2 January 1971, Hotel du Sahel, Niamey, Niger. The usual horror of air travel. Packaged and processed on a death cart, let down at an African airport that one might mistake for the moon, swindled by the taxi-driver and porter and installed in one of those anonymous hotels with white tiles, angular leatherette-covered furniture, gleaming chromium. From the window, a terrace with limp, feathery acacias and the Niger valley rising beyond.

Wandered in the town, to the museum and zoo. These capitals of Africa are quite formless, isolated concrete villas in acacia plantations and Jacaranda trees. The African smile–slow, stupid, full of good nature. The procession of women moving up and down with their baskets. The sense of balance is amazing. Tiny little woman with shrivelled breasts carrying a pair of calabashes full of millet flour. The degree to which an African mother is a self-contained unit–feeder, etc. Thin legs walking on dusty pavements. All the cars save for taxis are driven by Europeans. Europe wealth glittering. No excitement, merely a dull lethargy.

Sore feet. The basketball boots bought at great expense in London pinch the toes. I believe I have curiously deformed feet.


Chatwin Revisited
The Red Notebook