Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A recipe for change...

The taste of history and its repair   Although this may seem old enough to be an outdated article (published in 2005), it’s not. But for its topic, slavery in Niger in 2005, it might be. (The Shackles of Slavery in Niger - ABC NewsSlavery may seem like a historical relic, but in many parts of the world servitude remains prevalent...

Most pertinent is this comment:

One Muslim holy man explains Niger's slave policy as a religious phenomena. "According to the Koran, a slave is a person who refuses to become a Muslim," said Al-aji Idriss Abandaba, Imam of Niamey." [my emphasis] This means that if you are a Muslim you cannot be a slave."
Another article mentions an aspect of that same culture that is so troubling it makes rocket launchers in Gaza’s civilian neighborhoods seem playthings by comparison:

'Fifth wives'
Islam allows a man to take a maximum of four wives. However, in Niger, the practice exists of taking a fifth wife. These women are known as wahiya among the Tuareg and sadaka among the Hausa.
Sometimes men take several fifth wives. The fifth wife does not receive any of the status benefits of being a wife, as there is no actual marriage. She is, in effect, a slave to her "husband".
In 2006, Timidria helped release 34 women known to have been sold as fifth wives in the Canton of Douguerawa. A further 12 were released in 2007.
Anti-Slavery International was able to interview 10 of the women, who complained they had been subjugated to forced and unpaid labour, rape and daily insults.
(Niger slavery: Background | World news | guardian.co.uk
[Oct 27, 2008] What follows is a background document on slavery in Niger compiled by Anti- Slavery International. It assisted Hadijatou Mani in bringing her landmark court ...
www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/oct/27/humanrights1 -)

Of course, since this passage has been borrowed from an article that is a little more than four years old, it may be just dusty evidence of an unfortunate, though recent, past. Nonetheless, the impact of the incidents in Niger may be long lasting.

Last night, I thought of that as I spoke with and listened to a 58-year-old woman, B., a gentle and black CNA.

“It didn’t matter that there were seats in the front of the bus. We were forced to sit in the back,” she said, when asked to share some of her personal history. “I was a child then. It was scary.”

Unlike details of memories from Niger, B.’s are 40-45 years old. Still, at times, she told us with her stories, they feel like fresh wounds.

“Sometimes,” she said, in a soft voice with her head held high, “I think about those days and I cry.”

As she must, I believe, since trauma etches so deeply. Its pain must be sanded away gradually, with retellings that impart meaning to the emotional content of history, to its torment and outrage. By reliving such causal moments, old fears are integrated into a continuum of experiences that allows an enhanced awareness to grow from painful roots.
I thought about that as I listened to B., an angel of kindness.

“You might want to come to my class next Friday,” I told her, “December 7th.”

I mentioned to her that my brother, who had just arrived from Colorado, had been in my class one of the times I had discussed slavery. “Well do that again, on the seventh.” My brother appeared excited by that announcement.

“We’ll have a guest, T.R., the same man my brother met in my classroom, a remarkable person with an incredible story. His ancestors were slaves. He’ll tell what he’s learned of their story. One thing he’ll mention is the special barbecue slaves made and the way they had to make it. The last time he visited, he explained why the recipe was never written down. It’s been passed on in secret from one generation to the next.”

B.’s eyes widened and glistened. She seemed interested; perhaps she would come. I wanted to say that the public is invited, that she and her husband could attend.

But I didn’t. Instead, I mentioned something I’ll never forget when T.R. first spoke to my class. It was the sumptuous taste of his barbecue. He’d brought enough for each of us to sample.

Something very good happened that day.

                                                          B. Koplen 11/27/12
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The Shackles of Slavery in Niger
June 3, 2005 —

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