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comme du sableThe mortuary of National Hospital in Niamey is opposite to the Mahatma Gandhi New Conference Centre, a symbol of the dynamism of cooperation with India, was inaugurated this year. The new building, in a modern style, removed a large space for the citizens to park the vehicles of those who come for the funeral to the cemeteries. Now the car parks are rather anarchic along the road where, in front of the hospital exit, we find a coffee shop for the people. Inside the courtyard of the mortuary, there is a large shed with cement benches to sit, intended for relatives and friends of the deceased. Women, according to an ancient Islamic folk tradition, are excluded from this.

 

The corpses, wrapped in handmade mats, arrive on a small tank pushed by the parents and are then placed on the back of the pick-ups and then accompanied to the cemetery for the last trip.  Smaller mats, worn on their arms, indicate the bodies of the children, who quickly left before they had lived. They are dropped off in the back seat of the car and taken to the same burial site.

Grandma's body was kept in the cold room number two of the mortuary. Other bodies, wrapped in cloths, were on the floor, waiting to be taken elsewhere or put in a cold room left free by the departure of  another  body.   Grandma, of Cameroonian origin, who fled to Niamey after having been to Algeria and Libya, ended her migration in the Christian cemetery of the capital. Her three children are in the country and when, the largest of them asks according to her, her friends here are hiding the truth. A short prayer and a quick blessing from the body before being placed in a simple small wooden coffin dressed in plastic. Escorted by a group of compatriots, men and women, the coffin arrived at the Christian cemetery where the grave, dug and completed with cement, was waiting. A simple prayer in front of a cross and a small candle quickly extinguished, prepared the burial in the tomb that turned into a silent abode for Grandma, part of her country years ago to seek a better life than the one who thought to have in her native country. 

With white gloves and colorful bavettes on his face, her friends were present around the grave for the farewell. After the ritual formulas of blessings one of her friends spoke. The doctor who followed her during her illness recalled, with delicacy, the book from which Grandma had never parted for a moment. It was a bible that she read assiduously, as if to give meaning to the transit that was operating in her, sick in a foreign country. Some women, unable to help but cry, praised her and lamented her fidelity and strength in the problems. One of them, with two crutches, recalled the paradox that we were currently living in the cemetery, Grandma, abandoned by her Country, detained and raped elsewhere, slept in the womb of this land that was no longer able to do her justice. Her friend's last words became a sob and then a cry that the warm wind of this season failed to silence. Others took pictures with mobile phones in order to send them to the country as an unforgettable testimony.

There were those who threw a handful of sand on the coffin and, on the other hand, poured the rest of the holy water into the grave. It was time to return to the other city, that of the living, which is never far from the cemetery. In a few days, in the midst of managing the pandemic, Will begin Ramadan, the holy month and one of the pillars of Islam. Between mental confinement and a two-week curfew, it seems difficult to celebrate with the usual joy. Just as for the small Christian communities in town for Easter,it risks losing the sense of celebration that characterizes these moments of popular conviviality. On the other hand also the 'Corona',as it is called confidentially by people who do not believe much in dangerousness, is only sand that the warm wind of the Sahel brings far away.

Mauro Armanino, Niamey 21 April 2020