Teaser 217: N’golo and His Muslim Building Brethren

The surprises kept coming. The first surprise for the day came less than an hour after the first cement truck rolled in to pour the cement for the foundation of the mosque. Because Nassira's architectural plans included a solid cement foundation reinforced with rebar, including steel bars emerging from the cement for attaching the walls and structural posts, the work of laying all this out with the few Muslims on site was slow going. It was slow going and the truck was still dumping cement in another section and rebar was being laid and the steel bars placed, when three trucks pulled up, driving around the west fence from the highway close to the cement truck. Kitana and I walked over to this group of twenty men to greet them and discover their reason for coming. It took all of five seconds.

N'golo popped out from the passenger seat of the first truck wearing one of the biggest grins I had ever seen and displaying the most enthusiastic demeanor to go with it. Kitana and I could tell by the men's clothes and headdresses what was coming, but we waited for N'golo, who was obviously the leader because he immediately commanded the men to remove their equipment and prepared to get them organized, all this spoken in his native tongue. Without my looking at her, since I already had an idea who they were and what they intended, Kitana whispered, “They're here to work on the mosque, Gregory.” I glanced to her smiling and she pointed to N'golo. “That man there is the leader and they all call him 'Engolo.'”

“Let him finish getting ready and come over to introduce himself.”

A couple minutes later, N'golo stepped over to us with his huge grin, clasped his hands before us briefly, and introduced himself. His full name is long, his English delivered in a halting and careful manner, and I wouldn't do it justice including it here. Since he insisted from his introduction forward to address him as N'golo, if it's good enough for N'golo, it's good enough for me. With some difficulty N'golo stated, “I have heard you are building prayer mosque for faithful.”

In English, Kitana replied, “We are.” In N'golo's language Kitana began conversing with him, stopping to interpret for me. N'golo himself was the equivalent of an independent contractor in the building and construction trade, having served under various skilled tradesmen until he had garnered the experience to go off on his own, either doing the work with his own crew or serving as foreman on larger projects. It seemed he had heard, through one of the other fellows in attendance, that our little operation in Gossi had designs to build a prayer facility, and knowing skilled Muslim building and construction workers were in short supply in our immediate area, and he and all of this crew had a few days available, they thought they would donate their efforts in return for food and accommodations.

When Kitana asked how he may have heard about this prayer facility and N'golo's response was his fellow may have heard about it from someone involved with an aid agency, I first smiled widely to N'golo, who smiled widely in return, looked to Kitana with her wide smile, and announced, “You know, Kitana, I smell Claudia in the middle of this.” Kitana laughed, which made N'golo laugh, too, when Kitana explained what I said. Nassira had wandered over and Kitana introduced N'golo and Nassira, after which I added, “You two have plenty to discuss, so we should get out of your way.” Before I left, though, I stepped up to N'golo with my arms extended to hug him and offered, “Welcome to Jardin de la Paix. Peace to you, my friend.” Instantly, N'golo smiled his big grin and hugged me with some real strength. I clasped my hands together and bowed several times in the direction of this Muslim crew and all returned my gesture with their own, some shouting things which Kitana advised me as we walked away were the words, “Peace to you, my friend.”

“Well, Kitana, you have twenty more for supper. You have your work cut out for you.”

“But you won't have to negotiate to get the work done, will you, Gregory?”

“Not with you I won't, young lady. You have taught me so from the beginning.”

N'golo's crew dispatched the cement truck in a half-hour, with another on its way. Once the cement truck began pulling away, Nassira and N'golo consulted her drawings and he realized quickly that clay bricks and blocks would be needed soon. N'golo made a quick phone call. This call would result in an ongoing delivery of clay, since clay was in short supply on site. Once this call concluded, the crew got to work on putting together our clay firing facility, and through consultation with Nassira, others in the crew began constructing the molds to the exact specifications from Nassira. With his experience N'golo could have insisted creating our own bricks and blocks was too time consuming, but he instinctively understood our objective was to construct everything on site in the most native manner possible and never once argued against it. In fact, if anything, N'golo was wholly supportive. Over the ensuing months into and through the rainy season, with less paying work coming to him and his fellow Muslim construction colleagues, he would appear frequently, know what needed to be done in what order, and get to it, all for food and a tent to sleep in. Not one demanded more.

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-SevenLost on the Dark Continent” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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