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Sunny palazzo pitti
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Souley is 16 years old and trying to survive on the streets of Niamey. Everyday he comes to SEJUP - a centre where street kids can get support and learn literacy and vocational skills. It's also provided Souley with the opportunity for having contact with a mentor such as Mr Bones.
Mr Bones runs a local workshop producing goods from leather and buffalo bones.
Souley is wary of sleeping in the city and lives in a small hut fashioned from reeds in a shanty town near the airport. Let me just say it's dark out there of a night.
Mr Bones is keen for Souley to save up for his own tools and commence an apprenticeship in his workshop. With the right skills he would have the potential to produce leather goods and handicrafts for sale.
With a little negotiation, Souley agreed to make something for me and thus I became his first paying customer for a hand carved bone letter opener.
It's a small start but Souley struck me as a fellow who is motivated and has the support of a caring mentor in Mr Bones.
While I was in Niamey I had a brief opportunity to meet local journalists. BBC Hausa and Afrique on the World Service are very popular and are broadcast along with English programming locally on FM. Deutsche Welle Radio in Hausa and French was certainly available by shortwave but not a first choice among people I spoke with in Maradi in the country's south.
Radio France International is currently off air on local FM frequencies with correspondent Moussa Kaka still detained in prison. RFI is however available via shortwave. One of the BBC's correspondents spoke to me about the problems getting up to areas around Agadez and reporting both sides of the current conflict with the Tuareg led MNJ that broke out early last year. Gaining government permission to travel north to report is unlikely. The only way would be in secret. A prospect made all the more harder given that normal activities such as tourism around Agadez have ground to a halt.
Niger's government seems unwilling to recognise the conflict with MNJ as a rebellion, rather referring to the group as 'bandits'. (MNJ is armed with anti-tank mines among other munitions and has used them on major roads across the country). With no third party neutral organisation or country involved to broker peace the question is how Niger will go about resolving the conflict? Stepping up military action appears to be government policy at this stage. It's not a typical conflict of designated frontlines and the areas involved are vast.
Without media access it's a conflict that is going largely unreported.
A little quiet on the blogging front and probably an indication of the demands of the week long shoot in Niger - long days, 40C+ heat and constant camera care. Slow net speeds impeded ftping, and while mobile phone coverage was great throughout the country, it was frustrating not being able to get my German phone to work on the local network or to send SMS text messages overseas via the local sim card.
The statistics and development indicators show that Niger is a country that faces a lot of problems. Child mortality for under five year olds is high. One in five children will die before reaching five. Less than half the population has access to clean water and adequate health care. And, it's estimated that more than 60% of Nigeriens live on less than a dollar a day.
Accompanying members of UNICEF's Executive Board was a great opportunity to explore the country and to see and hear first hand what people had to say from all tiers of society.
My main role was to document the board's visit and along the way capture material for short video features on education, malnutrition and child protection. The first video is up on the UNICEF website (right hand side of page). Shot over the first part of the trip, it was part edited in Maradi and completed in the back of a 4WD on the way back to Niamey. Sending by ftp to UNICEF HQ in New York took around 9 hours.
Personally, the most interesting part of the trip was to see what measures are now in place among NGO's to monitor and treat malnutrition following the food crisis of 2005.
My Sony Z1 fell victim to dust while filming in Niger and was probably not helped by an earlier trip in Djibouti. With dust inside the lens producing black spots against light conditions I thought the only solution was to replace the lens - an expensive exercise. I've read a lot of camera forum posts that describe the lens in Sony Z1 as 'sealed' unit.
A little web searching and I stumbled upon photos referring to www.camcorderservice.nl via the DVUsers forum and gave camera technician Nico Wegkamp a call.
Nico surprised me by saying he was more than willing to have a look inside the lens and could clean it. Camcorder Service is located in IJmuiden - just 30 minutes by train from Amsterdam.
It was a 4 hour train trip from Bonn, but well worth it. I would recommend Camcorder Service to anyone in this part of the continent - you can also courier your camera to Nico.
Nico worked with Sony in The Netherlands for 10 years and has run his own camercorder service workshop for the past 12 years. Your camera will be in good hands with his team and you can even watch the repair in action. Compared to the officially licenced Sony repair service in Cologne, Camcorder Service was a dream. In Cologne I could not speak to a technician on the phone to discuss the problem or repair options and the repair service section did not even bother to reply to my email.
Not only did Nico clean the lens, but he also repaired the lens cover barn doors and the camera's tape mechanism. I feel like I have a new camera, repaired and serviced at a fair price.
Slideshow of the repair. Nico, thanks mate - I'm back in action.