17 February 2013

There is Hausa and I Still Have My Skirt

I've been busy moving back into Galmi . . . both in my house and my new therapy gym.  We are in the process of rebuilding the hospital . . . which means the hallway where the therapy office used to be is now a pile of rubble.  But it also means our little department has had an upgrade!  With about 4 times the space as before, we now have the space to practice without tripping over equipment, crutches, or one another.

It also means we now have adequate space for a PT or two . . . or five!  (apply here)

My new location brings with it a spectacular new view.  Instead of staring into the windows of the private ward, like before, the new therapy gym faces the gidan baki, aka the ACU (Ambulatory Care Unit).  An open space framed by small buildings composed of five rooms a piece where patients can stay who need wound care or TB treatment, without being hospitalized.

There is always a buzz of activity out back, in the ACU.  Patients cooking, washing clothes . . . or simply lounging in the shade a well placed tree.

The other day, as I was walking from the CREN (the nutritional rehab center for babies, located in the far corner of the ACU) back to my office, when a group of women called to me.  I waved to greet them.  'Come here' they signaled with an outstretched arm, palm down, drawing their fingers back and forth as if opening and closing an upside-down fist.

I diverted my trajectory and went over to see what they wanted.

Assuming I was about to have some sort of conversation, I greeted them with a typical 'sannu' followed by 'Bani jin Hausa tsosé' (I don't speak much Hausa).

The woman who had signaled me over sat in the middle of the other women.  They were weaving long blades of dried grass . . . okay, we don't really have grass in Niger . . . but whatever it was, they were weaving it.  As I approached, some of the women stood, but the one in the middle stayed put, looking up at me with her dark eyes.

She gently tugged at my skirt as she said a mouthful of Hausa.  I reminded her again that my Hausa capabilities left much to be desired.  This time, as she annunciated, I noticed how many teeth she was missing . . . it was more than one.

'Give me your skirt,' she said.

'My skirt??' I asked.

'Yes.  Saowva lskgladjsg ajvdi awlvdj lkdgj aoirg ji;j ijlk.  Give it to me.'

Now, you need to understand that in Niger, it's very rude to tell someone 'no' outright . . . instead, it is best to offer an excuse of why whatever it is would be 'difficult' to do.  And often, an request like this one is actually more of a compliment than an actual request.

'Give me your skirt!' she said, again tugging at the hem.

The smile faded from my lips as my eyes got big.  'I want to give you my skirt.  But if I give you my skirt, I will have to walk all the way back to my house without a skirt . . . and that is a BIG problem!!'

Simultaneously, all the women began to laugh . . . except my toothless friend.

Her eyes twinkled the smile her mouth refused to relinquish.

She lifted one wiry finger and pointed at my nose.

'Ama, akwai Hausa!'  (But, there IS Hausa!)


barb said...

Don't leave us hanging . . . the skirt? The weaving? . . .

Leah said...

Great work on a comeback! Once they know you can joke with them, you're going to get it all the time. I'm anxious for my Bambara to someday get good enough that I can make someone laugh when they demand me belongings, rather than make them just wish they hadn't bothered trying to engage me in that cultural fun bit of back-and-forth. For now I usually can't come up with anything and look like a total poor sport.

Deb. said...

Thanks Leah! When I was leaving to go back to the US for the six months, I received a HUGE compliment from the Nigerien head of the OR . . . he said 'Déborah, we can talk with [so-and-so], but we can laugh with you.'