29 July 2014

"I'm sorry. We aren't serving eggs today."

photo credit: LenDog64 via photopin cc
Many Saturdays, while we were both still living in Niger, my friend and I would go shopping together. It wasn't an activity either of us particularly enjoyed... good company made it more bearable - at least that was what I thought. Some Saturdays, we'd stop at a café or boulangerie for coffee... tea... an omelet with baguette... sometimes I'd even splurge and get french fries.

Every September, for just a few weeks, I'd be able to order the flavored coffee on the menu that I really liked. But the café would sell out of their yearly supply of that after just a few weeks. Every time we went, I'd usually STILL ask, but our regular waiter would smile and , "I'm sorry, Madame. But we aren't serving that today." So, from then on I'd typically order the thé au lait - mainly because I'm a cheapskate and could eek two cups of tea out of the one tea bag and warm milk the servers would bring to the table.

One of the last times my friend and I were at the café together, we sat down at our normal corner table where we didn't have to see the large flat screen TV on the wall above us and to my right, even though it usually featured a soccer game or some sort of documentary I'd usually find interesting... and ...we waited for our server to arrive with the menus that I practically knew by heart but still took the time to read... every single time. Not sure if that is because I'm a creature of habit or if I was simply trying to make my little weekly escape last as long as possible before entering back into the fray... but I did. That week, I settled on my regular - l'omelette française... or an omelette chock full of ham and and even more cheese - usually Gouda. 

When our server came to get our order, we'd already exchanged a few pleasantries with our greetings when he brought the menu, so I immediately said, "Je voudrais avoir l'omelette française, s'il vous plaît." I instantly knew that something was up... he had that same smile plastered on his face that he always had when he told me they weren't serving my favorite coffee.

"I'm sorry. We aren't serving eggs today," he replied.

"Oh... um... well, then - a plate of french fries would be delightful. Instead of cheese this time, can you be sure and bring me some mayonnaise on the side?"

There was that awkward smile, again.

"Oh... you aren't serving those either?" Wanting to avoid further awkwardness for our server, I tried a different tactic. "Please, sir, tell me what you'd recommend that I try for breakfast this morning?"

photo credit: CIAT International Center for Tropical Agriculture via photopin cc
I actually don't remember what he said after that... because as he was talking to me, I was looking out the window of the café, at the market that lined the sides of road, across the street from the small parking lot in front of the café. There, vendeurs had piles of eggs stacked... some of them at least a meter high. Women in brightly colored African cloth sat next to a wheelbarrow piled so high with potatoes, several spilled out and rolled out into the traffic on the street and one of young beggars darted through traffic to retrieve it - probably hoping she'd just give it to him for his effort. My American mind was a little flabbergasted - and even considered getting irritated. The part of me that loved Niger life with all its eccentricities just wanted to laugh and did immediately thank God for a start to my day that was interesting, funny and sure to be a good story... someday...

photo credit: Alexbip via photopin cc
I ended up ordering a baguette with butter, a tea with only sugar. They weren't serving milk either. I had a lovely time visiting with my friend. We also tipped our server particularly well that day. Can you imagine having to tell lots of expats and other from the more wealthy classes that the food they wanted to order wasn't available when they could look right out the window and see it in plentiful abundance?

It wasn't his fault... I don't think...

What would be the response if a popular breakfast place here in the States, filled with people on a Saturday morning, suddenly began informing customers that the only things available on their relatively extensive menu were coffee, tea, sugar, baguette and butter... but of course, hamburgers and cheeseburgers could be prepared with just a few minutes wait?

I know I'd tend to respond differently than I did while sitting across from my friend, at that café, in Niamey.

I'm discovering that I'm a gentler, more patient person in Africa than I am here in the States. Somehow, I find it more natural to live out these words: 
Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
I can blame the difference on 
  • the cultural chasm, 
  • the stress of life in Africa taking all the fight out of me,
  • distraction because I always felt like I was going in so many directions all at once,
  • the humor and the tragedy of life always right there before my eyes,
  • the fact that relationship is everything in Africa...
or a whole myriad of other possibilities.

Yet I remain convicted that I want to be more like my Africa me, especially here in the United States. 

Somewhere... recently... I read a folk tale. I'm convinced it's message is stalking me these days: 
A teacher and his student are crossing a river together. Part way across, the teacher notices a scorpion struggling in the water. Instead of leaving the scorpion to die, he reaches down and gingerly rescues the insect from the current. The scorpion promptly stings him. The teacher continues wading towards the far shore. It isn't long before the scorpion stings him a second time. The pain of that second sting causes the teacher to double over, yet he doggedly puts one foot in front of the other until he steps up and out of the muddy shallows of the river. Once there, he gently lowers the scorpion to the ground.
The younger man cannot believe what he has just witnessed. "Why did you pick up the scorpion knowing full well it would probably sting you? Once it did, why didn't you angrily fling it back into the water, far from you? Why did you persist through such difficulty?" 
The teacher gently replied, "Stinging? That's what scorpions do because that is its nature. My nature is to serve and to save? Why should I let his nature determine mine and my actions?" 
I remember coming home from Penn State as a college student, knowing God had done some neat things and had changed me only to find that I would slip right back into old sinful behavior patterns and responses to my family. They were hard pressed to see that change.

I guess I don't want to finish with the cliché that "some things never change," because I do believe, with all my heart, that God does work great change.

It's in His nature. And as long as I'm working on it, He's given me a nature that can.

photo credit: s_manca via photopin cc

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