Sunday, September 29, 2013

To Market, To Market

We went to the market today, Sarah and I! I LOVE going to the market, because it's like all of Africa packed into a tiny microcosm of happiness - all the people and the energy and the babies strapped on every back. And of course Africans are very social, so you can't be sad or lonely when you enter the market and leave it in the same condition. Even if you never spoke to anyone (which is impossible; you speak and hug and shake hands and never stop smiling and lauging), you have to love the pulse of it. The colors are more than any camera could capture properly. Donkeys, chickens, dogs, camels meander out of the way, and the world's greatest fashion weeks pale in comparison to the outfits and headdresses of the women. Beautiful.

Today (despite the heat) we took our time at the market, literally dripping sweat and followed by a slender teenager in full Muslim headwrap who was content just to carry the vegetable bags for the white women.

Sarah's French is amazing so I listened to her as closely as I could and decided that if she can do it then so can I! So I asked her how to ask for a price of a kilo of something in French. As she was explaining it to me, a man walked up and, grinning, said something that I couldn't discern for the life of me.
"What did he just ask?" Sarah answered that he asked me how I was doing in Moree, which is one of the local languages here.
"Oh. How do you say it?" The man leaned toward me, smile lines deepening and eyes shinning, and said slowly, "Zaa-ka-rumba." My repetition, complete with a rolled 'r' (thanks, Spanish professors!) earned a belly laugh of approval, and the reply, "Lafi."

A few more meters brought us to the stall where Sarah always buys her vegetables. The owner came out to greet us, warm and friendly. The stalls are so crowded here that we were able to stand in complete shade (nice break from the heat!). After chatting with the woman for a moment, Sarah asked if I wanted to try out my Moree.

So I turned to the lady. "Zaa-ka-rumba!"
She smiled, "Lafi."

I was so pleased that I had said it right that I pumped my fists in the air and yelled, "YEAH!" and was rewarded by the sound of the market bursting into cheers. I looked around in surprise, to find the women from the surrounding stalls laughing and clapping and chattering excitedly in Moree and French. Then they all started talking to me at once, gesturing and grinning. They were nodding their heads and pointing to us, shouting at other women to come near. I leaned close so Sarah could hear me over the noise.

"What? What are they saying?" She chuckled and brushed sweat from her head. "You just won them over. They love you now." I look around at the crowd of women, laughing and rubbing my arms, with children squeezing in and out of the crowd and baskets of fruit bobbing above it all, balanced carefully on a dozen heads.  And then it's my turn to join in the laughter - not because anything is funny, but because that's the natural response to being so completely happy.

I got back to my room and turned on the air conditioner just in time for the power to go out - again. So the heat crept back in, advanced only by the dark. I have to feel my way to the bathroom and feel my way back to bed, only it's too hot to sleep. I'm sweating so much that it has made me aware of the fact that I'm covered in more mosquito bites than I ever thought possible. It's always hot here. I once thought it was unbearable.

But now I lean my forehead against my open window and listen to the last hot, muggy storm of rainy season.

I breathe in slowly.

I close my eyes and get lost in the smell - the smell of the rain, of the dust, of a dozen outside dinners, of the mango trees, of the exhaust of a thousand motorcycle taxis, of a zillion animals, of the nearby Sahara. The smell of Africa. I fill my lungs as tight as they will fill and I think of my day at the market. I remember the giggling little kids that ran out to greet us all the way home. I remember the African couple who dropped by earlier, for no other reason than to check on and pray with Justin because he's not feeling well. I think of yesterday at the missionaries' house, when a woman came by to meet us and the missionaries were talking to her about baptism in six minutes flat, and made sure that she left with a French Bible and a time of prayer. I think of the Burkina pastors and their wives, patiently teaching me French and Moree and Djoula phrases, correcting me ever so gently and pretending to understand me even when I'm completely wrong.  I picture the 200 pairs of hands raised in worship last week in Togo, and the children at the kids' crusade, standing in 110 degree weather, tears mixing with sweat as they cry out to the living God, who speaks all languages.

I think of how amazing God is for bringing me here. And I cry. Not because anything is sad, but because that is the natural response to being so completely happy.

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