In My Village

On October 3, 2013 by ali heller

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On particularly hot days, when the prospect of conducting another interview feels particularly onerous, languid afternoons often degenerate into play. Or should I say, something approximating play but probably closer to a theatre of the absurd.

When in the States, surrounded by people who understand my cultural references, value a dash of irony, and can appreciate the art of self-deprecation, I do all right for myself. I can get by at a cocktail party. Here though, my sense of humor has morphed into that of the stereotypical uncle: corny, somewhat awkward, and often inappropriate. For example, when women compliment my clothing by asking me to give them what I’m wearing, I often begin to immediately remove the skirt or shirt I’m wearing. Women are shocked, usually love it, and generally stop me before I really breach any boundaries of impropriety (admittedly, the time or two I unwittingly played this game with a visually impaired woman, it got awkward fast and she won out on that game of chicken).

I break out dancing without rhythm.
Women dress me up in their clothing and have me perform “Nigerien” tasks like walking around the yard with stuff balanced precariously on my head.
I tickle adults.
Women guess my age (usually in the ballpark of pubescent years) and call me “tsofuwa”, or, old woman, when they find out I’m nearly 30.
I have a man’s name (Ali) and sometimes wear pants – women ask about my wife and call me by male pronous.
I admit, I’m not that funny – mostly a bizarre oddity. Still, it seems to work for me. It fills my afternoons and deepens my laugh lines.

One of my favorite means of self-entertainment is to regale women with tales from my (bizarre) culture.

It typically unfolds something like this:

“Alisasou (most people here refuse to call me ‘Ali’, so they add various and ever-changing suffixes), in your village do your people take special pills to make themselves fat?”
“Yes, there are medicines people take to help them develop big muscles, but there are also pills women take to help them get very skinny. In fact, in my village, there is a sickness where many people, often young middle-class women, have plenty of money to buy any kind of food they want, but they refuse to eat until they loose so much weight they get sick, some even die of this sickness”
Amazement ensues.

Or this one: “In my village, respectable women wear skirts that are so short sometimes you can see their behinds”

“In my village, many people love their dogs and cats and give them names and make special food just for them, and take them to special doctors, and buy them toys and beds, and take them to get washed, and tie a rope around their necks to take them to get exercise, and carry photos of them around in their purses, and even have funerals for them when they die”

“In my village, men can marry men and women can marry women”

“In my village, many people don’t have any religion at all – they are neither Christian nor Muslim nor Animists, they don’t believe in Heaven or Hell”

“In my village, it is illegal to have two wives”

Often “in my village” is a lighthearted game that women find strange and sometimes shocking, but always entertaining. But sometimes “in my village” isn’t so lighthearted. Sometimes I use “in my village” to console women, to suggest that there might be another way.

“In my village, women choose who and when they marry”
“In my village, it’s ok for a woman to not have children”
“In my village, if you are sick, you have the right to know what kind of illness you have. You have a right to know what kind of treatment options there are”

On these days, the gap between here and there, and you and me feels cavernous.

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