20 March 2011

My First Biki

The guest of honor.
I didn’t know 6:45 existed on Saturday mornings.  It shouldn’t really.  But that is the time that five of us women left the compound to make our way to a home in the village.  The naming ceremony was to start at 7.  
Traditionally in Niger a baby isn’t named at birth.  For the Muslim cultures he or she is simply called ‘baby’ until day 7, when there is a ceremony and baby is given a proper name.  For the Christian community, they are a little more flexible with the date and seem to prefer Saturday mornings so that those working at the hospital will be more likely to attend.
My house-helper, Rabi, shares a cup
of water with some friends
When we arrived at the family’s compound there were already men gathering outside.  They get their own celebration, which includes a sermon (I confess, sometimes in this culture, being a woman has it’s perks).  The women were already inside the compound walls, sitting and visiting.  There were some plastic chairs and wooden benches, but mostly mats on the ground.  We found a half-occupied mat, took off our shoes, and made ourselves comfortable.
Not much happened.  As more and more women arrived we were greeted by familiar faces and strangers alike.  Some made small talk and smiled and nodded and waved (with the smiling, nodding and waving being the bulk of my Hausa vocabulary at the moment).  Without realizing it, the baby we were all the to see made his way to our mat.  He was passed around from woman to woman, and slept through the entire thing.  
After about half an hour of doing nothing at all, a woman arrived with a big tray of nuts.  Now I had seen these nuts for sale along the side of the road, but had never had one.  One of my fellow compound dwellers and her daughter gave me a quick warning: they are HORRIBLE.  But feeling all the eyes on me, I reached for the smallest one I could find and took a bite.  I wanted to gag!  But again, all eyes on me . . . so I began to chew and put on a smile and said ‘Mmmmm.’ 
All of a sudden, I heard a roar of laughter coming from my right.  I turned to see a row of old women looking at me laughing.  I didn’t understand.  They all began pointing to their mouths.  Unsure of what was going on, I held up the other half of the nut to show them, yes, I had in fact eaten some.   I didn’t want to chew any more as I was secretly trying to figure out a way to get this nastiness out of my mouth.  They continued to laugh.  A woman younger than the rest leaned forward, I recognized her as a nurse from the hospital.  In French she said to me (in between spurts of laughter) ‘That tastes really bad!  You have to spit it out!’  I was confused.  I had seen all the women take one and bite into it.  ‘What do you think of it?’ she asked me. ‘It’s TERRIBLE!’ I said.  She translated and the women laughed even harder.  ‘Spit it out!’ she said as I lifted my hand to my mouth wanting to scrape my tongue from the bitter gritty yuck that was getting worse with each second. 
As I dropped the chewed wad to the ground, L. (my neighbor on the compound who has lived in Niger for 24 years) informed me that this was the nut that the people are always chewing on . . . it basically give one a caffeine fix . . . and tastes HORRIBLE.
Once that fiasco was over, another woman came around with an enormous plate of food.  Time to eat.  
The base was some sort of pounded grain, covered with a sauce made from tomatoes, I think goat (we had spinal bones and a liver in ours, but I’m not sure I saw anything that resembled meat) and some other stuff.  It was actually quite tasty.  We were given one plate to five of us . . . and we used our hands . . . or rather, hand -- as in, right hand only.  I tried to take photos while everyone was eating, but since I already had sauce on my hand, it made pushing the shudder button a little tricky.  
Women eating pounded grain and sauce
Halfway through the meal, a man came in and announced baby’s name: Melchizedek.
We had barely finished off a quarter of our platter when the groups around us were going back for seconds.  Thankfully we were able to offer over half of our plate to some women nearby.
It was fascinating to me how this whole process worked.  Once you had eaten and had your fill, you get up, slide your shoes back on, and make your way to the metal drum of water to wash your hands . . . but to do so, you have to bend into the drum and scoop out some water with a plastic bowl and use that to pour over your right hand . . . being careful not to get your feet too wet.
A little boy washes his hand after eating
Once your tummy was full and your hands clean, you were free to go inside the house to say hello to Momma and offer a gift to the baby.  
It was dark inside, but I was able to make out what looked like seating covered with fabric along the side and half of the back wall, then a bed.  There were pieces of lace fabric hanging on the walls as if to mimic wallpaper.  
We congratulated Momma on her new bundle of joy, gave her a gift, picked up a party favor (popcorn and fried dough balls), and left.  All finished by 8.


Allison said...

Very Interesting Thanks for sharing. I am glad you are doing well.

Allison Sandberg

Kim Heubel said...

Deb, Your photos are beautiful!! They tell a story on their own. You could bill yourself as a freelance photographer for National Geographic while your in Galmi!! May God bless you in this journey.