Saturday, September 20, 2008

Something doesn't compute...

This community elder---we'll call him Isaiah---was at our house the other day again. We've told you about him before. Well, this time he was there for his usual cup of tea and a couple of requests. While sipping on his tea, he began to praise the work of the white people. 'I'm very happy about the work of Medair (our neighbors who dig wells and latrines),' he said. 'I'm very happy about the work of Nakuwam (Amber's local name, meaning 'the one having been born/having come during a windy time of year'). (Isaiah never mentioned the work I do because it doesn't benefit him in any obvious ways.:)) After finishing his laudatory speech, he concluded with a counter-intuitive: '[Therefore], you should give me a gift.' Huh? 'Give YOU a gift', I said. 'You're the one who is happy, you should be giving us a gift!'

(Imagine: next time you feel the need to give someone a gift, for whatever reason, ask them for a gift instead! It's really quite freeing.)

One of Isaiah's sons came along later that same day. He's a bit hard-up for money, so he had come to do some business with us. He brought an old, rusty, griddle-type thing that one uses to cook pancakes and stuff. He explained that it had been given to him years ago by former missionaries but that they never got a chance to explain its use to him. So in the interim years, he and his family have been using it as a 'latrine'. Now we were never sure what he meant by that, but the imagination can supply several possibilities. Could it be that they basically 'went' on the griddle at night, in their huts, and then deposited the materials outside in the morning? We're not sure. In any case, he wanted us to buy it back from him. That's right: BUY a rusty pancake griddle that someone's been 'going' on for years! Tempting, but no thanks.:)

When things just don't compute, we know there's something in their cultural and mindset that's so different from ours that we just don't understand. We have to laugh...to stay sane. :)

5 comments:

The Fishers said...

Wow...all I have to say is wow.

Martha Schmidt said...

This gift exchange is such a strong part of Karamajong culture. In order to be a true friend you should walk to Isaiah's village and beg for something...ask for millet or corn-anything. Then, you are truly friends. Try it! They will love the fact that you are needy of them also.

Sign: "the former missionary" who gave the pancake griddle. (You should have seen the cooking lessons I gave in the villages! Hillarious!)

raspberrylane said...

I have to agree with the "wow" response.
I'm wondering how much that pancake griddle would bring at a garage sale.

Oliver said...

Thanks for sharing this - brings back great memories. We had that old lady neighbour in the village who would send our then 2.5 year old daughter Tabita into our kitchen to get X, Y or Z - and then claimed, she received it as a gift, so if we wanted it back, we had to pay her. She was a real sport, and over 80!

Theresa said...

What a gift !!! Thank you for writing your blog. It makes us feel "closer" to you. Hope you are both doing well.