16 November 2011

The Local Culture: A Guest Post

My mom is here visiting for a month.  She let me read an email she wrote my dad detailing her first Saturday morning in Galmi.  I thought you'd enjoy reading a fresh-off-the-boat perspective.  So, here's Momma:

On Friday, we received two pieces of bubble gum from a male co-worker of Deborah's.  His wife had their first child, a little girl.  The gum was our invitation to the baby 'bikki' -- naming of the baby ceremony.  So on Saturday at 7am, we and a group of other people from the compound walked to the home in town.  We were all dressed in our finest African outfits, married women complete with head covering veils (did not have to cover my face, but wanted to because of the dust!!!).  We made our way down the various alleys among the filth, donkey carts, motor bikes, bicycles, people walking, to an alley that had men gathered sitting on plastic chairs or standing around........that was the men's section of the 'bikki.'  

We went inside the gated courtyard and there were about 40 women, seated on mats, sitting on chairs along the wall, standing, talking, cooking on an open fire.  We were instructed to take a seat anywhere there was space on the mats.  So we sat down.  The chairs along the wall were for the older ladies.....I didn't feel or look quite as old as they did, so I sat on the mat (should have sat on one of the chairs).  We were squeezeed in among all of these finely dressed ladies sitting with dirty bare feet stretched out in front, behind, to the side, etc.  You get the picture (I took one).  

There were greetings, introductions, general chatter, most of which I did not understand unless Deborah explained.  The name of the baby is a well kept secret until such time as the ceremony begins.  It began with the baby being carried out by some old man to the outside of the wall - to the men's group.  Couldn't tell you what happened out there as the women are not allowed.....the baby is not brought back to the women for ceremony and the mother remained in the house.  

When the men were finished, the baby was carried back to the women and we were told her name -- "Blessing Gloria" . . . they gave her an English name, instead of the French or Hausa equivalent.  There was silence and then a murmur and sounds broke out among the women.  There was alot of whispering and complaining -- Deborah translated - 'what kind of name is that' - 'we can't say that name, 'we can't pronounce it', etc., etc.  The baby was shown for about 5 minutes tops and then taken back inside to mommy.  

Within minutes huge trays of cooked food were brought to us, and we had to shift to allow the round trays to be placed among us -- we circled a tray and everyone started to take food with their hands.  Deborah warned me not to touch anything with my left hand or the women would not eat from the tray.   I sat on my left hand the remainder of the time the food was in front of me.  The tray consisted of scraps of beef  cooked in sauce -- dough that looked just like zeppole without the sugar - and a white polenta (a little slimy).  It all was actually delicious!  The only problem was there was hardly any beef -- seems the men get all the beef and the women get the bones with whatever scraps of beef didn't fall off....

Anyway, before I started to join in eating, one of the African women took a clump of the food from the tray and put it in her mouth up to her knuckles!!!!  Deborah had told me that I just have to copy what the women were doing and I'd be fine.....all I could think of was that I was going to gag and throw up if I had to stuff my mouth and also insert my hand up to my knuckles!!!  I waited and watched and realized that was just the way they clean off their hand to get more food!   I sat on my left hand and watched to make sure noone else used their left hand or I wasn't eating either!!!
It was a trick to break off a piece of fried bread with one hand!!!  But I finally did it....

After eating and wiping the tray clean, we were brought a bowl of water  to wash our hands......fresh water from another bowl was poured over the washed hands to rinse....we then all lined up to enter the home and greet the mother and baby -- then we said our farewells and made our way back to the compound -- all this by 8am!   


Linda said...

Fascinating to read your Mom's take on her new surroundings. I'm SO GLAD she's there with you for a while! Sometimes a gal just needs her Mom!


Shal said...

Lovely account and lovely picture of you two!

Ryniakg said...

I was smiling as I read this.  Robin, I could just see you observing this whole ritual.  Love your outfit.  Can't wait to talk to you when you get home.  Love to you and Deborah.