Later, in the afternoon, I visit the National Museum. Among the permanent exhibitions are craft stalls. I see a carving I like; an elongated figure of a woman carrying a water pot. It's carved in wood with a swirl of colours from black to cream as if a mix of dark, milk, and white chocolate. It looks lovely but it's too big and brittle to get home.
"I can post it I suppose, when
does the post office close?" I try to haggle, first price CFA17500. Thankfully
this price is a bit high for me, I offer CFA5000.
"But I’m an artist. This is not just craft; this is my art. You take this and you take something of my soul."
"Ok CFA6000." Not surprisingly the artist lets me walk away. I see another stall with something similar but not so attractive. Prices here start at CFA20000. I look at other things, I try haggling, prices don’t come down much before they let you walk away.
The first carving keeps catching
my eye like an attractive girl across a crowded bar. Time is passing, is it
5:30pm or 6:30pm when the post office closes? Damn it, I do like it a lot, I
shall be sorry to leave without it. I go back and ask for a better price, now
it’s CFA14000, making progress, I offer CFA7000.
"You insult me, this is my art." Somehow we settle on CFA8000 including finding an old rice sack to wrap it in so I can post it home. Of course the sack has to be cleaned, and some string has to be found, and then there’s the inevitable need to find change. Still, if the post office closes at 6:30pm, then I still have 15 minutes. Outside in the street the traffic is at a standstill, "oops! I don't anticipate this" It’s too far and too hot to walk, I take a taxi and we manage to get to the post office with five minutes to spare,
Some workers are standing outside,
waiting for lifts home. Inside the lights are off. I explain quickly to a man
on the door what I want. He asks me lots of questions: where am I from? how
long will I be in Africa? where am I going next? and then explains that they
close at 6:30pm. "Yes I know, that’s why I’ve rushed to get here and it’s
not 6:30pm yet and you’ve been wasting time asking all these questions."
"But it’s not possible now. We open tomorrow at 8:30am."
"But I’m going to Agadez in the morning; I leave at 6:15am."
"Ah Agadez, they have a very good post office there, they’ll be able to help you."
"But I arrive at night, the next day is Sunday, the post office will be closed, and then I’m off to the desert."
"When you come back we can help you."
"But I’m not coming back, I go to Chad next, look it’s still not 6:30pm" (thank goodness for digital watches) "you have to help me", I chanced.
At this point a quiet woman with white blouse and black veil (looking a bit like a nun) steps in to the conversation and says she thought on this occasion they would be able to help. She appears to be the manager as she gets out her keys and leads at least four other workers back inside Niamey’s central post office. They switch on the lights and plug in the electronic scales. You’ll have to pay CFA500 to this man to package it properly (he looks like the night watchman to me); "that rice sack is no good for Europe" she says snootily (on reflection she's probably right).
With my inferior but doubtlessly weighty packaging it comes to 600g. The minimum charge, for up to a kilo, is CFA7500 (note we're now at the same price as the carving). It causes further confusion when I explain that I am posting it to myself. Yes, I am in fact the addressee and the sender, both are me. I ask about the green Customs slip. "Oh, ah yes, you will need one unless you pay CFA300 more and send it express" (work that one out). So I pay out and leave it to trust that come the morning, the night watchman will have found some European quality packaging, the addresses have been faithfully copied, my cash is turned into sticky stamps, and ultimately that the carving will make it to my letter box in London.