I was heading back home from the market when I noticed a group of boys lurking around some closed shops in the market. Some were lying on the floor, fast asleep, oblivious to their surroundings. Some were play-fighting as young boys do. They looked unkempt, with countless stains on their clothes, which were not even matching. Dried-up saliva could be spotted on some of the faces I saw. A few had rosaries hung on their necks. I couldn’t help but think that was an assurance that they were not alone, that someone was always with them, watching over them.
I looked again, and noticed about half of the boys were without shoes. Here I was well clothed, with shoes, walking under this hot sun, sweating because the heat was too much. And these boys were here with their customary blue bowls, lying on the heated earth, walking and working barefooted.
Out of curiosity, I wanted to know how these boys survived each passing day, especially during this fasting period, the month of Ramadan.
Whenever I hear the word “Ramadan”, the first thing that comes to mind is “answered prayers”. The month of giving, of healthy living, steadfastness in faith, and most of all, a month that guides the rest of the calendar months towards maintaining the atmosphere we were in Ramadan.
I called three out of the boys gathered to a corner. Adamu, Abdullahi and Hassan. Here was what I got from the short interaction I had with them.
They were brought in by their parents from the core north to hustle for their daily feedings; abandoned by these parents who themselves have chosen another route to beg for alms. The oldest of these boys is not more than the age of 12. And they were out every day, under the rain, under the sun, abandoned by their parents who couldn’t cater to them. They wander through miles in circles and in stretches. And while their age mates elsewhere are within the four walls of classrooms, learning, the hope of this is locked against them; they are rather out there under the hazy weather day and night begging to remain alive.
This set of children work by begging for alms and food; they are not uncommon in social and ceremonial gatherings — in cities, and in many towns. Clad in tattered unmatched clothing, bowls in their hands, rhythmic songs in their mouths, and often repeated prayers at the sight of a potential almsgiver. Their particularly unifying rhyme has come under a generic name known as “Bambiala”. And the generic identity for these ‘misfits’ is also known as “Al-majiris.”
While Bambiala roughly denotes ‘begging’, Al-majiri is derived from the Arabic word “Al-mahajirun” which means a ‘migrant’ who leaves home in the search of knowledge and has gained a new meaning by the ways and manners of those with the name tag amongst Hausas. The word now sums up in the mind of many a young person who begs for alms on the streets and does not attend a formal, secular school.
Like many of us, these kids weren’t born with a silver spoon, but their own potions are beyond helpless. More like, kids born with an Al-majiri bowl.
How do they cope during the blessed month of Ramadan? I bet they also see this as a giveaway month when they have more food to eat. And with the hot sun and the weakness that sometimes accompanies it, leaving one super dehydrated, these boys do not walk around the entire afternoon, they maximize the blessings of the month; they attend an Arabic school which they call “Makarantan Al-Qurani.” This will enable them to gain more rewards because no one is left out in Allah’s immeasurable blessings.
Al-majiris, a happy set of children with nowhere to sleep at night, or any other time of the day. Children that you see and want to move further away from so as to avoid being inflicted with any form of disease, poverty included.
Children who were not asked to be born. Children who you shoo away from your wears and wares because, by nature, they’re dents, and thieves. We are in one way or the other guilty of how these children are perceived.
You could start to make an impact on these children even with just a smile.
As I left Hassan and his friends with one overripe banana in hand, I felt sad at their helplessness and hopelessness. A situation they had no choice in.
Let’s help as many of these children born with an Al-majiri bowl as possible. Do not stop the act of giving just because Ramadan is over.