But you know what I don't like? Numbers. I hate them. And I'm no good at using them. If I have mittens on, forget it. And please never, ever ask me to subtract or divide . . . cause we'll just be wasting each other's time.
The problem is, society has determined that numbers are important. Like we can't live life without them or something. And not just Western society! Nope, Niger has numbers too!!
And this week, I had to do math in Hausa and it was the most pain I've been in for a very long time.
When I was studying French I got really frustrated as I was learning to count "big" numbers. In order to count to 70, you have to add: "sixty-ten" then "sixty-eleven" (that's 71 for those with my same dysfunction). Then when you get to 80 they make you multiply: "four-twenty." And since the French have it out for me, 90 isn't just multiplication, it's multiplication AND addition: "four-twenty-ten," "four-twenty-eleven," and so on. You get the idea.
I'm really lousy at memorizing, and so it took several years before sixty-eighteen (78) and four-twenty-twelve (92) were naturally integrated into my understanding.
But here I find myself again . . . learning more foreign numbers.
Hausa is similar to French in that 90 is really "eighty-and-ten", and 91 is "eighty-and-ten-drinks-one" (it could also be "takes one" or "absorbs one" or "suffers one", but I first learned sha as "to drink" and so that's what we're going with . . . although, that "suffering one" makes a lot of sense to me at this particular moment!!).
And just as I start to get a handle on these crazy numbers, our teacher decides we need to learn to count money too . . . and this is where it really gets painful!
You see, in Hausa when referring to the West Africa Franc (CFA) we say "della" (think "dollar said with a Nigerian accent) which is the equivalent of 5cfa. So a bag of potable water bought out on the street is 25cfa, which in Hausa is della biyar or 5 della (cause 5 x 5 = 25).
But very little in Niger actually costs only 25cfa. So we have to go higher in our figures. 100cfa is della ashirin (5 x 20) . . . and 475cfa is della tamanin de gomma sha biyar ( 5 x [80 + 10 + 5] ) . . . or we could also say for 475cfa della dari ba biyar ( [5 x 100] - [5 x 5] ).
SEE WHAT I MEAN!?!?! PAINFUL!!!
The first day we worked on these I was so lost! You see, our teacher is an older Nigerien man. He's wonderful . . . well, at least he was wonderful until he made me learn to count! His teaching relies heavily on the auditory style; he tolerates us writing things down, but doesn't really like us looking back at the notes we take. Every once in a while he uses a picture or two that acts as a catalyst for oral discussion.
But I'm not an auditory learner . . . and I'm only a little more visual than I am auditory. I am very much a tactile or kinesthetic learner. I need to color-code the grammar charts that I create and wave my hands around to give vocabulary a motor component. I need to interact with the subject I'm studying and fiddle with it and turn it upside-down.
BUT NUMBERS DON'T TURN UPSIDE-DOWN! And he wanted me to do all this crazy multiplication and addition IN MY HEAD!
So, on the second day of money and math I brought in all the Nigerien coins I could find. My plan was that when he asked me a question I'd use the actual coins to help figure it out.
Unfortunately, our teacher had an other idea.
After Maiguida had aced his oral pop-quiz (cause he's a smarty like that) it was my turn . . . and I was armed with my visual aid. I dropped to the floor and dumped my coins out in front of me, ready to make my calculations tangible. But instead of asking me anything, my teacher leaned forward and divided up the coins into four large piles.
"Okay, count them out loud," he instructed.
I began to reorganize the first pile in the same way my first grade teacher had taught me when I was six and learning how to add up pennies, dimes, and nickels . . . group them together in like-kinds then add them up to make 10's and 100's. You know, Counting 101.
"Not like that!" my teacher said, stopping me from counting money the only way my brain can. "One by one, in the order their already in."
I stared back at my pile. The first coin was 10cfa (della biyu [5 x 2] ) and the second was 25cfa (5 x 2). . . that meant I was going to be working with 7's. My heart sank.
I slowly rested my hand over the pile and as nonchalantly as possible, and twisted it, hoping the 500's and 100's would magically be at the head of the line.
But my teacher (and Maiguida) caught me and, after laughing at me, made me return the coins as they had been.
The next 5-but-felt-like-30 minutes are a bit of a blur. I remember crying in out in pain at several points and wishing it would all be over soon. I remember overshooting or undershooting my figures by more than any grown adult should. I remember thinking that it might be in my best interest to hire a six-year-old to manage my change purse when I go to the market.
I wish I could tell you that in the end I mastered counting in Hausa. That my "10's drink their 3's" without event and my "4000's don't have their 5 times 5's" with great ease. But that's not what happened.
I'm pretty sure my teacher dropped the subject, not because I was making progress, but because he's been doing this long enough to know a hopeless case when he sees one . . . and because I'm certain it was just as painful to watch as it was to experience!