Most of you know we have a horse and his name is King. We really enjoy him, although we don't ride him near as much as we need to or as much as the girls would like to...
But we do have an honest-to-goodness "we've lived THAT one" understanding of the expression "He eats like a horse."
In fact, after today, I can say I have a whole new understanding AND appreciation for several things...
When our houseworker arrived this morning, she informed me that there was a man waiting out by our gate, with a donkey cart load of hay, and that he was wanting to speak to me. (You see, everyone who passes by our gates knows we have a horse because several feet from the door, our guard deposits our horse's deposits... the ones we don't want to leave laying around in his stall for too awful long. Because of this "advertising," we regularly have entrepreneurs stopping by the house wanting to sell us things for our horse to eat...so he can continue to make those deposits - but all that was totally beside the point.)
I wandered out to our front gate, burning my feet because the sun had already heated the sand THAT much and Elsie had been playing with my shoes and I couldn't find them. We usually do have a guard, but he's on vacation in Benin, so for this month, I'm the daytime relief guard. That means I'm being called to the gate fairly often (at least 4 or 5 times a morning) to answer questions, hold the dog while someone comes in to get water, or some other miscellaneous thing. I greeted the young man with his donkey cart (Yeah! Zarma language practice!) and after we'd both agreed that today was a very hot day and that the heat was tiring, he asked me if I was interested in buying some hay for the horse.
Now typically, that is not part of my job description around this household. I do dishes, wash, dry, sometimes iron and fold laundry; I grocery shop and plan menus; Some days, I run a school taxi service; I cook - thankfully, because of our househelp, not all the time; I clean and pick up - a never ending job, believe me! I help with homework, teach, regulate computer use, read books and stories, cut hair, fix hair, wash kids, change diapers and potty train. And make sure everyone takes their malaria prophylactic. I brush/clean the horse and sometimes I ride him. But, I've never bought his food before. And, I have no money at the house.
So, I tell the young man that I'll have to go and call my husband and find out what he wants to do. I go back in the house, call Tim at the studio, clue him in as to what is going on. Tim says he is interested in buying the hay, IF I can bargain down to what Tim has decided he is willing to pay.
Back out to the road I dash - I was prepared for the hot sand on my bare feet this time! And, we begin the bargaining process. First, I find out how many bundles of hay he has - around 30. And how much does he want to sell each bundle for? 750 CFA a bundle. Fortunately, about this time, a friend showed up who speaks Zarma to help me with the money amounts - since in Zarma money transactions are all handled in base 5 math... I think... and I can't think quickly enough to translate --Zarma words to French words to English words to figure out what the base 5 numbers actually are in our base 10 number system, and then retrace that same mental path in the opposite direction to communicate with my hay entrepreneur-- in my head, especially with my feet burning again!
Well, 750 CFA is way more than we want to pay, so I remind the young man that I actually have enough food for the horse for several more days and don't really have to buy anything more today, but that if he'd be willing to sell his bundles for 500 CFA apiece, I might be willing to reconsider.
He shakes his head, laughs a bit and then goes on to explain that this is very high quality hay, much better than what I can find down the road a bit, that he's worked very hard to bring it from a very far place, and that his hay bundles are significantly bigger than the standard hay bundles sold in and around town. No, 500 CFA is way too low of a price. "How about 650 CFA a bundle," he counters.
Since it is my turn, I tell him: "It is a very hot day and I'm sure you've worked very hard to bring the hay by my house..." (At this point, I'm very thankful for my friend who is translating the Zarma for me to make sure I'm understanding and really saying what I'm wanting to say), "...your bundles of hay do look very nice,..." (Please don't ask me what I really know about hay.) "...and I can see that they are a bit fluffier than the ones currently stored up on the roof of the horse's shelter. So, I do very much appreciate your hard work and effort. However, my husband has set a maximum limit that I can spend on hay for the horse today and that is 600 CFA a bundle."
After much hemming and hawing, he finally agrees to that price (which, by the way, is the current price on the street), I make sure that he understands I can't pay him that moment; he'll have to wait for Tim to come home for lunch in a bit, and we open the gate. He drives the donkey and cart in and begins to unload his bundles of hay.
About 40 minutes later, 38 bundles of hay are stacked in our front yard: 2 rows of 7 bundles stacked 2 high, 1 row of 5 bundles stacked 2 high... all that equals 38. Jonathan and Elsie Mae have had a ball running around outside in next to nothing and nothing, trying to get the donkey to pay attention to them while the cart is being unloaded.
Finally, it is time to do the math. Tim (I've seen him do this) squats down and does the math with his finger in the sand. Since this hay entrepreneur is not literate, that means nothing to him. So we started doing mental math (which I always hated as a kid, especially in the grocery store with my mom and sister who were/are actually good at it)!:
Unfortunately, at least for this hay seller, that didn't translate very easily to Zarma base 5 math, and he didn't understand. So I tried again:
After repeating this math process 6 or 7 times, he was finally assured that everything was just, I got him some cold water, brought a bucket of water for his donkey and told him that my husband would be home in about 45 minutes. He asked if he could keep the donkey in our front yard while he was waiting, but I wasn't feeling that hospitable, so after a few more pleasantries and amusement on his part as I tried to speak to him in Zarma, he was on his way to find a shady spot in the road and await Tim and payment; I could go back to my regularly scheduled program (working on Sheep Tales) - only an hour of time had elapsed.
As I went back to my work, I took a few minutes to thank God for our guard, who usually does all that for us, for Tim who takes care of so many similar sorts of things that just eat up time, for friends who show up at just the right time, for an unexpected and unplanned Zarma language and culture lesson, and for an 18 month old and a 3 year old who find donkeys enough of a fascination that they can watch one being unloaded for nearly an hour without too much supervision on my part. It was not exactly fun, but it was an interesting experience! *SMILE*
And, I can guarantee you, King was watching all of those proceedings with great interest! He definitely is motivated by and thinks... with his stomach!