I have known Malimouhama for the past seven years. He keeps his cows in the street, outside of his home. The day I met him, Fassely was two and ever the animal lover. He greatly enjoyed sitting at the side of the street to observe the cows for long periods of time. And I, ever the photographer at heart, liked to document his every moment in Niamey. I began clicking away, until, out of the door came flying an old women waving her arms wildly at me. “No, no, no”, she hollered. Stunned and embarrassed, I immediately hid my camera behind my back, grabbed Fassely by the hand, and fled. This was my introduction to Tassomeiaki.
After a few moments of reflection, I burst out laughing. What a silly scenario. I went home and printed a photo of the cows. Fassely and I walked back stoically to Tassomeiaki’s house, and gently knocked on their door. This time, I was welcomed by a kind looking man. I shyly handed over the photo of his cows. He chuckled with glee, and stumbled over to his wife who sat at her cooking pots, to show her the shot. She glanced at me sternly while making a harsh comment to her husband in Hausa.
I enjoy chatting with Malimouhama in the morning, while he sits on the “old man’s bench” outside of his home eating a baguette omelette, which he buys at the street boutique. He talks to me about his cows, which he fattens to sell on the market (he never misses a chance to ask me to take their photo) and tells me of his life as a merchant in Dogondoutchi. He looked for a better life coming to Niamey, but other than the cows and their clay home, the family does not own much. He laughs at my very poor Hausa, and attempts to teach me a few extra words.
I’ve tried my best to befriend Tassomeiaki. But I made another faux a few years after the first. One day, while she brewed her sauce, I bent down to take a whiff. She practically shot me down with the sharpness of her glare. This is how, after more than 34 years of living in Niger at the time, I discovered just how impolite it is to smell food.