Thursday, September 20, 2007

How a Misheard Name can Mean you spend the next five years in prison, wishing you'd gone to a marabout without a hearing defect

"We will now retire for lunch, and afterwards hear the final arguments of the defense", Judge Banner said, banging his gavel on the table and rising in royal fashion, his robes draped about his small figure and embracing him like a mop around its broom handle. Into his chambers he stepped, sending one of the junior clerks out to get him a sandwich from the local deli. Five minutes later, he choked on a tomato hidden deep within the multiple layers of the club sandwich he had ordered, turned a bright purple, desperately clawed at the air, and collapsed in a huddle with his robes spread out on the floor around him. He was dead by the time the ambulance arrived.


Modou called his house, for the last time for a very long time, that evening. His mother got on the phone as soon as he called. She had been waiting - distraught, distractedly telling her prayer beads - all evening for her eldest son's call.

"Mother - it is me". The voice was distorted and you had to strain to hear it - the distance making it sound hollow.

"Modou - oh Modou. We have been waiting all day....". The family had gathered around her - Jawara, Awa, little Cordu - running to the living room where the phone was from all corners of the house as soon as they had heard the rring-rring, seeming to detect by a sixth sense that it was Modou.

"Mother - it is not good. I... the judge... I was given five years..."

The line went dead in Modou's hands. He turned around with a pleading look to the policeman who had been waiting to take him away, but changed his mind about asking him for a second call when he saw the expression on his face: rock-hard, cold as stone.

On the other end, the family tried to revive Modou's fainted mother.


They went back to the marabout, of course. A week later, after Modou's mother had been released from the hospital, after they had finally sat down and taken stock and started to realize the grim reality that awaited them, without the money Modou sent every month for the family's expenses. They found him sitting inside his heavily-incensed room, hidden in a cloud of shadows and smoke. But today, instead of being impressed and awed like they had been the first time, they were only angry. The marabout had said to them "give me the name of the judge only, and then go home and rest: your son will be safe". After it had been established that they had done everything he had asked (down to the sacrifice of the white goat with the black beard), after they had sworn and sworn again that they had given out all the alms he had said they should (even the dalasi coin to the one-eyed man outside the mosque), the matter came down to the issue of the judge's name.

"What was the name of the judge?", the marabout asked - and you could hear in his voice that he was in a great flummox, though he tried to hide it behind numerous throat-clearings and insha-allahs.

"Vanner", Awa, the eldest daughter - who had taken on speaking responsibilities because their old mother was too weak to talk - replied.

The marabout exclaimed loudly and got to his feet, pointing the rosary he held at them like the might of the Lord, indignation in his every action, his every word. "Van-NER?", he roared, putting emphasis on the last syllable "Out! Out! How do you expect my incantations to work when you give me the wrong name. VAN-NER? This woman here", pointing at Awa, who was leaning back in alarm, and half-shaking her head in denial, "called me on the mobile phone", extricating the phone from a pocket deep in his chaya, "and told me", bringing the phone up to his head, as if receiving a call, "the name of the judge was BAN-NER. BAN! NER! Now you say.... Now you say", he was spluttering now, unable to finish the sentence, shooing them out with his rosary, his face wearing such an apoplectic expression they ran out in a rush, all of them, their old mother bringing up the rear, bent over with shame and grief and regret.

In later years, as they slid further and further back down into the deep destitute trench from which Modou had slowly but gradually been winching them, it was universally agreed amongst the family that this whole thing was Awa's fault, for not having been clearer with the Judge's name, when she spoke to the Marabout.

[Context: Marabouts are the local versions of witch doctors, though most of them use the Koran to do what they do, so they are generally regarded as witch doctors of the good kind. When a woman's son gets into trouble abroad, and somehow gets tangled in the legal system, it is not uncommon for them to go visiting a marabout with the judge's name, to get the case 'taken care of', and her son out of trouble. Many women swear by this, and claim it is the only thing that has saved their offspring abroad from jailtime and/or worse troubles. Results may vary - but always be sure to give the marabout the right name, repeating it several times over the course of a few visits if necessary.]


  1. Hi Amran,
    I really enjoyed reading your postings. You're an excellent writer. I also loved the diversity of subjects you posted. Keep up the good work.

  2. I think the marabou has nothing to do with it. It was the mans' destiny to serve the the 5 year sentence even with the right name givn. Believing that a marabou can change your destiny can get some of us muslims in serious problems in the hereafter. Now I'm not talking about a pious person making a supplication for you but those so called marabout we our fortune to change our destiny.l