Saidou Mano is the homeless man of Recasement. I’ve seen him for years walking around our neighborhood with his green plastic bowl on his head, from which he begs. I’ve never felt comfortable asking him to take his photo until this year. But after running into him several times, I asked, and he thanked me profusely. He felt so proud. I sat down with him with the hope of chatting with him. Unfortunately, we did not understand one another, and so I still do not know his story.
I’ve pondered about what has brought him to homelessness, in a country where, no matter how poor you are, you have a family that will care for you and feed you. He seems unlike most of “Niamey’s brown men”, as I call them. The homeless in Niamey are commonly completely brown… that’s how I recognize them as homeless. Their clothes are brown, their skin is brown, and their hair is brown. Brown, because they are covered from head to toe with soiled sand; they blend right in with the brown streets and weathered concession walls. Most homeless are foreigners, often refugees or migrants from distant African countries, and have somehow found their way to Niamey… like the man I met years ago while driving from Niamey to Agadez. He was walking along a long stretch of empty savannah. He waved at me to stop, and so I did. He asked for water and food, and I gave him a little. I offered him a ride – he looked terribly exhausted and malnourished — but he declined. He was heading in the opposite direction, to Niamey. His plan was to rest there a while before walking many months more until he reached Paris, France. The journey did not frighten him; he had already traversed wide expanses of three countries, having left Cameroon months ago. He was homeless but not unhappy. He had a plan. I hope to one day find out a bit of Saidou Mano’s story.