An Franck W., Anfang August 2013, Niamey, Niger
After six days in the village Moussa and I returned to Niamey yesterday afternoon. I want to find out what happened to that heavy black sutecase of mine, which you shlepped so faithfully to the airport for me. In the evening Moussa and I had a long talk of the kind you cannot (or only with lot's of difficulties) have in the village where all the walls have eyes and ears.
Moussa had already told me, that people in Makalondi were talking about us after I had left in March, but I didn't know, what he told me yesterday night.It's the continuation of the terrible homefobia story.
At the end of April or in early May Moussa was called by the Imam who is in charge of local morals and behaviour. The guy told him, that they would have a reunion about Moussa. When he asked, what the problem was, the Immam said, it's your relationship with that white man. These reunions are something like religious tribunals. The state is not involved nor the police, but that doesn't make it any better.
Next day Moussa gets up. He thinks, should I run away? No. Should I lye? No. Should I tell the truth? Yes... He takes the old notes he took in the coranic school - an excerpt of the Coran I guess - and goes to the meeting. He is scared, when he sees, that there are about 60 people sitting there and waiting for the tribunal. "good" neighbours and "friends", people who joke with you in the street ... 60 people. That was much more than he had expected. Well. The Immam says, that they thought he was selling his body for money to me. Why if not because of that would he always sleep on my side instead on the side of his wife ... So they ask: Did you sleep with him? Moussa says: yes, I did, but not in the way you think. How can I let him sleep alone. I am his eyes and hands. If he needs something in the night, I am on his side to help him. Do you love him? Yes of course, I love him very much. He is my father and my friend. Do you touch each other? Of course. Why should I not touch him. God has made this love. Why should I hide it or be ashamed of it. The Immam starts to scream: "How dare you say, that God made this love! There are hundreds of men and boys in the village. Maybe this has gone on for years...". The Immam quotes from the Coran and Moussa fumbles through his notebook and responds. The Immam keeps screaming and yelling. People around him start to shout, he should be stoned. Moussa is all quiet and doesn't respond any more. "Had I continued to talk, they would have killed me". After a while he asks the Immam to stop talking if he could, because he couldn't take any more of his words ... Finally the Immam decides, that Moussa has to pay for the fact that he had abbandoned his wife for no reason. What ever the two of us do or don't do on this matrace, during the night his place is with his wife. Because of his shameful behaviour and because of the doubts they still had in regard to him and me, Moussa should recieve 100 whips (one hundred!!!) on the back or, if he chose so, he should pay a bull to wash up his sin. Moussa said, he'd pay the bull. The wipping would have been public and it would have been the end of him and his family in Makalondi. The sacrifice of the bull was public, too, but the connotations with the sacrifice are different. We are all sinners, so maybe Moussa wanted to be especially generous toward God and make a great sacrifice. What exactly his sin or his problem is ... o, about his wife and about his white friend ... They know, but it's sort of more distant.
Moussa says, he didn't want to tell me about this on the phone. It was too hard for him. He says, that he knows, that what we feel for each other and the way we express it is no sin, but for the others it is. "They don't think. They don't know. They are mean and stupid." His Marabou friend Amadou (an ever smiling guy who runs one of the more respected Coranic Schools in Makalondi) is pretty much the only one, who tells him not to listen to the blabla of the others. Amadou is kind. it would be great (but maybe too much to expect), if he had a big heart and guts, too!
The family is quiet. His brothers in law didn't go to the reunion. "They are too ashamed, because they feel, that something happened in the midst of their family. Something which should not have happened. What kept the people in the reunion from going totally crazy, Moussa says, was his emphasis of my helplessness and of his obligation to help. This they somehow understand and accept although they still believe that there is more to the story."
The bull cost about 1500 francs. Moussa had to take all the money he had out of his bank account. I knew, that his sister Umu was sick and that she was in the hospital in Niamey for about one week. Then, after the incidence with the doctor and one week of prison, they all went to Gao to Moussas father, who is old but who still has a lot of authority and protective power. All this costs money: the father is poor, so you have to bring him food and leave him some money. Umu is poor and she has three children ... But I was still surprised and a bit irritated, that Moussa was completely blank, when he met me at the airport. Now I know, why. They kill the bull and distribute the meat to the "taliban", the poor boys who spend their days memorizing some Coranic verses and begging for themselves and for their Marabou. How much the Immam and his friends ate before giving the rest to the poor I do not want to know.
Today we have had several talks about the future. The last few days I slept by myself outside the house and Moussa was in the bedroom with his wife. When we decided to do this, I didn't know about the tribunal, but I already felt in February, that he had to be with Eisha. At that time I wasn't thinking about the rumors and possible dangers, but just about his relationship with Aisha and her need to have some private moments with Moussa as well.
Moussa knew, that people had started to gossip, but we both never expected that the community would react so quickly and so histerically. I told him, that even if we are very careful from now on and even if he never sleeps on the same matrace with me again, suspicions and hatred would not dye down as long as I spend more than just a few days every now and then in the village. He says, so what. If they try again, he will take them to the police to know once and for all, what rights he has. But he is of course not enthusiastic about such a last resort move (and I am not either, at least not before we don't know the legalities of all this). So it's about me disappearing from his life and reducing our relationship to a hotel-distant-relation-lovership, where I would see him every now and then, when I feel like wasting some money in some senegalese or ivory coast hotel ... or it's about helping him and his family settle down in Niamey, Ouaga or Gao or some other place. This is what he would do if he had the money, for he never liked life in Makalondi very much, and his wife (who grew up there and has all her family there) told me last year, that she wouldn't mind to move to a city. She would of course miss her family, but she would also be glad to be away from them. Since Gao is Moussas fathers city his heart is there. Even if all this hadn't happen, Makalondi feels more and more like a "no-future-place" to me, too. However: resettling in a big city takes money and a super smart guy or both if you don't want to end up in the gutters.
So that's where we are at the moment. Of course I feel very sorry for Moussa. he plays it cool, because crying wouldn't help, but he says, that of course, all this hurts a lot.
In the meantime we agreed to return to the village in a couple of days and celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the new (mouslim) year there. Then we will go to Burkina, Togo and Benin, where I want to see some people and visit some projects. He will accompany me as my guide and we will think about what to do, while we travel. I think it will help both of us to get away from Niger for a while. He says, too much thinking won't help. Love is there and that's all that counts. I guess we will have to walk a middle ground ...
I am really shocked that this could happen. What if Moussa would be less clear about all this? When he returned from the meeting he threw the notes away which he had taken in the Coranic School and which he had always guarded in his suitcase ever since. I found them by chance a couple of days ago and when I mentioned it, he laughed. "Yes, enough is enough." This is not to say, that he has given up his naïve belief in Allah and his almighty will and power. But his God is not the one the Imam was talking about, that's clear.
O shit. I am afraid, honeymoon is over for us and my enthusiasm to find a life here has taken quite a blow. It's sad, but now we know and we will see where to go from here. Here in Niamey the homofobic intellectuals, there in Makalondi the religious fanatics.
Good night for now. Don't worry too much. I think, we are safe. Right now it's rather a question of emotional survival and of finding a new place for the future or make Makalondi livable. - Martin