Friday, January 29, 2010

Missed It

I missed an opportunity the other day. But by the time I recognized it, the moment had passed and I’ve been regretting it ever since.

We were on a trip to visit several languages projects in the south-western part of Burkina and had stopped for a quick breakfast at a well-known rest stop in Boromo on our way back to Ouaga. We sat on metal chairs at a metal table under an open-sided hangar with a thatched roof to keep off the sun. As we were waiting for our cafe au lait and baguette with jam, I spotted a ten or eleven year old girl at the entrance gate. She was watching us, either because we were so strange-looking or more likely because she was wondering if we’d be interested in buying some of the sesame snacks she carried in a basket on top of head.

Then the coffee came and I forgot all about her until I heard a voice at my elbow. “Monsieur?” I turned to look. It was the little girl. In her hand, she held a bunch of coins to show me. They turned out to be euro coins of 5, 10, and 20 cents. She wanted to know if I would exchange them for her.

I often get young men trying to do the same thing whenever I go to the airport here in Ouaga to pick up or deliver passengers coming to our Centre. Since I have no immediate use for these coins, and don’t know the correct exchange rate anyway, I always brush them off with a repeated “No thanks.” By now it was such a habit with me that I did the same thing with the little girl.

She went around to the other people sitting at the table and got the same reaction. So she left.

Afterwards, as we were getting ready to get back into our vehicle, she appeared again in an attempt to sell me the coins. Once again I reacted out of habit and refused. But I did buy a little package of sesame snacks to at least encourage her in a small way.

It was as we were driving away that I realized what an opportunity I had blown. What I should have done was been a little kinder to a little kid trying to make a few pennies instead of brushing her off as a nuisance I didn’t want to be bothered with. Unlike many such vendors, especially older ones, she wasn’t irritating or annoying or trying to rip me off by having me pay some exorbitant amount for a trinket. I should have at least asked her name, and paid the few hundred francs it would have cost me to exchange her small handful of euro coins. They were certainly of more use to me than they ever would be to her! I could always use them the next time we’re passing through the Paris airport and need to buy a bag of potato chips or a drink for $5 :)

Someone has said that we learn best from our mistakes. I sure hope that I’ll recognize the next opportunity when it comes along!

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