Stepping off the airplane into Africa was the strangest part of the trip. Many more shocking moments would follow, but this had the combination of absolute unknown and uncertainty that made for what books would call a “heart-pounding experience.”
My heart wasn’t really pounding. I was surprisingly calm (it surprised myself, actually). But for the briefest moment I considered staying on the plane, knowing stepping out would be irrevocable.
As I exited to a friendly “au revoir,” a wave of moist heat rolled over me. My hair frizzed and my skin moistened, and I breathed the Niger smell — a combination of wet dirt (this is the rainy season), sun-baked millet and stale sweat. The sweat would become an all-permeating odor over the course of my five-day road trip from Niamey to Tahoua and Maradi.
But at the moment, all I knew was that I had stepped off the plane from Paris into a strange country, was meeting a stranger and had no idea where I would spend the first night.
I took a deep breath and entered the airport.