30 August 2011

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left

My New Year's Resolution should have been 'Learn at Least One New Thing Every Day' . . . that way I would have at least had a shot at keeping it.  My favorite prof in undergrad used to say, 'I'll stop learning when I'm dead' . . . if that's true, I've found the secret to living forever: be a cultural transplant.

Without question, I am learning a lot living in Niger.  While I wish I could say the opposite, the reality is most of my lessons are not the result of careful study and observation . . . no, most of my learning comes as a direct consequence of cause and effect.  Cause: I unwittingly do something against the social norm.  Effect: shock, horror, or lots and lots of Nigerien laughter.

Yesterday's lesson resulted in all three.
After I had finished seeing my woundcare patients in the OR, I stopped for a pause cafĂ© (coffee break) with a few of my Nigerien OR coworkers.  While sitting around sipping our coffee, one of the guys pulled out a little black plastic bag and started eating what looked like a smushed glazeless-donut-minus-the-hole.  They all switched from French to Hausa, which I didn't acknowledge until I heard my name in the middle of a sentence.  

I threw them a glance to remind them that while I may not understand what they are saying, I was well aware that it was about me. 

The one with the un-holey-donut stood up and asked me if I'd like to try some fankay.  Unsure of what exactly that meant, I hesitated.  The others assured me I should give it a try.  Not wanting to miss out on a good cultural opportunity, I agreed.

He reached into his bag and produced another piece of mushed fried dough and offered it to me.  Not wanting to take the whole thing, I tried to pull off a morsel* with my right hand, but it wouldn't break, so I braced it with my left hand and yanked with my right.

As the bread tore, I noticed that the guy who had shared it with me furrowed his brow and quickly offered me the whole thing.  I didn't get it, and told him I wasn't really hungry and only wanted a small piece.  He said something in Hausa.  Someone else chimed in and told me I could have the whole thing.  I insisted that I was good, and didn't need any more than what I took.

It was as tasty as sugarless deepfried bread usually is . . . only, it was much more oily than I anticipated.

Without thinking about it, and not wanting to get grease marks on everything in the vicinity, I licked my fingers . . . starting from the left, and working my way right.

My coworkers stared at me wide-eyed in shocked horror.  Then they started to laugh at me.

In a world where toilet paper is trucked to our compound from south of the Nigerian border, and the left hand is used for . . . um . . . certain other things . . . it was a reasonable reaction on their part.

They were as gracious as they could have been under the circumstances . . . although, you can be sure, from this point on, anything finger-lickin'-good in Niger will be reserved for the right hand only.

*so that was a DIRECT translation from the French . . . and then he die one day, on two, morsels of lumber . . . HA!


Leah Long said...

I've considered wearing a rubber band around my left fingers to remind me to keep them to myself. I'm just NOT REMEMBERING THIS, and I'm so embarrassed. After I read your post, I was thinking back to our ice cream outing this afternoon, and I'm pretty sure I licked my fingers. Geez. I bet one way to solve my problem would be to actually stop using toilet paper and start using the plastic can! I might remember soon enough!!! I liked this line: "I've found the secret to living forever: be a cultural transplant." Mmhmmm.

Sarah Fountain said...

Imagine how tough things would be if you were naturally left-handed!

Deb. said...

BON COURAGE avec the plastic can!!! Here they look like big teapots . . . I call them 'pee pots'!

Deb. said...

Or for the kiddos who have to have a right arm amputation!

Beth said...

Oh my goodness! This one made me laugh out loud...especially the whole "finger lickin good phrase!"

Shal said...

Same in India, but I still forgot! :)