Only one person was seated when I arrived at the mayor’s meeting. In just my third day in village, I was invited to a meeting and, without any real comprehension of what I should be doing on a daily basis, I accepted. I only understood the offer because Audrey, a second-year volunteer who came to visit and help me settle, translated. She was on her way to another village and has been intercepting many conversations for me.
As I got up from our place on the log, she said “Have fun being bored.”
She was right on the expectation of boredom, especially when the meeting is conducted in a language I don’t understand. Still, I have a thing for local government meetings.
I took a seat a few away from the only other person seated, a woman. She greeted me and I offered up the same. The men who arrived early — most didn’t arrive until 15 minutes later in typical Niger time schedule — conjugated in the back. Some of the faces seemed familiar, and as more men arrived, there were familiar. The meeting location was a shade hangar next to the mayor’s office and the furniture included a couple dozen chairs in a square formation, two mats and a table with a the base of a small Nigerien flag attached to it. The directors of the premiere (elementary) and CEG (middle) schools greeted me upon arrival along with the Chef de Village (the man designated to keep the village orderly). More men came, greeting each other with warm smiles and handshakes.
The meeting commenced with a prayer. In many places, this is hardly an appropriate way to begin a meeting. People would rage and protest, but in places like Niger and South Dakota, prayer is the only way to start a meeting.
From the first word, I was utterly lost in the meeting’s business and never understood the matter at hand. The mayor, who governs four communities and doesn’t live in mine, did motion to a brochure that seemed to elevate people’s interest.
Yet, I felt comfortable to be this professional environment. This time frame when big decisions can be made but often bantering is the only real thing that happens. I’ve always felt relaxed at this type of local government meeting.
My first city commission meeting was at 19. Interning for my local community, I was filling in for the beat reporter and had to cover the meeting. To me, the city beat was the best at the paper and I got it for a week while the real reporter was on vacation. I was determine to sparkle and the responsibility of the “big story” was eased with my journalist father, who works at a local radio station, helping me along.
A few months later, when my public affairs reporting was assigned to write two city council stories, I sat like a seasoned professional in my folding chair amongst my classmates.
These meetings were not at all entertaining but I found comfort in them. I was good at them. I could follow along and present a perfectly boring, but informative, story.
During my junior year of college, I moved up to the big leagues, or as big as it gets for government in a state of 800,000 — the South Dakota State Legislature. I roamed the capitol halls as a wide-eyed intern soaking it up and managing through beuruacratic lingo. My first day, my dad stopped by to do an opening session story and found me pestering lawmakers on the Senate floor.
“You look as if you are in your place,” he said to me at dinner that night.
But, eventually, my journalistic career led me to sports because of passion-fueled athletes and their stories. Tim Harrow says you need to be a sports expert to be on the sports desk, but I believe it’s the heart of sport that writes a good story not stats and lingo.
However, those stories moving stories came one for every 20 volleyball games I attended. Eventually, I became bored and my editor noticed when I quizzed the city reporter after returning from a city council meeting. When he left, my editors suggested I move to the news side of the office and take his place.
My first meeting felt like a friend. No new rules or fast plays that I missed. I followed along with great intensity to zoning regulations. It was probably duller than an AAA high school volleyball game in Southeast Idaho, but I thrived. I took notes of the meeting as if researching cancer or deciding a name for my first born. Inside that stuffy, gray conference room with the necessary national and state flags, I felt more at home than a rowdy gymnasium or stadium.
Here, in Niger, I am just an observer. There is no deadline to meet afterwards, which is relief because the discussion is only sounds to me. I found my self at a certain ease that I hadn’t felt in my village yet. I may never return to reporting or have any real reason to attend a council meeting again, but they are my weird comfort zone that follow me in a different country and language