Though they are not where they belong and they don’t belong where they are, the almajiri, perceived as beggars and wanderers by many, have something good up their sleeves. PEMBI STEPHEN-DAVID writes.
On a sunny October afternoon, young boys in the north east city of Bauchi, the Bauchi State capital, were the cynosure of all eyes. With joy beyond measure, the boys, between 6 and 13 years old, were moving together in their dirty clothes, holding their plastic plates of various colours collecting remnant food form guests and sharing same among themselves. They were not intimidated by their looks but expressed love and care for one another. The occasion was a wedding fatiha in Tafawa Balewa Estate, Bauchi, on October 8, 2011.
The almajiri does not stand out among the dignitaries at weddings or any function not because he cannot but because in all cases, he is not invited. Despite the fact that they were not included in the programme of events, one of the side attractions at Yakubu’s wedding was almajiris’ brotherliness. What was particularly interesting about them is they share whatever they were offered. They live together and have all things in common. They, almost following the apostolic doctrine, continue daily with one accord moving from house to house looking for food with singleness of heart.
When 13, year-old Mohammad Inuwa, a native of Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, left his parents in 2009 and came to Sangaya area of Bauchi town, he thought his world had ended. ‘‘I was so afraid of what will become of me.’’ The first in a family of six, Mohammed is the leader of his set in Sangaya. He has every reason to miss home but he says he is happy with the company he enjoys among his brothers as he prefers to call his colleagues. ‘‘But now I have no fears because I live with my brothers who are also my good friends.’’
‘‘We are trained to be our brothers’ keeper, so we share whatever we are given. None of us goes home hungry as long as we are given food to eat,’’ revealed Inuwa, who is also the spokesperson of the group of over ten boys. Holding his plate, which he says was supplied to him, among others by an Alhaji, he says whenever they go out, they collect food as much as they can and share, leaving no one out. ‘‘Everyone of us has his plate as you can see. what we do is we gather the food in some of our plates and share.’’
True to his word, when they were offered food, they turn it into their plates ‘‘Because we are usually not allowed to eat from the plates given to us,’’ Mohammad says. They later found a place and shared the lots among themselves. ‘’One of our brother whose name is Sani is not feeling fine so we brought his plate and we will take his share home for him,’’ he revealed.
Kabiru, a 9- year old boy, had never left his family and never imagined life without his two brothers and a sister who he says are all he has and can ever care for. But when in June 2010, he was brought to Bauchi to be part of what he calls ‘the happiest family in the world’, everything changed. ‘‘It is not that I no longer love my brothers and sister who I have not seen for more than a year now, but the brothers I have here are wonderful. We don’t compete for anything. We don’t earn a living, yet we are feed and we hardly stay without food.’’
When he was 7, Ismaila joined the school without even realising it. To him, he was just going to be with them for a short period. At first, he watched how they did things with precision and thought they were just being overzealous. By the time he spent a month with them, it dawned on him that he had come to stay. So he got out of the box and became one of them. Now 10, Ismaila sees himself as lucky to be part of the family. ‘‘I am now a complete member of the family,’’ he says. It’s barely two years since Abakura joined the fold of the almjiri in Sangaya but he already belongs, earning the position of assistant head of the boy. His responsibility, among others, is to collect the food received and hand over to Mohammed who ensures that everyone gets his share.
Giving a run done of their daily activities, Abakura says they wake up as early as 5 am and say their prayers and recite the Quran. He says they leave their home at 7:30 am to look for food in the neighbourhood and go back home at 9 am to carry out their domestic duties which is usually shared among them according to their age. However at 12:30, they go out to look for lunch and go back at 2pm to say their prayers and continue their domestic function and quoranic recitation which last till 6pm. Between 6 and 8pm, they go out to look for food. They, like the military, have a good sense of organisation and work ethic.
Tutored by 30- year old Mallam Sali Sani, a native of Damba Local Government Area of Bauchi State, one of the almajiris who introduced himself as Musa says they are well taken care of by their master. ‘’Our teacher is a serious minded man. He always warn us to desist from causing trouble and we have always obeyed his command. That is why we are here.’’ 11- year old Musa says he has been in Bauchi for one year and will visit his parents in Maiduguri when he must have spent five years with his master.
Moving in a group like young army recruits, the boys do things together. Like the army in a Quick March Drill, the almajiris turn at the same time whenever they are called. They crack jokes, chase each other and move with the same pace. ‘’We sleep, wake up, say our prayers together and eat together,’’ says one of them who gives his name as Abubakar.
‘’I have lived in this area for over two years, and I can tell you that they almajiris here are well behaved. They go for errands for us and help us to get water from one place or the other whenever there is no water. Some of us cook with them in mind and keep a portion for them because of their attitude. They are not lazy at all,’’ explained Yunusa, who lives in the vicinity and was also at the wedding.
The almajiri made a good presentation of themselves by exhibiting what they said they are taught by their master. Mohammad says they are harmless and have never stolen anything from anyone. Like everyone born into this world, they never had the opportunity of choosing who their parents would be or what their family would look like. They came from different homes not because they wished but ‘‘because that is what it should be’’ as they tell whoever care to listen. The almajiri say they enjoy the brotherhood and are rightly proud of living and doing things together.