Travelling to Niger to highlight a famine was probably the most rewarding job I've taken on. But as ever when working for a national newspaper nothing is straightforward. I remember getting the call on a Sunday afternoon whilst at a friends wedding, Sun reporter Ben Jackson & I had only just returned from Sierra Leone so we were all topped up with jabs and ready to go. However there was still the "small" issue of obtaining a visa, no problem you might think. Wrong! Unfortunately Niger doesn't have an embassy in London, it does however have a consulate. At the time this was situated in the back of a shared office on a commercial estate somewhere on the edge of town. The consul himself happened to be out the country at the time so we were left with his less than enthusiastic assistant. Our request for a same day application of a work visa was met with laughter down the phone. However it seems Ben Jackson had a mobile number for a General in Niger who seemed to appreciate the purpose of our visit. So before long we were both sitting in front of the Consul's assistant preparing for our visa "interview". I couldn't help but smile when I was greeted by the difficult assistant who was wearing baggy jeans & an old AC/DC T-shirt to work. Brilliant.
A whole day of running around and calling generals on their mobiles but eventually we were on & booking our flights to Niger. The only thing now was the small issue of our job, reporting on the famine. Our flights left Tuesday afternoon getting into Niamey airport just before dark. Its not considered safe to travel on country roads at night, so we had just enough time to meet with our Save the Children hosts & get some sleep as the following day was to be an 11 hour drive through the desert to Maradi where we were to meet Dr Morou Arouna who is running a hospital for severely malnourished children.
Up at 4am to get on the road for first light, maximising our chances of arriving before sunset no easy task when travelling such a great distance by road (around 500 miles). One thing that surprised me straight away, whilst sitting in one of Save the Children's Landcruisers was how good the road seemed to be. Apparently this was because the road had only just been finished, built by the Chinese to help them shift their minerals from A to B, a common site all over Africa now. Sadly though, even with the impeccable road & 11 hours of driving the day finally gave way to night. We still had about an hour of driving ahead of us, so the decision was made to have an unscheduled overnight stay. This wouldn't normally prove to be a problem, however it was Wednesday night and our return flights to London were booked for Thursday night and we hadn't even arrived yet.
Needless to say it was an extremely early start the following morning. We had calculated that if all went well we should have about an hour to complete the job (words & pics), before we would need to jump back into our Landcruiser and head for the airport, 500 miles away.
The following picture was the very first image i took on arrival, it was shot on a 50mm lens from a distance perhaps more suited for a 200mm but as so often is the case with real life it doesn't tend to wait for you to change lenses. Occasionally as a photographer you take an image that you just know instantly is the one, this was one of those images, seeing the malnourished child being lifted onto weighing scales, screaming with pain she looked back at her mum then at me just as I pressed the shutter, it was over and onto the next waiting child within seconds.