Saturday, June 13, 2009

Music in Mapalo

Chirping resounded all around our red-mud-brick household. An indiscernible barrage of tiny voices rattling in the distance; busy indecipherable messages broadcast from all the pale tall grass and stout vibrant green bushes abounding in the community. The grand nocturnal symphony of Mapalo performs every night for free, and thanks to the seemingly paper thin walls the audience has no choice to partake in or abstain from this production. Everyone is a witness.

The sun has completed it's journey through the Zambian horizon and now the Township lies dormant under the light of the moon. As sunset begins the sounds of pots being clanged and filled with water and maize meal can be heard in front of most homes. Scraping the side of the pot, as Nshima is carefully stirred and prepared, are the Woman of Mapalo - who work tirelessly under the failing last embers of the day's light. For many households this one meal of Nshima will be the solitary meal of the day; no provision for breakfast or lunch. Nshima is made in haste as the night becomes darker - all members of the family move inside lest their blood and bodies be poisoned by the nocturnal vampiric pests that have emerged from their slumber. Meals are eaten inside the home under the vacant light of a brazier, the gentle light of a wax candle, or perhaps the small flame of a kerosene filled pickle jar.

Sitting in the main room of the house are Teacher's two sons and myself. As per tradition I was forced into isolation for meal time - simply eating in the same room was a struggle. "You may eat your dinner in the bedroom" commands Teacher in a shy yet authoritative tone. "I would love to share this meal with the family" I reply dryly, exhausted from the day's activities and battered from the daily struggle of integration into the new household. He concedes but the wife and kids sit on the opposite end of the room leaving me in the sanctuary of a brazier and a candle; alone quietly rolling Nshima and relish.

The crickets begin their overture just after Teacher and his wife step out to go visit a neighbor on some personal business. Teacher is the only English speaking member of his household and as I am left with his two children I feel imprisoned by my own ignorance of Bemba - trapped in the corner of this room with only the sound of crickets and the odd passerby mumbling in the dark.

It may have been solitude and the pressure it brings, or perhaps it was pure boredom but I began to whistle - a short little melody. Laughter erupts from the children - joyous looks on their faces that can be vaguely seen amongst the flickering candle light. The house is eclipsed in darkness and I can barely see my cell-mates not even two meters away. "In the very least I can make them laugh - that's communication, right?" I think to myself. Or perhaps I said it out loud? It wouldn't have mattered if I broadcast all my thoughts - no one would understand.

Whistling slowly cuts through the darkness. I expect more laughter to erupt, but my ears are only greeted by a chuckle. Chuckling followed by a reply to my melody. The youngest son whistles back a melody of his own! I'm not sure if it is the love of music in me or memories of playing in a Jazz band- with Paul on piano, Mike on the bass, and Fraser on the drums - but I felt obligated to reply to his response. We traded whistling back and forth for a long while. Music has a unique power in that it can make seconds seem like an eternity, or an eternity seem like seconds. This was a case of the former.

Not one to slow down I started clapping and clicking my metal water bottle when I wasn't whistling - the kid did the same, only he used his plate instead of my bottle. The crickets have competition! The elder brother watching us with a sheepish look that combined, in equal parts, bewilderment and amusement.

Our little concert continued until Teacher and his wife returned - moving the cloth drape that covers the door and opening it they walk in to see their guest and one of their suns whistling and clapping and making a ruckus! The look on teacher's face - half draped in darkness the other visible due to the flickering pickle kerosene - was simply perplexed! "show's over" I thought to myself - this time it was a statement confined to a prison behind my eyes.

Music - the universal language. Anyone can hear a melody and it can be meaningful to them - exuberant or melancholy, comedic or beautiful, soothing or devastating, nostalgic or inspiring - and it doesn't matter what language they speak or how old they are.

1 comment:

  1. I like this post :D music IS the universal language