Part of our History, Life among the Bankilare Tuareg

When forwarding on to us this news of life in Bankilare not far from the border of Niger with Burkina Faso and Mali, Daniela Chiara, the Regional, writes from Niamey :

‘ I want you to know that all that has happened here has been a gift from God and that together with the Little sisters who went to Bankilare I am profoundly happy. You must know too how it is all so very fragile! We try to follow the signs and to live each day as it comes with all our love, leaving the future in the hands of  the Master. Please do pray for us and for the Bella people who have given us such a wonderful welcome.’

The three Little sisters who are part of this project write:
'We feel close to you all at this particular moment in the life of our Community all over the world, trying  to muster our strength at the age we are, to draw new life through being faithful to our charism.'

When searching to renew our presence in Northern Niger(Agadez - Kerbubu) we received a surprise invitation from the Bishop to start this new community in a Tuareg village west of Niamey. It was an idea we would never have thought of!  After a short  stay there in April, we decided to return for an initial two months, August-September 2008.

Three of us leave for Bankilare on the 3rd of August.    Our Father Bishop sends us there to live the Christian-Islamic dialogue through the simplicity of our lives:   ‘Carry the good news in the midst of this  Moslem population of Bankilare by what you are.’  We  receive the same encouragement from the two priests of Dolbel, our  parish , 45 miles from here.

On August 6th, we move to our new home, a rented house of three rooms with a shelter covered with mats and a yard. In front of the house, there is a camp of huts. Almost everybody speaks Tamajaq (a rare thing in Niger) and our knowledge of the language helps us to enter very naturally into village life.

Many years spent with the Tuareg of the North has given us a certain familiarity with this people; good memories of nomadic life unite us especially as the majority of the population have nomadic origins. We feel this in their whole way of being.  Adapting to a sedentary way of life makes new demands. During the rainy season, everybody works in the fields and then most of the men, for lack of work on the spot, leave for the Ivory Coast.

Because of recent rains the desert was blooming in all its splendor. Water flowed freely everywhere and water-lilies were growing besides the banks while the air was filled by the sound of  birds of all colours. For the men there was work in the fields while the women prepared for harvest. The heavy pestles danced, guided by their hands, to get the grain out of the ears and the children were so happy to eat fresh millet roasted on the fire.

However the rains did not last long. They needed one or two more good rains for a plentiful harvest. While the millet, sorgho, bean harvest were small we marvelled at the fruits of patience, abandonment, and gratitude, despite everything: ‘El-hamdoullah, negodey-ak meshina. We give thanks to God.’  These words are often present on the lips of these people and heaven will remain faithful to them.

We also kept a look out for work for us little sisters. We had a few ideas. Violetta went several times to the blacksmiths. Women work leather with great skill. The beauty of their work, often items that are very practical, won us over. We could also see the possibility of using their very rich and intricate patterns for making things to sell. They showed her their techniques that she used to make two different types of bag and they appreciated her work. New possibilities could open up though working together. At this season however, the work in the fields does not leave the women much time for leather work. We could also imagine building a shelter close to the market, as a possible place of work, a place of contact and sharing.

During the rainy season we could work in the fields, according to our strength. Some of the women make mats with millet stems to shelter themselves from the sun and the wind, a job we could also take part in.

Bankilare is like an open door through which we are warmly invited to enter. Life is overflowing with movement and new discoveries, but the door is rather narrow! It requires gentleness not to hit it when entering! Yes, the house of the other invites us to remove our shoes. It calls us to respect, to goodness, coming face to face with its mystery. Time and the opening up of hidden treasures belong to God.

The three of us were very struck, to feel at what point Bankilare could be the right place for a community. Here, having shared the life of the Tuareg in both the Hoggar and Kerbubu, we would be continuing our friendship with the Tuareg people. there are many differences however: differences in language, differences in the way of relating in  society, differences in history, and customs. We feel less the grip of modernity, of tourists, of the NGO's. But even if there is continuation, we do not come as those who know. We come on tiptoe.

Being part of this temporary team, we have felt a call to conversion, a call to arrive very humbly, without knowing, without power, with infinite respect for every person, and giving special attention to human relationships... It is a village which appears homogeneous, but there is also a lot of diversity. It is a Moslem village with a few Catholic and Protestant Christians. Several tribes are represented who retain memories of past rivalries and divisions. There is a lot to be discovered and room for our vocation to build unity.

We come to the village bringing our ‘strangeness’. For the time being we are three Europeans, we are Christians, not young and without children. People wonder. We will have to weave the cloth of our daily Nazareth life through our mutual questioning. We will have to remain in contemplation before the mystery of the other, and dwell with unconditional love enfolded in the great mystery of God, because He alone can enable us to remain with his flock.

We had a clear awareness that God's hand had led us, making us walk on a way that none of us could have imagined. He had prepared us a place taking care of all the details. He had made a little star shine when the darkness was so thick, promising us ‘a future full of hope ‘. Jer 29:11:

Do not fear, I am with you. Do not be afraid, the flock is mine, but you, do you love me? ‘

The decision has now been taken to make a permanent foundation.

Outside our houseOutside our house