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The Moussa Sisters

Dogo and Madou’s family have been my closest friends in Tokoye-Bungou since very early on in my Peace Corps service. I ate dinner with them every night, and over time became able to communicate and converse with them about anything with very little difficulty. They seem like an odd pair — Dogo is probably about 6 foot 5, and Madou is about 5 foot nothing. But they are both kind and generous, and unlike a lot of couples here, I think they love each other. Well, at least it appears that way ever since Dogo’s other two wives left him (out of jealousy?).

Dogo is not his real name. Dogo actually means “tall” in Hausa, and it’s the primary name that he goes by. His real name is Moussa Tchiwake, and he has 6 children. His wives have given him at least 9 children, and I know their stories. I want to tell you about the Moussa sisters.

Diya Illu & her little brother Aminou

The eldest girl is Diya Illu, whose real name is Sueba, but I’ve never heard anyone but her teacher call her that. I’ve thought hard about how old she must have been when I lived in the village, and it was probably about 7 years old, making her 15 or 16 now. She’s tall like Dogo, all the kids are, and quiet too. When I arrived in Tokoye-Bungou, she wasn’t in the village, and I was worried she’d been married off already. Two years ago I’d cried to the school director, begging him not to kick her out of school for her bad grades. But he told me that Niger is not America, and education is not a right here (which isn’t true, but it didn’t matter). So, Diya Illu has little choice but to marry, otherwise the fear is that she’ll become “spoiled” — not spoiled by things, but by age.

Diya Illu (L) & Nafisa (R) in 2000

She isn’t married yet, but she will be in less than a month. I insisted to Dogo and Madou that Diya Illu really isn’t old enough to get married and start having babies, but Madou’s argument was that clearly the fact that she now has breasts qualifies her as being old enough to marry. In the end, it wasn’t up to them anyway. Diya Illu returned to the village to see me, and soon after Madou happened upon the news that her marriage had already been arranged. Apparently, it is not up to Dogo at all to agree to the groom’s dowry — that’s the responsibility of Dogo’s older brother, Fodi. Fodi collected the dowry (about $80), but for some reason the message never got communicated that the wedding date was set. So, Madou was frantic, realizing that she would soon be stuck with the responsibility to provide food for the celebration, as well as all the cooking pots and serving pots and clothes and everything else a new bride needs. It seems all the burden is placed on the women, while the men get dowry money.

Next in line was Nafisa, the daughter of Madou’s cowife at the time. Nafisa and Diya Illu were close to the same age and good friends. When I visited the village last time, I heard the tragic news that Nafisa had died. She must have had some sort of allergic reaction, because the story goes that her whole body became swollen to the point where her belly beads burst off and they had to cut off her necklace so it wouldn’t choke her. She suffered greatly, and I hate thinking that it might have been remedied. She’s not the only girl to have died. After Diya Illu, Madou gave birth to a big, seemingly healthy girl. As we sat talking one night last week, I asked what had happened. She said the girl was born alive, but by the time they were cutting the umbilical cord, she died. Dogo came into the hut, and lifted the newborn’s arm back and forth in disbelief: “She died? She died?”

Indo as a Toddler

Rachida as a Toddler

When I first moved to Tokoye-Bungou in 1999, Indo was over a year old, but so malnourished she could barely walk. She had a hugely swollen belly button, which was further excentuated by her swollen belly. She cried constantly, and was never a happy toddler. When Madou became pregnant with Rachida in early 2000, she knew it would be too difficult to keep caring for Indo, along with a newborn. So she took Indo to live with her mother in a far-away village.

Rachida was born healthy and happy. The difference between the two is still stark, and they don’t appear to be particularly close. Indo struggles in school,

Indo Today

and Madou says that after 3 years she still  doesn’t know how to write her name. Given how malnourished she was as a baby, it’s sad to see what an impact it has had on her learning potential. Rachida is bright, and her parents have high hopes for her education. She wakes up early every morning to bathe and put on makeup, and repeats the primping after lunch. One day, as Rachida was carefully applying black lines along her eyebrows, Indo walked by and pronounced, “The teacher says that girls who wear makeup aren’t smart.”

“Lies!” insisted Rachida, as she peered even more determined into her mirror.

Rachida Today

 

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