“Give me my money,” the girl says. She is identical to all the other girls with her green primary school uniform and her close cropped hair. You have probably walked past her dozens of times. On other days she may even have greeted you in the exact same way. On other days you may have even returned the greeting with a smile and shrug.
On other, sunnier days.
“What?” You stop walking and look at her. Her legs are ashy. Her feet are shoeless. A thin crust of dried snot hovers just below her nostrils. On other days you would have kept walking. On other days you would not have said anything.
It is Becky’s special day, so she gets to choose what we do. She could have chosen anything. She chose the zoo. We see the turtles, a giraffe, the elephants (of course), and a mountain lion that probably hasn’t spent a single day of his life anywhere near a mountain. But it isn’t the menagerie of birds or the countless exotic fish she wants to see.
“Monkeys!” she says, her too pale face lighting up as she races to the railing.
“Honey, don’t get too close,” Her mother says trying to keep up.
There are five of them in the grotto. One walks around the perimeter, shaking branches. The others take refuge in a rapidly shrinking area of shade underneath a large climbing rock. It rained earlier but as the afternoon wears on, the temperature soars. The heat threatens to reignite the dying embers of an early morning headache. My shirt is damp from the humidity.
Day nine at site. I leave the house early to attend a meeting at the school. The wind whips around me as I leave the house. Thyolo is a district of wind. It comes down from the mountains and whooshes through the treetops. Often, I lie awake in the middle of the night, listening as it catches on the tin roof of my house. The noise is rather sinister, the sound of many hoofed beasts escaping perdition as the howls of the damned scream after them. As I walk to school I am grateful for my jacket and my baseball cap.
I arrive at the school at 8:11AM. There is no one around. I sit. I wait. A young girl of about eight emerges from the gray mists surrounding the tea fields. She is quite thin. She carries a stick in her hand and a baby on her back. She shuffles past me. I wave and she responds in kind. She adjusts her chitenje and turns slightly, allowing the infant a chance to gaze upon the strange pale creature from a far away land. The baby does not seem terribly interested. “Iwe!” the girl shouts to some unseen friend before disappearing back into the fog. Continue reading →
It has been three weeks. I have been back in Thyolo for less than 24 hours when I decide to go to a local football match. Elvis is the coach and his team is number one in their division.
I am nearly at the pitch when I cross paths with a young girl of about 14. She stops dead in her tracks and looks at me with equal parts fear and confusion. This is a common reaction and I respond by taking two quick steps in her direction. She jumps backwards, nearly spilling the pot of water balanced so expertly on her head. Her fear quickly turns to embarrassment when she sees the broad smile on my face. I am harmless, the smile says. She laughs and continues on her way, making sure to give me a very wide berth.