Language learning has helped us to figure out more of what's happening around us. Two years ago Jennifer had a bizarre experience at the market with a 'beggar' who started singing “Merci, merci, merci,... (Thank you, thank you, thank you...),”at the top of his longs and shaking a rattle. When he finally 'cornered' her, he started shoving long metal spikes up his nose. She eventually managed to escape.
In our language class, our teacher was explaining three basic kinds of traditional 'medicines'. One was chaka safari which is the medicine protects against the soul eater—I have no idea what that they are supposed to do, but I'm guessing it's bad. The second is what Jennifer experienced at the market—guru safari, that is metal medicine which makes one impervious to the effects of metal. People who sell the medicine apparently will go around with saws, knives, and yes, long spikes, showing people that metal can't cut them or make them bleed. (Apparently some will accept using your knife if you offer one, while others insist on using their own...)
The third medicine I ran into yesterday: gondi safari. I was getting the tires fixed on Ben's bike, when a young guy came along carrying a viper. Another gentleman came and took it out of his hands for a minute or two, and so I asked, “Ifo no ni te nda ni gondo?”-- “What do you do with your snake?”. “Would you like it he asked?” I pictured Jennifer for a moment when I told her I'd brought home a viper and quickly answered, “No thank you.” The second man said, “He can sell you medicine so that even if you pick it up it will smell the medicine in your skin and it won't bite you. If one ever does bite you, you won't last five minutes. Would you like some?” A tempting offer no doubt but I think I prefer the testing that typically happens with major pharmaceutical companies. “No thank you,” I said once more, and with that he dropped his viper into a sack and put it back into a bowl on his head. It was a rather odd ensemble—western t-shirt and track pants with a baseball cap and topped off with a calabash bowl containing a poisonous viper .
Language learning still has its ups and downs. This past week Dan Sheffield, our Global Ministries director, came to visit, and we were invited to share in a local church service. Since there was no one to translate from English into French, I served as the primary translator for Dan as he preached with another gentleman then translating into Zarma. By God's grace that actually seemed to work—except when I accidently translated into Zarma instead of French!
The following Tuesday we went to the airport to drop off Dan's luggage, and ended up with a flat tire. A taxi and his friend took me and the tire to a tire repair guy. In hopes of avoiding outrageous prices I used my little bit of zarma on the technician. The taxi driver and his friend then asked me, “Do you know Hausa?”
I said, “No, why? Are you Hausa?”
“No, we're Zarma—it just sounded like you were trying to speak Hausa.”
So much for my Zarma—I guess I still have a ways to go.