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Sad News

Yesterday, as I was working at my desk, I received a phone call from H.H., the young man in T----- to whom we had given the radio.  "Hello, Hannatu," he said.  "My father died in the night."

Our lives have been entertwined with those of this family for most of the 16 years we lived in that village.  At first they lived across the street from us.  The mom and I got to know each other a bit.  She was very pregnant with her 6th child when she came to me one day with the then youngest child.  He had just been kicked in the face by a donkey.  His cheek was gashed open, so I took him to the dispensary.  They scrubbed the wound out well, but had no sutures to do stitches.  When I asked for a tetanus shot for him, they said they didn't have any available.  In spite of it all, the wound never got infected, but he sports a scar on his cheek to this day.  We left for home assignment a day or two later and just a day or two after that child #6 was born.

When we returned from that home assignment, they had moved across town, but it wasn't long before they moved back, this time right beside us.  They are squatters on the land there and live in a grass hut.  They have no latrine or toilet on their land.  They are truly the poorest people I personally know.

Suzanne between the two youngest girls and with a grandchild (the girls' niece!) on the right
Suzanne and two of the girls, Z and M, grew up together.  Instead of going out the gate and all the way around to enter the other compound, they would just climb the adjoining wall and jump into each others yards.  Often Suzanne would come home and tell me that they weren't cooking supper. She knew it was because they didn't have any food, so she would take them some rice to cook.   One day the mom came and told us, with great embarrassment, that they hadn't eaten for three days.

My friend.  A few weeks ago when we went up to visit, she saw me getting out of the car and literally came running across the yard to give me a hug.  That kind of display of emotion is very rare.
I began slipping some money to the mom whenever I could and she began coming into our yard and sweeping it every day.  I never officially hired her to do that or even asked her to do it.  It was simply her way of repaying us for our generosity to them.

When Suzanne was about 14, M, who is about the same age as Suz, was married.
M not long before she was married
Her older sister, Z, had already been married.  M eventually moved to Ghana with her husband.  The spunky baby of the family, A, is now living with her big sister.

The mom, the son H.H., and the daughters all show a real interest in spiritual things. None of the women have really come right out and said they are believers, but their grasp of and their hunger for spiritual things makes me feel that their understanding is greater than we think.

We did not know the dad as well.  The mom is about my age, and her husband was at least 20 years older than her.  They are part of the Fulani people group whose tradition it is to always eat alone where none but closest friends can see them.  So whenever we had feasts in our yard, such as at Christmas, the mom took food home to him as he wouldn't come eat with the group.  She was younger and not so traditional in her ways.  

Most of the last few years we were there he was really too old to do much work or to provide for the family. About a year ago when we went to visit, he was not well at all and seemed to be mentally unbalanced.  While we sat and visited he kind of leaned over and started crying.  They told him to stop and he did.  But he would wander off and the neighbors across the street told them that if he wandered into their yard again, they would kill him, cutting his neck like they would a goat.  They were just was a classic example of oppression of some of the earth's poorest people.

We were there a few weeks ago and spent time with them.  The old man sat with us, but didn't really participate much in the conversation.  Their grass hut was falling down and we gave them some money to fix it.

The mom has two married daughters living near by.  Her son is now about 18 and living at home.  One daughter, who is about 15, is at home and still going to school.  Two other daughters are married and living in other countries, and the littlest daughter is living with one of her sisters.  Probably not much will change for her financially since he couldn't provide for them anyway. But she will miss him.  In the evenings when our windows were open, we could hear them talking to each other as they sat outside their hut.

It's hard to be here so far from my friend at this time when family and friends gather to mourn with them. 
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