By Tiffany Talsma
“Hey, boy, come here. Hey, little boy, what is your name?”
It took me a second to realize the man was talking to me. I was about five years old at the time; a little freckle-faced blonde girl who felt just as black as all the little Nigerian village kids I always played with. “My name is Kuku,” I told the man who had just called me “boy.”
“Kuku is a name for girls–you are wearing shorts. You cannot be a girl,” he replied, referring to my Ekajuk name that was, in fact, a girls’ name.
That anonymous man on that random day years ago is someone I will always remember. It’s weird, the things that we remember from our past. This is a memory that stands out to me as I look back on my childhood and also pops up in my day-to-day life even now as a Michigan college student. I think the reason this memory so forefront in my mind is because that day someone made me feel different. Girls in Nigeria don’t wear shorts. It’s a given. They don’t have to wear anything at all (though they can only get away with that till they’re about four years old) or they wear wrappers. (Wrappers are a couple yards of cloth that get wrapped around and tucked in much like people in the States would wear a towel after getting out of the shower). But here I was, wearing a pair of shorts that, despite my blonde curls and pierced ears, defined me as a boy in the eyes of this village elder.
I already knew I was different. For obvious reasons: I was the only kid I knew who got sunburned and knew how to flush a toilet. But under that surface stuff, I didn’t feel that different from the people I had grown to love and belong with. As I grew up, though, I remember more of those times when I was struck by how different I was from everyone.
One of the most exciting times of the year was right after the harvest, when people would set fire to their farms in order to prepare them for the next planting. The heat from the fire would send the little ground-dwelling animals scampering out all over the place, and all of us kids would be waiting to try to catch them as they ran. The fun of chasing and trying to catch the little mice and not-so-little rats was only matched by the taste of roasted rodent later in the day. I was not very good at actually catching the creatures, but there was one time that I did manage to. It was a small baby mouse that could barely open its eyes–maybe that’s why I was actually able to catch it. Anyway, I decided it was too cute to eat. I really wanted to keep it as my pet. That idea was crushed the second I mentioned it to my friends. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to eat the baby mouse and I was made fun of for being so silly the rest of the day. Again, it was just one of those small things that really affected me and set me apart as different from the people around me.
This fact is highlighted by this memory from my time in Nigeria: I was sitting with my friend Beshi out in front of her house. She was feeling too sick that day to be out doing anything with anyone, and she was telling me about having to make cuts on her face because she was sick. It’s common to see people in the village with small scars near the corners of their eyes or mouth from times when they’ve been sick and cut themselves to try to get better. They’re only small nicks made with a razor blade, but I was still amazed that she could cut herself like that without fear of the pain. In trying to explain to me how painless it really is, Beshi somehow convinced me to try it on myself. We dug up a razor from somewhere and I braved myself to make a couple cuts in my knee. It really didn’t hurt.
Then Beshi said something that opened my eyes: “Now the spirits can leave you.” Although at first I didn’t understand what she meant, she explained to me that the reason for making the cuts is so that the spirits inside (which are what are believed to cause sickness) have a way to get out of your body.
That day with Beshi I felt the differences between us as she showed me how to cut myself and explained things about their beliefs I still hadn’t known. But realizing the fact that she didn’t know of the healing power of the love of Jesus was far different from any of the other differences I had felt between us. This was a difference that set us apart for eternity; and it was a difference I never wanted to have with anyone again, no matter what culture or country they were from.
That day I learned of a difference that, despite any other differences we notice, we should be constantly trying to eliminate between all people.