28 March 2011

I Give Myself Points for Trying

During the orientation last week in Maradi, we had a few sessions on Understanding Nigerien Culture (and I confess, I'm going to need MANY more!).  The last one was with the Personnel Director of our hospital, and it could have gone on for days.  What a wealth of information!

He started the discussion by pulling a Kola Nut out of his pocket (you'll remember my first introduction, just last weekend at the biki).  With this, he introduced us to the Nigerien way of Making Friends and Influencing People: the goro.  Giving a goro to someone is a symbol of 'good news', so they are often handed out not only at bikis and wedding receptions, but also as the invitation to such events.  Kola nuts are very common goros as are pieces of candy or bubble gum (talk about cutting down on the cost of wedding invitations!).

But there are many other appropriate times to offer a goro to someone, such as if someone does a favor for you or when you come home from traveling.  We were encouraged to think of a few new friends that would have known we were away at the orientation and give them a goro upon our arrival home.  Something small, even soap, would do.

I immediately thought of 3 people: I. the Tuareg who covered the distribution of crutches while I was gone (though I'm pretty sure no one called him La Reigne Des BĂ©quilles -- The Crutch Queen) and two women who seem to want to build friendships.  I would bring I. the Tuareg a kola nut and R. & S. would each get a bar of soap.

I had planned to run across the street to get these over the weekend, but I was disgustingly sick.  So it got put off until this morning.

I found a stall that was selling kola nuts and bought one.  An old woman standing there said something to me.  'Babu Hausa' I said ('No Hausa' . . . which I find covers a multitude of sins).  She did a side nod of her head stuck out her hands and lifted them to her mouth.

I stood there for a second debating wether or not to buy this stranger a kola nut . . . the Westerner in me thought 'Dude, lady, I don't know you . . . I'm buying my people some goro!' when the Jesus in me said 'It's a whopping 100cfa (about 20cents US) . . . REALLY??  You're that selfish???'  'But if I buy her one, everyone will want one!' 'EVERYONE Deb.??  On the whole street??  REALLY?  TWENTY CENTS!  What's wrong with you??'  So Jesus won out . . . and my stranger got her kola nut.

I then went to another stall that was selling the soap.  Now, there's generally two kinds: Savon de Marseille and Lavande (Soap from Marseille and Lavender).  One's yellow and the other white.  Until today, I didn't know there was a difference.  So, finding Colonel Mustard colored soap a bit repulsive, I opted for the Milky Creamy Smooth White, and headed back across the street to the hospital.

Within moments I found I. the Tuareg.  He happily returned my office key.  I smiled and produced the kola nut from my pocket with a resounding 'NA GODI!' ('THANK YOU!').  He seemed pleased enough by the gesture, but I think I was the only one relishing in the culturalness of the moment.

Feeling satisfied with the way my first offer of goro went, I made my way to the nurses station to present R. with her soap.

Now, when we had our Introduction to Nigerien Culture 101 course, I made sure to ask if it would be okay if I brought something for one and not for everybody.  Well, I'm happy to say that Nigeriens are like all of mankind . . . they understand that we can't all be best friends with everyone, but if you're not going to bring a Valentine for each kid in the class, it's best to drop them in the mail.

Thinking that the docs were all still on rounds and the nurses station would be empty of everyone but R. (as is normal for that time of day), I headed to the West Wing (that's what we call our surgical ward).  But, it was packed.  All the nurses that like to talk to me were there.

Trying to be nonchalant, I grabbed a few papers and held them in my hand with the soap . . . 'I'll just come back later' I told myself as I greeted everyone.  'What's that?' R. said, pointing to my soap.  'Uhhh. It's soap.'  'Yeah, but why that soap?  That's not good soap!'  'It's not???'  'No!  That soap stinks!  That's horrible soap!  You shouldn't use that soap, you should use the Savon de Marseille!'  'Oh, right . . . next time.'

Needless to say, R. didn't get her goro this time!

Today's fabric sightings: pointing fingers, Saturns, umbrellas, and (my favorite of the day) dart boards


Linda said...

I am SO enjoying following your blog!


Linda said...

I am SO enjoying following your blog!