“Who goes there?” A looming voice bellowed, before the children reached the hill. The voice belonged to Wasselkou, Cheikh Almoustapha’s right-hand man. “Wasselkou, it is Fada, with friends.” Wasselkou beamed a flashlight toward Fada and the girls. “Ah, it IS you, Fada! Come quickly. It is a dangerous night. There have been attacks nearby. We are patrolling the area to protect the village. Come quickly.” Fada guided the girls toward the cheikh’s home. “Assalamualaikum”, he said, announcing himself before entering: “Peace be with you!” From inside came the customary response “Bismillah”, meaning, “By the grace of God!”
Fada promised Mouheini that he would personally introduce the girls to the cheikh before heading home, and added, “I wish you could stay with me, but I think the cheikh will prefer to keep you in his concession.” Mouheini felt tempted to insist on staying with him, but was too shy to do so. She had also hoped to see Fada’s magical well, but realized that this wish would have to wait until the morning. Fada went inside the adobe house, while the girls sat waiting outside. A teenage girl brought them a bowl filled with delicious crystal-clear water and a plate topped with dates, both of which they consumed ravenously, though Mouheini set some dates aside for Fada.
A few moments later, a magnificent tall man wrapped in an indigo turban, and holding a kerosene lantern, stepped out of the home. He beckoned the girls to him, ushering them inside: “Come, children, Fada has informed me that you are looking for shelter and water. He says you have had many misadventures. I will help you as best I can. Come tell me your story.”
The trio followed Cheikh Almoustapha into his home, where the the light from his lantern illuminated a room adorned with wool mats on the ground and traditional Tuareg camel bags and other decorations on the wall. The girls hesitated to talk. They felt shy in front of such a mighty man. The cheikh called a young teenage girl over to his side. “I understand, you do not want to speak with me directly,” he said. “You may talk to me through my daughter Housseina.” Relieved, Mouheini recounted their day’s misfortunes.