The Guissougui Show (page 2)
The Guissougui Show
page 1 

  

(Incidentally, every time a male Volunteer comes to visit, all my assertions get shot down. The women wag their fingers, “Hah! You do have a husband!” as if they’ve been onto my ruse from the very beginning. I’ve gained a hundred “brothers” trying to convince the old women they are not my lovers.)

Basic Life things
Aside from vowing celibacy, I use my marketplace rounds to rehearse any other Niarafolo phrases I’ve picked up during the week. After four months in the village, I can say basic Life things regarding washing, eating, going, buying, and enough key colloquialisms to send all parties into a discussion about how I’ve mastered the language, no matter how long the conversation has been. It’s relatively easy to guess what people are saying. Nonetheless, my vocabulary is slim and my understanding of grammar nonexistent. There doesn’t seem to be one tutor who can help me regularly — I have between 2 and 200 who tell me contradictory things all the time. I’ve only recently discovered that ki mi den means “I don’t like it”— not to be confused with kuh me den, which means, “I like it.” It’s a phrase I’ve espoused — but apparently haven’t learned — from the get-go. Market women stuff little gifts into my basket every week, and I’ve been diligent about insulting them every time. When they’ve offered me a gift chicken or extra onions or a free bowl of porridge, I’ve smiled big and said, “Thank you! I don’t like it!” Somehow this blunder has morphed into a success — add it on the “Reasons to Laugh At Guissongui” list. I figure as long as I’m laughing too, they’re laughing with me, right? Either way, being fallible and laughable closes the gap. It makes me more approachable to those who still assume that, as a white woman, I must be treated differently, and less alien to those who just don’t know what to make of me at all.
     So I move past chattering women in cell phone-print sarongs and bright scarves, clasping hands, asserting my singleness, and eventually buying sugar and soap and matches and leaves to make leaf sauce. If I don’t have the correct change, they’ll just expect me to come back later and pay up. That’s what everyone else does — there’s a paperless credit system that runs like clockwork. Each woman — and there’s not one among them who knows ciphers — has a list of her debits and credits etched in her head. I, however, forget to pay routinely, and am constantly being tapped on the shoulders by sellers I’ve unintentionally swindled.
     And for everything I buy, these women in flip-flops who have rarely left the village, who save up their market earnings for months to buy a new outfit for Ramadan, fill my basket with extra handfuls. I wander home each week as the sun slips west with several things I’ve paid for plus bowls of peanuts, heaps of hot peppers, spare rolls of sweet bread, bags of millet fritters, and bunches of baby bananas, all piled into my basket by grinning women who dismiss my protests with a wave of the hand.

   As the daughter of a Foreign Service officer, Sarah Erdman grew up on the fringes of the Mediterranean and Washington, DC. After, studying history at Middlebury College in Vermont, she worked as a health Volunteer for Peace Corps/Cote d'Ivoire. There she instituted an infant care program, trained village health workers, and raised funds for the construction of a maternity clinic. She is currently living in Washington, DC and completing a book of stories about her years in the village.
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