Monday, April 7, 2008

Car Vignettes

The other day, I felt challenged about how I look at people. It's the time of year when everyone needs to buy a new vignette sticker for the car. It's one of those things that the police look for as they regularly pull over vehicles checking for driver's licenses, up to date insurance, etc. I pulled up to the building where I picked one up two years ago and discovered that the office had moved. A security guard gave me vague directions to the new location and off we went.

For the most part I don't suffer from that typical male defect, and so yes, when we got to the general vicinity I pulled over so my wife could ask someone for directions. Deciding we really were in the right place we pulled over and parked the car—asking a second person for directions—and my wife complains that she can't speak French! The woman she asked said, “Oh I think that's up the street,” and proceeded to lead us to the place. We arrived at the place only to find a line up going right out the front door. We stood at the back of the line for a few minutes when our 'guide' came back said, “oh you don't want to stand and wait here—my cousin does this in another office. Come I'll take you there.”

At that point I began to feel nervous, because often people help you here because they expect you'll give them money afterwards, like the guy who almost pushed me out of the way so he could change my flat tire, or the kids who insist that they were guarding my car while I was shopping. Worse yet are stories of people running scams, like the lady who walks up to white people in the markets saying, “Oh, I'm your neighbour, you remember me? Look I forgot my wallet at home can you lend me 10 000 cfa ($25) and I'll come over and pay you back tomorrow.” (A number of people have actually been taken by her!) All of that happens often enough that you begin to be on your guard with strangers. Nevertheless, my wife took our guide up on her offer and we drove a few blocks over to another building with our friend in tow. I decided to let Jennifer handle this one she was doing so well. I waited in the car for a while but finally got nervous and headed in. I stepped into a room once more filled with people who were waiting to buy vignettes. I looked around and saw Jennifer step out of a back hall across the room with a big grin on her face. She'd met with success. We probably saved over an hour of waiting in line by accepting someone's generosity. We returned our friend to her place on the street and were pleasantly surprised when she turned down our small monetary gift.

As I reflected that night on the experience in my journal I had to ask myself about how I viewed the people around me. I'd been ready a number of times to say, “it's ok, we don't need your help anymore.” My suspicions and fears proved unfounded. How many other people, how many other opportunities have I passed by because I wasn't open to the people that the Lord was putting in our path? A song I used to like when I was a teenager goes, “People are strange, when you're a stranger, faces are ugly when you're alone.” Connecting with new people means getting over our anxieties with strangeness and taking a risk to see who the Lord is putting in your path today.

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