5 Dec 2022

"Salam aleikum. Comment ça va?"
"Oh, she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t speak any Arabic either," the nursing student explained.
"Jam!" I attempted.

Her face brightened and she returned the greeting. She and the student were able to exchange a few Arabic phrases and then the husband returned and we were able to clarify what she had been trying to tell us.

Today, the garde de malade (the family member of the patient) immediately recognized me and smiled. "Jam, Nasara!" "Jam koureman…?" I tried to say something that remotely resembled the appropriate response. She beamed back at me, holding up her phone, and I wondered if my feeble attempts at speaking Fufulde were now caught on grainy cell phone video. One student asked the other if she knew any Fulfulde. "No, of course not," she scoffed. "Where would I have learned that??" "Maybe right here in Béré," I commented. A melting pot where patients and employees come from various parts of the country, various people and language groups, and in some cases (in this case), from neighboring countries. A few minutes later while the student and I sorted through the patient’s medications and lab results, the sister stood and took my hand and handed her phone to the patient, asking her to take a picture of her with the Nasara.

Two words. But she wasn’t grading my fluency. To someone who speaks a language that isn’t an official language in either of the two countries between which she regularly travels with her nomadic family, hearing a foreigner attempt to greet and thank her in her own language became a bridge. Now she had a connection with a foreigner, apparently worth celebrating with a photo together!