Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"Make an effort, will you?"

Several weeks ago, I finally got my good friend Mariama on the phone. I had wanted to see her for a long time but didn’t know where she lived (she got married last year) and the phone number she used in March wasn’t valid any longer so I couldn’t reach her. Finally, she called me on the project phone and I invited her over one Friday afternoon, which she seemed thrilled about. I was really looking forward to seeing her again; after all, we were inseparable during all those teenage years and I consider her one of my closest friends in Niger. Last year, I briefly met her husband and I was looking forward to seeing their little son, Ahmed. So even though I had a lot to do, on Friday afternoon, I was there waiting. The coffee was hot, the cakes were on the table and I had a little bag of presents, both for her and for the baby. But Mariama did not show up.

She did not send me an sms either. Nor did she send a girl with a note (as she usually does), nor come by and see me and see if we could perhaps find another time. Finally, I sent her an sms myself a week ago, saying that I was sorry she had missed our rendez-vous as I was really looking forward to seeing her again, and perhaps she could get in touch and tell me when would be a good time. Then all of a sudden my sister-in-law phoned and said there was a girl at her door with an urgent message to me from Mariama. Here goes the note:

Zinder the 30th 2007

Many good things I wish you, my dear! First of all, please excuse me for missing out on your appointment the other day, I was sick. My husband and son greet you! Esther, please, I have a problem that I want you to solve for me. If possible, Esther, I need money and would like you to lend me 15,000 CFA (€25), it’s urgent. And you must give me a new appointment so that we can see each other. I am counting a lot on you. I’m sorry for having to ask you. I don’t know who else- Make an effort, will you? Or call me because I have no more money on my phone.


Lol, now what is there to say about it? My only friend who has never asked me for money had suddenly found an “urgent” excuse to ask me for – what is in this country – a considerable amount, without either seeing me first or telling me what the cause of this urgency is. I wasn’t happy about it, nor was I surprised. After all, I am in Niger, and here, everybody thinks that I have infinitive sums of money stored away. After all, I have relatives, relatives in Sweden, relatives who work and who should be able to provide me with all the things that I lack, at the simple price of my independency. That’s the line of thought from this culture at least.

But I have no such relatives. I have no such family. I do not possess an infinitive amount of money. It is true that – from their perspective at least – I do have money, but the money I do possess is expendable and my only option is to make it last. I have money, but I do not walk around – in true Nigerian atmosphere – wasting it on all sorts of unnecessary material things such as new shoes, clothes, perfumes and handbags. Last year, Mariama had an over-paid job working for as a nurse for MSF, but although she earning twice what the state would be providing, she complained that the MSF were probably not giving them all their fair share. This is Niger in a nut shell. And yes, I am sure that more money will help this country. It brings forth such power of initiative and positive thinking. Not.

So back to my friend and I. I was disappointed by the letter, because Mariama was my only friend who had never begged me for anything before and this was one of the reasons why I felt so close to her. I didn’t feel that she was after me for my money. Now all of a sudden, she spills no time getting right down to business. She has not even been over to say “hi”, but she is already sure that I will feel obliged to “make an effort” and give her (which would be the equivalent of lending in this country) half a salary because it is “urgent”. Well, isn’t it always? I have still not made up my mind what exactly I’m going to say about the money, but I sent her an sms inviting her over on Tuesday afternoon, and then I’ll just have to take it from there. Handing her the money would by my way of giving up on our friendship, and even if I would be willing to do that, I’m not sure I care to spend €25 on doing that.

Mariama and I posing in front of the monkey cage (1994)

Mariama and I posing the Nigerien way (1996)

Mariama and I in "uniforme" (1997)

Maybe I’m just being overly skeptical and that she has indeed a legitimate problem for expecting me to hand over this money, but it’s like all things in Niger – they all believe in a quick fix and yet you have to learn that there is none. “Alternative strategies” is a good expression but translating it into something that they understand and want to listen to is another matter. Now, from all this I have learned one thing. In Niger, you have acquaintances, some of which you enjoy to bits. However, true friendship is hard to achieve because there will always be that little element of coming from different social environments and having difference skin tones. I’ll never stop being a nasara, but I will at some point, stop expecting that I will one day stop being one and that my friends will stop evaluating my monetary worth. It doesn’t make me cynical though, because after all, I am here for them and not the other way around. Unfortunately, help in my opinion is the contrary of handing out gifts and creating dependency, and so I lose my “friends” over it. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy in having relationships, because if you just managed to develop someone, then you’ve given your day some worth.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

reading this story i feel saddened. to think such low thoughts of someone you call one of your closest friends does nothing but demonstrate what a narrow minded concept of friendship you have. in this story all you think of is yourself. no regard for your friend who is ill... as she wrote. no regard for what could be so urgent. you immediately think the worst of her character for merely asking you for money. friendship isnt just sitting around having coffee and cakes and chatting about the weather... friendship is being willing to give your friend the money and not need to know why they need it because you trust their word. i hope this woman is well and healthy and i hope she has true friends in her life and not just people such as yourself: observers in other peoples lives rather than participants.
The more you give in this life the more you will get... I hope one day someone teaches you a lesson in generosity. Blessings to you.