My anthem while in Niger is Knaan’s “Take a Minute.” There are many reasons this song is appropriate for my African life — Knaan is from Africa and a remix of “Wave the Flag” plays non-stop because of its prominence in the 2010 World Cup and the message behind the lyrics is to step back in life and know all problems will work themselves out.
The main reason this song sticks with me is one like: “Dear Africa, you helped me write this by showing me the give is priceless.”
African society is built on giving. When I walk up to a group of people, someone finds me a seat, even it’s his or her own. Niger has a severe malnutrition and food shortage problem, yet I am often given food or water when I visit a concession. Or, I meet a new friend and she’ll hand me a bar of soap.
As an American, it feels awkward to accept these small tokens of friendship, especially as person who despises the idea that someone may be put out because of me. But giving in Africa is not one sided and, often, it’s expected.
This is a tough part of being here. Frequently, I am asked for cadueas or zigayagay and it’s irritiating and comfortable to be asked for a stranger to ask for water or a kid demands you to give them a piece of candy. One, a Nigerien friend told me I had to bring him a gift from my day-trip to Niamey because it was proof of our relationship. I told him that friends don’t demand gifts of each other and it should be unpredicted.
As much as his reational confused him, mine did the same for him.
It’s hard to not want to give. With that particular friend, I felt uncomfortable of what messages a gift would send, but I often brought home bread, macoroni and fruit home for my host family in appreciation for their constant hopsititality.
In my village, I’ve been hesitant to give gifts because of the attention it will draw, but as I made friends, that wall started to lower.
Kieara sent me a few packages of those bendable bracelletes in a care package and, since Nigerien women wear bright colors and a lot of jewelry, I assumed they’d like these rubber band like blig, even if for the sole reason that they come from America (Technically, they are made in China but neither my Hausa nor French is good enough for a discussion on child labor laws).
She sent two packages of the bracelets along with some that were Minnesota Twins themed. I kept the baseball ones and waited for a good time to hand out the others. While chatting with my neighbors, they asked about the bracelets I was wearing so I took them off to show the TC and outline of a player with a bat. Baseball is lost on them, but they were fond of the magic rubber and asked to keep it. I said no but to hold on.
In the minute it took to walk to my house and grab the others, a crowd formed. I only brought one bag thinking it would be enough. As soon as I approached them, dozens of dark hands shot into my face and women and children were inches from my face pleading to be a recpient. I tried to get them to back off but they pressed in closer. Through the mass, I’d find the faces of my friends and neighbors, grab their hands and put a bracelet into their palm trying not to expose the item. Eventually, they were gne but the crowd still remained. “Babu” I said and my sisters told all to leave me alone.
It’s good that I wasn’t able to give one to each person there because they know there is a limit to my gifts. Giving always comes with a sense of satisfaction, but that feeling was intensified this time. These are just glorified rubber bands that are the item of the minute to us, but to them it’s something special, something from a world they can only dream about.
I can’t give all the time and people now ask me for zigayagays on a daily baises, but I came her to give myself to Niger. I loving living in a constant state of giving because with it comes gratitude. Like giving, gratitude is a pillar of this society and Nigeriens always have that to offer.