A Boy Named Moussa
Moussa was born in Senegal, West Africa. He was born with dystonia, a neurological disorder that effects muscles and movement.
Sometimes it can be severe and the victim may go through life in agony and never be able to walk or move independently. With Moussa, it caused him to be cross-eyed and unable to walk until the age of four. And even then, his gate was weird and loopy.
He was born to parents on the lower-levels of Senegalese society, a poverty stricken country where the average lifespan is about 55. Perhaps had he been born to wealthier parents, or just parents who cared more, he would have had an easier younger life.
However, that was not to be. His mother soon gave birth to a perfectly normal girl and the deformed and disfigured Moussa went neglected. Moussa’s father didn’t stick around so Moussa grew up in a makeshift tent by a gas station on a dusty corner of Dakar with just his mother, sister, and nearly blind grandfather.
All they could do for Moussa was give him an empty can and send him to the streets to beg. And beg he did. Until the age of 5, he panhandled on the streets of Dakar, limping along with his deformities and crossed-eyes, accepting whatever kindness strangers could offer, and surviving conditions I don’t even want to imagine.
And in the midst of this difficult and miserable life, Allah brought Moussa some relief.
An American Named Neal
While visiting Senegal, an American (named Neal) sees Moussa begging in the street by the gas station. But unlike most beggar boys, Moussa didn’t run with a posse and didn’t hand his earnings to some manipulative adult.
Instead Moussa took his money back to the makeshift home by the side of the gas station and gave it to his mother. Neal was touched by the dilapidated living conditions Moussa endured. He continued to visit the gas station throughout the rest of his stay in Senegal.
He learned early on not to give the street boys money but instead offered them candy or food or soda. Eventually, Moussa and his family got used to seeing the American every day and he earned a certain level of trust. At some point, it was time for Neal to return home.
But he couldn’t stop thinking about Moussa. So, with very little to go on, and barely holding out hope, he got in touch with his friend, a Senegalese man named Assane Diallo. And this is when everyone’s life begins to change.
A Man Named Assane
Assane Diallo also lived in Senegal. But he didn’t live by a gas station in a makeshift tent. He lived in a nice apartment in Dakar.
Assane was well educated, spoke several languages, memorized the entire Quran, and had a nice family with a wife and 5 kids, the oldest only 16 years old.
Assane had a good job as a French instructor and tour guide for visiting Americans and Europeans. That’s how he met Neal. Neal told Assane about Moussa and sent him a picture, perhaps hoping that Assane could find the boy and get him whatever help the Senegalese welfare system can offer.
Armed with nothing more than a picture of Moussa and the location of the gas station, Assane went looking. Assane eventually finds Moussa’s family. That was the easy part.
The difficult part was convincing them to let him take Moussa away from the makeshift tent by the gas station and enroll him in a local school. The family finally relented, and a new journey begins for Assane and Moussa.
For the next month or so, Assane would come to the gas station to carry Moussa to school. For Moussa, it was a little relief from his hard life, though only for a few hours a day. One day, there’s a knock on Assane’s door and he opens it to find Moussa with his blind grandfather and all of his belongings.
The old man tells Assane that Moussa belongs to him and the toubab (white man i.e. Neal) now. And just like that, Assane had a sixth child. At first, Assane tried to take Moussa to a local orphanage but that didn’t last long.
Moussa just wouldn’t stay put.
One night, Moussa escaped the orphanage and somehow made it back to the gas station and then to Assane’s school. Only Allah knows how this deformed, cross-eyed boy of six years old, managed to navigate the hectic public transportation system of one the most myriad and hectic cities in Africa by himself.
And he did this with no money and no adults. Alhamdulillah, no one harmed Moussa during this escapade which is probably an amazing tale in itself. Seeing that there was nowhere else for Moussa to go (his grandfather, mother, and sister left Dakar and possibly moved to Mali), Assane and his wife decide to take Moussa into their home.
There’s a lot more to tell. And I haven’t explained yet how I wound up involved with Moussa and Assane. But the hour is late and I like drama. Inshallah, the story will continue.