TIME ZONES : Two-and-a-Half Hours With a Faki in Chad

Putting the Mysteries of Islam and Numerology to Work

People seek help elsewhere in Africa
People seek help elsewhere in Africa "and it doesn't work," Hamid says. "They come to me, and it works." (Travis Fox - washingtonpost.com)
By Travis Fox
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007

N'DJAMENA, Chad

The air is still cool at 9:30 a.m. as Yagoub Ali Hamid steps out of his pale yellow house into the sandy courtyard that leads to his office. His blue and gray plaid tunic skims the ground as his black sandals gently sink in with each step. The sound of a generator firing up across the street breaks the peace and quiet of a Sunday morning.

Inside his dusty office, Hamid lays a prayer rug out on the floor, reaches for a bamboo stylus and a bottle of black ink and sits down. He dips the bamboo into the ink and begins to write on a loh, a rectangular piece of wood cut with a handle on one end and two sharp points on the other.

"Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord."

He continues writing out the Jinn chapter of the Koran, the section of the Muslim holy book that deals with invisible creatures known as jinn that in Western culture spawned the legend of the genie in a bottle. He sings verses aloud as he works his way down the wood.

But this is not only a religious exercise. Hamid is a faki, a uniquely African mixture of Islamic scholar and witch doctor. People seek his help on everything: curing a cough, for example, or predicting the future. Government employees are among his regulars, he says, especially when they're hoping for a promotion.

"There are among us some that are righteous and some the contrary."

The words mark the beginning of a 40-day treatment Hamid designed to help one of his patients who suffers from seizures. "They try to get treatment in Egypt, Sudan and Cameroon, and it doesn't work," Hamid says. "They come to me, and it works."

He puts down the loh and picks up a book, "Fire to Get Rid of the Devil," waving it in the air. He boasts of his success rate: "If you bring me a crazy person, I swear I will cure him. I've done it many times."

At 9:45 a.m., three cousins pass through a lace curtain that separates Hamid's office from the courtyard and sit down on a couch. Hamid, switching from Arabic to the tribal language of Zaghawa, asks them why they have come. Someone stole $200 from them, they say, and they want Hamid to help them get it back.

"We trust him because he believes in the Koran and will ask God," says Mahamat Khatir, 22, sitting between his two cousins. "The faki will get the money back."

As the young men tell their story, Hamid rummages through books and papers stacked on the floor and on a small table. A picture of the Great Mosque in Mecca hangs on the wall above him. About five minutes later, he finds what he is looking for -- prayer beads.


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