This picture has been used before, but it will serve well today too, as an illustration of the theological and moral dilemma in which I now find myself:
‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands , you will remain in my love’. John 15:9
I married Keita against the commands of the Christian church, since he was already married.
‘This is my command: love one another’. John 15:17
I married Keita for love and pity for him and in order to be able to continue to engage myself in his health care and to have the right to be beside him in his illness. Even the Bishop of Mopti, although he excommunicated me, simultaneously gave me his blessing.
(This reminds me of a story the lovely Sister Yvonne told me in London:
A parish priest went to see his bishop. He told him how there had been a group of Anglicans in his church the Sunday previously, and how they had come up to the altar to receive communion.
‘And what did you do?’ asked the bishop.
‘I did what Christ would have done’ replied the parish priest.
‘surely not!’ replied the bishop, shocked.)
But I digress.
The dilemma at hand is the following:
I am going to Bamako for a few days, partly on Djenne library business, but above all to spend some time with Keita, who is still suffering from an infected hand. He is staying with his old Auntie and his cousins with whom he spent his childhood. His other wife is looking after him.
Now, what will happen when I arrive? The solution should be simple: according to Muslim polygamous law I have as much right to stay by his side as his other wife. She, by all rights should now leave and go to Segou and look after her children for a few days and return later, when I have left. But the family is seemingly reluctant to put this arrangement into place. Keita has not much say in the matter it seems, and anyway he is very weak.
I entered into a polygamous marriage on the understanding that I would share Keita with his first wife. Instead I find myself in the same situation as before our marriage in that I seemingly have no rights at all! His family is not abiding by the laws of their own society.
I have been told that I am allowed to go and visit him. But his other wife will be sitting in the room, refusing to leave like last time, and she has all the weight of the family behind her.
Why does the family refuse? Is there perhaps really something here. some sort of divine right, recognized instinctively by even this Malian polygamous society? Mai was Keita’s wife. Did I really do something wrong when I married him? Am I getting my just rewards?
Be that as it may. I now find myself fighting tooth and nail, a Christian, for my rights as a Muslim wife.
Never let it be said that I lived a humdrum, simple life…
I am fighting all the more, because I can guess something of what the future holds. If I am not allowed to stay by his side now, I will not be allowed later either, when his illness deteriorates. Neither Keita, his mother or his sisters seem to understand, or want to believe in the seriousness of his disease, which is incurable.
Instead they all say, infuriatingly: ‘Why are you making such a fuss? It is only for a short time. When he gets better you can see each other as much as you like!’
But the more his illness progresses, the more time he will spend in Bamako at his Auntie’s house, close to medical care. Already now, he hasn’t left Bamako since our arrival from Casablanca.
The matter is now in the hands of Baji, the eldest cousin in the Aunties household. I called her last night to plead my case with her. She said she understood me: I have the right to be next to my husband for a few days. She is now going to speak to the other cousins and the Auntie and the Family Council will come to a decision. This is the African way, against which I have no power whatsoever. I will now pray that the Auntie as Head of the Council will be given the wisdom and insight to come to a wise and just decision.…What will it be? And will I abide by it even if I find it unjust or will I now decide to step away from what I will find an impossible situation? Can I continue to engage myself in Keita if I have no rights whatsoever?