Utopia in the Mango Grove

I’m writing in my hammock. My landlord Sampson (the new moniker I gave him is Mr. Jokes or recently, Mr. Big Ideas) just came to make sure I’m still sane. I am, as much as any body is. It is so.

The crickets chirp. Things fall from the trees or perhaps people are hucking pebbles at the glowing light in the mango trees. I can’t be totally sure. The twilight sky is just absolutely breathtaking. Such is life.

I’m suspended off the ground about a half meter. I’ve leaned my newly sharpened machete at the base of the tree just in case I have to wield it. Dangerous perpetrators include the small cat that made me nearly jump out of my skin when I opened my back door to make my way to the small grove of mango trees 50 meters to the east of my humble dwelling.

A lot done this week:

  • Multiple meetings with forestry officials, a Volunteers Serving Overseas (VSO; a U.K.-based Peace Corps counterpart and global development partner), a Department of Health medical practitioner, a local music producer and Village Chiefs/Heads.
  • Reworked my baffa (shower) floor with Lafarge concrete (particularly interesting as there is a Lafarge presence in my hometown of Alpena, MI), installed burglar bars on my front screened porch (ordered a new front door just this week!), hung a pole-up bar (to get my swell on — or something like that) and cleaned the house top-to-bottom
  • Extensive gardening: beans, sweet potatoes, more garlic and outplanting of nursery trees to the munda (field)
  • A lot of traveling within my site area (Mbangu forestry block) to turn over new stones
  • Shopping, cooking, eating, reading, planning, building, demolishing, yearning, waiting, singing, dancing, drinking, laughing, wondering, contemplating, drawing, cleaning, thinking, staring, asking, listening, learning, and the least of these: loving.

Every day is a struggle but every day is a hurdle conquered. The small wins do count as much as ever. Pain is just weakness leaving the body — right?

Time to tune out the moon (though it’s hard for a lunatic).

It’s 5:35 in the morning and I’m writing from my new office (I have multiple offices) — the hammock. It was a placid sleep. My first act of the morning was peering out from my perch in the mango trees to survey the land.

The goats (I now just refer to them as furry demons or some variation of) are off to their usual morning routine — meaning I need to get out of the hammock and off to my own personal routine. I give them four or five shot bursts of a high-pitched whistle. The goats are now conditioned to know that this particular whistle is followed by a large rock being hurled their way, usually aimed at their legs. But alas, the furry demons know I’m bluffing this morning. I had no intention of climbing out of my nest — it’s an endeavor — and they intuitively knew it. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I kick on my go-fasters and boot out to the garden. I have three large stones in my hand by the time I give my first alert by whistle. They heard my first foot beat and have already started to scheme their great escape. With the precision of a great bank heist, the four-legged devils make their run for it. One leaves an oil slick and a large manure deposit as it darts for the cactus-lined fence. The kid stops frozen, giving out periodic cries. I toss two bombs within a meter of the little devil and he makes a dart east and out through the front gate. Who left the gate open?

Mr. Big Idea’s wife Gurtrude is now out. She pulls a chitenje (a two-meter long by one-meter wide swatch of fabric) over her shoulders and glimpses my way. The morning is crisp and I realize I’m looking relaxed in my wool tube socks, long thermal underwear, camouflage orange sneakers and a brightly colored long-sleeve t-shirt from my alma mater. She must have heard my whistles.

I unlock my back door, settle a couple of things inside and head back out to the hammock. I exchange a couple words with Gurtrude. She laughs at the site of the hammock (or was it my outfit?). I get the hunch that the hammock is definitely strange for Malawians. I wish it wasn’t so. They are basically the best invention since fire.

A few mosquitoes dance on the outside of the netting, the glowing sun behind them reflecting their shadows on the opposite side. I let out a big yawn and a dense vapor cloud escapes. The village is already clamoring about: goats crying, children laughing, a drum beat, music (reminiscent of a mix between reggae and hip-hop/R&B), vehicles moving this way and that, birds chirping and the slight rustle of the stiff mango leaves above. The soundtrack to my life.

I anticipate today will be just marvelous.

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