Saturday, September 12, 2009

All in a name….

As I scribble this is a notebook I am sitting in a small restaurant across from the central food market in Niamey. I fortify myself with a nice cup of coffee, in one of the only places in town I know where to find it! Sometimes I feel like it is truly only by divine protection that I make it downtown in one piece. The driving here un-nerves me for its sheer volume characterized by swerving, honking, few working streetlights and general poor driving habits of the people. I see accidents, especially involving motorcycles, almost daily. But driving is the topic of a whole ‘nother post…so I won’t dilly dally on this topic!

So I am drinking my coffee, waiting for the Post Office to open and then to meet my language partner after that for study. I am gathering my energy to enter the market to pick up some vegetables. It is a crazy, high energy packed place where I know I will be yelled at (everyone wants to sell to me!), I will likely be overcharged at first price, etc. But the one things that really bothers me is what I know I will hear. “ANASARA!” To quote a Peace Corps volunteer:

“We are called “anasara” here, which means ‘stranger’ and often ‘white person,’  People often think that we have tons of money, so they will often try to make us pay massive amounts more for food and items at the market. We spend a lot of time learning to bargain. People stare at us, they talk about us when we walk by, and the children follow you throughout the market for no reason other than to just look at you.”

Short or tall, thin or not-thin, French, Canadian or Ukrainian, you will all get called ANASARA!! (I have a hard time not even writing in in capital letters since it always yelled out loud! SO why does this bother me? I know I come from a western country where my worldview is considerably different than theirs. Where I come from, it is considered really rude and almost unthinkable to yell out at someone and address them by their nationality or the color of their skin. I was discussing this with team members the other night and we all agreed. Can you imagine (since most of you reading this are from a North American culture as well) if we were walking downtown in a NA city and yelled and addressed everyone by their skin or ethnicity? Can you imagine yelling – Hey Chinaman! Hey Jew! Hey Negro! Hey Paki man! Hey Indian! Hey Whitey, etc! I cringe even writing it never mind actually doing it! How completely rude and racist, and (to my worldview) WRONG!!! So as I walk around here all the time and have people address me like that it really irritates me! A group of young men were addressing us like that the other day in the market and Paul stopped to talk to them. He said - “Why are you calling us that? Do you know that people from North America find it really rude when you address them like that? That it is impolite for us? How would you feel if I yelled out at you and called you Black Man! (They agreed they wouldn’t like this). So Paul told them it would be much more polite and productive it terms of getting us to respond if they called the white folks Madam and Monsieur. They said they really appreciate knowing that and had a good little chat with Paul after that. It had never occurred to them that people from NA were being offended when they yelled it at them. Go Paul!

And so I always try to sit back and look at a situation and analyze it based on culture and worldview. Is it just my worldview and culture that makes a situation appear one way to me? To some extent- of course it is! But daily I try to take the other perspective. To put myself into their mindset and culture and see how I would feel about it then. Sometimes it is a very healthy exercise to allow me to remove myself and my emotions and try to understand the people and culture around me. I see them refer to each other based on ethnicty all the time. Oh yeah..the Tuareg guy they will say, oh the Goure man who sell veggies, the Fulani at the corner hut, etc. It doesn't bother them one bit to be distinguished by the color of their skin or where they come from. So that helps me a bit to know at least they aren’t singling me out!

Anyhow..just another glimpse into our lives here and the things that go through my head as I process living cross culturally!


Daniel and Linda SLAC said...

Hi Paul and Chantelle...Daniel Kroshewsky from Sylvan Lake Alliance Church...Roger and Beverley spoke yesterday at church and it was fantastic, they did a wonderful job, like you and Paul did, our prayers are with you, thank you for the updates and I will try harder to respond...your in our hearts and remember your doing what Jesus would be doing if he was there...and that is to me the ultimate in serving and Hugz all around....take care and God Bless you all....

PS your Mom and Dad looked very happy and healthy....

Daniel Kroshewsky @ SLAC said...

Hi it's Daniel from SLAC again, Your story kkind of reminds me when we lived in Los Angelos for a year and we went to a mall and were the only caucasions in the was very interesting, and taught us a good lesson persay.
But your experience sounds more interesting and more of a test for sure. It is an amzing story Chantelle thank you for sharing...a very interesting glimpse indeed It has been very nice here, fall is my fav time, it is quieter and kids are back in school, the cool evenings (sorry for mentioning) ...your strength to deal with the heat is amazing. Anyways hope all is well, your in our prayers and thought of, hugz all around and God Bless You All !!!