I had a horse in Africa

When I was growing up, I was a horse fanatic.  I knew everything about horses--except how to actually ride.  Eventually, I grew out of that.  But shortly after college, I found myself as an agriculture/rural development Volunteer in Anam Tondi, Niger, 8 km through the sand to Ouallam, the nearest market town. 

Peace Corps gave us transportation options.  I tried a mountain bike, but quickly (after one trip) realized that 8 km in the sand in 110 degree heat was not what "Outside" magazine had in mind.  So I traded the bike for a scary motorcycle.  Then I learned that I could trade the scary motorcycle for a (slightly less scary) horse instead.  I asked my neighbor to find a horse to buy, and he found one brought her to the village.  She was the first horse that had lived in the village since several years of severe droughts that left the livestock dead and landscape parched.  The villagers were thrilled and came out to see the horse.  But when I rode her to town in the heat, she would pant and tire, and it pained me to see her suffer.  But it pained me more to feed her grain when the neighbor kids had so little to eat.  So she lived in my yard and the kids would take her out to the low areas to find meager patches of grass.  Eventually, I finagled to get the scary motorcyle back, which was fine until I broke my leg on it.  After a med-evac, my physical therapist suggested I just walk. 

But in the end, the horse, who stayed behind, brought pride back to the village chief, who could ride my horse and her offspring, restoring the glory of the old days.  It was a gift that may have meant more to the village than all of the rabbit raising and tree planting we were trained to do.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.