|Ma Riziki & Me- dressed for wedding|
Ma Riziki doesn’t get much honor in a country where honor is of great importance. She’s poor in a world that honors wealth. She’s skinny, almost gaunt in a place that honors people who are plump. She’s illiterate in a town that honors education. The only jobs she has ever done are menial type work, cooking and cleaning at the parties of the rich. She’s a great-grandmother and in most families this would accord some honor, but her family is a messy array of humanity where squabbling and manipulation seem the order of the day over loving and honoring one another. Twelve kids, countless grandkids and at least two great-grandkids that I know about. Most living on top of each other in a precarious two story structure. Her youngest kids are teenagers and theoretically she should have lots of help at home. But no one seems to help her and instead of relieving her workload her kids burden her by leaving grandkids with her to care for. Most of the children in this large family are not looked after. It’s almost like there are just too many of them to keep track of and no one is really trying. She’s the matriarch of a messy family that isn’t well respected.
It might be possible for her to have some more honor and respect in her community except that she usually doesn’t try. She often does not follow the social and religious norms that most islanders hold dear. It’s like she is constantly in survival mode, tending to crises, figuring out the food and money needed for the day. Often cultural niceties don’t make the list.
|Ma Riziki with some of her grandkids|
When we first came to Clove Island, Ma Riziki sought me out right away. She lived just across the street and seemed to want to claim me before any of the other close neighbors could. Since that time she has come to us for many things. We’ve helped with food when they are hungry and have nothing to cook. Ma Riziki usually has a worn-out and tired look when she asks for food. It’s a source of shame. But we’ve helped in other ways too— with medicine when people have fevers or toothaches or headaches, with bandages when there are wounds, with help into an English class when one studious daughter wants to learn, with taking photos when there is a special occasion and finally by attending events.
From the beginning, Ma Riziki has been interested in me joining her “shama” (a group of people that help each other when they have weddings and other celebrations). The idea is that you pay in every time there is an event (with money and/or labor) knowing that when it is your turn to have an event everyone will reciprocate and help you make it happen. Now I’ve never been interested in joining a shama because most likely I would be always be paying in and never receiving, plus we’re invited to so many events as it is— we don’t need to add random shama events to our schedule.
At some point I stopped fighting it. Now I’m not a very good shama member and I was puzzled why Ma Riziki wanted it so badly. But eventually I came to the uncomfortable realization that I brought her honor. I receive honor in this society merely with my skin color and my foreign passport. I’m an honored person here and so any association with me brings her honor. Anytime I attend an event with her it raises her before her friends. I may not be comfortable with my mere presence being an act of honor, but would I deny her that honor? Giving her food helps her but it is a source of shame. Going with her to wedding as her friend, that is a source of honor. So I go along.
So I went with Ma Riziki to yet another wedding. I didn’t know the bride, I didn’t know the groom. I didn’t even really understand how Ma Riziki was connected. But that wasn’t really the point. I was there for Ma Riziki. Some people at the event had fancy jewels, some had outfits made of expensive material, others had the latest smartphones or cameras. Ma Riziki had me.
Our son’s scrapes have healed better and quicker than expected. Our family got to take a hike and swim this past weekend— the first outing we’ve managed in a long time. It was a nice few hours to get away as just our family. An island sister had a great chance to share important stories at a wedding with a bunch of other women— they wanted to hear more.
One of our island friend’s wife is ill and may need to travel to get the care she needs (this is a pretty common occurrence on the islands with the lack of medical care). Pray for him that he would have wisdom and peace as he considers how to proceed. Our teammate is supposed to arrive back on Clove Island tomorrow afternoon. Pray for her final leg of travel and for a quick transition back into the island time zone and life. Our pregnant friend is already dilated. She seems a little nervous (since it is her first), pray for a smooth labor and delivery and for health and safety for both her and the baby.