of shopping, cooking, and laundry in Third World conditions. Jamilla’s
presence freed me to get on with my work, an arrangement men have
always found felicitous and surely one reason they have wanted wives.
Jamilla looked after me on my visits to Wa. When I was away I sent her
a monthly allowance.
The two of us started out tentatively, an ad hoc family, a pair of unlikely strangers sharing a house, feeling each other out, participants in
an adoption that felt like an arranged marriage. Over time we grew into
companionship and affection, but an awkwardness persisted. Jamilla
was shy of me, and it was more than the usual meekness young people
displayed in the presence of their elders. Perhaps it was too much that
I had saved her life when husband and kin had held back. Perhaps it
was lack of a shared language: Jamilla spoke no English, and my Waalii,
though functional, was ham-fisted in areas of emotion and attachment.
I would have liked us to be closer.
A high-end seamstress in Wa agreed to take on Jamilla as an apprentice. After a year, Jamilla set up on her own in Danko. Within months
she had acquired a dedicated clientele, for she dressed well and had an
instinctive sense of style. She sewed high-end outfits for both men and
women, but on market days she put up a roadside table to do repairs
James and Jamilla in my courtyard. Photo courtesy of the author.