Today I spent the morning filling out forms for a federal background investigation. Then I spent the afternoon in meetings. Until 7pm. Not the sort of day to make you glad to be leaving work so late, though I've had worse. Then I get outside and I have a flat.
It's difficult to describe how that made me feel. I've been sick for over a month, nothing serious but constant low-grade unpleasantness. I'm tired. It's been a long, long day. Work has been extra demanding, extra draining, extra futile it seems sometimes, and here I have a flat, and thanks to my friend buying me a full-size tire for a half-size spare, I have nothing to replace it with. I have already turned down two dinner invitations tonight because I want nothing more than to go to bed, and now this. Ugh.
And then two guys, Ousmane and Ibrahim, offer to help me out. Before moving here if that had happened (and let's face it, in the U.S. it wouldn't have) - I'd have said no. I'd have felt weird...less of a man I suppose*...accepting help for such a thing. I should be able to change my own tire. Heck, I help OTHER people when they need their tire changed.
That's not still the case, and I don't know if that's more because I live here or because I wear a suit to work now, but now if someone offers to help my response is more along the lines of, "Hell yeah, that sounds GREAT!" So I said yes.
But the real turning point in the evening was when I made a conscious effort to enjoy what was happening. One of the great things about this country, something that sets it way apart from the U.S. and even apart from the rest of West Africa, is the "on est ensemble" culture. These guys were helping, not because I seemed helpless, not because they expected a return on it, but because hey, we're all people with problems, and if I can help you out I will and if someone else can help me out in turn, they will. So rather than just doing the typical American thing of either chasing them off (see previous two paragraphs) or just accepting their help and maybe throwing them a few cents, I decided to buy the guys a beer and sit with them. Sure, I was tired and just wanted to be home, but the culture here is all about recognizing other people and I've been losing sight of how important that is too often lately.
So a night that started with an inconvenient flat tire ended with two new buddies, Ousmane and Ibrahim; I know where they live, I know where they come from, I know about their kids, I know about their dreams. They know about my work, they know about my love life, they know about my history.
What a good night.
*I also only thought "gender roles" were a consideration when casting a play, but that's a post for another time, I suppose.