Early Morning, Rise and Shine
Mamadou woke up with a stir. Could it be morning already? Mamadou went to bed late last night because he joined many of the village people at a ‘hirde’. It was storytelling around a campfire. Mamadou especially loved to listen to the stories that the old people told. His grandmother had related the Fulbe version of the creation of mankind. Her version of the story said that when God made the world, he created a black person and a white person. However, He was not satisfied. They just had too many flaws. Grandmother related how God stroked his beard and thought and thought, and finally he decided to create some people who were not too dark and not too white. He gave them the name called Pullo, which is singular for Fulbe. Pullo has a meaning of being righteous, and Mamadou was very proud that God had considered his people righteous, right from the start.
The mosque caller (muezzin) was calling out. “Allahu akbar…La ilaha illa Allah, Mohammed rasul Allah……….” His Qur’anic teacher taught him that the Arabic words meant…. “God is great. There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is Allah’s apostle. Wake up to success, Come, you believers in Allah, it is time to pray. Prayer is better than sleep.” Mamadou forced himself to get up. He knew that if he was to keep himself in God’s good books, he better get up. Because the village mosque was too far to walk to, he went outside and did his ablutions with a plastic water kettle. He washed his hands, forearms, the inside of his mouth, his nose, his face, his head including his ears, and his feet. He washed to make himself pure and clean before Allah, his god.
He rolled out his prayer mat and he repeated the same prayer as the mosque caller a number of times. Then he repeated some verses of the Qur’an that he had memorized. Mamadou started his prayers by standing, and then bowing to his knees, and then bowing with his head touching the ground. When he finished, he rolled up his prayer mat and read the Qur’an for a while. It was written in Arabic. This morning he read the section, or surah he had learned the day before with his Karamoko or Qur’anic teacher. It was entitled: ‘Mariyama’ on the mother of Jesus………..His teacher told him that it was more important that read in a nice singsong voice, than try to understand.
He put his Qur’an in the special pouch that hung from the wall and went outside. It was just getting light. Mamadou’s mother and his sister Aisha took their grass brooms and swept the outside of the compound. It was amazing how cold it was so he wrapped himself tightly in his coat. He walked over to his grandmother’s house which was in the same fenced in area as his place and asked, “On belike e jam?” (Did you pass the night in peace?) and she replied customarily, “Jam tun” (Peace only). It was his grandmother, Salimatou Bah who had told the story of creation around the campfire last evening. She lived in a fairly new house made of cement blocks with a corrugate steel roof. Her old house, a more traditional circular house made of mud brick with a conical roof, burned down in the dry season two years ago. The yearly dry winds that come down from the Sahara desert had whipped up a huge fire. The straw roof of her house had caught fire. Since then, Mamadou’s father found a job in the capital of Senegal. He sent money back to build the new house for his mother. The capital of Senegal was more than two days drive from the village so Mamadou rarely saw his father.
Mamadou’s mother, Aissatou, and his sister, Aisha started the fire outside and cooked manioc, a brown root from which they peeled the outer bark. They boiled the white inner part with a pinch of salt. When it was soft, they took it out and added lemon, butter, and hot peppers. It was delicious and warmed the body after a cold night. Along with the manioc, Aisha made some tea from local leaves called kankaliba. They drank it with sugar. As they ate Aissatou asked Mamadou’s mother about the story at the hirde. “Neene, (meaning mother) how come the story that Grandmother told was different from the story that the storyteller from the mission group had told?” Aisha had gone to a friend’s house in a village near the city of K***** during the last school vacation, and there she met some missionaries who were telling a Bible story every week. The lady storyteller who had read from the Bible had said that God was happy with the people he created, and that they had turned their backs on him. Aisha’s mother replied, Maybe when I hear the story myself I will be able to answer that question…………
“Mamadou are you coming?” asked his friend Souleymane from across the fence.
“I can’t find my ardoise,” (a small writing tablet) said Mamadou. Just a minute. Mamadou looked around in the semi-darkness of the circular straw-covered traditional hut that his family lived in, and found it hanging on a string behind his Qur’an. He picked it up, bent down through the low doorway, and came out into the bright sunlight of the early morning. The sunlight caught the bright orange color of the orange trees in full fruit. A few chickens scurried away as he ran through the compound. He said good-bye to his baby-brother, Ibraima, and to his mother, impatiently yanked open the gate that kept the sheep and goats outside at night, and joined Souleymane on his way to school. The red dust on the road was getting thicker because it had been seven months since the last rain. Souleymane and Mamadou took a shortcut on a footpath, as they were running late.
The air was chilly as it had been very clear the night before. The morning dew was still wet on the plants. Mamadou asked Souleymane if he saw the shooting stars the night before. Souleymane nodded. “Did you know that my grandmother calls them the sorcerer’s light, and that they are a sign of some kind of a bad happening, or the death of a great leader?” “Really,” asked Souleymane? “My grandmother says that they are stones that angels throw at little malicious spirits that are trying to eavesdrop on God, in order to scare them away from heaven.”
Although Mamadou and Souleymane lived in a strict Muslim village, there were still many people who believed in and practiced sorcery. Over in the next village lived a man with very powerful influence, called a marabout who could put spells on people. Everyone was sure that he could make good and bad luck happen. Mamadou’s parents had consulted him when his baby brother Ibraima was born. He had made a small leather pouch which enclosed some special “magical” writing and tied it on a string around Ibraima’s waist. It was said to protect him from evil spirits. Most of the newborns got one.
Mamadou and Souleymane stepped to the side of the path to allow El Hadji Alasana Diallo to pass by. They greeted him with proper respect. El Hadji had been to Mecca on a pilgrimage. This, along with his age, gave him a high status in the village. He wore a red scarf to mark that he had made the pilgrimage. As he walked along he fingered his well-worn prayer beads (like a rosary, called suba in Pular) and recited the 99 names of God. El Hadji believed that doing this would help him ward off trouble or achieve prosperity. At times El Hadji came to the Qur’anic school and told stories to the children. Mamadou loved to hear stories about how the Fulbe had conquered the highlands of Guinea 250 years ago. The hero of these stories was Alfa Ibrahima Sambegu, known as Karamoko Alfa, who had started a holy war against the spirit worshipers or animists living in the area. The stories made Mamadou proud to be a Pullo, and proud that his forefathers had converted the “infidels”.
Other boys joined them on the pathway, including Ousmane. Today he had to walk, as his bike had yet another flat tire from the sharp rocky road. He showed off his new Nike shoes that he bought with the money that his Uncle in the United States had sent him. The boys were jealous and secretly wished they could have the same. The school uniforms that they all wore, however, cut down the rivalry somewhat, and they walked proudly in their white shirts and blue pants showing that they were older and wiser than the little kids who had all khaki colored ones.
When the boys arrived at the school yard they noticed the red, yellow and green Guinea flag was already flying on the flagpole. The colors signified…red–work, yellow–justice and green–solidarity. Mamadou’s class had learned that in social studies.
The smallest children formed a circle around the flagpole. The larger children stood behind them. They sang the national anthem, entitled “Liberty”. Its words went…people of Africa… the glorious past…. let us sing the song of Guinea…. Proud and young…. Young was certainly right, as more than half of the population was less than 18 years old.
As soon as the song was finished the kids pushed their way into the school building. It was a simple brick structure with a steel tin roof. It had about 150 students in one room. All the children sat at low desks, and everybody of Mamadou’s age was seated in one corner. There was one teacher named was Mr. Sow. Although most people in the village had Diallo and Bah as last names, Mr. Sow was respected as strict teacher. He insisted on perfection, especially in writing and memory work. Today was the day that the younger students had to learn the letter “g”, and they all took out their ardoises (a black plastic writing board about the size of a textbook) and practiced writing The lessons were taught in French. Each student practiced writing the letter ‘g.’
First recess was at 10 a.m. The boys kicked a soccer ball, while some girls went to buy some small cakes or other snacks from the lady who had set up shot under a large mango tree.
Math was next, geometry for Mamadou’s age and addition for the small kids. The morning flew by and before long it was the noon recess. School was finished for the day at 2:00 p.m. The children excitedly piled out of school.
Mamadou hurried to his grandmother’s house for lunch. He had to bundle up the wood that he had collected for his Qur’anic teacher, and he wanted to review some of yesterday’s lessons from Qur’anic school. No time to sit along the side of the road and listen to some cassettes on Ousmane’s portable stereo…and no time to play…………
Grandmother’s House and Qur’anic School.
As usual, Mamadou joined his grandmother on his mother’s side for lunch after school. His buddy Souleymane came too. It was always a pleasure to eat there. Mamadou was certain that he was her favorite grandkid. As a sign of affection, she called him Cierno, her husband. Her actual husband got the name Cierno because he had memorized the whole Qur’an and translated it into Pular. Before he died, Mamadou’s grandfather told him to keep the family tradition of carrying the torch of Islam. He too should strive to be a Cierno because he was next in line. At Grandfather Cierno’s funeral, someone related the African proverb that says… “when an old person dies, it is like a library has just burned down.” He was a very wise man. At one time, Grandfather Cierno had told Mamadou that he had married his wife, because she was the best gardener in the village. That she was. She had a small garden that she tended carefully, and she grew tomatoes, hot peppers, potatoes, manioc, and other spicy plants. She grew bananas and oranges, too. Besides her garden, she had three cows. One was giving milk, but it was just a trickle during the dry season. With the precious milk she made delicious kosan. Normally, this type of yogurt was for special guests, but she served some to Mamadou and Souleymane.
Then she noted that the maafe tiga—- rice and peanut sauce with some meatballs made out of fish pounded in a mortar—- was just about ready. It had simmered over the fire all morning.
Soon some other grandchildren came around and squatted on the ground around the pot of maafe tiga. They took it out of the pot with the hands, rolled it into a ball and ate it. The spices from grandmother’s garden made all the difference. What tasty food!
Crash. Crunch. What was that noise? A large bull, startled by a spitting cobra snake, was charging toward the compound fence. Disoriented, he pushed down the fence with his horns at a weak spot. The kids screamed and scattered. Maafe tiga splashed all over the ground. Quickly Mamadou grabbed the stick with a loop on one end that they used to take down the mangoes. Souleymane yelled and hooked it over one of the bull’s horns. Together they managed to steer the bull out of the compound. “Ahah”, said grandmother to Mamadou and Souleymane, quoting one of her familiar Pular proverbs, “Even the youngest stick can be sharp…and it will stay that way to old age.” Like Grandfather Cierno, Mamadou’s grandmother had a wealth of knowledge. She knew a proverb for every occasion.
It was time to go to Qur’anic school. Mamadou wanted to arrive early to get in an extra lesson from the teacher. He bundled the wood that he had collected and walked briskly with Souleymane to the school of Karamoko Bubakar. In the dry season, school was held under a large tree that had stones around the base. Mamadou sat on the ground in front of his teacher and copied the Arabic script of the Qu’ran on his wooden writing tablet called an alluwal. Shortly, 30 other students trickled in. Reading, writing and memorizing were the subjects in this school. They used the holy language of Arabic, which the angel Gabriel used to speak the words of Allah to Mohammed. Karamoko Bubakar was a slight, thin man wearing a white robe and white skull cap. The students virtually worshiped him, because they believed he could give or withhold a very powerful blessing, called barakah that could ensure success in life. It was as if he had gotten this blessing directly from Mohammed who was known as al-Mubarak–The Blessed One. Once the students mastered the Qur’an, they could pass along this blessing. The students took out their alluwals. They copied the lesson for the day with ink made from mango tree bark. Arabic script with sword-like letters with dots and dashes and strokes swept along from right to left. When everyone had written down the text for the day, Karamoko Bubakar sat off to the side and appointed Mustafa, Souleymane’s older brother, to walk around and listen to the children reciting the verses that they had just written down. He made sure there were no lazy ones who did not recite with clear, singsong voices. He would let Karamoko know if there were children who were just going through the motions.
Karamoko reminded his students that each person had an angel on their right and left shoulders who were writing down all their good and bad deeds. The angels were present as well in the Qur’anic school. When the final judgment came another angel would ask everyone questions about his life. If a person could say they read the Qur’an, then the angel would give a more favorable recommendation. On the other hand, it was said that a son who could not read the Qur’an would bring shame on his father. Mamadou worked as hard as he could to make the letters as neat as possible and to read as clearly as possible as he wanted his angel to give him lots of good check marks. He figured that if he became a Cierno like his grandfather, then he would gain much favor with his family and also with Allah. You could never quite be sure of where you stood with Allah. He was a god who was so distant. It was seemed that everyone was trying to err on the safe side, and to do as many things as possible to impress him and gain his favor. Mamadou acted the same towards his Qur’anic teacher, showing him how much wood he brought, and how hard he had studied.
The alluwals were left in a circle around the tree. The students were free to leave. They said good-bye to Karamoko. Night was falling, and the moon light made it easy to find their way home. Together they walked and sang a song ….. “neene boobo bambi koolaru, bukongol no guso ka leydi”… “The mother of the baby carries a monkey on her back, and the tail is so long that it touches the ground.” The smaller kids danced to the tune…………
Friday at the Mosque.
Mamadou began to prepare for the day of congregational prayer at the mosque. It was early afternoon. Friday. He washed himself thoroughly at the stream and returned home to put on his best booboo. It was a long robe with fancy embroidery, made in the traditional indigo blue and white design. He adjusted his prayer cap.
Shortly, Souleymane came over and they walked in the direction of the mosque.
It was the third oldest mosque in the area. The midday sun shone brightly on the fresh coat of blue and yellow paint that the El Hadji Bouboucar family had donated to the mosque. Every family in the village gave sacrificially to the upkeep and building of the mosque. Mamadou took pride knowing that one of the four towers of the mosque was built with money from Grandfather Cierno. Muslim tradition said that a person who built a mosque would get an equally splendid mansion in paradise. The silver colored symbols of the star and crescent moon on top of the towers shown brightly. A number of the older men, called mawbe, or village elders, gathered early to discuss a proposed divorce. Needless to say, there were some unhappy families.
Mamadou greeted the people in the outer courtyard and went to the water container located outside of the mosque to do his ablutions. Hands, face, ears, mouth, nose, etc. This action signified that the people at the mosque had a deep desire to be pure in the eyes of God. Everyone left their shoes outside, sometimes causing confusion as to whose shoes were who’s. Mamadou stepped into the mosque with his right foot, as he believed that the right side of the body could bring good luck. He even made sure that his shoes had the soles face down, as that too, was said to be lucky. Although officially the Fulbe said that everything in life came by the will of Allah, practically, they spent much effort in their lives to ensure that enough good luck came one’s way to gain success in life. The interior of the mosque was essentially a square room without adornment, except for the prayer mats and a divider to separate the men and the women. With deep bows and prostrations, Mamadou finished his first prayers. Then he sat down on the prayer mat waiting for the others.
The head of the mosque, known as an imam, named Cierno Souleymane Barry made his way to the front of the mosque and faced east toward Mecca. He called everyone to pray when he said the word safa. Men formed lines shoulder to shoulder at the front of the mosque, and women formed lines with women at the back. Lining up the people served a number of good purposes. Everyone faced the same way. Everyone could do prayers without distraction and have just enough room to do them. Without any furniture, the mosque could hold a lot of people if necessary. Ever since Mamadou’s dad had left for work outside of the country, Mamadou had joined the men, for he felt like the man of the house. The prayers were repetitions of what the imam prayed followed by bowing in unison, repeating in unison, touching their heads to the floor in unison, and asking God for pardon on their knees while using their rosaries to repeat the names of God. The bowing and touching their heads to the ground showed that they were true Muslims. The word Muslim means “one who submits.” They showed by their words and actions that they were like captive slaves of Allah. By doing the actions together, the villagers showed their community solidarity. In fact they believed that each of them was a link in a chain that reached up to heaven.
After the prayer time Imam Barry invited everyone to stay outside for a talk by a visiting Qur’anic scholar. Mamadou had seen him over at the house of Karamoko Bubukar and couldn’t help being drawn to his knowledge and his passion for being a Muslim. Less than 30 years old, El Hadji Ibraihim Bah, as he was called, had already been on the pilgrimage to Mecca. His family had spent all their hard earned money to enroll him in an advanced Qur’anic school. The villagers sat on benches, mats, or on the large rocks of the courtyard. El Hadji Bah stood tall and spoke on Dar-Es-Salam. For at least 30 minutes he spoke from memory, quoting Qu’ranic verses and Muslim traditions found in the Hadiths on the concept that only submission to the will of Allah can bring peace to this earth. He said that peace would come only where Islam was the only religion. Sure, Mohammed proclaimed tolerance in his early writings, but later he encouraged the necessity of Muslims to use more aggressive means to push for its reign of peace all over the world. Every sphere of activity—-politics, science, the arts, business. No area should be left untouched. Look behind you, said, El Hadji. Look at the shape of our mosque. It has four corners. Mohammed said that we should go to the four corners of the earth, and see to it that everyone is converted to Islam.
Mamadou envied his zeal and such conviction. Certainly, he must be right…….. What about the radio program on the rural radio broadcast on Saturday evening? The speaker on the series called “Laawol Peewal Ngal,”or “The Way of Righteousness,” said that the way of true righteousness was through the sacrifice God had provided, and only that would ensure true peace with God. Mamadou left for home deep in thought…………
The trip to the city
“Hey, you’re squishing me,” said Mamadou to the mother trying to squeeze into the last space in the overcrowded Toyota van. Sure, she had a baby on her back, a few bags in her hands, and huge bag of oranges on the top of the truck, but she had paid for one seat, hadn’t she? Mamadou and the lady jostled for some space before they were ready to go. The driver walked around his van for one last check to make sure that all the baggage on the roof rack was secure. He looked twice at the sheep that was perched on the top, tied down by a piece of rope. The sheep belonged to Mamadou’s mother, and she was sending it along with him as a gift to her brother who lived in Conakry, the capital city. In the village the sheep was common sight, but in the city it was a valuable animal–especially around a feast time like Tabaski, when almost every Muslim celebrates Abraham’s sacrifice of the sheep in place of Ishmael, according to the Qu’ran.
The diesel motor came to life. Off they went. Twelve adults, three babies, five children, and 11 year old Mamadou. It was good to sit down. He had walked some 45 minutes from his village of Jawiya to the gare de voiture— an assembly place where the vehicles left for the big city. Considering that he had to take the sheep along, the walk had gone well. His friend, Souleymane had volunteered to carry his backpack containing his precious supply of kola nuts to give to his uncle in the city. Mamadou didn’t like the bitter taste of the red and purple-colored kola nuts, but it seemed that the adults liked to receive them more than almost anything else. Mamadou’s mom told him to take a few extra kola nuts along, just in case he was requested to give a gift to one of the greedy officers at the military checkpoints. Mamadou also brought along a few sticks called malanga that he and Souleymane had collected in the woods. Like the kola nuts, they too, had a very bitter taste. Many people still used them as toothbrushes. Judging by the good condition of their teeth, they must work, but Mamadou thought that it looked weird to walk around with a stick hanging out of one’s mouth.
Mamadou waved good-bye to his friend Souleymane. See you in a few weeks, God willing–Si Alla jabi–in his language, Pular. The baby on the mother’s lap beside Mamadou fell asleep in no time, and Mamadou breathed a sigh of relief. He straightened out the fancy robe that his mother insisted that he wear on the trip, although he planned to buy a Nike tee shirt as soon as he arrived in the city. He looked out the window at the countryside. Seven months into the dry season had colored everything in shades of brown. Even the tan colored cattle of the Fouta Djalon–the highland area of Guinea– seemed to blend into the dry brown grasses. The first Fulbe settlers came to this area that everyone just called “the Fouta,” with their cows in search of pastureland, and now they were a permanent sight. But these cows have an attitude. At times the driver slowed right down to a crawl as a cow with its long menacing horns stood in the middle of the road and stared down the truck. Imagine one of those horns in the radiator.
Along the winding road Mamadou saw some girls walking with tubs piled high with oranges balanced on their heads. Mamadou’s sister Aisha could do that as well, but he couldn’t, as it was really girl’s work. They drove past the town of Dalaba with its large and fancy mosque paid for by a successful businessman. Mamadou noticed that the buildings from the French Colonial period some 40 years earlier, were in disrepair. Maybe God was repaying the Fulbe Muslims for their devotion, so that was why the mosque looked better than those French buildings. They continued past small villages and Mamadou saw with pride that each village had a mosque that was either being built, or freshly painted. They crossed over a number of river bridges. Mamadou recalled that Guinea was called the “water-tower” of West Africa. At least twelve rivers had their source in the highlands of Guinea. In the river valleys the vegetation grew jungle-like–big trees, vines, and bushes, all intertwined. After one bridge a couple of boys were proudly displaying a monkey that they had caught and were offering it for sale.
After five hours in the truck, Mamadou’s cramped legs ached. The driver stopped for a snack in the town of Tamagaly. Tamagaly was nothing like the city of Labe, which they left; still lots of taxis stopped there, and the food was good. There were brochettes (small pieces of meat on a skewer), Cokes, something like small donuts, roasted peanuts, and boiled eggs. Mamadou still had his Nike tee-shirt in mind, so he bought a couple of cooked eggs, a piece of bread, and a Coke.
Refreshed, everyone piled back in the truck for the next leg of the journey. The sheep was still on the roof. The baby had been fed. It was getting hotter outside. The sun was higher, and the descent from the highlands to the coast always meant hotter and more humid conditions. Despite the heat, Mamadou liked the thrill of going to the big city, and the chance to see a movie or buy some new clothes. Sure, he would miss his family and especially his friend Souleymane and the simple village life, but his Uncle Saliou always had some interesting surprise waiting for him in the city, and that made the trip go by even more quickly…………
Arrival in Conakry
Finally, the city was almost in sight. The trip was uneventful, other than the usual crying of babies and a heated discussion between two people who had discovered that someone used trickery between their families in a business deal. Now it was out in the open. In Mamadou’s culture, being devious in order to get ahead of someone was a respected trait. However, when the truth came out, then the people had to deal with the shame of getting caught. Needless to say, each tried to prove their family was right. At the end, Mamadou sided with the person who he thought had been wronged. Past the rail line they went, and Mamadou saw that the burnt, dried six-foot-high elephant grasses revealed a place where some of the train cars had derailed. The tracks were originally used for passengers. Now they were used to ship Guinea’s rich bauxite ore to the port of Conakry where it would be shipped to aluminum-making factories. The road wound below the scenic red-rock mountains towering 3000 feet above them. It made Mamadou feel small to look up that high. Just after the familiar bottled water plant, they crossed through the bustling intersection to go to Sierra Leone, and approached the dreaded final military checkpoint outside of the city of Conakry. To the locals it was known as trente-six, because it was 36 kilometers–or about 20 miles from the city center.
Everyone wondered. Would the officers be in a good mood? Would they look carefully at everyone’s documents? They pulled to a halt behind a tractor trailer carrying huge planks of mahogany lumber from the forest region and waited. Someone must not have been too happy about paying the forestry tax so a heated discussion ensued. Soon drivers leaned on their horns. A rather flustered officer waved their magbana–taxi van– around the lumber truck. Get going. Everyone, including Mamadou, whispered yettude Allah—-thank God, and they were on their way. People were everywhere. Yellow taxis swarmed by the hundred. They looked like they had been to a demolition derby, but their drivers managed to keep them going.
All kinds of signs advertised the latest goods and services: Centre Des Études Informatiques (for a computer training school), for steel roofing material: “Five Star Factory, Metal Guinea, 15 kilometers ahead,” for car insurance, and for cigarettes. “Welcome to London”–The last sign showed some Guineans happily greeting someone in England. It encapsulated the dream many young Guineans—-to go to Europe or North America. In front of the airport and down the Auto-Route they went. They finally arrived at the huge central market, called Madina. Mamadou’s grand-frere, Amadou (actually the oldest son of Mamadou’s father’s second wife) came running up to the van and warmly greeted Mamadou. He wanted to know all about the family. Then, Amadou explained that Uncle Saliou with whom Mamadou was supposed to stay, had to leave town. He had been called for military service along the border due to rebel activity. Since Uncle Saliou’s son had malaria, Mamadou would stay for a few days with Uncle Oumar, who lived in the same neighborhood. Amadou told Mamadou to wait by the magbana, while he went to find Uncle Oumar. The sheep, who had survived the trip just fine except for looking a bit wind-burned was disoriented after touching the ground. Mamadou tied a rope to its neck. While waiting, Mamadou noticed that the driver had photos of Madonna on the back of his van and wondered what the big deal was. She looked so pale with her white skin and certainly was not very modest like the ladies in the village. On the back bumper, Mamadou noticed the words, ‘God is great,’ and he nodded.
Ten minutes later, Amadou came running up to the van holding Uncle Oumar’s hand. Was this the Uncle Oumar that his family had talked about? Was this the young man who had left the family and gone on a wild adventure for 3 years without letting anyone know where he was? Was this the Uncle Oumar who had spent time in prison for stealing, thereby bringing shame on his family? Here in front of Mamadou was a neatly dressed man. His eyes radiated peace, and he walked tall, like a man who wasn’t carrying a load of shame or who was on the run.
Let me help you with your luggage, said Uncle Oumar. They decided to send the sheep along with Amadou to take to Uncle Saliou’s house and shortly they arrived at Oumar’s little store, in the Madina market. “Sit down, tell me about the family. How is grandmother Salimatou? And what about my little sister?” Uncle Oumar wanted to know all the details. Fortunately, there weren’t too many customers today. When a customer came in, Mamadou wandered around the nearby stores and he heard something very familiar. Pular was being spoken. He found out that many of the merchants had migrated from the Fouta Djallon to the city and set up shops in the market. They were keen business people. One man named Cierno Diallo imported jeans from Hong Kong. He had traveled all over the world, and told Mamadou that there were many Fulbe in New York and in Indonesia.
Mamadou noticed that in between customers the men liked to read, drink tea and have discussions. Some were reading pamphlets in Arabic script that were like commentaries on the Qur’an. They enjoyed a type of Chinese tea, called “Special Gunpowder”. It was sweet and strong. It took a special art to make it well.
Supper time, and closing time, was near. Mamadou helped Uncle Oumar move his precious inventory of brightly colored plastic pails and washbasins into the shop. They made sure that all the locks were tightly fastened before heading to Uncle Oumar’s house.
Uncle Oumar’s Testimony
“Konk-konk, Jennabou,” called out Uncle Oumar, upon arriving at his front door. “We are here.” Jennabou, Uncle Oumar’s wife had locked the front door before lying down for a rest after preparing supper. She was expecting, and the heat of the city made her doubly tired. “Look who I brought along,” said Oumar.
“Mamadou, how you have grown,” she said. Jennabou was originally from Labe, and knew Mamadou’s family quite well. “How are you, and how is the family? Thank you so much for coming. What a treat. Come in, come in, sit down.”
Oumar explained why Mamadou could not stay at Uncle Saliou’s place. That was not a problem at all for Jennabou. She rose to turn down the volume of the Pular music on the cassette player. Oumar explained it was some songs Fulbe Christians had written to verses of the Bible, recorded in Guinea, in traditional style. Mamadou thought the upbeat songs had a lot of respect and praise for God. That was good.
Mamadou still wondered. What about the stories that he heard? Why was he told that Oumar had deserted the family and had broken the Fulbe traditions by becoming a Christian? After all, Mamadou had been told, to be Fulbe is to be a Muslim. Therefore, Oumar’s family, including Mamadou’s dad, refused to come to the wedding of Oumar and Jennabou, even though they had gotten the begrudging permission of her family.
After supper they sat out on the front porch and greeted many passersby. In the Fulbe culture it was very important to greet someone. It was never an interruption. In fact, to walk by and not to greet someone, would be an insult. So between the greetings, Oumar told his story to his curious nephew.
“……………Sometime after my return to Guinea, I needed work. It was almost impossible to find a job. Without money, my former friends avoided me. My family, as well, didn’t want anything to do with me. I was lonely. I hadn’t met Jennabou yet. I found myself drawn back to dealing drugs. It was the only way of getting an income that I knew. I was desperate. One day I went out and stood under a mango tree, and cried out to God: “Oh God, Creator of the heavens and earth, you who caused me to be on this earth, why are you allowing me to suffer like this? You see that I have no more hope to live, and I have lost everything that I had. Show me the path to follow…….
During a walk, I passed a building that I thought was a library or a cultural center. Since I was used to seeing white people in the countries that I had visited, it was not a surprise to find Pastor Camostel there. After greeting, I asked him for a book that would help me to contact people in Europe or America because I wanted to get out of Guinea fast.
Pastor Camostel offered me a booklet called “The Key to Knowing”. After I arrived home, I was disappointed because the booklet didn’t seem to meet my needs. It contained testimonies of people who had received Jesus Christ.
Reading this booklet created a greater emptiness in me. The drugs I smoked didn’t satisfy my longings. The testimonies I read in this booklet kept going through my mind, and I kept rereading them. Consequently, I went back to the center. On one of the shelves was a book entitled “God, Is He distant…?” While I was paging through the book, another person approached me. He asked Are you a Muslim or a Christian? I affirmed strongly that I was a Muslim. During our discussion he asked, Do you think that Mohammed could save you? I defended myself, “For sure!” We read John 3:16 and John 14:6 together. These verses cleared things up for me. I could see the connection between the Path that I had asked God to show me, and the words …..”For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life…….Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus said he was the path! It was as if I started to see light at the end of a tunnel.
The Qur’an states that Jesus is a prophet, the son of the Virgin Mary. Surah 3 d’Imran verse 45 says, “His name will be “The Messiah.” It would follow then, that if Jesus is the Messiah, and he is the path to God, then the answer to my prayer for a path in life would be found in Jesus.. What I had just read in the Bible completed the first part of my search. I felt built up, satisfied, and convinced. The Fulbe Christian at the center invited me to the home of another Fulbe Christian. We found him outside praying. He asked me quite directly if I would like to know Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. I said, yes. We prayed together……
Later, the Christians offered me a Bible. We met often to talk about religious subjects. I stopped taking drugs, drinking, and abandoned my intention to travel to another country. My parents were furious to hear that I had been converted. They told me they didn’t want anything to do with me. They even sent my mother, your grandmother, who pleaded with me. “Look, Oumar, it was I who carried you for 9 months. I nursed you. I cared for you in the night when you were sick. I carried you on my back. Now you want to desert me, your very own mother?” That was a very hard time. I asked God to help me to answer. I told her that I had a new Christian family and that I would follow Jesus. I would not turn back to Islam. I have not seen her in three years.
The meeting of the ‘Peuple de L’Injil’ or the People of the Gospel
Early Sunday morning, Mamadou, Uncle Oumar, Jennabou, and a small neighbor girl started on their walk to the taxi stop. They were headed to Mr. Ousmane Diallo’s home. He owned a trucking company that hauled rice, cooking oil, and other dry goods to Labe, and returned with everything from tomatoes, dyed cloth, peanuts, potatoes, and anything else that would fill the large DAF trucks. Slowly they made their way along the rutted roadway, as Jennabou was fairly far along in her pregnancy. Uncle Oumar explained that in the last rainy season the rains had forcefully eroded every bit of sand and gravel that wasn’t cemented down. People were even swept out to sea with the water’s force.
Mamadou noticed that the city had an incredible range of people, places, sights, and sounds. Everything from tin-roof shacks to gleaming tile-covered mansions with satellite dishes on top. The languages of all the 14 major people groups of Guinea were spoken here, mixed in with French, the official language. People used every sort of transportation. Some walked, some rode bicycles and motorcycles, some had battered cars, while others owned the latest model Mercedes. Some wore traditional booboos while some wore shirts and slacks and some wore rather immodest miniskirts. It looked like quite a melting pot of dress styles. Some looked very well to do; others looked very poor.
The four of them hailed a taxi and piled into the back seat with two other people. It was a hip re-arranger, to fit six people in a seat designed for 4. The driver listened to the local news and muttered about the latest corruption scandal. He said he wished for the times of the dictator Sekou Touré who had died some 15 years ago. At least back then crime seemed to be much less of a problem. However, he commented, “I might not own my own taxi as all of them would be owned by the state.” As they came through one of the market areas, traffic slowed to a crawl. A number of beggars plied their trade there. Mamadou reached out the window and handed a beggar a bill worth about 10 cents. He felt like he had done his duty —-after all, one of the 5 pillars of Islam was to give alms to the poor.
They swung around a large traffic circle and piled out of the taxi. They walked through a section of town were many of the Fulbe had settled down. Mamadou felt at home.
They arrived at Ousmane Diallo’s compound. A modest house sat on a large property. Mr. Diallo had willingly offered to open up his place for his fellow Fulbe Christians to have both their midweek and Sunday meetings. Mamadou was very curious as to what was going to happen at a Christian service. On one hand he felt obliged to attend because Uncle Oumar and Aunt Jennabou had kindly taken him in, and on the other hand he felt like he was betraying his Fulbe identity.
About 25 people showed up, and there was excitement in the air. Some came alone. Others came as families. They greeted each other like at the mosque, and they all went to a small outbuilding styled like a village hut, but made with cement and a tin roof. Customarily, they took off their shoes before entering. Mamadou didn’t notice if anyone cared about his right-foot first rule. Like the mosque, there were prayer mats and some chairs set out. The men sat on one side of the room on the mats and the women on the other. An older man also sat on a chair behind the men because he had a sore back. One of the young boys distributed a song book with songs in Pular and French. Another handed out a liturgy–like an order of service. There were times indicated in the liturgy when they were to bow, to kneel, or to hold out their hands. He also noticed that there were verses of the Bible beside those instructions, to show that they were Biblical, and not only Muslim traditions. On a bookshelf he saw books of the Bible written in Pular. Some were written in Roman script, some in Arabic script. Uncle Oumar told him that the believers were just going over the final drafts of the New Testament–called the ‘Linjiila’– making sure it was written in the best Pular possible. The Bible written in his own language? That was different.
After a call to prayer, the group sang enthusiastically. Mamadou recognized some of the songs he had heard on the cassette Aunt Jennabou was playing the other night. Although some followed from the songbooks, most people followed the song leader. It was an African tradition to memorize the songs and then follow the lead of the song leader. Mamadou sensed a great deal of warmth, respect, and a closeness to God that he had never known, in the singing. Then Uncle Oumar announced his special guest. Mamadou beamed proudly. A lady stood up and recounted the recent death of her brother and his dreams. Her brother, Souleymane had been sick for a long time with sickle cell anemia. Since he became a Christian, his family had virtually deserted him. During his illness he had missed his family. Yet the Christians quickly showed that they were his new family. One night he dreamed his ancestors came and told him to forsake the Jesus Way, and return to Islam. Souleymane’s sister cried and said, it seemed like he was ready to leave the Jesus Way. Then she recounted that he had another dream just before he died. In his second dream he pictured Jesus and a foreign missionary in paradise. They invited him to join them. Souleymane’s sister was sure he went there to be with Jesus.
Mamadou accepted the value of dreams in his culture. In many ways they were a stronger voice than the voice of a real person. This was the voice of the ancestors speaking. They had fought for Allah, and certainly their will must be respected. Yet it was clear that the Christians had become like a new family for Souleymane. What would happen if he followed the Jesus way? Would the Christians become his family too? Would the people from the village send his mother to him to reason and plead with him as they had done with Uncle Oumar? Would he be able to stand up to the pressure? What about the second part of the dream? Jesus and a missionary calling to Souleymane from Paradise. It was a certainty for Christians to go to Paradise. A certainty? That was not what he had learned. All his life, Mamadou had been taught that he had to work to impress this far away and distant God called Allah, who might or might not look favorably on him when it came time to decide whether he would enter Paradise……..