Monday, March 9, 2009

We came home from church and we knew something was wrong. Something wasn’t quite right in Mohammed’s voice as he took the keys to open the gate for our car. “I think he’s sick,” Jennifer said. “It sounds like he’s losing his voice.” We pulled the car into the yard and started into the usual Tamajeq greetings:

« Matola? » (How are things ?)
« Alharas » (Fine)
« Mani aréwin? » (How is the family ?)
« Alharas » (Fine)
« Mani barrera ? » (How are the children ?)
« Alharas » (Fine)

After I had more or less exhausted most of my Tamajeq, I started, “…and your health?” He drew closer and said “ Excusez-moi patron, but yesterday I took my salary to the market to buy food but when I got out of the taxi… it was gone. The children haven’t eaten today because there’s no food…”

I didn’t doubt his story—he was obviously upset. Most people take their monthly salary to the market to buy a 50 kg sack of rice for the month, if they can afford it. With the little that’s left they will pay the rent, and try and find something to make a sauce to on the rice. Taxi’s which function more like a bus, picking up as many people as they can along fairly fixed routes, are notorious for getting robbed in—people are crammed into little Toyota hatchbacks where they inevitably jostle up against one another.

Mohammed asked for three quarters of next month’s salary as an advance. It wouldn’t have been a problem to come up with the money but I didn’t want him getting that far into debt to me. Jennifer and I discussed it together and decided that maybe the best way was to buy the sack of rice ourselves and give it as gift—and then give a small advance so he could cover some of his other expenses.

The next day we picked up a sack and delivered it to the little thatched hut where he lives with his family. He graciously invited us in for tea. As we sat and waited I watched his children snuggle up to the sack of rice as a pillow or a teddy bear. Friends came in to share the tea as Jennifer watched his wife weaving together plastic ribbon around a twig to make a keychain. She’ll sell them on the street for 100 francs a piece—that’s about 25 cents.

As we talked Mohammed explained that his children weren’t in school because they don’t have birth certificates. Only children born in maternity wards get birth certificates (you have to pay to get into one), and without a birth certificate children aren’t admitted into school. For those born in the bush or at home, an application must be filled with two witness to certify the identity of the child. It costs about $30-$35 and must be done in the locale where the child was born. In the case of Mohammed’s children that would be a five hour trip (by bush taxi) out of town for an illiterate man to fill out paperwork. We are considering the possibilities of making the trip with him… His children are 4 and 7.

Pray for Mohammad and his family that they would see Jesus in us.

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