Bonding is a time when each intern spends a weekend alone in a village with a family trusted by the team. The goal is to better understand the daily life of Makua people, learn some African skills, & see how you cope in an entirely different environment
This is one of the stranger days of my life. The original copy of this post is on my phone because I’m in complete darkness at 6:45pm and I’m pretty sure I’ve been sent to bed. I can’t tell if there’s anyone else in the room or house. I hope they actually sent me to bed. If not, things just got even more awkward.
So, the day started out with a dead lady that altered all of our plans. It sounds like someone just dropped a baby in the fire outside. I think they’re okay. Anyways – about the dead lady.
I got up this morning and found out that the lady who was baptized 2 days ago (who had been carried into the river) died yesterday, which meant that everyone bonding north of the city (Katie & I) would be going to the funeral. Cara & Celeste went off while we waited another hour to leave. When we left we left with half the city, and we just kept picking up more and more people. Katie & I were in the back of the truck with what seemed like 1000 women, all sprawled out and, as always, breastfeeding. All of a sudden, as if it fell out of the sky, a baby landed in my lap. I don’t know whose baby it was or why I was holding it, but my contorted state did not leave it comfortably situated and the fact that I was terrifyingly white did not help. She was not happy.
Eventually someone in the crowd took her back and she calmed down (at least I assumed that’s what happened because I neither heard nor saw her ever again). They were all chatting and laughing until we pulled into the village, and then, as if someone had flipped a switch, everyone was sobbing uncontrollably, wailing at the top of their lungs. I don’t want to say that their emotions were ingenuine, but they reminded be of the wailing women in the ancient Near East who made a career out of getting emotional. As quickly as it started it stopped at we calmly walked into the “visitation” area. Men and women are split, so we sat in the midst of the village with about 100 other women. But of course, someone brought out a mat for Katie & I to sit on since we were the guest of honor at this funeral for a woman we didn’t know.
After sitting on our exclusive mat for a while, the women we were with got up and walked into the house where the body lay. A few minutes later they came and got us. We walked inside, trying not to step on anyone sitting in the dark room. I finally saw the body at the front, covered by a white cloth. I’m not sure what the whole process is, but they soaked the body with water over and over again, “wringing it out,” and then covering it with different fabrics. I stood on the muddy floor barefoot & for the first time I feared for my health as the parasite-ridden water was poured over the body, passed through the rope bed, and seeped under my feet.
They took us out again, and then a few minutes later they took us back in. The body was wrapped in an expensive kapalana, and then a white sheet. Occasionally they would sing and pray, but other than that it seemed there was just a bunch of small talk and bickering over the process. They sent us into the next room over as the women gathered to pick up the body and bring it in behind us. Due to the gestures of the other women I thought that they would be passing the body, like a human conveyor belt, so I held out my hands, preparing to catch the corpse. It seems I misinterpreted the gestures because moments later I was being tackled by living & dead women alike, being crushed against the wall of the hut.
Finally the body was on the floor. It was covered with another kapalana & the fabric was moved so only the face was exposed (this was after several minutes of arguing over how much of the face should be exposed). At this time I was charged to open the door and allow people to begin filing past the body. Simultaneously the wailing began again and went until the doors were closed, at which time life resumed as usual (for all but the one dead lady).
After everyone had gone through, the men brought a bamboo “coffin” to the door and the women lifted her inside. Again I thought I was supposed to participate, only to again be slammed against the wall. Everyone hovered around the coffin to sing, pray, & listen to a sermon before the body was carried off to the gravesite.
The coffin was first lifted by close family & friends, but as it moves the men rotate places, allowing every man in the village to touch the coffin. It’s as if the entire community acts as pallbearer. And it was a long way out into the middle of nowhere before we got to the gravesite.
Once we got to this forsaken wasteland where genetically enhanced insects roam freely amidst the piles of thorns on which the Africans seem to love to sit, another sermon was spoken and then the burial began. As I tried to casually ignore the fact that I was being overtaken by my greatest fear, the cricket, I pondered the whole occasion. Christians and Muslims from all around gathered around the hole this body had just been dumped in and they were all listening to a sermon about Heaven. Alan said that funerals are one of the biggest evangelistic tools that they use. I thought about my own feelings: guilt concerning my apathy over this lady I didn’t know, self-centeredness concerning my fascination and insensitivity to death, sadness that these people had lost someone dear to them, and joy that I had recently witnessed her commitment to Christ.
After the burial and some singing and some prayer we all went on about our days.
We left Katie in Chipembe and I went on to Nkwonoma, which is where my real bonding experience began. I was feeling pretty good when Alan left me – before the hordes of children surrounded me on every side, all trying to teach me Makua at the same time. I tried to distribute the starbursts I brought, but decided it was a mistake upon taking them out of the bag. Alas, I gave out as man as I could before I was pulled away by my host dad, who informed me he would be leaving for the weekend. I returned to my mat and was served my first of many rounds of peanuts and sugar cane. Any attempts to offer them to the kids were denied. It seems they were full as well.
Then someone brought out a big bowl of moringa leaves and started pulling the leaves off for the matapa. Feeling confident about my abilities in this area I got off my mat and grabbed some twigs, asserting my ability to contribute something positive. My decision to do so influenced all of the kids to do the same, so the help I thought would burn some time only lasted a couple minutes.
Then the bottle game began. It’s called Iyesi. I had heard of this bottle game, but never before played. I can now say that I have played for hours and still have minimal understanding. Basically, there’s a bottle in the middle of 2 teams (team being a loose term), and each team tries to fill the bottle with sand before someone from the other team hits them with a ball. The thing is, getting hit seems to have a minimal effect, sometimes they throw it back & forth, sometimes they kick it, and I don’t think there’s a winner. It happens over and over again.
All of a sudden, as if Mohammed had descended from the heavens, a man who I had never seen stood in the middle of the road. He was wearing all white – the traditional Muslim hat, long tunic, baggy pants, & dark sunglasses – and holding a joint in his hand. For some unknown reason all the kids suddenly began chanting in unison as he unsteadily meandered down the street, waving the joint in the air like a champion. Just as he came he left and I never saw him again.
After playing for a while Eliza, my host mom, came and told me that it was time to take a bath. I gathered my things and went into the latrine where a bucket of water was waiting for me. I was surprised at how uncomfortable I was, staring at the bucket of water, looking up over the bamboo to see the entire village, and giving myself a pep talk saying, “This is normal. Everyone does this.” And so I bathed in the village.
After my shower I was once again told to sit down on my isolation at. I know it’s a cultural thing, but I hate that guests have to sit by themselves to eat, and do most things. I was served some more ixima and matapa, as is the usual Mozambican meal. I have decided in my mind that the day I finish a full serving of ixima I will be a real Mozambican.I am not yet a real Mozambican.
I sat there, alone in the dark, watching the Mozambicans shovel food in their mouths as I did my best to consume as much as possible without my stomach expanding to the point of death.
After I washed my hands I was sent to set up my bed. I rolled my mat on the rope bed in a dark room and then rolled out the sleeping bag. All of this was done by the light of some sparks on the end of a burning stick. The process of hanging the mosquito net took about 30 minutes because the torch kept going out or someone would drop it on the ground & then have to re-light it.
When it was finally read I was sent to bed, at 6:15. However, I wasn’t really sure about this, so I went back outside. They seemed very confused to see me back outside, so they sent me in again. Thus began the height of my foolishness. I began to try going back inside, feeling along the wall looking for the door in the blackness of night. I groped my way along the exterior, tripping over bags & bikes to find the door that I later discovered I had already passed. I can’t imagine how ridiculous I must have looked.
Anyways, I finally made it inside and into my bed. That was when the utter & complete darkness struck me. I laid in the blackness, unable to differentiate where sounds were coming from, wondering if they’re from across the village or right next to me. There I was, contorted and burning up in the bed in complete absence of light, listening to babies wailing and maniacal laughing in the distance. I thought to myself, “This is what Hell is like.” I prayed as the groaning and gnashing of teeth went on, and then fell asleep, despite the crying baby somewhere in the room.
I woke up in the same darkness. I heard the first rooster crow around 3:00am. I decided I would lay there until the girl in the bed next to me got up. Unfortunately, she was not an early riser (by early I mean before 4:30). I got out of bed as soon as I recognized voices outside and could see some bit of light through the roof cracks because I just couldn’t stand being in the dark anymore.
Eliza seemed quite surprised to see me awake, so she ran off to change clothes and start working on breakfast. I sat around the fire with the kids trying to warm up on the cold morning. I watched one of the girls grind corn onto a stone tablet, which was probably kind of creepy at the time, but technically she was supposed to be teaching me how to do it, so I didn’t care. When she left Alfonso arrived. I had met Alfonso the day before and I assume he is somehow related to the family. Once everyone had left me on my mat he snuck over and pulled a freshly picked orange out of his back pocket and gave it to me (Also, oranges here are green). Alfonso and one other precious saint of a boy became my guides for my stay in Nkwonoma, calmly teaching me Makua words, explaining my ignorance to passers-by, & telling me what to do during the bottle game.
When Eliza came back she taught me to make ipapa. Ipapa is similar to ixima, but more fluid and it has sugar in it. It seemed similar to grits. She finally let me do something productive by allowing me to stir the boiling concoction until it was done. At this time I was sent back to my mat and served there.For this meal I was given the family’s one spoon while everyone else leapt up in the trees to get large leaves to use as utensils. While bite 1 seemed like a great alternative to the constant ixima, bite 5 had to be forced down without seeming affected by the lack of taste and glue-like consistency. Finally I decided I had consumed enough to declare, “Kihorupula!” (I’m full) and went outside to make another attempt at the bottle game. After playing for a while and gaining a greater but incomplete understanding, my host’s eldest daughter came out and told me to follow her, and all of the kids followed me. Thus began my parade through Nkwonoma.
It is both prestigious and entertaining to have an American guest, because despite the wealth and education I have, I am still a fool in the ways of Mozambican culture and the Makua language. We stopped at several large groups and stayed for about 10 minutes at each one. Each time I was given an honorary seat, which was ideal for when they would send out the eldest member of the group to ask me questions that I obviously would not understand and laugh at my inability to converse beyond greetings, body parts, & farm animals.
We finally arrived at a group of nice young gentlemen who were quite fascinated by me. They too gave me a seat of honor and just stared for a few minutes. After testing my ability in the language they decided to call Cruz, Bailey’s host and my host’s eldest son whom I have not met, and have me talk to him. Cruz informed me that he’d love to hang out with me, but he wouldn’t be in Nkwonoma for 2 weeks, so I would have to stay until then. He also taught everyone 2 phrase to help them communicate with me: 1) You are whitey, and 2) You have boyfriend?
After the Caucasian carnival came to an end we returned to my host house. My host had gone to get water so the fence was locked. We unhooked the sugar cane lock and discovered that it had stopped a family of goats from taking over the yard. Upon entering the kids began to chase the goats (kids chasing kids, lol) & the largest goat made a mad leap over the fence, taking some of the fence with him. After this the smaller goats attempted to follow his lead, but were wildly unsuccessful and only suffered more harm at the hands of the children. It was hilarious.
I went back to the mat and tried to eat some more peanuts and sugar cane while another Makua class began. I wandered over the fire to help with the lunch ixima, but she only let me stir for a few minutes before taking it back and sending me to the mat again.
We then had ixima and matapa for lunch before returning to the bottle game. I played for a while and then the old lady across the street, whom I have talked to a few times, invited me over to pound corn. The way they make the corn flour for the ixima, and sometimes the ixima itself, is in a tall wooden bowl with a big wooden pole, which they continuously lift over their heads and slam into the bowl. It’s a lot of work. It didn’t take long before I was sent back to the bottle game. Eventually Elena told me to come back in and rest, so I went to the mat with all the kids. For the first time the kids actually sat on the mat with me.
Then they were told to kill a chicken. All of the little boys selected a chicken and then chased it around the yard until they had cornered it behind a tree. At that time the eldest boy, holding a knife, captured the chicken and took it to the corner of the yard. He sent all of the children to sit on the mat with me as he carried the chicken to its final resting place. My host’s little daughter snuck away from the mat and peered through the latrine wall at the boy and the chicken. Then there was a desperate cluck followed by the whack of a knife hitting cement. The village was silent. Then, in her most dramatic voice, the daughter yelled, “IT’S DEEEEEEAAAAAAAAADDDDDD!!!!!!!!” and all of the children exploded with laughter.
As the number of children dwindled the girls began to sit around and style my hair. A few of them were fascinated by my hair, so they began playing with it. Moments later Eliza got up from making dinner and began to put my hair into an elaborate braid.Despite the fact I really liked it and it was done perfectly, the girls continuously took it down and restyled it in different ways. I sat there and listened to them chat and laugh, and teach me Makua, as I let mysterious and semi-frightening things happen to my hair.
Since the sun was beginning to set and there was a smaller amount of children, I decided it was safe to finally get my camera without causing a riot. Of course that was a naive thought because everyone that I thought had gone home suddenly reappeared for the Kodak moment.I always have mixed feelings about taking pictures, feeling like I’m both exploiting and shaming their poverty with my expensive technology, but I soon realized it was one of the best things I could have done.
After taking some pictures Elena brought out a huge picture album with some family photos that they have collected over the years. As I looked through baby pictures and family reunions, for the first time in my bonding experience I felt like the moment wasn’t all about me. It had nothing to do with me being white, American, wealthy, or English-speaking. It was the only thing we did that was totally about them letting me into their lives and it was one of the greatest moments I have from the experience.
After we looked at pictures and took a few more, I went over to help start dinner. A bottle of gin, some bouillon seasoning, and a bunch of chicken pieces went into the pot and I stirred it for a while. I fought the urge to make an inquisitive face as I picked up the chicken feet, intestines, and head to put them all into the bowl. Of course, it wasn’t too long before they had me sit down again.
While we were all gathered around the fire Eliza went inside and returned with her Makua Bible story booklet that they use for the women’s study and handed it to me to read. I was wondering how I was supposed to tell the gospel message without knowing Makua, and then I finally had the opportunity and audience to do so.I think Eliza had me read through half the book as all of the children listened. This gospel booklet contained mostly miracle stories, so when I was done reading Eliza would act out each story – covering her eyes and running around for the blind man, crawling on all fours for the lame man, and convulsing as the demon-possessed man – all very humorously.
Soon it got dark and most everyone went home. Dinner was done and I was banished to my mat. They served me the chicken and ixima in the dark. I felt all around each chicken piece to make sure it wasn’t the head, or foot, or intestine. When I took a piece of chick, wrapped it around the ixima, & concentrated really hard, it tasted just like a Chick-fil-a chicken biscuit.
The sky was so beautiful. Stars were everywhere. I would have seen more if not for my family’s desire to send me to bed at 6:00pm. I offered to help, but Eliza said that I could help by going to sleep. The second night was much better than the first, as far as the darkness is concerned. I was very itchy for most of the night and I kept hearing buzzing in my ears, so I just assumed a mosquito or two had gotten trapped in my mosquito net. I laid there praying, thanking God for the day and already sad that I would be leaving them in the morning. Just when I felt like I had really connected with them, I was leaving again. I’m so glad I’m in Nkwonoma.
The rooster crowed at 3:00am again and I tried to keep going back to sleep until Elena and her baby got up from the bed next to me. I sat with the kids by the fire for a while, just playing with them until Eliza told me that it was time to take another bath – she even heated some water over the fire for me.
Then my final latrine bathing experience for the weekend began. Grateful for my hot water I began to pour it over my head, but then someone else appeared to be jealous of my blessing. A goat began continuously bucking against the rickety wall of the latrine. I began to shower even faster, fearing the fate of being lying on my back, naked, in the latrine hole, in the middle of the village, surrounded by the remains of the latrine walls, & tackled by a goat. Luckily I escaped before that happened.
When I got out many of the children had arrived to join me on my mat and watch the ladies make ipapa again for breakfast. About that time my host dad returned and seemed very happy to see that I had survived & impressed that I had stirred ixima. While I was waiting for the ipapa I went out with my hosts’ youngest daughter and jumped around the village on one foot for a long time before playing soccer with their son until it was time to eat. Shortly after I sat down to eat I heard a truck motor and “Arlindo!!!” echoing through the village.
My family had me welcome Alan into the yard and he was glad to see that I had survived. About that time Elena took me to see the old crippled woman across the street, who had gone out and picked 5 oranges for me because she thought I played iyesi very well. I can’t imagine how many oranges I would have gotten had I actually known how to play. My host family gave me a huge bag of peanuts (you can never have too many), 20 plantains, and a whole sugar cane. All of the village kids came to say their goodbyes and help e carry my stuff to the car. It was certainly sad to leave Nkwonoma, especially since I felt like I had just gotten to a good place with my family. I said thank you to my family & my 2 two little village guides, then loaded into the truck, tossing all of my remaining candy out the window and already anticipating the next Bible study there.
Then Alan took me back to Chipembe to go to church and complete the third day ceremony at the cemetery. The third day is the final day of organized mourning and the people gather to put a cross and the gravesite, and of course listen to a couple more sermons.
When we arrived I reunited with Cara, Katie, the rest of the Howells, and many of the women I knew from the Bible studies. Everyone was curious to know how the weekend had gone and all the ladies laughed when Cara & Katie came up to hug me, a mysterious greeting to them. We sat for a while, then got up and sat somewhere else to hear the funeral sermons. After that one of the Muslim village chiefs also got up t speak on any Christian-Muslim tensions that may have arisen during the funeral process since methods for Christians and Muslims are different. This took about 2 hours and the regular service was by no means abbreviated. However, I did meet a beautiful Mozambican man who is part of the church and doing agricultural projects in Chipembe, so I decided that I would not turn down a marriage proposal from him.
After church we had beans & rice. I was so thankful to see a plate full of anything other than ixima. Soon we said our goodbyes and took a long ride home – and then took a shower and counted 154 bed bug bites on my body.
Nkwonoma taught me a lot about the Makua people, a lot about myself, and a lot about God. While God was the only one who could understand me he spent most of the time teaching me how to understand him and his heart. He travelled far to an unfamiliar place where he was not accepted for my sake and he requests that his people remain foreigners forever in this world, constantly striving to return back to our heavenly home with God.