My journey to Muhoroni...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Small morning meditation on parochialism

Africa is love or hate. You will recognize quickly if you belong here or not. If you count the days to your departure, you probably find yourself in the second group. Africa hasn´t enchanted you.

It´s probably true that we have the greatest chance to fall in love with a place if we admit that the place we come from is not necessarily the best in the world, with the best values and most developed culture. If that was true, everything here would seem bad, you would find the culture primitive and the people stupid. Unfortunately, we white often come to Africa thinking that we can civilize this place, give it the right values, and we despise the African way of life, their thinking, their food, their houses.
How is it possible that in 2007 there was so much killing here
< How is it possible that they are capable of so much cruelty? How barbarian! I can hear the conversation going.
Why did we forget how barbariously we sent millions of people to the gas chambers several decades ago? How we were throwing the bodies of murdered people into mass graves in Srebrenica, how Serbians and Croatians fought agains each other in the nineties? Yes, we are scared of anything new, anything different than ours, anything unknown. Our black-and-white view of the world is exciting for us because that way we know exactly what is good and what is wrong and we feel as the greatest experts of all. We just have to throw a bit of criticism on people to boost our egos.

The children at schools are physically punished. At our schools the students torture their teachers mentally.
Sometimes even physically. Who won? Did we really find all of the answers in our civilized world? Do we know how to approach children? Beating is not the solution but something tells me that if violence turns against the adults, it is not right either. 
I work with women who don´t talk much at the first sight. They can´t speak our language. But their tongues are all right when they speak their own. Are they to be considered stupid or primitive because they don´t understand us? Do we understand them? Is our language more than theirs? Most of them didn't finish the primary school and their way of life is quite simple. But there are many things we can admire about it! I dare say that none of the European women would be able to manage what they do. No system of support. No maternity leave. A lot of children, a lot of work. Cooking, handwashing, carrying the wood, setting the fire, hoeing in the garden, carrying the water from a kilometer distance. I don´t hear them grumble about it. It is all part of their lives. They are able to smile and laugh. Who of us would be able to take that?

Maybe someone could object that they saw how they mistreated their own children, how they neglected them. Why do we have children homes in our developed countries? Both here as well as there you can find mothers who neglect their children. Both here as well as there you can find mothers who love their children, play with them and talk with them although they might not know all of the psychology behind it, using their own intuition.

If they eat everything that the nature offers to them, they have the potential for the most ballanced cuisine in the world.
The life in Africa is slow. People don´t rush, they don´t stress out. Is it because they are lazy? We are unnerved, our hair getting grey when we are 20, we suffer from insomnia, keep running away, desperately trying to slow the time. Is that dilligence?

And so respect, recognition and honor is the key. The question may as well be not what we taught them but what they taught us. It does not mean we have to stay dumb and uncritical to injustice or evil that is happening here. It is about the attitude, willingness and desire to change and share.
If you count what Africa has taught you in the positive sense of the rod, you happen to be facing the mystery of life. It is not about Africa, it´s about us and each of the relationships that we enter. About respect, thankfulness for others, change and learning. If we are always the ones who own the truth, the better ones, others will always be one step below.
In the same way as we should try to consider others more important than ourselves we should consider Africa to be more worthy than Slovakia or any other European country. It sounds nice but it is a life-time challenge. Fight against the windmills. Battle against ourselves.

" Parochalism is a belief that our customs, values, perception of the world is better, more valuable, more developed that the customs, values and perception of the world in other countries. We often forget that phenomena we find difficult to understand, can have their purpose in other cultures, they may have their special history that explains them. If we start to despise the „barbarian“ traditions, „primitive“ rules, funny clothes and design, we should stop in our arrogance that compells us to give instant advice for improvement. After the time of learning and reflecting our „developed“, modern ways do not have to look so positive from the complex perspective. To communicate while trying to understand means first and foremost to show respect.“ Dušan Ondrušek

The reality of one day and detailed associations of other days

Supposedly it will be an hour of walking. I haven´t heard of Oduwo before.

Last week I had a small practice when one of our visits lasted four hours. At first the motorbiker dropped me in the middle of nowhere and left to get Solomon whom he had left somewhere in the field. The image of myself sitting on a stone made me laugh. All of a sudden a child appeared and started crying desperately. I suppose because of the same thing. We were walking inbetween beautiful hills, pushing the broken motorbike in front of us. In one of the huts we met Barack Obama. I have to praise him – the hut was strategically placed on the top of the hill, covered up in a thickset. I was a little taken aback by his young looks. On the way there Solomon let me taste different leaves, „weed“ and then some fruit that resembled maracuya but it tasted as a pear. Guava. We haven´t met many people on our hike (that is how we dared call our 4-hour pilgrimage) but fortunately we made it safely to where we wanted.

We are avioding a pile of „sweetened dung“. Waste material from the sugar factory. I find it quite fascinating. It is full of different machines moving, making strange noises and fuming. A few days ago we went there with my English friend Jozef. We started our exhibition at the scales for the sugar cane that was brought in and in half an hour we ended at little packets with brown sugar. We were observing how the sugar cane is grinded with water, juiced, cleaned, water vaporizing, mud being separated, sugar crystalizing, molasses removed, then dried. And then to the packets.

By the way, Muhoroni has three basic smells – so called sweetened dung, lagoon (egg-like water) and puke. I understood the source of the first two for a while. But I couldn´t find out about the third for a long time. The historical moment came yesterday when someone told me that it is the smell of biofuel that is made of the sugar-cane waste material. Should have thought of that! It´s quite logical that it would be the smell of what we (do not) process.

I am observing some men throwing the sugar-cane waste in bags. The sun is heating unbearably. Children are shouting at me. They imitate an accent I don´t have. This is what the children from the neighbouring kindergarten greet me like: „Mzungu, how are you? I am fine, thank you. Prrrrrrrrr.“ They make my job easier because they speak for my part too. The children from the other side of Muhoroni surprised me the other day: „Mzungu, how are you? I am fine, thank you. Oooooou.“

We are leaving Muhoroni. Direction Oduwo. Another factory shining in front of us – this time it´s an alcohol factory that uses the melasses from the neighbours. There is a big sign in front of us „Do not chew the sugar cane.“ Solomon is explaining the secret of this sign to me. When you chew the sugar cane, you spit out the waste and the bees come to sit on it. There are lots of lorries and a lot of smoke around the factories. It irritates the bees and makes them aggressive. I think that is what he is saying but I am not sure. I am not paying attention very much, concentrating on making my legs move in the right way which Solo appreciates. I said hi to a passer-by but he ignored me. That happens if I greet a Kalenjin in the Luo language. Kalenjin are especially sensitive to that. If I greet a Luo in his language, he laughs. When he stops laughing, he greets me back. We meet a cyclist. He has two black jerrycans hanging on both sides of his bicycle carrying the alcohol to prepare changa. Changa is a local drink that is quite dangerous because the alcohol is not processed in the right way. The cyclist starts talking to us, getting off the bicycle and taking out panga. Panga is an African machete. Later Solomon explains to me that there is leopard in the field and the older man says that leopard is „hakuna matata“, I just can´t look it straight in the eye. If it comes out of the sugar cane, we should walk around it and look down to the ground. Solomon turns around abruptly. He wants to look at the beautiful panorama behind us. It gives me a tug. I didn´t pay for any safari ride today so why leopards? The man with machete walks in the sugar cane. I started to think he went hunting but then he came back with some sugar cane. He cleans them with the machete and we start chewing. While I chew one piece, Solo has had at least three.

The cane is high. It is almost ready to be cropped. After two hours of walking we come to Oduwo. I am making sure that Luos live here and then I start one of my small Luo conversations. I am asking a group of ten women how they are and where they are going. I enjoy the fact that after four months I am able to ask two questions in their language. We meet two small boys with cows and two lonely peacocks. Soon we arrive to our destination. I find out on the spot that I actually know the wife and the grandson of the family. We are visiting them because they didn´t come to take their medication. They are HIV positive. Solo usually goes to the domestic visits with me but this time I accompanied him. It is „his“ family. His job. Little Kevin is looking at me as if I were a ghost. I take him to my arms and he falls asleep in a moment. The man has two wives. One of them taunts us for not announcing our visit. And I feel sorry too because otherwise she would have roasted a chicken for us. The sun is heating but I start sweating only when I get inside. The tin roof is responsible for that. The family does not believe that I walked here. I can´t believe that either and Solomon brags about me.
On the way back I try to find out how much the journey would cost if we went by motorbike. Three hundreds! In the middle of a lonely field I am told that it is so expensive because the motorbikers are afraid to drive here. Solo assures me that if the leopard attacked us, he would die first, then me. I feel better already. I am making up an evacuation plan in my head, where to hide in the sugar cane. We choose a different road back. And it is worth it. We see beautiful turquoise birds. Their feathers are glistening and shows another of my favourite colors – aniline blue. I am barely walking, to be honest. The only question of every by-passer is if we are really going by foot. But we are only interested in soda now (that means Fanta, Coca Cola, Sprite and Krest)- My favourite place at the sugar cane factory is almost sold out. This time they don't have the delicious chapati or beans, only two last little bottles of Krest Bitter Lemon. I empty mine in a few seconds. I am admiring a great tree with a huge tree-top. Last time I was here I tasted its fruit. It looks like purple grapes. It makes one´s tongue pricke. Three women were climbing it, laughing, trying to pick as much of this strange fruit as possible. Sambarao or Jamna in Luo. We stop by at „Jared´s“.

There are five brothers and I never know which one is Jared. They have a store – an old hut. There are other two shops that can compete with their choice in Muhoroni. Last time I was here they offered me a job but I didn´t take it because they didn´t tell me how much they would pay. I come here to drink „soda“ and buy the phone credit. I like how children come to do the shopping instead of their parents and how Jared or one of his brothers leans to them to find out what they came for or shout at them to come back because they forgot about the change. I am drinking half a litre of cold Cola for 30 shillings (30 Eurocents). The children are shouting at me: „Maria, Maria, Maria!“ I don´t have the power to respond. I am waving decently (lazily) as if some kind of a politician. 25 kilometres of walking would be a good reason for a politician too.

I enter the hospital and then I arrive home. I lie on the stairs. Ideal conditions for a water fight. My English neighbour Jozef doesn´t like the fact that I am asking him to pour some water on me (it loses some of its charm, I admit) but at last he brings two full buckets of cold water and pours them on me. A carpenter next door working on his furniture laugh quietly pretending he can't see anything.