Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wecloming the Stranger in Our Midst - Bohong Style

What do we do when there is a stranger in our midst?   Most who read this in the US live in a city, so we are used to seeing many people we don’t know and many who are different than we are.  It is not the same here in Bohong.

Bohong is a large town, larger than Baboua, where I will be living later.  I am sure they see Central Africans that they don’t know, especially on Friday.  That day, many people come from small towns in the area for a huge local market – think Farmers’ Market with row upon row of sellers and many people jammed in the rows to look and buy… 

Still, I am currently the only “munju,” or white person, in town.  I have gone for a walk each afternoon since I have been here.  Soon after I get to the main road, I begin to hear “Munju! Munju!”  It’s the kids running out to see and greet me.  They will continue to call “munju” until I say “Bara-o” (hello) and sometimes even after that.  They seem full of joy to see me.  What a welcome!  It is also curiosity.  Sometimes, just coming to see me isn’t enough, so they follow me!  I have had a “parade” of up to 10 children follow me for a couple of blocks.  Adults are less open, but just as curious.  I tend to greet everyone I see since I know they are watching anyway.  After the first few days, some people speak to me – asking why I am here, or where I am going.  I like the opportunities to interact, in whatever limited way I can.  Several young men near the stand that sells meat have been greeting me regularly and together we have been attempting conversation.  It usually involves lots of laughter – when I don’t understand and, sometimes, when I respond in Sango. (I think it is because I can respond more than what I say or how I say it.)  I feel very welcome in this town (despite the many people from outside of town who stared as I went to the market Friday!) 

Also, several sisters who live near me have taken to coming to greet me sometimes afternoon.  I appreciate that, even though there are often long periods of silence.  I asked Andre about it about it because the girls would answer questions I asked (in Sango), but then sit in silence.  I felt like I was back in a classroom – I ask questions, they answer…  He said that African children are taught not to be talkative around adults unless they are addressed directly.  Well, OK, but…  We have had 20 minute visits with only about 10 sentences uttered.  It doesn’t help that my Sango is still limited!  The oldest showed me a game Friday – she had a block that we slid back and forth on the wall where we were sitting on.  In return, I got out the jacks I brought along with me.  I taught her and we played and laughed.  I have to say we spoke more French than Sango that first day, but I made an effort to count in Sango at least…  We had a good time.  She came back the next day and improved significantly.  We still don’t talk much, but we do laugh and enjoy the time together. 
This is still the rainy season, so it rains most days.  There are spectacular cloud formations such as the one in this picture.

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