Last year near the end of my visit to West Africa, I was up in northern Cameroon and a few of my Fulbe friends had come to see me off. We were living near a missionary there, and he had a young intern missionary working with him – and this young intern had a young friend from Ontario, Canada visiting him.
This young Ontarian was in the oil business, working on the rigs in various places. He was a non-stop-talker, always with a funny story, told with great bombast and verve. He was fun to be around, but a little unnerving at the same time, because you never quite knew what he was going to say next. He was, in North American parlance, “a piece of work.
I told this to my friend the Wakili just before he was to meet him. “I will not tell you what ‘a piece of work’ means,” I said, “because I think you will just figure it out when you meet him yourself.” He met him soon enough.
Our young friend came bounding in and proceeded to tell us his latest story. He had been travelling across the country with an oil rig friend, and had been told to avoid the fish when ordering food. They were in a small town and were having no luck with the restaurants there. One after another they were told they had no food available for them (often you need to let them know ahead of time that you are coming).
Finally they came to one restaurant where they were told they had a choice of fish or bush meat. Our young friend knew that fish was out of the question, so he ordered the bush meat. In due time out it came – a monkey’s arm, complete with monkey fist still attached to the end.
Our friend stared at it, nonplussed for just a moment (it is hard to shock him enough to quieten him down), and then figured, “Hey, I’m hungry” and went to it! (This was just a couple of years after the Ebola crisis swept through West Africa and the USA.)
Well, we had a good – albeit nervous – laugh at that story, and when we got back to our rooms I asked the Wakili what he thought. “Yes,” he agreed, laughing. “He is a piece of work.”
Some things don’t need to be translated.