National Geographic : 1975 Aug
hippo's hide. Shouts of triumph rang out prematurely. Diving, the hippo surfaced under one of the boats, spilling the crew. The men swam to other pirogues (pages 172-3). Moments later, the hippo slammed into our craft, which rose out of the water and plunged back with a smack. Water poured in. My five companions, not quite so surprised as I, dived overboard and frantically swam away. There I sat, alone, braced for the next attack. It never came. The tortured hippo chose to vent his fury on a third pirogue. With one bite, he neatly snapped it in half. All magic had failed; the first day's efforts were disastrous. Plaintively, the Sorkos showed me their broken harpoons. "Our weapons are gone," they wailed. "So are mine," I replied, pointing to a heap of soaked cameras and ruined film. Being brothers in misfortune set my comrades to laughing. They praised the equanimity with which I stayed aboard the boat, using the word "courage" for behavior that, in truth, sprang from sheer lack of imagination, and ignorance concerning the rage of a hippo. The spectacle lasted three days. I got out my spare cameras and the Sorkos acquired a fresh supply of harpoons. Despite more magic, more pirogues went down. Only after a rifleman reinforced the men did the un fortunate hippo meet his end. Drought Helps Topple a Government Downstream in the Republic of Niger the drought had political consequences: The mili tary seized the government, accusing the civilians of bungling relief efforts. Niamey, the republic's capital, teemed with experts-mostly Europeans, Americans, and Canadians-who had been grappling with the drought. After the redeeming rains they helped reseed pastureland, dig wells, and stock food for another emergency. They ad vised farmers on boosting millet production, taught herders improved methods of animal husbandry, started a reforestation program, and built roads to open up the hinterland. I found the new government reluctant to allow journalists to see the recovery effort; travel outside the capital was restricted. "The drought is over," one high official told me, "so let's not even talk about it anymore." The last refugee camp in Niger, holding some 8,000 Tuareg from Mali, had become an international issue. Mali's defense minister had told me that the Tuareg were welcome The Niger: River of Sorrow, River of Hope DISASTER exacted a high price from the nomadic Tuareg and Bellas. At Mali's once-abundant Lake Niangay, a Bella tot (facing page) drinks water from a murky hole also used by livestock, an invitation to disease. Scratching for morsels of food, a woman sweeps up kernels of fonio, a wild grain (above). Hunger and the death of their livestock forced many Tuareg to settle in refugee camps-a painful experience for the free living nomads. They scorn the high-density living of villages like Labbezanga near the Mali-Niger border (following pages) where white granaries loop like pearls around family compounds.