Different things are funny to different people. Something that may tickle you may scandalize someone else. But one thing that I have found to be true across the board (within the limits of my considerable-yet-far-from-authoritative personal experience, of course) is that Africans love making fun of villagers. I guess it is kind of like The Beverly Hillbillies. For most Africans I have met, there is nothing more awesome than finding someone who comes from the village and doesn’t know how things work in the city. Apparently, it is hilarious if someone doesn’t know how to plug in a cell phone charger, or has never seen a water faucet before.
I learned this early on. I remember the first African joke I ever learned, growing up in Togo:
Someone comes from the village and is given a glass of water with ice. It is the first time he has ever seen ice in his life, and he is amazed. After observing it for awhile he says, “I am going to take a big piece of this and put it in my well at home. Then the water will always be cold!”
I am sure there is some profound anthropological truth that could be extracted from this observation, and while I enjoy laughing at brusards as much as the next guy (a brusard is someone from la brousse, the bush – I am allowed since I grew up as one), it can be kind of mean.
Omar came to the hospital with his mom and his little sister, Aicha. He came because he had burns so severe on his legs and abdomen that he couldn’t walk. It happened during an accident when he was little, and now he is probably 6 or 7 years old. Since coming to CURE, he has already undergone one surgery, and he is waiting for the rest. Omar has other brothers and sisters at home, but his mom brought Aicha along because she is so little. Also, she is too cute to leave behind.
One day Aicha got sick, so Omar’s mom took her to another clinic that is next door to us. They could tell she is from the village right away. She spoke to them in Hausa (kind of the lingua franca, even though here in Niamey Djerma is more commonly used), and explained to them the problem. They answered her in Hausa, and told her to wait while they wrote out a prescription for her. But in the meantime, they started talking about her in Djerma, thinking that she couldn’t understand them. They said all kinds of nasty things about her. They made fun of her for being poor, and laughed at her because she is from the village and does not understand.
“Look at her.”
“She doesn’t have any money.”
“I hope she doesn’t think she is going to get something for free.”
“She better not.”
“She should have stayed in the village.”
Omar’s mom waited patiently for them to finish. They handed her the prescription, she took it and said, “Thank you very much, and have a nice day,” in Djerma, making sure they knew that she understood everything they had said. They were shocked.
She came back and told the whole story to our hospital social worker. “It is so different here,” she said. “Here everyone is nice to us.”
I don’t mean to brag (well actually I do, but I am not bragging about myself so it is ok), but our hospital is pretty awesome. All the CURE hospitals are. At other hospitals here in Niger, you are lucky if people even acknowledge your existence. Forget about a bed to sleep in or food to eat. We provide those things to our patients, but even more importantly, we have doctors and nurses that really care about our patients, and treat them with love.
The nurses at the other clinic made a mistake. Omar’s mom may be from the village, and there may be a lot of things she doesn’t know. But she does know what it means to be treated with kindness and respect. To be shown love and care. These are things everyone knows, regardless of where they are from.
Also, she is a Fulani (read as “a nomadic polyglot”), and probably speaks more languages than they do. So, to put it crudely – “In your face!”