Saturday, October 6, 2012

Two Roads Overcame the Hyena

Drawing found at
West Africans love to speak in proverbs and fables.

And any time I actually use one of the common proverbs here... in the local language, and in the right circumstances, my Nigerien friends just love it. 

They love it too, when I goof up and misapply a saying, but that is for entirely different reasons.

I think this love of proverbs is part of their more relational, only-indirectly- confrontational-while-trying-hard-not-to-cause-a-friend-or-someone-valued-or-important-to-lose-face-and-be-shamed centered culture. I love that aspect of living here - communication that is very other centered... although frustration mounts rapidly when I just can't wrap my mind around the point of a particular proverb being shared... 

Here's one of my favorites - a short fable found in many different African languages: I heard a  naturalist at the local zoo tell this one to a group standing outside the hyena cages:
"A very hungry hyena went out on the plains to hunt for food. He came to a branch in the bush road where the two paths veered off in different directions. He saw two goats caught in the thickets at the far end of the two different paths. With his mouth watering in anticipation, he decided that his left leg would follow the left path and his right leg the right path. As the two paths continued to veer in different directions he tried to follow them both at once. Finally he split in two." (This and many other proverbs and fables can be found at .)

Do you know a proverb from your mother language or home culture 
that says essentially the same thing? 
I'm thinking of one...

What are some things you do to try and conform to or show acceptance and appreciation for your adopted culture?


  1. Wow, it would be both interesting and challenging to not only have to master a language, but proverbs too! I keep thinking if I know any in Russian but am drawing a blank. There are cliches and idioms, but people don't really use proverbs in normal speech.

    Something that I try to do to conform to our culture is take the social cues on how women should dress. Granted, I don't take the cues that say that it is good to wear super short skirts and low cut shirts, but I do dress up a lot more than in my relaxed home culture of Seattle. I've also gladly accepted the cultural norm that it is ok to go out for dessert with friends in the morning as a way to connect. Always working hard to embrace the culture and connect with people on their terms! ;D

    1. Hey Ashley!

      I've still got so far to go in being able to use the language like that, but it is fun to try. :-) One of the missos I really look up to, respect and admire spouts proverbs... he even makes up his own! And the people just love him.

      I also try to be sensitive to how women dress - but have also learned that sometimes it is OK for me to be who and what I am... an expat American living in another culture. Obviously, that isn't at church or when I'm visiting my friends' parents' house... I've not really thought about it a lot, but I wonder if I haven't adopted that mindset a little bit because I don't want my kids to feel like they can't be themselves, either. Guess it is a balancing line to walk between being yourself but also becoming all things to all people, eh?