Swenson shares her experiences in Niger during the courtship ritual competition celebration last fall

Sabrina’s main reason for visiting was the Wodaabe Fula people of Niger as they gathered for their annual courtship ritual competition.

(Editor’s Note: Sabrina Swenson, a 1986 graduate of Postville High School, is the daughter of Erma Swenson and the late Marlin Swenson. A world traveler, Sabrina is sharing her experiences in Niger, located in West Africa. Printed below is the first of a three-part series.)

You wouldn’t come to Niger for it’s natural beauty. You wouldn’t come for it’s stunning scenery, nor for it’s elegant architecture. Beautiful, stunning and elegant, Niger is not! Every September, however, two weeks after the rains, there is something to see. The Wodaabe Fula people of Niger gather for an annual courtship ritual competition. Young men dressed in elaborate ornamentation, made up in traditional face painting, gather in lines to dance and sing. All vying for the attentions of young marriageable women. The Guerewol festival occurs each year as the traditionally nomadic Wodaabe cattle herders gather at the southern edge of the Sahara. The week long Guerewol festival is found wherever Wodaabe gather. Besides the singing and dancing, there’s also bartering over dowrys, competitions and at times, camel races among the suitors.

This dusty country, which most can’t pin-point on a map, is found in West Africa. Niger is just North of it’s more-heard-of neighbor, Nigeria. Officially known as the Republic of Niger, it is the largest country in West Africa with over 80% of it’s land covered by the Sahara desert. It’s a developing country. It’s top export is radioactive chemicals. Much of the non-desert portions of Niger are threatened by drought and desertification. It faces serious challenges to development due to it’s desert terrain, inefficient agriculture, high fertility rates and overpopulation. Poor education, poverty, lack of infrastructure, poor health care and environmental degradation also add to the difficulties.

The people of Niger were welcoming and kind. All were happy to have their picture taken and I snapped away. After a 17+ hour day of driving, we finally reached Tahoua to find a decent hotel awaiting us for the night. After having a meal I sat in the lobby as the internet signal was strong there and quickly realized this area was full of desert type grasshoppers. These things were huge and started jumping on me and my laptop. They also fly while jumping and can go great distances! They were beige in color, perfectly matching the sand outside and there was nothing the hotel could do to stop them from coming in whenever the doors was opened. I eventually left as I was tired of being bombarded by these pests. I retired for the night and slept well.

Read the full article in the March 15 edition of the Postville Herald.

Part two will publish in the March 22 edition.