'Déborie, was that your car I saw you driving earlier today?' Granny asked me.
'Uh-uh. It is the car of the hospital.' I answered in broken Hausa. 'I with boxes big . . . there are muscles . . . but . . . boxes big BIG!! I no walk with boxes. I pick up and boxes go inside car.'
Granny's head nodded in understanding but the blank stare on her face betrayed her. She didn't have a clue what I was talking about.
Maybe it's because I didn't actually know the Hausa word for 'box' but instead just pointed to one and said 'this thing'.
'Wait until B. gets back. He'll explain whatever it is you're talking about!' Granny smiled, revealing her goro stained teeth. 'Déborie,' she started again. 'Why don't you have your own car? Foreigners are rich, you should have a car!'
I paused, wondering if I had actually understood her correctly. I played the words around in my head again . . . I was 87% sure that's what she had said. So I answered her with the first thing to come to mind:
'Babu husband, babu car!'
No husband . . . no car.
It's was like when Old-Man-R. who sells us stuff like office supplies and NG Tubes from Nigeria asks me if he can come over to my house to eat all the cakes I have lying around: No husband . . . no cake!
Or like when the nurse on the surgical ward just came back from Niamey and brought with her a bunch of fabric to sell and she just couldn't get rid of the two ugliest ones and she tried to guilt trip me into buying it off of her: No husband . . . no money!
'Deborie!' Granny said, 'By the time I was your age I had already been married twice and had 12 children. Why aren't you married yet? When are you going back to your country so you can find a husband? And when you go, will you be there long enough to have a baby? You shouldn't come back to Niger without a baby. I thought you said your parents were still alive . . . AND you have an older brother! So why don't you have a husband? Was it your own fault? Did you refuse them? You did, didn't you! Déborie! You can't refuse EVERY choice! It's not good for a woman to be alone. It's not good for a woman to work but have no family!'
Thankfully, B. had come back and was filling in the bits of Granny's monologue that were whizzing past me.
We had been sorting through boxes of disorganized old patient records when my pal F. came down to play . . . I mean, participate in therapeutic activity. Granny had followed closely thereafter and really just came to chat. B. and I continued our efforts as F. transformed one of the empty cartons into her own little 'car' on the floor.
I continued to sift through the dusty paperwork as I thought about Granny's questions. So much of life in Niger still seems unusual to me . . . livestock free-ranging through the open air courtyard of my friend's house . . . donkeys and camels are as common a form of transportation on Main Street as a bike or motorcycle . . . women keep their ankles and head covered as they sit bare-breasted.
This is the context in which I live now . . . though still strange, these are my everyday sights and realities.
But Granny has no frame of reference in which my existence makes any sense! For her, my single status says less about who I am as an individual and more about who I'm not in community. In her understanding a woman's role as a wife and mother is for the purpose of position within not only the immediate family, but in the village and the whole of society.
For a Nigerien, being a wife offers a woman protection . . . being a mother gives her identity.
So here's to another cross-cultural conversation that ends with 'When it is God's time, He will give me a husband, and for now, we wait' because there is nothing else I can say to explain who I am that will fit the context of her world view.