Tuesday, July 28, 2009

mid afternoon cries in the dark

July 27 2009 AD

The sun lay casually in the sky; mid day had come and departed as quickly as it had arrived. It could have been around three o'clock - the daily decent of the sun was well underway and energy levels, after a day of activity, struggled to sustain themselves as they awaited for evening's inevitable arrival.

White and blue minibuses congregated around the Twapia market "station"; townsfolk wandered to and thro doing whatever it is they needed to, or in some cases did not need to. Women carrying bundles on their heads, charcoal salesman walking their charcoal mounted bicycle as if it was a prize horse unworthy of human ridership, and men consuming what was left of the day at the local bar could be noticed by all those who disembarked from the buses. But are such instances noticed? Most of those who depart the mini bus for the community have lived within the community for sometime and such sights could be as unnoticeable as old cracks on a bedroom wall. Even so, after a month of mini bus rides into Twapia these features still jump out at me - awakening questions and thoughts, feelings and frustration about the disparity between Calgary and Twapia.

Just passed the market station lies the one field in Twapia - yet it is empty aside from some girls, a boy, and a woman sitting on the hill, as to what she is doing up there it is unknown. A few young girls, dressed in the dark blues sweaters and light blue skirts which compose their school uniforms, play a game of net ball on the outskirts of the field. A young boy draped in rags occupies one of the football nets, dribbling a ball of rags around. None of these people seem to pay attention to me as I pass by. Walking into the community I pass a little girl, who is usually wearing a pink dress, of about seven years old. Every day, without one exception, she sits outside of the bar with her little wooden crate - a dusty box (about 30 cm tall, 40 cm in width and 60 cm in length), covered by a white table cloth. I assume the table cloth is white, yet it is covered in the characteristic red dirt; soil which is tossed to and fro amongst the July winds. Little clear plastic bags of popcorn lay on top of the cart. Today I am not buying though. She speaks no English, and I speak little Bemba.

Something out of the ordinary - the most furtive cries I have ever heard shatter the otherwise calm atmosphere. Even the bass heavy music from the bar, some remixed pop song recycled from North America, seemingly disappears. Again I hear the cry - my soul is shattered by the sorrow... the despair laced into every moment of screaming. Puerile cries overwhelm my senses; where is this auditory embodiment of pain coming from? Surely not from within the bar, not from behind me - where?

A small boy wearing overalls, blue but also red with soil, and no shirt emerges from behind the bush wall of one of the little red mud brick homes. He looks me in the eye with tears streaming down his cheeks, his young and innocent face bearing witness to some form of pain and anguish. As we lock eyes his mouth closes and the crying settles, yet only for a moment. He begins shrieking again, and he turns only to be greeted by a woman who delivers a slap to his already wet face. The young boy, not even five, crumples to the ground. In defiance he stands again and tries to waddle away yet is caught again by two hits. The woman is slender and aged - her blue shirt is barely blue after years of washing and her chitenge is tattered - she looks at the boy with judgment... blow after blow the beating continues.

I lay frozen in time - what can I do? This isn't right... What can I do?

Indignation flows from my soul and to my eyes - I shout "why!?" and she looks at me, momentarily halting the attack on the boy. She uttered something... something in Bemba, words which I cannot discern, and swatted once more at the boy before picking him up, as if he were a rag doll, and wandering back through the bush fence, under the cloth draped over the doorway, and into the house. The cries continued.

I stand still - still standing by the popcorn girl and the bar. Despite my fixation on the incident no one else seemed to even turn an eye. Life continued on as usual until I spoke up - eyes were locked on me, the Musungu who shouted. The typical questions of "Musungu! How are you?" were absent..., if they were present I wasn't listening. My mind mingled with uncertainty in a dance for two- have I violated some unwritten law of the community? Were others too caught up in their lives to witness what just happened? Is this a common occurrence? Did I even do anything to help the young lad clad in overalls, so assailed by this woman?

I stumble forward walking slowly, a few eyes still locked on me, as I near the house I stand still. The crying has stopped... No life is visible. What happened? Why was this boy beat in such a way? Was that his mother? Should I have done more to stop this? What have my actions done? Why did no one else intervene?

Cries of the young echoed in the dark crevices of my mind well after they ceased to echo through the darkness of the broad daylight scene only moments ago.

1 comment:

  1. Patrick
    WHY indeed!!
    Were you able to get any insight into this from your host family?