Being able to communicate is crucial in life. Being able to communicate well is a gift and a joy.
Sitting at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport during an unscheduled five hour lay over, I can hear French being spoken softly all around me. And joy upon joy I understand most of it.
Over the last week I have had to dig deep into my memory of A-level French to communicate well in Niger. Yesterday brought the biggest challenge. Charlotte and I had the privilege of going with the Niger country leader Bunmi and seventeen leprosy-affected people to witness them receive the keys to a new house for each of them and their family. Brand new purpose built houses on a piece of land on the outskirts of the capital city Niamey that have been funded by TLM England and Wales.
To those of us who live in the West, a two room concrete home situated in a block of four, with outside shower/toilet cubicle and one communal water pump may not seem like much. Located in an area of red sand dotted with a few trees with locusts buzzing around them, it may even seem like ‘roughing it’ but to the recipients, these houses are a precious gift that filled them with joy.
How do I know this? Because of communication.
We interviewed several of the proud new owners. They did not speak French: the language of the educated in Niger. They spoke local dialects of Hausa and Zarma. Our interpreter did not speak English so Charlotte posed questions in English, I translated into French, our translator then spoke to the new house owners in Hausa and then translated their responses back into French whereupon I translated back into English. All this is 43 degree heat at midday.
Never have I enjoyed struggling with my French and being so hot. The joy that filled the recipients was so uplifting. No language was needed to interpret the smiles on their faces and the pride in their eyes as they each were allocated a house by the chief of their group. After inspecting their house, one by one they tried out the new metal water pump, placing metal cups or their cupped hands under the pumped water, laughing like children as they did so.
Possibly the most moving moments came as it was time for the group to be helped back onto the two flat back trucks that had bought them along the bumpy sandy road to the site. Struggling with damaged hands, many with barely any fingers, each person locked their new house with its key. And these were not just new houses but first houses. The first time any of the group had owned a house of their own, amongst a community who valued and supported each other. No longer would they be at the mercy of a landowner who may evict them from their make shift houses at any time. Now they each had a home.
Yes, home is a much stronger word than house. It communicates so much more doesn’t it? It’s a pity I can only remember the French for house: maison. I must look up home when I finally return to mine later today.