Saturday, July 01, 2006

I have a new found passion...

Football. And not the stupid American kind that revolves around running into people and eating lots of potato chips. As the DVD player is broken and there are about three channels on Nigerien TV, I have had the chance to bear witness to quite a few games of the world cup. I'm lucky also because the games are on at convenient times here. I am coming to you now live after France's suprising 1-0 win over the formidable Brazil. None of us expected it. And though many West Africans aren't fans of France's team (who can blame them? I wouldn't want to root for my colonizers either) I found myself a little proud of the country I have so long studied. I even saw Jacques Chirac there, more than I can say for our president. Now only European teams are left in the running, and I am especially looking forward to France Portugal, in which I might even favor Portugal because I have watched them fight very hard for quite a few matches now (Did anyone see Porgugal v. the Netherlands?!) and, to be honest, their players are also rather good-looking.

On another note entirely, I have not completely finished my recount of my fun time with Katie and Stephanie, my friends from Northwest Iowa.

Monday morning I texted (in French) a friend that Steph and Katie had made at the clinic last week, a girl named Fatu who lives in Niamey and speaks French and a little bit of English. She's around our age which is great. She had promised that she would take the girls to the Grand Marche in Niamey after their trip to a smaller one in Birni the week before, and I got to be the translator.

The Grand Marche was fabulous. It's everything you could desire of an African market--no place to park, small walkways between vendors, lots of noise and color and bargaining. I'm a person that likes people, so I loved it, but I could imagine that if you were claustrophobic or didn't like crowds you might not be so inclined. With Fatu as our faithful guide, we set off, winding back and forth between stalls that seemed to have no distinct sense of layout to find African gifts. A lot of times we would see something we liked, point and ooo and then Fatu would say "That's not good, I'll show you where a better one is," or "okay let's go there." One of these "OK" times was a jewelry merchant, who had lots and lots of cool necklaces and beads. I was enjoying myself. Immensly. I made the mistake of asking two or three times what different things were priced. The vendor would tell me but then he said "but we'll arrange it when you've decided what you want." (You don't ask here, you just choose what you want and how much you'll pay for it, and go from ther.) We left most of the barganing up to Fatu. Normally, it went like this: We picked out the, say, three scarves we wanted, after being shown ten or fifteen by the vendor. Fatu talked to the vendor in Hausa or Zarma, I don't know which, and would normally roll her eyes when they said the price, or shake her head. They would talk and talk and finally she would give us a price. Sometimes we were daring enough to go under, and usually made it! I was proud. After the deal is done, you pay and have a hearty handshake with lots of smiles. At the jewelry merchant, Stephanie, Katie, and I were each given bracelets after our purchases as a present to take back to the States with us. I'd also like to tell you that I got a very good deal on some traditional African Fabric -- 8 yards for 15,000 CFA, exactly what I had decided in my head was what I wanted to pay. I was getting good at this!

Tuesday we went to the National Museam, which is more a zoo than a museam, with a lot of African animals in cages that I don't think would exactly pass animal rights standards in the US. It was cool to see hyenas, baboons, lions, hippos, ostrich, and other exotic birds up close, but sad because you could tell the animals were not 'all there', and mostly paced back and forth in their cages. The better part of the visit, for me, was the large tent where there were a lot more merchants of traditional African crafts--jewelrey made out of bronze, nickel, wood, or native stone, leather and wooden crafts, and cotton wall hangings. This time left to our own devices without Fatu, and Tom and Marie in another part of the musee. So it was up to yours truly to translate everything. Katie, Steph and I walked slowly by the tables, eyeing the merchandise slyly and seeing what we wanted from whom. Once we had decided what we wanted, we fished out vendors that thought looked fair...enough. Then, we began.
How much for this ring?
3,000 CFA
3,000? Aiiie. It's 2,000 over there (That was Katie's sly wit)
Fine. 1,750.
1,700. And look. Here are some other earrings that are like it, and a bracelet that matches.
Yes, they're pretty. But we don't want the bracelet (sometimes this was a problem because one of us really did want the bracelet, and we had to figure out whether we would buy it and bargain more or just leave it.) No, no bracelet.
Well if not the bracelet, then this leather bag. We'll arrange a price. It's a good price, look.
No. Just the ring please.
Just the ring?
Yes. Just the ring. 1,500.
No. 1,750. I can't let it go for less than that. It is worth 2,000.
1,600 then.
No. That is not enough.
Okay then. 1,700.
1,700. Good.
--At this point, a large smile crosses all of our faces and the merchant shakes hands with all of us and finds paper to wrap up the ring. Until...someone pulls out a 5,000 CFA bill, too much for the merchant to make change. He searches for other guys to give him change, but upon finding none, offers us a pair of earings for 2,000; a gift, since they are clearly worth more.
A gift, I tell the other girls. For 2,000 he says it's a gift.
A gift? They say excitedly.
Yes. The merchant nods, smiling.
Okay. (Me, in French)"The earrings and the bracelet for 3,650." He has change for that.
We all shake hands and smile.
Let me tell you, this is a big step for a little girl like me. At home, I don't even like to bother a salesperson at the mall to ask for a different size or a price. Here I am bargaining like nobody's business, translating and (most amazing of all for someone who detests math) adding and subtracting while figuring out the price in American dollars in my head!! I will admit that it sometimes took me a small, (mind you small!) delay to do all of this.
My favorite vendor was the last one we went to as a group, who sold us some nice earrings and tried to push a necklace with a BIG wooden bead on it on us becuase he couldn't make change.
"It's too big!" I said
He compared it to a bigger one.
"Look," he, in broken English, "This one big, this one small. Good price."(It still looked huge to me)
Katie offered 2,000 CFA.
"No," in French now, "This big one is worth 7,000. The small one is worth 5,000"
Katie stayed at two. The girl has a way with bargaining.
We went on like this for over five minutes, probably ten, me caught in the middle between a vendor with very bad teeth and an American girl who wasn't going to pay more than 2,000 CFA (about four bucks) for a necklace she probably won't wear extremely often. We laughed a lot because she didn't really want it that much and he was just funny. Finally, after saying we would stick with the earrings and not take the necklace he said to me:
"Okay. 2,000 CFA because you speak French."
I smiled, "Because I speak French?"
"Yes, you have done all this work, you are very nice. Better than the Americans." By this I think he was referencing Americans in general, not Katie and Steph.
I was astonished, and I will admit, a bit proud of myself. And so with him thanking me for my translations and (I think poor) ability to speak French, we all smiled, laughed, and shook hands. Shaking hands here is more like a high five that sticks, so you really feel the good deal of it.

After that, we went to the Musee's boutique, which has mostly the same stuff for set prices; no bargainging or bartering involved. We looked around and found that we had done well for ourselves, especially as white Americans. We payed at least a comparable price, if not less, for everything that was the same. I was very proud of our team, and intend to use these skills in the future when I return to the US.

(Can you see me at the Gap, Chris?
"I'll give you six dollars for this shirt."
"I'm sorry ma'am, it's priced at 12."
"12 dollars? I could buy it for half that price at the Old Navy at Rivertown."
"Yes ma'am but this is the Gap, not Old Navy."
"Look. I'll pay ten if you throw in that lip gloss I like so much. I'll even bag it myself."
I think I'd be successful, no?)

In anycase, we returned home Tuesday for a long sieste after a day of tough brain and footwork.
The evening brought mostly sadness, as Ghana, the last African team in the world cup, lost shamefully to Brazil in football, and the girls had to pack to leave for home. We were reconcilled a bit with dinner- the girls treated us to an evening out at a Chinese restaurant, which I believe I mentioned before. I telll you, the Chinese are really all over the world. I had Chinese last year with my family in the middle of rural northern Scotland. But the food is the same the world over, (good!) and I love it, so I'll take this opportunity to pat the Chinese on the back and thank them for their economic endevors involving selling food internationally.

The girls left on an 11:50pm Air France flight out of Niamey, leaving with me a few long skirts, some shampoo and conditioner, bug spray, sudafed, ibuprofen, and a first aid kit among other things. You would be suprised what a huge gift American things like that seem to one here. It is good to have more skirts to put into the rotation (some of mine are a little short for church and rural life --just below the knee). It was sad to see my American companions go, but good to know they would be going back to have a great summer that started off with this amazing experience. I'll miss you, Steph and Katie! Hope you get over the jetlag soon!

From now on, it's Marie and me, companions for the summer. Today we went on a very nice walk to watch the sun set, eventually accompanied by five or six neigborhood children that somehow always find us. They're great fun though, and know a lot more about the area than I do, so I always welcome their addition.

I will have more to add soon with the upcoming picnic at the US Embassy on the 4th of July. I have as of late been thoroughly engrossed in Pride and Prejudice, which I have been intending to read for some time and now finally have the chance. So there are two options before you: One is that I will get so into the book that I will forget about the blog, and the other is that I will write as though I am Jane Austen and living in 1813 and you will be able to comprehend naught becuase of the circular language I am destined to use and have already begun.

In anycase, I'd like to take this chance to thank you for your prayers and your faithful reading and support. I could use prayers for patience, for improvement of my French, for continued health and aversion of malaria, and Niger could use prayer for rain (humidity was over 70% yesterday!!). Also pray for the church and the work Tom is doing building income-generating projects and for their witness in this very Muslim country. God is faithful, and teaching me more every day. It is good, like you said Kate, to know that he knows and loves everyone here, even the French-speaking donkeys, goats, and hippos.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a cell phone I can use here to text anyone with a T-Mobile plan. If you have T-Mobile, I'd really like to know, so drop me a comment or an email and it would be fun to talk. You can also, if you really feel like it, purchase an international calling card for not too expensive. (This applies to any and everyone, not just T Mobile-ers). I can give you tips on it. My parents are in Canada all month without much telephone access, so it'd be great to hear folks from home!

Love and Thanks as always,
in the words of Jane Austen,


P.S. Brandon Cocke- I am forever in your debt for printing this entire blog off for Bz and Dz to read. You're a great cousin to have!


Mom said...

My Dearest Amanda,
Please clear up one question for all of us: What does "CFA" stand for? Does it have to do with African francs? Glad you got some fabric! Maybe with your new sewing skills you can make something from it? Then you'd be a lot more like Jane Austen!
Enjoy the football.
Yours &c,

mom said...

p.s. Nip the boy-watching in the bud! I know they were on TV, and that it's only "Art appreciation," but I'm watching you!
Yours &c,

Miss Christine said...

P.P.S. Don't stop boy-watching. You can pick one up for me. Barter a little and make sure he's worth it. ;-)

Also, I can definitely see you doing that at the Gap. I'll tell my store manager, Andrew, and I bet he'll laugh. :) And I have a new friend Jake. He's gay and he has fantastic style. We've already made a date and he's going to take me shopping in like a year when I actually have money. Haha.

LauraMunroe said...

i love your travel tales!!! i'm thinking of you often cousin. i have a t-mobile cell phone so text away! also i have a new kitten and a new boyfriend...just fyi :)

love you lots~ Laura E.

Laura said...

oh amanda! i love you and i'm so glad you're having a good time!!! I know how much empty suitcase space you'll have on the way fill 'er up!!! :D
take care and be safe! -Laura (from your street)

Amanda said...

Laura K.- I know it's difficult being one in so many Laura's. You have the distinction of being the only one that lives at so proximal a distance though.

Also- I don't believe I have your email address at Calvin, so had I wanted to send you email, I couldn't. Would you tell me what it is please?
thanks dearie.

Stephanie Hulstein said...

AMANDA!! How are you? I miss you! Katie and I were just wondering today how things are going with Tom and the girls. I hope everything is well. I was laughing out loud reading your blog about the market and the museum. That brought back good memories. Katie and I have been busy on vacation :) but we are going to email you soon. I hope all is well in Niger, and hopefully you miss us a little :)