She was only 15; her face scarred with markings unique to her village, Fatima was among the hundreds seeking medical help during our visit to a remote village in Northern Africa. Like the other young people in her village, Fatima could not read, write, or speak French. She was a child of the sub-Saharan Africa, where tribalism is more powerful than nationalism, where her tribe speaks the language that they have spoken for centuries, and where education seems irrelevant. Girls learn to do chores such as planting, harvesting, and cooking so that they will become useful wives. School interferes with gardening, and education seems rather pointless in a society that lives from hand to mouth. We love our Muslim friends and would not want to be misunderstood.
Fatima was certainly not the only youngster at the clinic. Village children are largely left to themselves—with very little supervision. Trying to keep them out of our makeshift medical/dental clinic was like trying to divert an army of African ants. They just kept regrouping and reappearing in windows, doors, and peepholes.
Although Fatima’s stated age was 15, she seemed younger. Who could prove her actual age? Her complaint was that she had not borne any children. To the reader, this may not seem to be a serious medical problem, but to Fatima, it determined her status in the community. Her first husband had died, and her second husband had left her because she had not borne him any children.
How do you answer a child who is both a widow and a divorcée? Her eyes revealed no emotion, and her face expressed no feeling. Her vacant stare reflected the reality that she has always been told what she must do. Islam reinforces this pacifism because Muslims respond to sorrow with a blind resignation to “the will of Allah.” This sad sort of acquiescence to the misfortunes in life is particularly evident among women. Once, in Western Africa, I visited a Muslim friend when her infant died. Habiba had already buried seven other children. When her baby died, she hardly cried. When she tried to give way to tears, her family and friends remonstrated: “It is the will of Allah; don’t cry.”
These dear people exist in Africa and all over the globe. It is not malaria, nephrotic syndrome, sickle cell disease, osteomyelitis, cancer, or genetic disorders that make them most miserable. I witnessed all of these conditions in Northern Africa and treated the cases amenable to medical care. The harsh environment and lack of physical comforts are borne with patience. The inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa have adjusted marvelously to deprivations. The most distressing reality is not the fact that their children are “branded” with tribal markings. They think the markings are becoming! They are most to be pitied because they live in darkness and in the shadow of death without the light of the Savior. They know almost nothing of Calvary’s love. As particles of dust disperse beams of light, we hope to reflect the love of God through the light of the Gospel to needy people in North and Central Africa and other corners of the globe.