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I was sitting on a bench mindlessly swatting flies away from my feet, waiting. I had already greeted all the people in the area and was just observing at this point, waiting for the tailor to finish sewing a dress. A mother was seated on the concrete porch leaning against the pillar eating and feeding her son. She took a piece of meat from the bowl and handed it to her son. He couldn’t have been more than 2 years old. He extended his little arm to grab the beef. His mom swatted it away but still held the meat in her hand for him to take. He reached again, again she swatted. Why can’t he take the meat? She grabbed his right arm and plopped the meat in his palm. Ooooh, he tried to take it with his left hand. Bad boy.

Yorubas have a complex about the left hand, owó osì. They believe it is the dirty hand used for dirty jobs like wiping after easing yourself. If you give someone a present with your left hand, especially an old person, he or she will give you an evil glare and refuse the gift. Accepting things with your left hand is taboo too. Always shake with your right hand. Yorubas have respect for the right hand as the hand you eat with and do other important jobs. The left hand gets no respect. Two of the students on our program are lefties and eating in public always brings many questions. This is not to say all Yorubas are right handed. Lefties exist, but they are not too common. In an effort to revive the use of the left hand and improve its reputation, Yorubas call it owó aláàfià, which means hand of peace. For the record, I am a righty.

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