With some time to spare, some help out with menial tasks, such as garbage disposal, errands at construction sites, house cleaning etc. All of which ends at around 9 am. They move back and recite from their Allo. At such a time, the Malam, who is usually engaged in low income trade, heads out for the market. Under the supervision of Gardis, the recital continues until the second call to Islamic prayer. The Zuhr. As the occasion warrants, they disperse again to various mosques and attend the prayer.
With malam still away, the Almajiris get some free time, some stay back and continue recital in order to memorise which stops when their stomachs grumble. Others go back to their menial jobs and whatever they can do to make ends meet.
Upon inquisition, I found out that in rural Almajiri schools, some go along with their Malam to work on his farmlands, They are taught how to farm and other agrarian activities.
The unfortunate hard life of an Almajiri does not break them, even in the throes of survival, under the most unhygienic conditions, levity and recreation is part of their daily activity.
After evening recital, most Almajiri, like the rest of the young populous, head out for their favourite sporting activity, soccer.
Ebullient and enthusiastic, they play soccer at abandoned fields, the ball sometimes an empty water bottle, a well crafted rubber ball sourced from the garbage and in some cases, the bowl they eat from. Others among them go on sightseeing mostly to football pitches or any place that gathers crowds. Hardly do you find any lively crowd gathering without finding Almajiri feasting for their eyes and when they get hungry, they do what they are known for.
Despite the uncertainty of not having a next meal, they play soccer zealously with almost no sign of a difficult life. Watching them, I myself considered joining a soccer team- though I’m quite terrible at it. They played till the sun set, But as the sun was setting, so was their respite.
In northern Nigeria, Sunset is usually marked by the call to prayer of Maghrib. After prayer, the yoke of hunger returns him to his known activity, begging for food, this time, not for himself alone, while also searching for important item. Iccen makaranta. – translation school stick
The Iccen Makaranta is a necessary tool for the Almajiri, a mixture of dried leaves and sticks which can easily be set ablaze must be sourced for night recital. Inspection for the item is done by either the Malam or Gardi who at this time, have returned from their activities.
The Iccen makaranta is set ablaze to provide lighting for night recital which spans for almost four hours. But as previously mentioned, that is not the only item to be brought back at night. The Almajiri is required to bring their last meal to Malam, though some Malam don’t impose this on them, others enforce it, with repercussions for non compliance.
Reportedly, the Malam and his family gather all the food from more than a dozen Almajiri and voraciously satisfy their appetite. The surfeit is saved for the next day. On some specific days, usually fridays, taxes of 100 naira is imposed on every child.
This unimaginable strenuous life of a child is what the Almajiri system of today is. The cycle of abuse and atrocity committed on these children is commensurate to the system and part of daily activities of an Almajiri.
Hapless, trying to memorise their verses, and hopeful of someday completing the scripture. They retire to their cold floors, amidst rodents and insects, without warm blankets, for a shut eye.
It’s hard to imagine a child living such a life.
My experience watching and interviewing them left me in deep melancholy. Truly, meaning can be found in research, but so do many questions.
A question that persisted with me was if they find joy in any part of this. “Surely”, I thought to myself, “It can’t be all bad”. As the night drew and my curiosity persistent, I asked one of them, “What is your best day throughout all of this”.
“Sir , I have been in this system for quite some time, I remember one time I was walking late at night in the rain, injured from a farm activity, quite severe that tears flowed down my cheeks, I hadn’t gotten malam his food so I still went to beg. I came across a house. With a shaky voice, I tried my luck. I sang my tune for a while until I heard a voice. “Come in” it said. A woman called me into the house and out of the rain, with her family seated in the verandah, she offered me food, and asked me to eat it there because surely she wasn’t going to let me out in the rain, I couldn’t. I knew it was for Malam, I couldn’t go back without it. They pressed on and I told them I had to take it to him. Nevertheless, they made me eat and promised to give me another to take to him. I guzzled as fast as I can.
Seeing me drenched from the rain, they gave me new dry clothes after they tended to my injury. I could not take them for I was afraid Gardi may seize it. So I said, “I’ll come tomorrow morning and take it” . It became a place I frequent daily, I began to help them as much as I could. I even came to infatuate with one of their daughters who, if I had been at the age of marriage, would have become my wife. I will never forget the kindness they showed me.”
Living under an apathetic government, without proper education, neglected and often ostracised, Kindness is the least we can do to assuage their daily strife. The victims didn’t choose the system for themselves, nor do they know any other system beside it.
Over an estimated 7 million of the Northern population. The Almajiri must be seen as children in need of help, and not a problem that needs to return to where it came from.
Next morning, I woke up to one of their tunes again, this time it was no longer an unwanted alarm clock. It is a cry for help from someone stronger than me.