Here in Benin, it’s pretty common for kids to come up and chat with me. My bush taxi driver from training to here said it’s because white folks aren’t going to shoo them away like the Beninese do. We’ll say hello, ask them how they are, then ignore them or play with them. In reality, it’s often to ask us to give them something. “Donne-moi un cadeau,” (give me a present) is a pretty common request, from kids aged 4 and up.
They’re only kids, and someone, at some point, taught them that whites give out 10 francs or candy or any other small gift, just for the asking, so generally, I respond with good humor. “No, YOU give ME a gift.” The real young ones just shriek with laughter and leave me alone. The older ones tell me that they have nothing to give. At that point, I usually ask for the shirt off their backs. That’s the signal to stop messing around, and, although it usually takes a little bit of back and forth, the situation’s generally diffused with humor and charm.
Yesterday, I was walking to the market (never got there, another story), and two boys, I’d guess 14 and 16, came up to me, asking for a gift. I laughed and refused, but when I asked for the younger one’s shirt and shoes, he just laughed and said he wouldn’t refuse me.
“Uh-huh. But I still don’t have anything to give you in return”
“You can marry us.”
“Oh, the both of you?”
“And you’re going to clean for me, cook for me, and bring home the bacon?”
“Absolutely. The two of us will take good care of you.”
“If you have the money for a wife, WHY ARE YOU ASKING ME FOR PRESENTS?”
They dissolved into laughter.
Anyway, I’m starting to settle in, which is good. Doing lots of dumb stuff, like sticking a screwdriver into a live socket (ouch!), so it’s definitely starting to feel like home. Also bizarre was chatting with Lyle today on IM. We’re both in offices with internet access. Surreal, considering that we’re both PCVs in Francophone Africa, but really cool to catch up with friends from home.