It's been three weeks since the wedding . . . and my allergic reaction to the henna is nearly gone.
The day before B&E got hitched, I spent the day with the Bride-To-Be and a hoard of her Nearest&Dearest.
For seven hours we lounged around in a sweaty room, waiting. In the moment, I couldn't help but think of all the other things I could have been doing . . . but being there, with E. and her life-long friends was more important than I realized. I had been invited into the inner circle where I was going to receive an important education.
I knew about a quarter of the other girls from working at the hospital, but for the rest, I was a stranger. Those I didn't know talked about me . . . assuming I couldn't understand what they were saying . . . and scrutinized everything about me. My hair was discussed, as was the outfit I was wearing; my relationship with E. was explained and details were shared about the general public opinion of me. At least, that's what I picked up with my broken-Hausa. It was kind of like being a fly-on-the-wall . . . only I was sitting there pretending not to understand as much as I did. Awkward!
When it came time to eat, we circled a common plate and dug in--quite literally.
As I lifted the rice and sauce to my mouth, I could feel a multiple pairs of eyes boring into my skull. I looked up. Several of the girls were perched, holding their next mouthful, waiting and watching to see how this strange outsider was going to eat with her hand.
Using the technique I had learned in India, I collected the rice between the tips of my thumb and four lateral fingers, pressed it into a little ball, pronated my wrist so my palm was down, and used my thumb to push the rice into my mouth.
Clearly, white-girl can't eat.
Two of them whispered to one another, as the rest stared, hoping I'd do it again. Not being one to particularly enjoy eating before an audience, I hesitated. The girl next to me nudged me and said 'Eat!'
So I did.
Hand back into the plate. Whispers resumed.
This time, one spoke up. 'You're not taking enough. You should do this: grab a big handful and press it into a big ball in your palm . . . then, you can eat it.'
'You want me to put THAT much in my mouth?' I asked out loud.
The girls laughed in unison. 'It's not a lot. And then you don't have to eat so slow.' I think what she really meant was, if you want ENOUGH to eat, you had better hurry!
A few more rounds and it was done.
I hadn't quite aced the feeding portion of my cultural assessment test, needing a few more tries to master the motor pattern, but they backed off . . . at least until it was time to wash my hand-turned-utensil.
My right hand was greasy . . . like, dipped in oil, greasy . . . and I was passed the washing bowl. Now, where I come from, oil is hydrophobic and requires an agent that will breakdown the grease so, with the help of a little scrubbing, the water can wash it all away. Not here I guess . . . no soap, no scrubbing.
Since the left hand is reserved for toileting hygiene, one must be extra careful not to cross contaminate. I dipped my right hand into the water (which already had a thin layer of oil resting on the surface from the girl who washed before me) and began to extend the reach of my thumb as far as I could make it stretch. Now, the thumb is a pretty amazing digit . . . but even he has his limitations.
Passing the bowl to the next girl, she smiled at me and said 'Look, you're almost Hausa.'