I woke up this morning feeling confident about my Hausa . . . let's just say, I shouldn't have.
For Christmas my team here in Galmi decided to collect money to give gifts to the families of several village pastors. These are Nigeriens who live humbly and lead small churches . . . many are farmers who rely on annual crops of onions and millet for income. They work hard, both physically and spiritually . . . diligently planting seeds, waiting for God to cause them to take root and grow.
My team divided the churches up and I was given three churches located to our east. So, this morning five of us packed into a 4x4, took a left onto Main Street and headed out into the wilderness.
When we arrived, two of the pastors were waiting for us along the road. They hopped in the car and we headed off to spend some time visiting in one of their homes. We hadn't been there long when the third pastor we were coming to greet arrived with two other old men.
We all went through the greetings and then the old men began sharing stories of when they had worked at the hospital or of other missionaries who are now long gone. After we had talked and laughed together for a while, my Malaysian teammate asked them to tell us the Christmas Story in Hausa.
The first pastor (whose home were in) began . . . and was quickly interrupted by several of the old men. 'Hey! Who's telling this story??' he quipped. They let him continue. When he had finished, each one then took a turn adding his own contribution. I felt good about how much I had understood.
Our host needed to get on the road as he was traveling to a city four hours further east to see his family. His children are there attending school and his wife is visiting her parents for Christmas . . . so deciding it was time to wrap things up, I pulled out my cheat-sheet and began to read a few phrases of encouragement that a teammate gave me to share with them.
'I have news from the missionaries!' I said. 'May God give you strength, and we want to give you support!'
They were silent.
Not silent as in 'speechless' or 'overwhelmed' . . . no, silent as in 'WAIT!! WHAT DID SHE JUST SAY!?!?!?'
The pastor sitting next to me turned and said 'Say that again??'
'We want to give you support!'
This time they erupted with laughter!
You see, in Hausa there really isn't a word for 'support' . . . we say goyan baya which literally means 'the carrying on the back of the back' . . . but that's not what I said.
Instead I said gAyan baya which apparently means 'a naked behind'!
When the men finally stopped their hard laughing, the pastor next to me snickered his way through a word picture so that I'd understand: 'gaya is tuo without mia' he said ('gaya' is pounded boiled millet with no sauce . . . literally, 'naked millet dumplings')!
Instead of encouraging them with our support . . . I told them that the lot of us wanted to give them nakedness!
For the next while, as we continued to chat and even sing a few Christmas songs and Hausa choruses of thankfulness, two of the old men would giggle and whisper 'SHE SAID NAKED BACKSIDES!!!'
They've assured me that all the people in their village will hear about the missionary who came to give them nakedness . . . for years to come.
So much for waking up feeling confident about my language level!