Dreaming in West Africa

My friend, who is the fourth wife of her husband, invited me to her house on Friday.  She is one of the women who takes care of the babies at the Baby Home. We had a great time together learning about each other. In the photo above, Jamila is on the left sitting with one of her neighbors.

Things she discovered about me:

Christians only have one wife! What?! She told every woman who entered her house these words the first chance she got. They looked at me and asked if it was true. Yes, and there is no jealousy between wives because there is only one, and it helps the husband and wife trust each other. One woman told me that she was the only wife of her husband, though he had married five other women but divorced them all!

I only have four children, and that was by design.

I am happy to eat with a friend from the same bowl of food and do not require a spoon (which is the way 95% of the population here eats) but will use a spoon if you find one for me. 🙂

I am not afraid of loose goats or cows, even if they walk right beside me on the village path as if they were my companions. (mostly, this is true, big horns still give me pause)

I will always end up asking you if we can pray to God together – sure that He knows you personally and loves it when we bring our troubles to Him.

Things I discovered about her:

Being the fourth wife means you don’t have to live in the village proper, you can live on the edge, which affords a lot more privacy.

The first wife is allowed to make judgments about your character out loud, but you may not speak about hers unless you have a favorable view. (didn’t seem quite fair to my American point of view)

As a rule, one does not leave one’s children with a co-spouse.

Jamila was a baby at the baby home after her parents died. She was adopted, but then her adoptive mother died when Jamila was eleven.

When your adoptive mother dies, the family does not have to take you in because you were never a “real” daughter.

She speaks French, Zarma, and Hausa.

She was an apprentice for three years as a couturiere, and has her license!

Jamila has dreams – for herself and her two sons.

Things I discovered about village life:

Everyone knows everyone.

People who look like me are an oddity. Small children cry at the sight of me!

The village chief will make time to talk with you – and may be dressed all in embroidered blue silk.


When we were alone in her house, I asked Jamila to tell me how she was doing. I knew from previous conversations that she and her sons are hungry. Her husband pays for the rent and the electricity. She, on her 40,000 cfa per month salary, must pay for food, water, childcare while she is at work, clothing and anything else needed. I also knew that she wanted to send her son to a private Christian school – a cost of 60,000 cfa per year.

Jamila has been thinking about how to augment her salary. She is considering selling ice, possibly selling clean water, or becoming a couturiere on the side of her day job.

I asked Jamila to tell me how God had gifted her. That is a very difficult question for people here. To tell you what she is good at, well that is tooting her own horn. I said that the Bible says God designed each of us in our own unique way. How did he design her? With some difficulty, she said that she is patient, good with children, and is a gifted seamstress. She said that when the village couturier has a difficult job, he asks for her to come and do it. She smiles at this.

So, I explain a model I have read about. If Jamila will save up money for one year, then whatever she saves I will match. After one year, if she has saved, then she will have enough money to start her business. She will have to pay back the matching funds in the following months. If she is successful in paying back the full amount, she can borrow again. If she is not, she cannot ask for another loan until she has paid off the first.

We pray together that Jamila will consider this in the next two weeks. That she would be able to face the sacrifice of doing without 5,000 cfa per month for the next year in hopes of obtaining a more secure life in the future.

I leave Jamila with a sack of rice. Hope is a beautiful thing, but it’s a little elusive on an empty stomach. James 2 says, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”

Thank you for your part in allowing us to minister in this way. We could not be here without you. There is a balance between giving and creating dependency that cautions us. Yet, God loves generosity and how sweet it is to be able to give in His name.


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