Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Observations of an outsider in a central African country

Waking up with wood smoke in your nostrils. Everyone cooks with wood. Sand everywhere you walk. Some is so fine you don’t get very far as you step. No point in wearing shoes as sand finds its way into everything.

Sounds of donkeys braying through the day and night. Stares of people because you’re the only white person they’ve seen in years. Feet that are stained filthy because of walking in sandals all day, taking them off at each person’s mat to sit for hours.

Sun that is so hot it will sunburn you quickly, and air that is so dry in the dry season you don’t notice you are becoming dehydrated. Sun stroke for the unprepared.

Multiple greetings are exchanged in the street as you walk by people. "Peace be upon you" I say. They respond with "And peace to you too". Other greetings continue back and forth, done without thought sometimes, but out of habit. Give eye contact and you need to greet usually. Don’t use left hand to greet. If unable to use right hand, use right forearm, or forearm of left arm if needed. On the mat, talk goes on for hours. Time is NOT money—people are. Hospitality is natural. The more food and drinks offered by the host during your visit, the more honor they are showing their guest.

Running water is a luxury. Delivery of water is often by donkey.

Traditional systems of governance are still present but increasingly in conflict with modern, western systems. Sultans, kings and chiefs normally have the last word on issues, and are highly respected within the community. Conflict has arisen between the modern federal government and traditional system limiting their authority, forcing them to pay for certain things when normally, for instance, it was the sultan’s decision to give land away or make decisions that were best for his region.

Fresh milk only in the morning. Camel or cow, no refrigeration, so use it that day. Camel milk is SALTY, yet very rich. Milk delivered by an Arab woman. Arab women drive the camel caravan when moving camp. Fancy shaded structure on top of camel. Men drive goats and other herds in front or behind caravan.

Everything transported by donkeys, the affordable transportation. Firewood, fencing, food, water.
Camels used by Arabs. 

Camel crossing.

Dried fish at the market

Though the only white person around, and everyone stares at you, knowing the proper greetings disarms people as they are almost obligated to respond in kind. However, with kids, a long look with a smile always works.

Above: Mealtime--using hands in a common plate. Or silverware for that which can’t be picked up with hands. Never use left hand during eating since you wipe #2 with it.

Speaking of the bathroom...

 Don't forget to wash your hand(s).

In the Xian church in town, surrounded by M’s, multiple languages being used during the same service: French sermon translated into Arabic. Each Sunday a different ethnic group sings a couple of songs in their own language. Worship primarily in French, but prayer in other languages depending on who’s praying. I was asked to do the prayer before sermon, did it in Portuguese instead of English so more might understand. For offering and tithes everyone makes a line and makes the round up to front of sanctuary then back to seats.

Men on the left side in church. 
Women on the right side in church.
Kids outside during service. 

At the end of service, everyone goes out one door and shakes hands, lining up at the end of the line so everyone shakes everyone’s hand at some point. No one is allowed out the back door they used to enter church.

Realizing I'd fit right in as an Arab. 

New friend from spending two weeks together learning about culture, language, and the local environmental challenges. Also a brother.

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