted or captured by the Libyan forces and then sent to a detention center, which, I can confidently say according to the accounts I heard, is hell on earth. The four young men I spoke to described unspeakable acts of cruelty and murder in their respective detention centers.
Their different accounts also raised questions about the IOM itself, some describing brutal treatment inflicted by IOM custodians as bad as that meted out by the Libyans. The Guinean man said he had no confidence the IOM could help him and because of the fear of being assaulted in the camp, he refused to stay. I've incorporated much of what I learned into my novel.

Ibrahim then took me to an area of the city where prostitutes commonly work. There was a slight misunderstanding when one of the young women thought I was there to avail myself of her services. Instead, we tried to talk to her and her two Nigerian companions about the story of their journey to Europe and how it had stalled, but in spite of the tip I gave them, they were not as forthcoming as I had hoped--certainly not as helpful as the young women I had met in Lagos.

Sheep, goats, cows, donkeys, and camels
I couldn't have claimed to have visited Agadez without going to the livestock market. Nigeriens are meat eaters. In this landlocked country, especially in Agadez and similar desert towns, fish is not popular. It's served primarily in restaurants and hotels that cater to expatriates. Therefore, beef, goat, and mutton are the usual accompaniments to the Nigerien staples of rice and millet. I understand that some Nigeriens also eat camel meat, but camels and donkeys are primarily sold as beasts of burden. (It's almost painful to watch a donkey placidly pulling an overloaded cart while already saddled with piles of merchandise on its back.)

It was at this market where I met my donkey friend above. I approached the camels, but one of them didn't seem to like me, and since I've had little to no experience with camels, I kept my distance.

Kwei Quartey at animal market in Agadez
Keeping a respectful distance from the camels (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Into the desert
One morning, about halfway through my trip to Agadez, Ibrahim announced exuberantly, "Tomorrow, Inshallah, we go to desert, to Azel, my hometown. You meet my family."
"Oh, um, yah," I stammered. "Well, if you say so," while thinking, hold up--how far into the desert? Were we talking sand dunes and mirages?

So the next day, round about three o'clock in the afternoon when the sun was perishingly hot, Ibrahim came to the hotel to pick me up, having hired an SUV plus driver. As I approached said SUV, I realized this wasn't some vehicle out of a slick SUV commercial, this SUV looked more like the kind of ancient, battered but indestructible Land Rovers the British brought to the African bush. At the wheel was a young guy (everyone is young in Niger) whom Ibrahim introduced as Mohammed.

I got in, noting with some alarm that the four windows were down. "Uh, is there air-conditioning?"
"Air conditioner?" Mohammed said. "No air conditioner."
You've got to be kidding, I thought.
Now, we pause the video for reflection. At that point, I could go one of two ways: (1) positively assert myself and refuse to ride to the desert without a/c when the temperature was around a 100 degrees. Don't I deserve better than this?
(2) go with the flow and not be an obnoxious, entitled American.

I went with the flow. Mohammed had probably already been paid and getting the SUV may not have been that easy in a poor town with very few cars, and lastly, well, this was Agadez; I couldn't expect it to be Pasadena, California.

My hope that the air coming in through the SUV windows would help cool me down turned out to be the height of wishful thinking. The air was hot, dry, and stinging. Neither Ibrahim nor Mohammed had a drop of sweat on them as I was slowly suffocating in the back. Ibrahim looked back at me. "Oh," he said with concern, "you don't look happy at all."
"Maybe because it's about a thousand degrees in here. Celsius."

The terrain was rocky sand with hardy scrub. There wasn't actually a road. Mohamed just knew where we were going. Whenever a truck came in the opposite direction, everyone waved at each other.

The trip was about one hour. Ibrahim selected our campsite and then took me around the area, which I now realized was what we would call an oasis.

Dried river bed in Azel, Niger
A dried (but not dead) river bed (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

During the rainy season, this becomes a mighty river.

Deep well for crop irrigation
A deep well for crop irrigation (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Squash growing among leaves
Fine-looking squash (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

Ibrahim introduced me to his uncle, a farmer growing several crops, including dates.

When we got back to camp, Ibrahim lit a fire magically without matches, and began cooking dinner. Since he knew I was vegan, he had specially prepared a bean stew for me. I was famished, and it was excellent. Before eating though, we had mint tea.

Ibrahim then busied himself getting the campsite ready for the night. He had brought along a folding cot exclusively for me.

An African man making up a bed in the desert
Splash of color in the tawny landscape (Photo: Kwei Quartey)

"Very nice," I said. "What about the tent?"
"Tent? No tent."

A night under the stars
Ibrahim had claimed that the desert turned very cold at night. I said, "I don't believe you."
    "You'll see," he said.
    I bet him 2000 CFA (about four USD) that I would not find the weather even remotely cold. On my deluxe cot, I lay awake and gazed at the legendary stars in the dark sky. There was zero ambient light. Complete darkness. I saw the Milky Way and my favorite constellation, Orion. Now, if only I could get some sleep.
Every so often, a breeze would stir, but it was hot and dry. It wasn't until about 2 AM that it cooled some. "So much for the cold night," I muttered. I managed to sleep for some four hours, waking before six. Ibrahim had shrouded himself in a sleeping cloth to shelter from the "cold" while I was shirtless and sweaty. He still owes me 2000 CFA.

We packed up and just as I thought we were about to leave, Ibrahim and Mohammed sat down on a picnic blanket.
"Aren't we leaving?" I asked.
"We're gong to have some tea," Ibrahim said, "and then we go."
"Tea?" I said. "No tea, no tea! There's no time for tea. Come on, chop-chop, we gotta leave right now before the weather gets too hot. And plus, I have work to do back at the hotel. Let's go!"
Ibrahim jumped up. "Yes, boss."
But Mohammed shot me a look that said in the Hausa equivalent, "Chill out, bro. Life isn't that serious."

The final night
Ibrahim made a big deal of taking me to a restaurant the last night I was in Agadez. Because Ibrahim knew the restaurant owner, he was going to personally shop for vegetables and then take them to the restaurant to be prepared as a fresh salad. I found the gesture very touching.

Salad with carrots, lettuce, cucumbers.
It was a marvelous salad. Besides mint, there was another flavor I could detect but not identify.

Early the next morning, Ibrahim took me to the airport and waited around with me for the flight to be called. I was glad he was there to smooth out any misunderstandings between the officers and me. It always helps to have a local with you. It's like a shield. I got on the flight, but later on, the plane developed engine trouble and never made it to Niamey. The answer to what actually happened comes in the next blog.

Ibrahim and me at the Auberge Hotel