I took a break from posting while in language study in France. But, I hope to post weekly from Niamey, depending on my internet connection.
First, if you are wondering if language study was worth the money, time and effort – it was worth every penny.
Second, if you read these blogs and have a comment – don’t hesitate. Bring your questions, ideas, and opinions – I welcome them. Remember that I have feelings and try not to judge my mistakes too harshly. And, if you want to know my perspective, read When Helping Hurts which is a book whose concepts I am trying to apply.
Each Saturday morning when we food shop, we bring along 2-4 single women missionaries. Why? Because they are short term missionaries (living here for a year) who don’t speak francais, don’t have a car, and can’t get to a store. They give me a great chance to practice my speaking, on top of what we have to do to buy things ourselves. If you have any interest in serving at Sahel for a year, please click here!
You cannot communicate here without francais, zarma, fulfulde, or hausa. English is not your friend.
And, because we look so different, we draw a crowd. When the men talk to Ken, they want to know which one of us is his wife, and they usually assume it’s the station nurse. Ha!
Seriously, here is what I am learning as we venture out to buy food:
Our first time at the market was our second Saturday in Niamey. You buy fruit or veggies at stands kind of like a farmer’s market. The commercant (stand owner) approached us on the street and walked us over to his stand. While we are there, children gather around. They speak Zarma, no French. But, they motion with their fingers to their lips that they are hungry. They also have bowls, for people to drop money into. But I am told that money is not theirs to keep. So, I decide to buy them each a banana. First mistake: handing out a banana to three little boys during my time at the stand.
We are buying our produce, but the little boys have been spotted by other children, and I turn around to more tugging at my shirt. Second mistake: I buy bananas again when we haven’t finished our transaction. It’s loud, with lots of people talking, and I am trying to communicate en francais and add in English.
Ken and I are trying to listen as the commercant adds up what we owe, when a mother approaches me with her children. I see her need, while I am trying to calculate “trois mil cinq cent” cfa for my potatoes, what did he say for the carrots? And, did he already add in the cost of the bananas? Did I mention it’s really loud, as many people are talking? At any rate, I just want to pay and get into the van. So, buying bananas a third time, we get our food and make our way to the van. I have never bought bananas three times in 5 minutes before.
Two days later, I am discussing my errors with my language partner. Thank God, Hajara not only talks to me en francais, she is a cultural guru. She tells me that she never rewards begging. She talks to the kids and tells them they need to go to school or find a job and earn their food. Well, that’s great, I am on board with this. I agree with the concept, but I don’t speak Zarma. The kids only see my refusal to help them. Who can live with that? So, we decide that I can tell the commercant that I want him to pick two kids to help me carry my stuff to my car, and then they earn a banana.
The next time I am at the market, I explain my idea. The commercant agrees to do it. I keep my back to the crowd behind me until I am finished buying. Then, he shouts at two boys for me. At first, they think he is telling them to get lost and they look over at us and begin to beeline away from the stand, but I motion that we want them. They come over and perfect Zarma is spoken. They agree to help me, and while they are holding my bags, one of them begins munching on his banana. The other little guy peels his banana open, stops, looks at me, and puts his banana back on the stand. Can I tell you that the image of that just-peeled banana lying there on the wooden stand is stuck in my head? What does he want that he is going to put it back? He speaks again to the vendor, who agrees to do what he has asked.
They all walk me back to the van, even the vendor. Hmm.
So, they put my bags in, and the vendor returns to French, explaining and pointing to the other little boys feet that the ground is very hot and rocky (so true). The other little guy has “les tapettes” (flip flops), but this little guy has none. Would I buy flip flops in lieu of a banana?
How much? I ask.
1000 cfa – $1.70.
I ask him to promise that if I give him the money, he will make sure that it is spent on les tapettes. He promises. I have no idea if that is an offensive question.
The little guy shouts the one word he knows in French – merci!
Later, I ask Hajara if the vendor will buy them. She asks me a key question because she is so wise. Did the little one see you give the money for les tapettes? Yes. So, it will be done and the commercant will make sure it is spent as agreed.
Then, Hajara said we could both keep a few pairs of tapettes in our bags when we go out. As August rains end, and we leave 90 degree heat for hotter days, who knows who we will meet? I hope that we get to have an opportunity to relieve hot sore feet many times in the coming years. Please pray that this would be the beginning of opening the door of conversation between us and the vendor.
So, is it that different here? Yes. I have never gone without shoes in a hot and rocky place. I am never hungry without having food close by. God is ever present in my life, and I can pray to Him. What does it feel like to have need – emotionally, physically – and not have Him? Pray, please pray, for the workers here. And, also, thank Him for the kind, open hearts of the people of Niger. Generosity and kindness, “common grace,” abound here.
Next time I post, I want to share with you a new way the gospel is being spread here – and a way that you can be involved from 5,000 miles away. It’s exciting, and our God is amazing!