This is just another day for the 3-½ million Songhai living along the Niger River. It is a day that cattle are driven to pasture; … a day for children to walk along sand dunes or just hang around; … a day to swim with the neighborhood kids; … or a day to take a bath or do laundry in the murky river waters. Others try to catch some fish with their net. … The fish are small but they will provide food for this fisherman’s family as well as some income from the market. … It is also a day for filling water buckets from holes dug in the sand of the dry riverbed. It is a day that will require much work just to survive… in the field planting, tilling and harvesting millet…in the garden tending the vegetables, and at home caring for the children. Like all other days controlled by Allah, the good and bad will come to all. But, … tomorrow will be really exciting … tomorrow is the weekly market day.
The market, like the rest of Songhai life is along the river’s edge. Many people get to market by boat. These small wooden boats have changed little since the Songhai settled here centuries ago. The radio in the stern of this boat is about all that has been added over time. Mango trees along the bank provide for delicious fruit as well as shade for a young swimmer. One can feel the excitement as the boats draw near the market. Boats … large and small … bring people and produce to the market. Some are like a big bus carrying a 100 or more passengers on board. … Others are more like a taxi with a dozen or so people moving through the water. Still others are family boats, but regardless of the size of the craft … all unload the same way. Some just watch as the cargo of people, animals, produce and other items are brought to shore. The air is full of greetings as people start to see their “market” friends.
The market is busy all day. A man carries a new grinding pot that they call a humburu (Hum boo rou). . Sugar cane stalks are ready for chopping and eating. Bundles of straw for roofing are for sale. A freshly butchered side of beef passes by, as others just mill around. Firewood has been stacked next to more sugar cane. Not for sale is this boy’s toy car made of wire. Kola nuts, a bitter, high caffeine treat, can usually be found. Some just sit and talk. … Others are hard at work. This is more than just a place to buy and sell. This is the main social event for the market town and all of the surrounding villages. For many, this is the only outing that will break the monotony of an otherwise dull life.
Grinding millet or sorghum grain by pounding in a wooden pot is done every day. Today the flour will be used for making bread cakes to be sold at the market. Sorghum and millet grain that has been threshed out is displayed in piles.
Some make clay pottery that can be used for storage or display. The pots are made in much the same manner as they always have. A highly skilled young woman can make a container in about 15 minutes. Her mother has taught her the craft of pottery. The women of this village have handed these methods down generation after generation. After the clay is molded, it is hardened in a big pit outside of the village with a fire of millet stalks, and then it is ready for use.
Hoe handles are made from a tree and then fitted with a steel blade. They are used to till the sandy soil along the riverbank. Millet heads, sugar cane, and cattle are all for sale. At the larger markets, camels and donkeys can be purchased. The hungry shopper or the weary vendor can always find fresh meat, bread cakes or other items cooked over an open fire. Some people come to the market in ox carts; others use a donkey to pull their two-wheeled carts. These carts are also needed to haul the produce to and from the market. Transportation, market day, and life in general have not changed for the Songhai for hundreds of years.
Market day is always a special day for the Songhai, but the next day … the market grounds are silent. A few patrons are at the outdoor restaurant that was very busy during market day. A young boy leads a blind man by the empty stalls. Hoping to chase hunger away from their home, two children sift the dirt as they glean for kernels of grain spilled the previous day. Children pass by the school that is often closed. (Is it any wonder that only one in ten of the Songhai can read?)
Just as the market day is important for the Songhai, so is Friday. It is the day to go to the Mosque for prayer. With prayer beads and prayer mat in hand, they hurry to do their duty. … Boys with their pots are looking for a handout. In the hopes of receiving alms, the cripple and the blind always come to the gate at this time. They will receive gifts today because Allah bestows special blessings on those who give on Friday. At the Mosque, they pray memorized prayers to Allah in a language that most do not understand. They also hear an exhortation by the chief priest. Once again, the day is over,…. and tomorrow … the cycle begins afresh.
Change from this “just another day” way of life is difficult for the Songhai. The habits of life run deep … but … change is coming. Access to the modern day world is now available to many. A satellite dish … bringing the world closer to them … is obvious to those passing … but they don’t see it. To the Songhai, it seems that the only change is the decay brought on by time.
There are a few people seeking to introduce a new day to the Songhai … a new day of forgiveness and joy brought through faith in the only true God. Some of the Songhai Christians are learning how to teach God’s word to their friends and neighbors, … but … with so few Christians, … it is a lonely task. … A task that only the truly committed will undertake.
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How can YOU help these Believers share the Good News of Jesus? … Will you commit to earnestly pray for those who have chosen to follow Jesus? … Will you fervently pray that soon the Songhai will see a new day in faith in Jesus Christ? … Will you travel to a far away land to show the love of Jesus to the Songhai?
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“How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things.” Romans 10:14-15
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