One of the hardest cultural aspects for any Westerner newly relocated to Africa is the concept of time. We just place too much value on it. Time is money, we say . . . but that is one quip that doesn't translate here. A patient the other day said to me, 'Why do you walk so fast? What is so important that you have to rush?' It's the first time in my life I've been accused of being a speed-walker! I simply said 'I'm a North American, we do everything fast.' 'Why?' he asked. 'Because time is important to us.' 'But why?' He was as confused about my value of time as I am of their value of the head covering.
When I first arrived in Niger, you will recall that I spent my first week in Niamey doing prep things like grocery shopping and ordering furniture. The furniture was to be custom built based on images and specifications I left with the patron of the furniture place. We negotiated price and set a date for when the furniture would be ready: 6 weeks.
On my birthday, he phoned to tell me that it wouldn't be ready as planned and he would need another 2 weeks . . . which should have been last week. Some other folks on the compound had to have some stuff shipped from Niamey too, so we wanted to get it all on the same truck. I phoned the patron to make sure my furniture was finished as promised.
'Everything is done, except the couch.'
We made arrangements for the pieces to be picked up (a table and chairs, 2 book shelves, 2 arm chairs, a coffee table, 2 end tables, a twin size bed, a desk and desk chair) and I had the money, minus the couch, drawn from my account.
This morning around 9 I was notified that the furniture would be arriving at any minute. So, I began emptying drawers and bringing the loaner furniture I've been using out onto the back porch. (Hey, bear with me . . . it's been a little while since Short-Story-Long Girl has made an appearance!)
When the truck arrived around noon, guys started unloading the pieces. Unsure yet of how I wanted my living room situated, I asked the first guys in to place the bookshelf they were carrying in the middle of the room as I was going to look at everything and then decide where to put it. One said something to the other, the other agreed with the one, and completely ignoring me, they chose a corner they liked best and put it there.
The bed came in Ikea-style: 5 pieces and a handful of bolts.
The desk was a little tricky. It was definitely bigger than I had ordered . . . something about having drawers on both sides . . . I'm not really sure where the communication breakdown happened, but hey, a desk's a desk. It takes up half of my room, but if I ever need extra bed space for company, we'll just pop a mattress on top.
The flow of traffic and freshly lacquered wood stopped.
Hey . . . where's the chair for the desk?? And . . . wait a minute, what about the arm chairs . . . and the coffee table . . . and end tables . . . and speaking of tables!
'Is there a table still outside?' I asked the two last movers. They looked at me confused. 'A table . . . for eating.' They pointed into my bedroom at the desk. 'Oh, we put it in there.' 'No, that's the desk.' 'THAT'S A DESK?!?!' 'Yeah, so where's the table.' 'But it's so big!' 'Yeah, I know. Where's the table?' 'You could use that for a table.' 'But it's a desk. Where's the table?' 'That's everything outside.' 'But where's the table?' 'Maybe it is somewhere else.' 'But where? Is it still in the truck?' 'Maybe it is.' 'Did you see any more furniture in the truck?' 'Maybe.'
With that last 'maybe' I gave up.
When I finally hunted down the guy who had made the arrangements for the furniture pick up in Niamey, he informed me that while I had been told 'everything but the couch is ready' what that really meant was 'everything but the couch, two arm chairs, coffee table, end tables, kitchen table and 7 chairs.' It was still going to be a few weeks!
So, I'd better stop writing and go bring the loaner table and chairs back in from the porch!