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Baobab Maze

The Incomplete Language of Braided Hair

MOZAMBIQUE | Wednesday, 20 May 2015 | Views [64] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

It's a rabbit warren, an African maze of people and huts and baobab trees. I stick to the middle of the group as we walk. My friend Sarah chats to our guide, Mama Ateesha. I wish I understood what they were saying.

We cross over ditches of suspiciously brown water, and pass between fences made of sticks and twine. The huts all around are made of rocks and sticks, with doors made of potato sacks and windows covered in mesh. Little African kids run at the sight of us, but some stare and yell. I don’t know who’s more scared: me, or the kids.

We reach Mama Ateesha’s house, and she lays a straw mat on the beaten dirt in front of her hut, and invites us to take a seat. I’m told to take my sandals off. It’s polite, they say.

She’s a widow, with four kids. They're introduced to us, but I've no idea which ones they are because now there are a dozen of them and they're just looking at us. Not moving, not coming closer, just little African eyes staring at us.

There’s a wildness to this place, and I feel like I’m finally tasting it. We’re in Pemba, Mozambique, but far away from the beaten tourist track. The tropical heat and coral reefs draw tourists here year round, but we’re here at the tail end of winter when there are less mosquitoes and less chronic heat.

We made friends with this African mama from the village. The deal is, we buy the ingredients, and Mama Ateesha cooks a meal for us and her children. She leapt at the chance, actually. Most of them will, if you ask respectfully. If you’re willing to be taught, I guess.

Mama Ateesha and the girls leave for the market, but I’m a man so I’m left behind, sitting alone and barefoot on her straw mat. The kids come closer, in their dirty and torn clothes, nudging each other and whispering. I smile tentatively and, being brave, reach out for a little girl’s braid, then touch my own hair. It’s the universal language for, "Braid my hair".

The next minute, all of the kids are playing with my hair and my beard and my clothes and my watch and my sunglasses, and they're giggling and yabbering away to me and to each other, and I'm speaking to them in nervous English about how I've no clue what they're saying, but I wish that I did.

Man, I wish that I did.

Tags: 2015 Writing Scholarship



Delightful - absolutely love it. Good luck!

  thebluegnu May 29, 2015 3:16 AM

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