“Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” (Daniel 4.33)
I saw Nebuchadnezzar today. She was about thirty, I think. I have no idea whether she was humbled for walking in pride. But humbled she was. On all fours, down in the dust with the same sinuous subservience that you see with a dog too often beaten. Her mouth gaping in a rictus of appeal , an arm raised as if to beckon and to shield herself, both at once. Every shred of human dignity departed, naked from her bush to her breasts. Marijke said of those, as we were leaving: small like a child’s, but obviously used for suckling. What happened to the children this woman must have borne, before she was driven away?
It was on the way back from Madjre. Marijke’s blog tells of what we do there. A centre for the mentally disabled and psychiatrically afflicted. Men, women, children plucked from the roadside, from village hovels, freed from shackles and given shelter by a man called Raoul Agossou. Facilities beyond primitive, but home to love and respect. Every week on Thursday morning we spend an hour or so with the people there, talking, touching, playing, singing, reading and praying. There are those in that place who perhaps no more than a few months before were totally unaware of themselves as people, as human beings, as creatures after God’s image. Like Nebuchadnezzar.
On the way back from Madjre this morning we stopped to greet our friends the Celestes. And as we walked onto the terrain, there she was, calling out to us with incoherent cries from the other side of the dusty square. No-one but us paid her any attention as we sat down to talk. It was about two weeks ago that she had arrived at this place, we heard. From somewhere near Toviklin, about 15 km away through the bush. Since then she had been hanging around like this. One of the many nameless fou’s that wander about in Benin, scouring the countryside for things edible.
She didn’t approach us; but she kept calling out. So as we were getting up to leave, Marijke decided to walk towards her. I watched as the smile widened, the body arched upwards. Again, for all the world like a dog; you know, the kind that can hardly believe someone is actually coming over to pet it.
Two things happened at that moment. I don’t know which affected me more. She became a woman, grabbed hold of Marijke’s outstretched hands and wouldn’t let go. What she meant to do, to say: God only knows. It was a moment of human contact; but so intense that it was a bit frightening as well. Marijke struggled to be released.
And at the same time, the people around me laughed. They laughed at Marijke, I think, for treating this woman like a human being. That was the kind of laugh it was. With a touch of amazement, a helping of scorn, and a portion of amusement. They laughed at the woman too, the spectacle she presented. No-one seemed troubled, no-one was shamed, no-one moved to help. Then the moment passed and Marijke was able to step away. The woman lowered herself back into the dust and her animal existence.
It was an awful thing that came upon Nebuchadnezzar.