Monday, March 26, 2007

African Friendship

One of the best things about having been here for so long is that we actually have gotten sucked into being a part of the social system.

I have this friend. He's really cool. He's probably about 7o years old (he doesn't really know for sure), he comes around with a sharpening stone attached to a bench that he carries on his shoulder. He has cataracts, so he can't really see people too well. I let him sharpen my knives and especially our yard tools (a curved knife that is used to cut grass called a whipper and a machete) and I give him enough Liberian money that I know he could eat for the day - I overpay him. His name is Wayga. (that's how it is pronounced - who knows how it is spelled? He doesn't) I respect him because he doesn't feel sorry for himself and does what he is able to get along.

Wayga has been coming around for at least 3 years. He tells me stories of when ELWA was just being built (he was just a boy). I think he really does believe in Jesus, and he talks like he has no regard for traditional beliefs, but that may be just talk. He did tell me a story of how he and his friends once stole the food that was left out for the spirits in his village. So maybe it isn't just talk. He also tells me what people are saying on the street. That is interesting.

Anyway, I enjoy my friendship with Wayga, and we do help him a lot when he is in a jam, like when the owner of the house he lives in put him out, or when he is really sick. But it isn't all one-sided. A few weeks ago he brought us a big stalk of giant bananas. Maybe the biggest bananas I've ever seen in Liberia. The following week, he brought a bunch of very fresh greens that he had grown himself.

It is lovely to receive such gifts, and I feel happy that our friendship is genuine - that when Wayga has the means, he finds some way to bless us. But, well, in Liberia, you have to know that when you receive a gift you will someday have an opportunity to say thank you, somehow. Saturday afternoon, Wayga came to us, very concerned about his sister. I wish I could dramatize the way he explained how she was feeling like a hole was burning in her heart (he kept twisting his index finger into the table or his palm), and she was having chills - I had to call Rick because he understands the way Liberians describe symptoms - I had no idea what Wayga was talking about. Anyway, she probably just had a bad case of heartburn or maybe an ulcer. So I gave him something to take her to the emergency room to get some medicine (about $5 USD).

So that is it - that's what it means to really be a part of things in Africa. You give, you receive, you give again. There is no such thing as medical insurance, or any other safety net: friends are your safety net. So you cultivate friendship with whatever means you can, storing up "insurance" for when you need it. But we especially appreciate when some people don't just look at us as givers - they integrate us fully into their system, treating us as they would any other friend. It is sometimes uncomfortable, because it is so personal, and we Americans are not used to this kind of interdependence, especially financially. But now that we know it means that someone really regards us as their friend, we enjoy it really. And I just had to laugh when Wayga came, because there was simply no way I could say "no" after he had brought us such lovely gifts over the past few weeks. I told Rick about it and he said "I think that sounds like a blog entry" so now it is!

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