By G. Pascal Zachary

I dread phone calls from Africa.

A sister is having a baby, her fifth, and wants us to send cash before the birth. An aunt calls on Christmas Day, hoping to tap our holiday spirit. Can't we pay for human traffickers to sneak her into the United States? The price is "only" $5,000, which strikes me as suspiciously low. My father-in-law rings just long enough to ask for a return call. Another aunt calls to announce that, tired of waiting for us to send money, she's changed her name from Patience to Joy. She really has. Then there is the distant relative phoning for the first time, asking us to pay his rent, his children's school fees, anything.

These people telephone because my wife, Chizo, is an African living in America. To be precise, Chizo is a Nigerian living in northern California. The telephoners are Nigerians too. They don't know California from the Carolinas, but they are poor, needy, and, by comparison with Chizo, in dire straits. They want her help, and usually help means sending cash. Chizo is a hair braider, working long hours for low pay and earning nothing when there are no heads to braid...

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