Gifts from the desert

For several months L.Sr. Luigina shared the daily life of the little sisters who live in a tent in Niger. It was 30 years ago, but this unique desert experience among our Muslim friends had a profound impact.

That is where I received the most beautiful gift I ever got.

And what was it? Just two miserable little bits of charcoal. And yet, after sharing daily life with them for a whole month I knew how precious such a gift was…extremely precious! After tracking down the donkeys, our neighbor went hunting all over the desert for firewood, which comes from a type of bush found only there. After finding some, she had to strip the thorns off branch by branch in order to be able to load it onto the backs of the donkeys. Back in the camp she started cooking, using the rare and precious wood as sparingly as possible. I had seen women make a fire out of a few twigs, and their skill was a source of wonder. Having heard that I would be leaving, this woman gave from her supply, which she needed so desperately for her own cooking, so that I could start a fire where I was going. Thirty years later that gift is still the most precious thing I have ever received.

That is where I learned the value of a drop of water.

There were very few material possessions in our friends’ tents, just what was essential for life. Until that point I’d thought there were many things one couldn’t live without. With our Tubu friends I understood that one could live with extremely little, and that water is the great wealth.

Just like all the other families, we went off to the wells every day with our donkey. It was a long walk through the desert. We had to leave early in order to get there before the camels and goats did if we wanted the water to be clean. Drawing water is not so simple. You have to know how to cast the leather receptacle into the well in just the right way if you want it to fill without stirring up the water, which would fill the water with mud. Then you have to draw it back up without letting the water spill back out. I admired the skill of our nomad friends, but also of our little sisters who had learned how to do this while living with them. The few liters of water you bring back have to serve for every need: drinking, cooking, all kinds of washing, including ourselves…In such a setting, every drop of water becomes precious!

That is where I received the most beautiful blessing of my life.

There was an older woman in the camp who was blind, and who passed her days outside at the entrance to her tent. Even though she couldn’t see, her “gaze” was turned toward the infinite. This woman had “become prayer.” Her whole being spoke to me of a presence of God.

At the time of my departure, when it was explained to her that I was leaving to make my final vows, she blessed me with words that have remained engraved on my heart and that guided the rest of my life: “May God make you a woman of prayer.” This blessing follows me to this day. I found my calling in it. It is a beacon in my relationship with God.

L.Sr. Luigina