I had to go to Niamey (land of cheese, two grocery stores, and CHOCOLATE) for a few days to (eat) attend an orientation about Niger.
One of our talks was a cultural lesson…things to do and not to do. A lot of the information I knew…head covering in public, long skirts, greet people (and not just with a smile or a ’hi’ but with every question you can remember in their language “how are you? how's your work? how's your mom? how's your cow? how's your mom's cow?) AND DON’T SHAKE, TOUCH, OR HAND ANYTHING TO ANYONE WITH YOUR LEFT HAND.
It’s becoming awkward how many times I’ve flunked that last one. And I’m right handed, shouldn’t be that difficult.
Taxi cab…realized I was reaching to give him the money with my left and my driver was staring at my hand not the coins, I froze mid hand off debating whether to switch hands while he continued to stare. Market…my new friend and I couldn’t figure out why the man was so displeased with the amount I gave him...“didn’t it seem like he liked us until the end there?” Buying clothing material…had to give him a new bill because my left hand had dirtied the first one. Bought fruit…received it with my left hand (my right hand was holding a bag, no one will cut you slack!!)
Part of the disgust is because the left hand means bad, it’s just cursed. The main reason, though, is because most people use their left hand to clean the essentials after they go to the bathroom.
After my daily fails, my companions would attempt to encourage me with a ’you’ll get it eventually’.
Didn’t think that would ever happen until my 7 hour African bus ride home from Niamey. We stopped about 4 hours in for a bathroom break. Since we pulled into a fenced in, shrubless area, I was thinking there would be an actual bathroom. And man, I had to go! (And yes, I brought toilet paper in case you're wondering where this story is going).
Eventually, I see a line to a tinnnnnny thin door. Waiting in line, I was, like always, cooing at the baby with a mother standing behind me. When it gets to be my turn, I walk in and there is one itty bitty hole in the corner of the soggy dirt stall with a pile of other nutrients around it. Pretty obvious how the bathroom works and what it doesn‘t have. Also obvious that the height of the door is only to your waist, so if you wanted, you could wave at all the line waiters when you turned around (I chose not to).
To my delight, I was handed the baby when I stepped out so that the mother could go in (didn‘t run away with the baby either…yet another victory for me). After AWHILE she came back out and grabbed her little girl from me. Holding her child with her right arm, she then proceeded to thank and interact with me by shaking my hand and touching my arms with her left. And suddenly, as I felt the overwhelming feeling of uncertainty and a fake smile plaster across my face, I realized how my taxi driver, my fabric and fruit seller, and my market man had felt.
…that’s just the kind of ’what if’ nobody wants hanging over there head (or arms or food or money)…I officially had my 'you'll get it eventually' memory.