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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

The Elder's Last Word

Africa, Niger


None of my prior knowledge or experience with horses prepared me for shopping for a horse in Niger. The process of acquiring my horse, Noel, took me six months. I looked at more than a thousand horses, bid on 12, and even bought and sold one before acquiring Noel.

In December, I went to the Guidaguir animal market, since it is known for the best selection of horses in the whole region. This time I looked at and bid on two horses, but ultimately stopped bidding because they were too expensive. While leaving the market, I spied a beautiful blood bay stallion. He caught my eye and a friend told me that this was the same horse I'd looked at three months earlier, but now it was well fed. He asked me if I was still interested. I said I was. Once again my hopes began to rise—there was something about this horse that I liked.

My friend and I talked with the horse's owner. He said he was interested in selling the horse, but he also wanted more money than three months earlier. However, I wasn't willing to pay his price. So I left, looking for a bush taxi home.

As I waited for a bush taxi to fill with passengers, I had a clear view of the red stallion. The more I watched the stallion, the more I realized I wanted to buy that horse. I left the Guidaguir market dreaming of ways to get the owner to lower his price. Ultimately I decided to wait until the hot season, when money and hay for animals are scarce. Then, I thought, the owner might be more willing to sell me his red stallion.

The following week, my friend returned from the Guidaguir market with encouraging news. He said that the horse owner offered to drop the price of the stallion, however, not as low as the price he had quoted us three months earlier. It took me 15 minutes to decide and then two days to make sure pulling the extra money out of my budget wouldn't break me, but I was determined to buy that red stallion.

However, when my friend and I journeyed to the Guidaguir market to meet with the horse seller, we found that the price of the horse had been changed yet again. It was now higher than ever before. My friend held his tongue but was livid that the horse seller went back on his word.

I felt completely defeated and resolved not to ride horses until I returned to the United States. I headed straight for a bush taxi that was going to my village. The taxi was almost full when my friend arrived, knocking on the window by my seat. He hurriedly called for me to get out, relaying that the horse's owner would sell the stallion for the price agreed upon the previous week. Though I didn't understand what was going on, I was curious to find out.

My friend explained that after leaving me in the taxi, he went to a well-respected elder from our village who was also good friends with the horse's owner. He explained that the elder knew about the agreed upon price from the previous week and was upset that his friend had gone back on his word. As they say in Niger, the horse seller had "eaten our trust."

My friend then reported how the elder found his friend the horse's owner in the shade of his father's home and confronted him. Their argument was short, however, because the horse seller's father, a man in his seventies, stopped them. He told his son that no disagreement, even one over a horse, was worth losing a friend and ordered his son to sell the horse at the agreed upon price from the previous week. The son abided by his father's advice and sold me the horse.

And so it was, I got my horse thanks to two friends' respect for one another and their even greater respect for their elders. 

About the Author

Jess Wysopal

As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Niger from 2001-2003, Jess Wysopal worked on projects involving agriculture and livestock.

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