Darkest Africa

08-02-2011

Our route home each day takes us off the stone road (for that, read cobbles) at the top of our hill and then along a rough track.Imagine the rippled sand of a beach cast in concrete (with pot-holes) and you have an idea of the terrain. In daylight this is awkward enough, but at night another matter altogether.

Last night we were coming home after dark. Once onto our track, all is black. What few house lights there are have a blinding rather than an illuminating effect. Starlight provides something to see by but not a lot. The small shops are still open into the evening. Outside one, a small fire under a cooking stove casts its orange light across the path.  People bustle around as we pick our way along the rough track. A small girl, led by her father, passes us and calls out "Musumgo, good morning!" It doesn't matter what time of day it is, we are always greeted with 'good morning' or 'bon soir'.

We needed some groceries and stopped at one of the shops to pick up a bag of umuceli (rice to the rest of us). The dimly lit shop sells everything from women's underwear to tomatoes, so umuceli is a safe bet. With a fuzzy television in the corner, the shop also doubles as the village community centre. A small crowd had gathered to watch an international women's basketball match. Rwanda were playing Ethiopia in an obviously tight contest. There may be electricity for the television and a 40 watt bulb hanging from the ceiling but that is all. Our friend in the shop weighs the rice into a paper bag using a set of old-fashioned scales with brass weights. His scoop has been cut from a plastic cooking oil bottle.

Some evenings when we pass, the church opposite the shop is holding its choir practice. This is when Africa comes alive to us as the haunting chants and melodies drift through the night air. Sometimes there is a choice of choir to listen to. The have at least three which practice at the sides and front of the church, competing with each other for volume. This is Africa; dark, noisy and chaotic.