Little Sisters of Jesus in Tunisia, Love and courage

Little sister Merce and her friendsLittle sister Mercé and her friends

Little Sister Mercé writes form Sfax, Tunisia's second largest city, 240 km south along the coast from Tunis. Like many women of the little sisters' neighbourhood Merce does housecleaning and ironing to earn a living. It's a job that brings her into contact with new people and leads to new friendships.

"Do you still have room in your schedule to fit in a job cleaning for Mabruka?" Fr Dominique asked me. "She's waiting for an operation on her back and is in so much pain she can hardly do any of her house-work. She's looking for someone." I think about it awhile.  "Yes," I say. "1 could go on Fridays and give four hours."

Till now I barely knew Mabruka and her family. She seems about 40 years old.  For three months she's been waiting for a bed to be free in the hospital. In the meantime she has to hold herself stiffly, dragging her feet when she walks.  Her husband Moksen is partly disabled with a bad leg and a bad shoulder.  He works as a bus driver picking up the children who go to an institute for the handicapped. The institute had the bus modified so Moksen can drive it with his disability.

 Sfax, Khomzi's birthday Sfax, Khomzi's birthday

After their marriage Mabruka and Moksen, to their immense joy, had a daughter Mune. Their little girl was two when Father Dominique asked them if they would consider adopting seven  year-old Khalid.  Khalid is profoundly handicapped.  His mother died at his birth and his father was unable to cope. The little boy was wandering the streets and in a pitiable state. "Yes, bring him over to us," said Mabruka and Moksen. Fr. Dominique helped for the adoption and Khalid became their child and Mune's brother.

Time went on, and Mabruka and Moksen prayed hard for other children. Triplets were born, of whom two survived, Mohammed and El-Hasen. Then after a long gap, an unexpected gift from "God who is Great," a little boy they named Moral. The parents thought God had rewarded them richly for adopting Khalid.

In the courtyardIn the courtyard

More years have passed.  Khalid is 20 now. Mune has just got engaged to Karim, a boy of her age and the grandson of Mabruka's uncle. "You want to marry me," Mune had told him, "but my father is handicapped and so is my brother and my uncle." "That's all right," Karim answered her. "All your family will be mine."

At 8 o'clock in the morning when I get to the house for the cleaning, what do I find? Mabruka greets me with her beautiful smile but it is clear she suffers all the time. Moksen has left for work some time ago already. A school bus pulls up in front of the door, loaded with children.  Khalid bounds out the door, happy to be on his way.  EI-Hasen goes out with him as far as the bus, hand on his shoulder.

Mune has already left for her work in a dentist's office. When her hours are done she'll go to a computer course before she comes home. Karim has just got home from his night shift in a factory.  Seeing me come in, he gets up and starts carrying the heaviest of the carpets out of the house, gives them a good shake and takes a brush to them. Then Karim sits down again and the three little boys come flocking around him as if he was their big brother. They jump all over him.  He gets them to recite a bit of their lessons for him, then slips away to go to bed.

Till 10 o'clock I have the children hanging around me. Getting in my way? Not at all. They're on the watch for anything I might need them to fetch - a rag, the broom, the bucket, whatever. Their mother asks them to give her a little help.  I don't hear her speak.  I just see the children jump up to do it.  If Mabruka wants to walk she needs a child on each side to lean on. Then like swallows they flit off to school, with book bags heavier than they are.

When it gets calm again Mabruka invites me to sit down with her for a cup of coffee and some bread.  It's a time to talk from the heart. Mabruka speaks an elegant Arabic.  I don't understand everything, but I can guess the rest.

"My husband? He's my faithful, understanding friend.  My daughter? Very dedicated, such a hard worker. Mune's fiance? When he sees I'm tired, he even does the cooking! The children love me very much and do their best to help, but they can also make a mess."

It's a long morning. I clean one room after another and I manage to get it all done. When I get back home I take an aspirin and have a bit of rest, the same as my neighbours do when they get home from work!

I think to myself:: yes, it is Christmas every day of the year because as the song says, "Christmas is love!"

The hope of the future!The hope of the future!