Before moving to Niger, I had been warned that when there long enough, my African friends would eventually ask for money. It's cultural. If you have, you share . . . and you do so in the context of close(r) relationships.
During SIM Niger's orientation, we had whole sessions on the idea and importance of gift giving, along with the concept of alms giving in this culture. Giving to friends is accepted, giving to strangers is optional . . . in fact, the person begging considers himself to be doing the giver a favor, as he is providing an opportunity for the giver to participate in one of the five-pilars.
So, giving, in these contexts, I've been expecting and have been preparing personal-giving-strategies for the 'some day' I know is coming eventually.
Where I haven't expected gift request is from my patients in the hospital.
One day a patient's mother heard jingling coming from my the pocket of my scrub top. She immediately stuck out her hand in request for money. I greatly disappointed her when I pulled out my keys.
I walked into a patient's room one day and her mother stuck out her hand, pointed to my earrings, pointed to her daughter's ears. In this culture it's very rude to tell someone 'no' and they appreciate a witty response instead, so when I told her that if I gave her daughter my earrings the holes in my ears would close up she seemed satisfied.
I get stopped on a daily basis by parents asking for toys, dolls, or clothing for the children . . . because one time, at some point, someone was here giving those things away, so surely I have plenty stashed away ready to hand out.
Today, though, was a final straw . . . and I confess, I broke.
I had just finished a therapy session bedside with a patient when I was called in to room of women that I was walking past. It's a room I dread, as there's a woman and her mother who demand things of me every time I see them, and they are unwilling to take 'I'm sorry, I don't have any' for an answer.
But today, instead of a toy or something for the baby, it was my skirt.
At first I wasn't understanding . . . I thought they were telling me it was ripped or stained. But after a few minutes of back-and-forth, I realized they were asking for it.
I answered in French, saying that if I gave them my skirt I would have to finish my work naked and that just wouldn't fly with my boss. Most of the women were satisfied and laughed, but this one particular woman and her mother weren't. The began demanding photos and food . . . ANYTHING.
Frustrated and angry I excused myself and left.
I went to my office and actually cried. I was so incredibly angry: HOW CAN I WANT TO GIVE WHEN IT'S DEMANDED LIKE THIS? How can I be that cheerful giver that God loves when the hand saying 'give me' is constantly in my face?
I felt like it would one thing if I was coming for a few weeks, even months, but I'm here for years. I've already given so much just to come and live here. And I'm giving where I can, when I feel that nudge from the Spirit. Isn't that enough? Don't these patients (more: family members) realize that I'm giving a HUGE service already just through my work??
But why would they? All they know is their context. And besides, I'm rich enough to get an education, move to Niger, live in a cement house with electricity and running water . . . I take airplanes and wear different clothes everyday and have several pairs of shoes and Pilot G-2 .38 pens and a BPA free water bottle (two actually) and internet and a blog where I can complain about it all and . . .
As I sat in my office, alone and angry, praying that God would give insight to an entire culture so that patients and their family members would accept the service they were already receiving by coming to our hospital . . . when my phone rang.
It was L., my neighbor. She had a question or something. I decided to ask her if there was a creative way to respond to put an end to the requests. We had a good chat, but I was still angry.
As the evening's gone on I've been stewing over this one, and I'm starting to realize that I'm not angry about someone asking to take the money out of my pocket, the earring out of my ears, or the skirt off my legs . . . I'm angry because I want to be able to decide what, to whom, and when I give.
And I'm angry at myself for realizing that there is no cheerfulness right now in the thought of giving . . . and I'm angry at myself for wanting to justify being angry at everyone with a hand extended . . . and I'm angry with myself for judging who should get what . . . and I'm angry at myself for being so easily frustrated . . . and I'm angry at myself because I'm a hypocrite: sure I'll move here, but don't you dare ask me for my stuff!
So let each one give as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7I'm not sure I'm ready to take my earrings out on demand . . . or if that's even the right response. But here's to attitude change and trying to live with a generous, non-grudging, cheerfully giving heart.