A Strange September

 For as long as I can remember, the beginning of September has signified a flurry of activity; new classes to prepare for, back-to-school clothing sales to blow summer wages on and a last attempt at a family vacation before the hustle and bustle of elementary/middle/high school or college tear the five of us apart.

There is a part of me that still believes this is simply a study abroad program, that any day now I’ll hop on a plane back to Walla Walla and perhaps mention that one summer I spent in Niger as an aside in a politics class. But then another part of me answers back, telling that first part that “honey, this is no vacation and you certainly ain’t going back to America any time soon.” Then, a third part begins to wonder if perhaps all that malaria medication is having an adverse affect on my brain as I’m imagining parts of my body talking to each other in strange Southern accents.

Despite the possible brain damage, my first two months in Niger have been incredible and I’m rather looking forward to the next twenty-five. While I’ve lost at least ten pounds due to a few bouts with parasites, I’ve gained far more than the hundreds of mosquito bites on my legs can attest to.

Patience, for one. Patience is not merely a virtue in Niger but a national slogan that is utilized in the form of Sai Hankuri (“Have Patience”) anytime a bus breaks down, the electricity stops working or the participants refuse to show up to an important community meeting.

Sai Hanukuri is closely followed by Inshallah (“God Willing”) which is the proper response to questions regarding if the bus will be fixed, the electricity start working or the women show up. It’s a sense of fatalism that frustrated me until I realized that in a country with as much poverty and as little infrastructure as Niger, God really is the only person who can make things happen.

Babu laihi is easily my favorite, a phrase meaning “No Worries” that is usually followed by a wide smile. It’s the response of my Hausa teacher when she stays up late into the night, helping me unravel the seemingly endless number of personal pronouns in Niger’s most widely spoken language. It’s the reply of my host mother when she spends hours over a hot fire to cook my favorite lunch of sweet potato fries. Babu laihi was also the response of a woman on the street who, after hearing I was on a search for peanut butter, reached into her bag, pulled out a fat sack of peanutty deliciousness and then refused to accept the coins I offered her.

So even though this September marks the official end of my formal education, I’m sure to learn quite a bit from this country over the next two years.