As a Third Culture Kid living in Africa, I would sit in the shade with my father when visitors came.
One day, a trusted employee named André stopped by.
As was normal in the Mossi culture, discussion unfolded at length in a friendly manner, while we drank cup after cup of water.
When the conversation wound down, André at last stood to leave.
It was only then that the aim of his visit became known.
A wedding was approaching, and André wanted to ask my dad for help in transporting bags of sorghum (a type of grain).
The pair sat down again to discuss.
My father told André that while he would like to help, he was unfortunately very busy and couldn’t take the day off that the bad roads would require to transport the grain.
André left and, from that day onward, their relationship was broken.
My father’s trusted employee and cohort now avoided him like the plague.
My father wondered what he’d done wrong. He felt helpless and couldn’t change what happened.
He also couldn’t find fault in what he had said or done.
He understood he’d had a monkey moment but wasn’t sure what his blunder was.
He really was busy and, on such short notice, couldn’t accommodate André’s request. He had explained and apologized for this.
No matter how hard he tried, his relationship with André didn’t improve.
At a loss, my father sought out his zookeeper for assistance.
The Zookeeper Explains
Freeman Kabore was born of noble blood from Ouagadougou.
He spent time studying in Europe and so had familiarity with both cultures; the perfect quality in a zookeeper.
When my father told Zookeeper Freeman about what had unfolded between him and André, Freeman taught him something about Mossi culture.
An important request like this one should not be refused upon sight.
Instead, one should take the time to consider the request – or at least have the courtesy to appear to take the time to consider it.
If my father had told André, “I will think about it. Please come back tomorrow, and I will let you know,” and then, the following day, kindly declined, this would have been acceptable in Mossi culture.
To the Mossi, this face-saving formality shows your friend the respect he deserves.
Being delivered a direct “no” is considered rude and inconsiderate.
With help from Zookeeper Freeman, my father learned an important norm of the Mossi culture, one that would save him from further monkey moments and help him maintain valuable friendships.
Next week, we’ll talk about Third Culture Kids: the ultimate zookeepers.