To Franck W., in December 2012, Makkalondi, Niger
There are about two hundred children and adults swirling around ... well, maybe it's only three ... the noise level goes up and down in unpredictable gushes; it can be totally peaceful and quiet in one moment and in the next everybody is screaming on top of their lungs from granpa down to the smallest baby.
The women are with the children, preparing food, talking to children, filling buckets with water. The men are going and coming in pursuit of happyness: going to the market to chat a bit and see what's new and maybe find some work here or there; going to the farmacy to fetch some medication for a child or a sheep or the wife; going to the field to chat with some people who one day may sell you a piece of there property Insha Allah ... The simplest things may take for ever. The man who sells the medication may have left his booth for a moment, so you sit down on one of these ever present wooden benches, drink another nescofy or tea, chat with some friends ... Finally - after an hour or two - you decide, that it's not worth waiting any longer, so you return home with no medication. Maybe you have to go right back, because there's no more sugar. Well, the sugar you get close by. That's zaff zaff! Quick quick. And in deed: sometimes it's only a matter of five minutes, but then again, if you meet some one in the street and he asks you to come and see the wall he has just finished and to greet his older brother who has come from some other town a couple of days ago, you cannot just say, sorry, I got to go. You have to go with him, stand in front of the wall, sit down, have tea and chat So the quick quick may be two or three hours, too. In the meantime the things you wanted to do at home are not being done, the people who are here to help sit around, drink tea and wait for action. Why worry, why hurry. It's all in God's hands.
It seems, that things have gotten worse since my last visit, because last time Moussa had only a small grass house. Not much space to hoste family for a day or a month or a year and not much luxury for neighbours who drop by for a cup of tea and a chat. This time it's differnt. There is a big courtyard with a house and the paddio in front of the house, a toilet on the other hand, a shade for the sheep and the donkey ... In other words, there is luxury and much space... for neighbours to visit and chat, and for all members of the family who need a place to stay. One of them being Umu, one of Moussa's older sisters with her three little children. her husband died in June and since then she and her children live with Eisha and Moussa. She speakks some french and she enjoys to laugh. She's presently looking for a new husband, to get her stranded ship afloat again. I am the candidat number one if I just said yes. So far I have resisted, but they don't give up easily.
This is the picturesque outside of things. Inside it's about Moussa and me. He is determined to come to europe with me - not to stay, but to meet my family, especially granfather, and my friends and to see, what my life in Suisse is all about. I tell him, that we will decide in a few weeks, but not now. First we have to see, how thing are going and then we have to discuss the pros and cons of such a trip. For him this is all nice and good, but it doesn't count. He has decided and he is determined to not let me go back alone again. We are joking about his stubberness and his refusal to take my concerns and worries serious. It's not a bad fight and not at all unpleasant. It's like you say "no" to a child, who wants a peace of cake. You have your reasons and they are good reasons, but while you keep saying "no", you already know, that the child will win at the end. I guess it falls into some sort of sweet masochistic pleasure ... It feels pretty sweet anyways. And it's of course more than that.
Moussa loves me a lot - what ever that means. His words are sweet and his tuch is sweet as well. I am more careful with the word "love" than he is, but then again: I am a European University Graduate, a guy who grew up in a culture which produced a philosopher who said: I am thinking, therefore I am. Here it's the culture of burning hearts: I feel it, therefore itt must be - now! Zaff zaff, quick quick! An as far as consernes and possible difficulties are concerned, there is Allah, who takes care of all things.
I observe Moussa in his daily life. I see, that he is really kind and when he has a plan, he is a fervant worker! When we clash, which happens every now and then, we are able to talk and resolve the issues at hand quite quickly in a fair and "adult" way. We agree in many basic issues and it seems Moussa and I share the same core values - inspite of his muslim practice and believe and inspite of all cultural and social differences between us.
In faculties and habits we differ a lot. I am a swiss clock in human shape, and although I am not a very good business man, I am also a very profit oriented person. Moussa is not. He recognizes the value of economic thinking and of good planning and time keeping, but he is a beginner in these departments, and my reasonable self tells me, that he will probably never become very good at it, and I will have to live with the fact, that he will always have a more fluent sense of time and a more chancy way of dealing with money. Things like "four hours" or "three minutes" or "January 2nd" like so many other abstract concepts we are used to living with just don't mean much to him. The other day for example he was very surprised, that the numbers people use when they are talking about bricks are the same numbers they are using, when they talk about CFA, and that the counting works just the same. This goes into the field of illiteracy. He deals with numbers and so far I always assumed, that he knows what he is talking about. But since I am here I have seen, how unstable his abstract knowledge of numbers is. Sometimes I am totally shocked! How can you have ten bills of 10.000 CFA and count ten thousand, twenty thousand, thirty thousand ... then, looking at me hesitatingly: two thousand? ... o! sixty three thousand ... I am trying to understand what's going on and why his counting skills derail so easily. Maybe numbers are only really well established up to twenty or so. The rest is a mix of words, experience, guessing and trust in the other. To me it's almost inconceivable that a grown up man, who is quite capable and bright in so many things has difficulties to understand that ten times two thousand equals twenty thousand. But for Moussa, such a calculation is a major operation and you can't be sure, that he decides, the result should be 60.000 or maybe 18.000.
I have simular problems to understand, why reading or writing might be a very tricky thing. Moussa has started a couple of times with some illiteracy program, but in his head there's just a very mysterious chaos of knowing and guessing and not knowing. He seems to understand, why B + O + B + O means Bobo - A town in burkina he knows quite well. But when I ask him what B + O is, he might say: Dori or maybe bébé. The most simple operations in my view seem totally obscure to him. it is as if he has not yet grasp some basic ideas about the whole thing, for instance, that letters make certain sounds. He looks more at a whole word, not at the symbols the word is made up from. Another thing is the tendency to fall into the student mode, which consists to 99% of repeating what the teacher says and of doing, what he asks you to do, but not of critical, active participation. The brain is thereby in somesort of stand by, and when it is really bad, I seriously doubt about Moussa's IQ. It's not, that my lovers all need to be Einsteins, but a nice muscular body and smooth skinn alone don't do it to me in the long run. Maybe there is a deficit I just don't get or it's the normal process of understanding the art of reading and writing.
I do not doubt about his intelligence, when we talk about AIDS around here or about the role of women or the existence of sorcerers. In such things he is usually very observing, he knows a great deal and looks at things in a very open minded way.
So this is Moussa, who spoils me as a lover as much as is possible in the village and who keeps saying, he would dye or become mad, if I would disappear from his life. I am writing all this in a rather cool tone, as an observer from outside, because I realize, that I need to become clear about how far I want to go with all this ... "just a little more" seems not a good enough answer. Moussa sayss, we are made to be together, and I basicly agree, except that our lifes are too seperat and too different to be made into one. Where would we live? What would he and what would I do? And what about his immediate family and the obligations he has toward all the rest of them. Currently we are feeding about 18 people. Nine of them are family of Eisha, who live nearby and cannot support themselves. Then there is Moussas father in Gao plus a hole bunch of relatives ... Part of the question, what our future could look like, includes of course the economic side of it all, for it is clear, that as long as I do not draw very clear lines, all the family and family additions will look at me as their main supporter. Now they look at Moussa, but behind Moussa there is Martin. If I had a steady income I would mind less, but with the little money I make these days, I am not interested in this job. But, can Moussa learn to manage his things in such a way, that he will eventually make enough money to support at least himself and his wife plus his two children? And speaking of them: how do they feel, when they are suddenly figures on the side. Sure, as long as Moussa provides money, the most important thing is garanteed and Eisha would say yes, if Moussa and I decided to spend three months away from Niger. But what after these three months? He has a lover and he can mary an other woman if he wants. But Eisha needed to get a divorce to do this. Well, since they are only maried by the Imam, not before the state, divorce is not so difficult to get, when they both agree. But is this, what I want: Moussa unrooted as my appendix somewhere in Europe, a young woman without man maybe for ever, a relatively happy family missing their father ... The burning heart says: let's just do it. We will see where all this leads to, but the cautious mind says: man, don't hurry. Give the whole thing some more time. Even the trip to Europe is premature, as much as Moussa wants it. First he has to get his things in order here, then he can leave for a while. As it is, he leaves a lot of unfinished things behind, trusting that Allah will take care and ... pay? Well... He knows my situation and he accepts, that my means are limited, but the limits are not clear - not too me and not to him ...
So this is the inside of the exotic outside. I am in it with all of me ... My sense of time is dissolving, and with them all my ideas, what I could and would do here. I am slowing down, getting used to waiting, drinking tea, dozing off a bit, not exactly knowing what day it is and what date we have and how many days ago exactly Eisha lost her baby ... because, yes, she did lose a baby four or five days ago. She was in her forth or fifth month. It's one of the many things which just happen and which people deal with all the time. Death and birth. Moussa says he knows no woman who has not lost at least one child - already born child, this is. If it is only one, the woman would be lucky. Better count that a third of your children do not grow up to be adults. There is dyeria and palu and snakes and bad medicin and sorcerers according to most people aroun here. How make mid- and longterm plans! If I hadn't been here, Moussa would have had to sell one or two of his sheep to have the money for the hospital. People smell it, when you have to sell fast, so you're practically throwing your sheeps away, or you risk the life of your wife trying to get a fair deal... Well. Eisha has recovered. For the moment all is well. I am slowly adapting to the new situation.
Moussa and a cousin of his plus two helpers have started to wall in another piece of property, which Moussa has bought last year. We want to make a vegetable garden there. Vegetables are rare in Makalundi. Many things are being brought from the capital, and the few gardens in Makalundi are far away from here. So we hope that we will soon have many customers ...
Enough for now. I assume you're in the States. Has the world come to an end over there or in Europe. Here I have not noticed anything except the quite gloomy situation in Mali, which people down here feel a bit - not because of any political disputes or islamic unrest, but because of the many refugees from up there. Food prices have gone up and Niamey seems much more crowded then half a year ago.
Well. Let me know how you're doing and how your Paris life has been these days? How was Bujumbura and Rwanda? How are you and how is Cathrin? - Big hug and have a nice christmas ...