The Princess and the Pauper Woman – Zu Bibi  (Part 2)

Peshawar, Pakistan 1997

There is a pair of well-worn, muddy shoes outside our door. On the inside, a faded shuttlecock burka hangs on a hook, and the sound of scrubbing comes from the kitchen.

I look up from the rattling keys of my word processor. The thing I admire about Zu Bibi is her faithfulness. She comes across muddy fields, rain, hail or shine. She always comes. I’d never get all those letters done for the bishop if I didn’t have her coming part-time to help around the house. She’s fantastic.

There is a quiet call. “Sister, I am going.”

I give her the customary hug and three kisses, on alternate cheeks. Zu Bibi’s hug is a little longer than usual. “Sister Janna,” she says, “you are my friend and I need your help. Could you give me a small advance on my wages?”

I am not fazed. Zu Bibi always has a good reason, and she always pays it back. “What is it, Zu Bibi?”

Tears come to the Pashtun woman’s eyes. She has had a hard life – looks fifty but is only thirty.

“Sister Janna, I need some special meat.”

“What do you want pig meat for, Zu Bibi? That is haram, unclean, for Muslims.”

“But my doctor says that special meat is the only thing which will cure my joint pains. You are a Christian, and a foreigner. You must be able to get it for me.”

I figure the doctor is a pir, a holy man who mixes Islam with all sorts of black arts and bizarre medication.

“Zu Bibi, we don’t eat it in Pakistan. It would not be right that we upset our Muslim friends. Anyway, I don’t think it would do anything for your rheumatism. You should save your money.”

“I really must have some,” she declares, and shuffles off in her anonymous garb.

A week later, Zu Bibi confides to me in a quiet whisper, “I have the special meat, Sister Janna”. She reaches into her bosom and pulls out a small calico bag that is tied around her neck. Then she carefully withdraws a hard, dark piece of salted meat. It looks a bit like dried corned beef. “I found the man who gets it from the jungle hunters. Sister, you are the one who knows what special meat tastes like. You must test it for me.”

I curl my nose. Undeterred, my helper separates a sliver of meat from the uninviting blob, “I must be sure, otherwise I have spent all my money for nothing”.

I recoil. Who knows where that blob has come from, who has handled it and where it’s been?

“I know it will work,” asserts the village woman, “as long as it is special meat. Try it, Sister Janna.”

I stare at the uninviting morsel, then back into the round face of my expectant helper. But she is more than a helper. She has become a friend. That swings the deal; friends do things for each other. I close my eyes and nibble the grimy morsel. It has a smoky, salty taste, with a faint pork flavour.

Maybe it is salted pork after all. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. Otherwise she’ll be devastated. “Yes, Zu Bibi, I think it is special meat.”

Some of the work-worn lines on the helper’s face immediately dissolve. She beams. “Thank you, Sister Janna. Thank you.”

She takes a fragment from the blob in the bag and puts it into a glass of water and religiously drinks it all. “I will do that every day till it’s all gone, then my pain will also be gone.” She smiles and reaches behind the door for the mop.

After a month, the special meat turns out not to be so special after all. “Sister Janna,” Zu Bibi says, “I need one of your Australian disprin tablets. My joints are giving me big trouble today. Your tablets work so much better than the Pakistani ones.”

I nod. Half the drugs in this country are mostly clay. I hand her two tablets. “Take these and make some tea for us before I go to the bishop’s office … and I will pray with you.”

Later, my British friend, red-haired Susan shares with me. “When Zu Bibi comes to clean my house, she insists that I teach her to read. She is going really well. She says it will give her more control of her life. And she wants to read for herself, the stories I have told her from the Bible.”

Research shows that the number one reason why Muslims first become interested in Jesus Christ is observing Christian lifestyle. That’s why I endured the special meat test, and Susan taught. Ultimately our good friend will come to a sad end, thanks to her violent husband. But that’s another story. And who knows how the Holy Spirit has moved in the life of this Pauper Woman, prior to that.

You might like to also read The Princess and the Pauper Woman – Ayisha (Part 1)

About the Author

Janna Lock

Janna and Grant Lock live in Adelaide. They were missionaries in Pakistan and Afghanistan for 24 years. For more of Janna’s stories, read Grant’s books, “Shoot Me First”, and “I’d Rather Be Blind”, available online or from Koorong Bookshops. Janna and Grant are popular speakers across Australia.

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