Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Goings on in Africa

My friend Catherine is on the verge of returning from her yearly trip to Africa, where in her role as a biology professor she is working with a couple of communities. Of special interest to her is education for girls. I've written about her before. Last year Out of the Box made a donation of games to children, some of whom had never had a toy of their own. This year she reports that it's clear that the children have been playing regularly and have mastered 10 Days in Africa in particular.

Some excerpts from her latest trip report:

...One of the highlights was the night I spent in a traditional manyatta (a fenced family settlement composed of father, multiple wives, children, and numerous huts for each wife, grown sons etc). I stayed with one of the wealthiest traditional men- he has3000 cows and 6 wives. A traditional house is made of cow dung and sticks, and has no windows. A fire burns all the time people are inside and so it gets REALLY hot. A goat was slaughtered in my honour and after we figured out that the owner was probably close to my father's age, I was pronounced a honorary daughter (which means I have to bow my head to my 'father' whenever I meet him).

The owner informed me that each part of the family has special parts of the goat- some for the men, some for the women, some for the children. My heart sank as I contemplated which part I might be offered and how much offense I might cause if I couldn't eat it...

I should try and describe a traditional hut to you so you can imagine my environment. They are low (the ceiling is not much taller than me and I am 5'5", while the hallways are less than 5') and small, and you have to enter with your head bowed. Immediately to your right as you enter, is a pen for livestock. You follow a short tunnel-like hallway,turn right and your are in the main room. If you turn left without moving forward, you are facing the fire, and there are two alcoves to the right and left, where you sleep. If you hadn't turned to face the fire you would have been facing a second animal enclosure. There are no windows, so it is smokey,cramped and hot. You sit on low stools about 1 foot off the ground...

Two more images to leave you with. 1. I arranged a meeting with the mothers of the community to ask them if there were any specific ways I could assist them. My thought being that if you want strong, healthy, educated children, best to make sure you are empowering the mothers. When I asked them what their biggest problem was, they said unequivocally, 'polygamy'. When I asked what I could do to help them they said, 'help us buy iron sheets'. When I asked why, they gave me two reasons. Firstly, iron sheets are more durable than cow dung, and it saves time constantly building and rebuilding their houses (all house building is the responsibility of the women), and secondly, that they needed to build extra houses to keep their children in school. I didn't understand the connection until I was told that in a polygamous family, when the father comes to pay a visit to his wife (ie stay at the house)the children have to leave. The fact that the children then have to fend for themselves, means that they are less likely to get to school the next day, and also are more likely to take refuge in a house where girls may end up getting pregnant. I had never known that the children were turned away when the father was there, and it explained so much.

Second image. After a variety of interesting discussions, translated and mimed, with the 5 wives of the owner of the previously mentioned manyatta, I went to bed. My bed was made of woven branches with a cow hide stretched over it. I had planned to sleep in teeshirt and underwear but it was so damn hot that I ended up taking off my teeshirt. I had brought a sheet so wrapped myself up in the sheet and went to sleep. Are we all clear on where Catherine is at now- fast asleep in just panties, wrapped in a sheet , lying on branches and cow hide, inside a cow dung hut with numerous goats. At half past midnight 'dad' returns and GETS INTO BED WITH ME!!!!!!

I'll leave you with that image.

And what an image it is! I'm looking forward to hearing the follow-up.


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Blogger Ramsey Says:

Oh geez. What happened? What happened?!

Blogger Nikchick Says:

We're all waiting for an update on what happened with Big Daddy when he returned in the middle of the night. Catherine can be a tease...


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