Teaser 374: Adopting Mubaka
My first concern was Ali El-Nushara and Jana. They had postponed their wedding, the Master always knowing I would be there eventually but I had other pressing tasks. Once I sent him my thought I was ready, the Master and Jana put it all in motion.
We flew to Mali, to Bamako–Sénou International Airport, and the jet was placed under heavy guard by the military until the German pilots flew it to Munich the next day. In a large military transport we drove to Jardin de la Paix, Lena, Esperanza, Jinpa, the boys and Jacob and Jim. Serena stayed in India with all of her contingent, which now included Manuel and Vernon. With all which had happened she was reluctant to leave and Tanya could not break away from her diplomatic duties. It was, though, a very warm reception. All of the Farabés were in attendance and there were hundreds of others, all welcoming us warmly. There were times when I was so touched I openly cried with tears unashamedly running down my face. During one of those times, the Colonel, who was now a General—in some areas of the world officers can be promoted fairly quickly—slipped his arm around my neck and pulled me close to him. “They all know who you are, Al-Barrak, and they all love you. We all love you. You may have been nothing more than the one to shine the light and point the way, but they all know you were willing to give your life for this little experiment and they know what it means. If you would do that, what they can achieve will take no effort. And now they all know. It will never take that much effort. It can be done!” Kitana told me the General, of all people, would arrange his necessity to be in the area during planting or harvest and an entire company of soldiers, including the General, would arrive at the residential facility, enjoy what was being served from the cafeteria, and spread out into the cropland for the planting or harvest. She said this to me with the General standing right beside us. He looked at me curiously. “Well, we happened to be in the area and I don't mind getting my hands dirty, nor do any of my men.” I looked at Kitana and noted her knowing smile.
We spent two weeks at the garden. We were in no hurry. When we discussed moving east toward Sudan and southern Egypt, Kitana wanted to take us to the “colony” in Niger. We were several vehicles all traveling in a convoy, to Gao first, then dipping down into Niger and reaching the “colony.”
I had seen some of the pictures of those involved in this effort, this “colony,” and I thought I had recognized some. Once we reached it and were welcomed warmly and invited to use some of the more exclusive sleeping arrangements, which we accepted instantly, I didn't have to recognize anyone. Within hours of arriving six actively living and working in the “colony” readily admitted they had been part of the many who had moved me about the “first week or so.” They weren't apologetic. They never considered it necessary to apologize. It was a part of their life, as if you went to work every day and drew a paycheck. They didn't see any other options. I never criticized them. I didn't grow from childhood to adulthood in their environment with little or no opportunity to make themselves better. They had hard choices. Choose this or starve to death. That almost is the easiest decision to make. Starving to death is a terrible way to die. Being littered with bullet holes seems holy.
Before we left the garden, though, Kitana already had robes and scarves for the women, Lena, Esperanza and Jinpa. None really wanted to don such clothing, but I asked each to do it and they did. As I explained, “There are still those who don't understand modern ways. There was a time when your own ancestors, the females, would never wear what you like to wear now, all which is comfortable to you. Some haven't evolved yet and they consider it disrespectful. Please respect this and wear it. There still are people in this world you can't push so don't push them.” They all donned the apparel Kitana had ready for them and never complained.
We stayed for five days, ate with all, danced and sang, but what we all noticed right away was the five-year-old boy, Mubaka, who ran around the entire complex as the ultimate center of attention. Soon after we arrived we were advised Mubaka was the adopted child of the “colony,” since his mother had died from AIDS a year before. He took a liking to all of us, these strangers, all Westerners and mostly white, except for the gorgeous and exceedingly dark female with us. He was extremely curious about Lena and often tagged along beside her wherever she went, asking her questions, sometimes in English, sometimes in a tribal language, and Lena would ask him questions, and often in Mubaka's own tribal language, which Lena had learned in her time at the garden when we married. No one had formally or seriously adopted him so he usually slept in the barracks with many of the men, but when Lena asked him if he liked living at the “colony,” Mubaka replied he would rather go to school. Teachers were in dire supply in this part of Niger and while those actively running the “colony” were trying to organize a school, it wasn't on the immediate horizon. All there loved the little boy but they knew it was hard on him since he had no family.
Lena asked me, “If the officials in Niger allow it, why don't we adopt Mubaka? No one here will protest. They know we'll take good care of him and he'll have a family again.”
I thought about it for all of two seconds. “Okay. Let's get with the folks here to help us reach the officials in Niger to allow it and adopt him, although did you ask him?”
Lena smiled. “Mubaka asked me.”
It was a long way, an entire day's drive, to Niamey, but with our escorts from the “colony,” we reached the officials the following day. It was a group of them and they all had one concern, Islam. I got on my knees and bowed my head in the direction of Mecca, placing my face right on the floor, lifted up and loudly recited the Fattiha. They were unconvinced, one stating they knew I was not a practicing Muslim.
I responded, “Then let us wait for call to prayer and Lena and I shall follow you.”
That's what we did. When the next call to prayer came, we followed all of them to their prayer room in the building—it was not Friday—with Mubaka, washed ourselves, prepared and one began, all others followed, and we prayed as they did. Lena had read the Quran several times and sometimes would pray. Once it was complete, we promised we would teach and adhere to the five pillars, read and teach him the Quran and hadiths from all four schools. As I told them, “Each has faithful followers and one is no more important to me than any other. It shall be, and should be, the choice of Mubaka himself and when he is of age.” They quickly huddled and spoke in hushed tones. When the huddle disbursed, the eldest male proclaimed the adoption complete and they quickly produced the papers for us and shuttled us from one building to another to have Mubaka's passport made. It was, though, a very interesting picture, because Mubaka's smile was as wide as his eyes.
On the drive back I said to Lena, “So, my beloved, you now have a son.”
“But he is your son, too, Al-Barrak.”
“Not so much in Mubaka's eyes, my beloved, for while he calls you 'Mother,' what is the name he uses for me?”
Lena laughed. “Grandfather!”
“He looks at you as my daughter, therefor I am Grandfather.” I turned to Wild Bill. “You need to spend time with Mubaka and teach him who your father is, okay, son?”
Wild Bill smiled wickedly. “Oh, he already knows you are too old, Grandfather.”
I smiled at him. “It's the white hair, isn't it?”
“It gives it away, Dad. You have to color it. Maybe it would help.”
As we prepared to leave Niger for southern Egypt, traveling by four-wheel-drive, with Kitana and her group traveling back to Peace Garden, two from the colony volunteered to accompany us to help negotiate the exits and entries of the nations we would pass through. I never thought it necessary but they had many friends scattered along the way and they would make it easier to find resting places, plus they were both of the boisterously congenial sort. Besides we would be heading back this way to Mali so it wouldn't be out of anyone's way.
Five days later we reached the oasis, the home and school of the Master. He was expecting us since we had exchanged thoughts many times, but I could hear many thoughts once we arrived and reminded myself to ignore them. There were fourteen of his students present and a visiting Imam from Aswan, roughly a hundred miles away. Jana wore a full-length robe and head scarf wound around her head above her eyes and covering her chin. There was no hugging, not between genders, but I grasped her hands and squeezed tightly. I teased her. “You must have met one better, for you shall soon be a wife.”
Still holding my hands in her grip, Jana squeezed. “And our Master shall soon be equally my husband, for which he has his duties as I have mine.”
The Master proclaimed, “And such a wife shall soon become my distraction...” Jana turned to face the Master, but the Master soon added, “and a welcome one.”
There were many tents at the oasis and we were provided the largest. Lena, Esperanza and Jinpa were mesmerized by all of it. We were feted to a wonderful feast, though it was cramped and crowded at the Master's dwelling, so many of those in attendance sprawled out the door, on the grounds, and in other nearby tents. The Imam was respectful but one of the jolly sort and he laughed frequently and when it was time he conducted prayer and all observed properly. Late at night we all retired to our tent and slept together, though with some recognition of family status, with the wives gathered around me at one end, behind a curtain, and all the boys, Jacob, Jim, and the two young men from Niger at the other. We slept on nothing more than blankets and rugs but no one complained.
The following day, the wedding day, was all meticulously arranged. Prayer just before daylight and all were soon preparing, the women fixing a light breakfast, the men arranging and decorating the wedding room. There was a great deal of cleaning and preparing and many interruptions in all of it for prayer and discussion. Because the bride had no family present or even had any idea what was taking place, the Master had prepared his “dowry,” and would proclaim verbally an entire surah to claim his wife as his own. The Imam was, in this regard, wholly agreeable, since this husband to be was considered one of the more scholarly and accomplished in Islam than most Imams anywhere in the world. The Master did tease me about Mubaka. “So you are to teach your adopted son all the intricacies of Muslim life, those which you have rejected yourself?”
“I will demonstrate to him the five pillars of submission, for they are worthy compared to what many others worship, but when he is a man, I will step away and let him decide how to live a worthy life, for you know as well as I do, only the One is capable of judging, only the One is worthy of such responsibility. I will counsel him appropriately, but his is his life alone.”
“Well said, my friend. This is why it pleases me greatly to have you here in my presence on our special day.”
“I wouldn't miss it for the world, Pir. On the other hand, there's no one better I can think of who can lead him to the man he can become than a Master.”
“Since he is so easily receptive, Al-Barrak, it will be my pleasure completely.”
Jinpa stayed close to me during our stay at the oasis. This was foreign to her but she was immensely respectful and often looking to me for guidance on how to react, to respond. When the actual ceremony began Jinpa stayed close to Lena, as did Esperanza. I stood near the Master, the wife of one of the students stood next to Jana, and it went on for a very long time, with a good deal of prostrations and prayers, including the proclamation from Pir. The Imam declared them husband and wife under the watchful eye of the One and the very respectful celebration began. There is generally little shouting or hurrahs or speeches or cakes or toasts in a traditional Muslim wedding. Husband and wife greet and thank all in attendance and soon all are invited to enjoy a wedding feast, if possible. Some don't have the means, but this one lacked nothing. It wasn't extravagant or luxurious but there was plenty of food and drink, not alcohol, for all, and the talk and celebration went well into the night. Prayer was always observed when time but the talk, all around, was of the happy and joyous type.
Husband and wife stayed together, inseparable, and did not retire to their wedding tent until all were ready to retire to each separate resting place. Before I retired to my tent with all those of my family, I grasped a hand from each. “It pleases me to see both of you again, knowing you are pleased and happy and content, and not only with each other, but what you both know shall be your one life together...and to imagine I played a small part in this.”
“I knew Jana before you brought her to me, Al-Barrak.”
“Small, Master, a very small part. Knowing you well, Pir, you would have reached Jana or Jana would have reached you. This I know. It still pleases me you are now united.”
Jana squeezed my hand tightly. “My husband never thinks of you and me as we once were, did you know, Al-Barrak?”
I replied as I gazed at Pir's playful smile. “Because he knows I don't even think of it any more. I remember the interactions with you which truly meant something, like when I asked you what you thought of me because I already knew how disappointed you were with men in general and you grabbed me tightly and threw me on the sofa and attacked me and said, 'That doesn't answer your question verbally or did you want me to answer you in words?'” I squeezed both their hands tightly. “Now you can answer one, Jana, one who is far more worthy.” I dropped both hands and faced the Master. “Perhaps, you'll have many little ones to run around and test your patience, Master,” and I focused on Jana, “though I think your partner will enjoy all of it and still provide you more than any other.” I smiled. I turned to Pir and he took one step and hugged me as tightly as always.
We didn't stay long. The Master had his teaching to perform so we left after one more day if only to observe the newlyweds. There truly was barely any difference, other than a great deal of touching between them, even arms around the other and hugging, a great deal of affection, something they couldn't do until now. Jana cooked their meals and both tidied up the Master's home, their wedding tent now unused until, perhaps, other students arrived. The students were all respectful of the Master's sudden change in marital status, but they forgot all of it by afternoon, when all were deeply engaged in the next round of learning, including Jana.
She hugged all three wives several times before we left. She had previously met Esperanza and Magdalena and Jana expressed her disappointment Serena decided not to come, but both she and the Master knew all which had taken place in the last few months. Jana had worked side by side with Jeremy many times and she had stayed at Serena's spread for weeks so she remembered Luisa well. The only time I saw tears accumulate in her eyes were the few moments when we talked about both for a while. The most interesting bit of conversation to me was when Jana asked Jinpa how she could possibly want to come with me after her husband had been cremated.
“He was an old man, who I knew had made a very difficult journey to Dabaxiang, since I had made the journey many times. He was so respectful to everyone, he and Chodak, and he stood silently, respectfully, while we prepared and sent away my dead husband and I thought I would be a burden to my brother-in-law or any of his family. They had those who could cook and clean and do the things a woman is expected to do and I would be another mouth to feed and a burden, but not to this man. He would accept me and take me with him and he would find a place for me in his family. Even when he told me about his four wives I still thought he would find a place for me. I knew whatever place he found for me I would never disappoint him.”
Jana stared into my eyes. “And she has found her place, has she not, Al-Barrak?”
“Of course. I didn't think she would bring me so many children, though. I'm struggling to come up with names for these kids. She's so fertile, Jana, she's probably pregnant right now as I speak.” Everyone laughed, including the Master. He sent me his definitive thought. In a few weeks, Al-Barrak, you will know how prophetic your statement was.
- Just Desserts, Segment Forty-Eight “Payback” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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