It would be ten years before I realized that the best food I had ever tasted was someone else’s waste; that day marked the most dangerous, yet adventure-filled day of my life.
In the early morning hours of July 10, 2000, when I was nine years old, I awoke early. It was dark outside and my mother had already left to fetch the water. My brother and sister were still asleep, curled up on either side of me.
Each night the four of us lay on a large blanket in the middle of our hut, and each morning the little ones would end up huddled against my body. With my sister at my back and my brother in front of me, arm over mine, his breath upon my face, I calculated a careful withdrawal. First, I removed my brother’s arm. Then I shifted onto my back and using the strength of my legs alone, I slowly arose. I knew I could not wake them or the entire plan would fail—they did not know how to be silent at such times.
The morning air was cold and my torn garment flapped against my chest like chitenges—sarongs— fluttering in the wind at the big marketplace. Once again, I jumped over the stone wall into the neighborhood of brick houses.
The prior evening, as I was playing with my army of stones underneath the big bayobob tree, I had heard a great commotion. I peered over the wall and saw an incredible sight. Many azungus—white men and women—some with fantastic hair colors, red, pale yellow and even the color of my own skin, had gathered in the street, singing and making merry with neighboring houses in the brick village.
Children from other villages had also come, a thousand famished eyes behind impossible Malawian smiles, a people known as The Gentle Heart of Africa. I watched, so enchanted by the music that I forgot the blaring, empty sounds of my own cavernous yokefellow: hunger at night. I climbed the wall and joined the amnesia of excitement.
The azungus played with us and gave us bright colored skins filled with air which they twisted and tied into different shapes: dogs, birds, hats. I saw my mother standing at the wall, but she did not come near.
We gathered around them as they told stories of their God. It was strange and yet felt familiar somehow, like the warmth of my mother when she held me close. They stood and acted out some stories from their Book and a Malawian man translated the words into Chichewa.
I stayed for hours after the celebration, late into the night, watching the azungus through the large window of their brick house as they sang and played their stringed instruments. I didn’t want the night to end, though I knew my mother would soon be worried.
The side door of the house opened and a lady I recognized, who had wiped the little children’s noses with a paper kerchief, emerged. I stepped into darkness so I would not frighten her. She held a large bag in her arms and disappeared towards the back of the house.
I followed silently, my heart now a gavel beating the wall of my chest. She knelt beside a hole in the ground that was meant for burning garbage. In a moment of hesitation she looked to the right and left before placing the bag in the hole.
I took one step back to flatten myself against the wall of the house when a twig snapped under my foot. She spun around and looked in my direction but my feet had already sprung ahead of my mind, thrusting me towards home.
Now, in the chill of the dawn, I moved swiftly towards the garbage hole. Leaning over, I reached in and opened the bag to peek in. Many small, white wrappings lay inside. I unwrapped one and shoved the tasty yet strange morsels into my mouth, even as I lay over the hole.
I ran home and shared all of it with my family. My brother, sister and I danced around the tree with full stomachs until we grew dizzy with laughter.
My mother beat the corn in the distance.
Over the years, I grew in relationship with the azungus of the brick village. I am now a cook in one of the mission houses there and prepae strange and wonderful food for them and for my family.
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