Aloi Primary School kids walk to school and don’t have meals. Sometimes they don’t eat for 1½ days. Girls drop out when they reach puberty because they don’t have sanitary provisions at all. Boys continue with their education and thus inequalities are created very early on. Those girls who drop out of school get married off by their families even as young as 14 years old. Is it appropriate to use the word ‘Dickensian’ when talking about Africa? Unforturnately these stories are not alien to me. South Africa has similar.
Some of the group talk about how they are from America. I wonder if these children have any concept of what America is. In fact how much concept do they have that there is anywhere in the world but here, or any kind of life but theirs? Do these children have maps of the world? They have so little.
Isn’t there some saying about how if you want to tell a story that no one else has told, you must find it where no one else has been? Isn’t there some neat saying like that? I can’t think of one, but it is my feeling that if there isn’t one, there should be. No one has been here and seen this. Like Livingstone discovering Africa, I’m convinced it is only us.
The day was dance competitions. The entire district have created teams and those teams have costumed themselves and created choreography of their traditional dance which includes lots of jumping high and landing hard on the ground. It’s fascinating. My favourite costume consists of powdered blue shorts, grass green socks and shirts a shade of pink that is enthralling.
All around the groups sit on the grass and eat corn, drink the local moonshine and eat cassava balls. They are cassava, rolled into balls, and deep-fried. They’re doughy and they have a taste and texture that doesn’t sit comfortably on my tongue. They are the local fare.
We don’t get lunch till after 5. We are so hungry. My attitude is that 95% of the people here are hungry most of the time, so we’re just getting a little taste of what they go through regularly. It’s all part of the experience. One of the group says, ‘We’re westerners, we need to eat’. It’s statements like that which ignite my mistrust and which, quite frankly, piss me off. Is she joking? Unfortunately, she is not.
One of our group who comes from America via Tanzania is from a related tribe. There was a sweet moment when there was a kind of little ceremony where he was given a chicken as a ‘welcome home’. I suggested that perhaps during the ceremony there might be a slaughtering of the chicken. ‘Oh no, I can’t participate in that. I don’t approve. I’m a vegetarian’. The one woman says. She doesn’t approve? Does she approve of the fact that the children of this community eat only every other 1½ days of the week? What do these people know of vegetarianism? To eat meat is a luxury, to eat vegetables is a luxury. In fact here, to eat at all is a luxury. Vegetarian? Give me a break.
Back to that revolting place where we’re staying. Yes I know. It’s a poor community and this is probably luxurious by their standards. One can hardly expect The Ritz. The food as always is delicious. The people are very hospitable, kind, warm. The evenings are spent sitting around a camp fire on plastic chairs drinking whisky (yes, I had the foresight to bring a bottle of Johnnie Black). It’s not that it’s not fun. In many ways it is. It’s definitely character building. Although between the pit latrine loos that stink, and the painful stories and the deprived circumstance and the lack of hot water and scarcity of electricity, and missing home and missing Tirelo my Lavah and road tripping every other day and being almost constantly in the company of so many strangers; I’m exhausted. I’m holding on. Three days and I can return to South Africa, and normalness.