Lion and Guinea Fowl had been friends for many years. One day, Lion was chosen to be king of the animals. Lion sent one of his children to share the good news with his friend Guinea Fowl. Lion also sent word that he needed to wear a crown decorated with guinea fowl feathers. And so Guinea Fowl was asked to give all his feathers for the king’s crown.
Guinea Fowl was embarrassed and frightened by the request. But what else could he do? He couldn’t refuse. So, with the help of his wife he plucked out all of his feathers and brought them to the king.
As a result, Guinea Fowl was very sick for a long time afterwards, and his family wondered if he might even die. But, little by little, his feathers grew back and he recovered. Over the years Lion and Guinea Fowl remained close friends. One day, Guinea Fowl’s son became very ill, and the only thing that could cure him was a lion’s pelt. But where in the world could he find a lion’s pelt? All of a sudden he remembered his friend Lion, the king.
So Guinea Fowl sent word to Lion to see if he would help them. Poor Lion was embarrassed and frightened by this request, but how could he refuse someone who had demonstrated such close friendship in the past. So Lion began to skin himself... and died in the process.
This story shows us that we should never ask something of a friend that might cost them their life.
My colleague Trista got this story from her French tutor (who was also my Lingala teacher) and after a half hour of discussion with him, she concluded that the message of the story in a Congolese man's eyes is that it's good to ask your friends for things, but you shouldn't ask too much. This is a very good thing for us to know because people are ALWAYS asking for things and it can be really annoying. But if we understand that to them it's acceptable and appropriate, we won't be so offended about it. So far no one has asked me for the skin off my back (although I have been asked for my hair!) so I guess we're doing OK.
Things people ask for include: taking them to the States, helping them find an education program (abroad or by correspondence), food, money, medicine, English lessons, phone credits, something you're wearing that they like, bus or taxi fare, etc. The person asking could be your best friend or someone on the street. I generally don't give anything to people I don't know (families are big here, they should be asking their relatives if they're really in need) but managing friends' requests is a little harder. If I follow my African colleagues' example, I will help people in need whenever I have the ability to do so. I am like a big sister to all my jobless musician friends so it's my role to help them out.
But it's not always easy to accept. Imagine if your good friends started coming to you all the time asking for things! You would get mad or feel used. It's the same for me except I have to tell myself to interpret it differently. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don't. But I'm learning.