The other day I went to the workshop to snag a set of keys for a hospital vehicle I was borrowing for a few hours. The shop was technically closed, as it was a public holiday, but D. who manages our maintenance department was working anyway. As I entered his office, I greeted D. and the Fancy Man sitting with him.
I knew this man a little . . . he sometimes contracts with the hospital's construction project, and he once brought his son to see me, hoping I could get him a prosthetic leg. So, I've seen him around, but other than the standard greeting process, we've never really had a conversation.
'How was your sleep?' I asked them. 'It was fine.'
'And how is your work?' I continued. 'We are thankful for it!' they said.
'And how is the coldness?' I inquired. 'It's the season for it.'
'Blessing on the holiday!' I offered. 'And to you!'
I asked D. if I'd be able to borrow a car for the day as there was a group of us who wanted to show some newbies around town . . . normally we'd walk, but we were also planning to head out to the southern edge of the village to see the clay pot maker, the blacksmith, the spoon maker and the bakery. The elementary school-aged doctors' kids had gone to these places on a field trip a while back and it seems we now have something other than 'camel ride' to offer our tourists. Having never been myself, I was really looking forward to seeing some unique 'Nigerien Occupations in the Work Context' that were different from 'onion farming.' (Photos coming soon, I promise!)
Just as D. was about to ask me which vehicle I'd like to take, the Fancy Man turned towards me and started speaking.
'There were people looking for you, did you find them?' he asked me.
'Yes, I see them, they wait, me will come with car,' I sputtered out in pre-school Hausa.
'No, not foreign people! Nigeriens . . . they are waiting for you by your office.'
'Sorry!! Today festival! No work! I no go office! They waiting tomorrow!' I said, poorly, but strongly.
'Oh no, that's not acceptable! They're waiting for you!'
'But today holiday!'
'But they are here! They are waiting!' And then he continued, adamantly, with a whole bunch of words I couldn't understand, and few I could: 'they gave . . . you took . . . money.'
I was confused, but he kept insisting. D. finally started to translate into English for me.
'He says these people gave you 200,000cfa (~$400 US) for you to do some work for them, and so they've come back now and are ready for you to do their work.'
'WHAT?!?!?' I had no idea what he was talking about. 'I've never accepted money from patients, he's misunderstood something!'
'He says that he was there when they paid you. That he saw it with his own eyes!'
'NO WAY!!' I insisted, 'He must have me mistaken with someone else!! I don't accept money from patients . . . ESPECIALLY not 200,000 francs!'
'Nope!' D. said, 'He insists it was you. Said it was down in your office last month, when he came to ask you to get a prosthetic leg for his son. He said you made the transaction right in front of him!'
I remembered him bringing his son, I even gave him the contact information I had for someone who does prosthetics down in Nigeria . . . but I couldn't for my life remember a patient giving me 200,000 francs!
Despite being certain that this wasn't true, the Fancy Man was so adamant I began to question myself. I started to say things like 'I don't remember this at all!' and 'But I never take money from patients!' He must have heard the self-doubt in my voice, because then he started to laugh!
'MERRY CHRISTMAS!' he sounded jolly enough to be a Nigerien Santa. '[Former missionaries] did this to me once! It's how you foreigners celebrate holidays, right?!?! You tell each other lies that the other person believes and then just when you've got them, you say 'JUST KIDDING! HAPPY WHATEVER HOLIDAY IT IS!'
As D. was translating all of that for me (cause, let's not kid ourselves, as I so fabulously proved yesterday, my Hausa still sucks!!) he realized what was going on. 'OH! HE'S DOING APRIL FOOLS! Only, he doesn't realize that's not actually a REAL holiday! And that it's only on the first of April!'
I began to breath again and started to come back down from my adrenaline rush of wondering what happened to this 200,000cfa that I was no going to need to pay back . . . as D. began to the explain to the Fancy Man his misunderstanding of my tradition.
For once it was really nice to have some company in the Busy-Botching-Up-Someone-Else's-Culture boat . . . at least for those whole five minutes!!