As I flew back to Philly, sitting in the plane processing my interview and why on earth these strangers would want to send me to a country I had never even heard of, the man next to struck up a conversation.
He wanted to know if I was coming or going . . . going. What I was doing in NorthCarolina . . . job interview. Did I get it . . . yeah. When will I be moving south . . . I'm not. He didn't understand, so he asked where the job was.
I didn't know what to say . . . so, I told him the truth.
'Niger.' I said, 'It's a country in West Africa.'
His jaw dropped. 'Look,' he said. 'I work in the diamond business. I travel to West Africa all the time. Why would you want to live there???'
I shrugged, 'I love God and I love people.'
That didn't satisfy him. He prodded some more, so I began to tell him about the work I'd do if I went to Danja. He could accept the humanitarian side of things, but there was clearly something else still bothering him.
'BUT WHO WOULD YOU DATE!?!?' he blurted.
Friday morning I thought about this stranger on the airplane so many years ago. Our conversation comes to mind every so often . . . usually when I'm hit on by a patient, and it always makes me chuckle.
You see, I went in to do an evaluation on a man who had been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury. According to what was written in his chart, I made the assumption he spoke French, which was good because my Hausa still leaves much to be desired, especially when conversing with a patient with potentially impaired cognition and a translator wouldn't be available to help me for several hours.
I introduced myself and he confirmed that he spoke French. As I explained what I do and why I had come to see him, it was clear that his injury was in fact interfering with his expressed level of français, so I switched to back to Hausa . . . which only confused him more.
After a little while of us both babbling back and forth, I realized I sounded as aphasic and dysarthric as he did. So I told him I'd come back later.
'Taaay traaaay booooow!' he said to me as I headed toward the door.
'I'm sorry, what was that?' I asked in French.
'Taaay traaaay booooow!' he repeated.
I couldn't tell what language he was speaking. So I asked in Hausa, 'What did you say?'
Again, 'Taaay traaaay booooow! Taaay traaaay booooow! Taaaaaaay traaaaaaaaay boooooooooow!'
'Are you saying You are very handsome?' I asked.
A large smile spread across his swollen and scratched up face. 'Ouuuui!' he said trying to sound debonaire.
In that moment I wondered whether I should 1) correct his misuse of the masculine and remind him that as a woman, I would be very 'belle' not 'beau', 2) inform him that I am his therapist and he is my patient and that sort of talk is inappropriate, or 3) revel in the compliment, smile and confirm 'Mais oui, je sais!' ('Oh, I know!)
Now if only I knew the Hausa expression for 'Sorry, you're not my type!'