When does it begin? When will it stop? Sometimes it is the dreams. Illusions during sleep, the concept is foreign. Quiet mind rarely interrupted by the nuisance, I lay down with closed eyes, arising some measured time later afresh for a new begining, or rested for this current moment, or continuing this everlasting second. Is it not up to me to decide? Or is it designed for some other manipulative purpose?
At midnight a new day begins. That may mean 12 AM. For some it commences at 24 hours. How are you measuring? During my youth playing hockey, a poor performance was wiped clean by the stroke of midnight. Similarly, this demarcation of a new day humbled us when an extraordinary performance enchanted onlookers, or for our competition to sigh relief; ahh, it is over.
During times of struggle, I think of this practice, counting down the time until a new day bekons. Relief is near when sickness renders my self useless. I soften the joy of happiness because of new beginnings. Relative to pain, does plesure not cease too?
For if craving pleasure is the only purpose, what is being sacrificed for its achievement? Attaining my happiness steals from someone else's. This candy bar is delicious. Sharing it reduces my happiness because over time I have adjusted to its complete consumption. The satisfaction lies in its completeness. A little less and craving brings sorrow.
Just as we crave pleasure, we crave averting displeasure. Again, in doing so, how are others affected by this pursuit? When observing these feelings, patiently, it is noticed that they recede equally. A well fought victory ends, the pain of losing a loved one lessens, then disappears.
Tangible goals help us evaluate. A measured new day is the alarm of a new beginning; ahh, the freshness of this cycle allows for refertilizaiton, cultivating anew.
Are these dreams driven by all that is new; a village named Ntumbanya where people do their living; a language, the direct barrier to communication, to understanding; a piece of land, a structure I try to make home, mine, a place of solitude where uncertainties surrender to familiarity? The task at hand, simple at face value, observation transcribed for evaluation, demands one to break free from comfort found within. Scratching for the old, a shift from what nutrition meant to how to maintain it in this new context envelops me and the community (A balanced diet would reduce prevalence of disease, allow children to develop healthy brains, increase time spent in school, give feeding babies proper vitamins and minerals from their mother's breast milk).
The traditional concept of freedom is interrupted. Community is where we find solitude. A very real experience of a grouping of people, idle side by side or active in play, each of these moments are judged: Can he do it our way? When approached with my eyes the community stops in its tracks, swept daily, burned frequently, all eyes wonder how it is so, why is this white man with us?
The simple game of Wider, which would be more aptly named Higher, draws attention from all. I watched silently, knowing success or failure will be spread through mouths. Gossip, the only measurement of time quicker than the speed of light. A string, or in the village, a series of cloth, tattered and torn, discarded and given new meaning through a series of knots, piece by piece until finally it is joined once and for all, two remaining ends brought together to create a circle, flexible, oblong, and adjustable according the game's needs, much like the stories we create to make sense of the world. Children jump over it, then into the middle of it, then onto one 'side' of it, then onto the other.
Our perception of things is linked in similar fashion. We study in school, try to experience a variety of scenarios, visit the world. These experiences are tied together, end to end, over the years culminating to what is known as me, the person I am in this world. Like the worn out cloth used to play Wider, the ends of our vast experiences are frayed. Fragile are these connections, unmistakable stories woven together to help interepret what is happening now. If we complete the circuit of challenges, the string is raised. The outward task looks challenging, but the string's malleability allows us to bend the rules. We take advantage of this to benefit ourselves; the sneaky ones following closely behind. When the hard work of a pioneer is completed, we jump through or onto knowing the effort was not completely our own, but claim success completely. Swiftly, we react to mend the weak link when the joinery fails. Never permanently afixed, extensions are used to enhance the experience, the story, the fame.
Okay. Moms squat facing a canoe looking thing. Massive tree trunks sacrificed, hollowed out and used to pound cassava into flour, at other times just a jungle gym for youths; in a past life, maybe a functioning vessel used to fish the well depleted nearby lakes and rivers. Pounding away, they suddenly stop. I am about to jump over string. Now loosely wraped around their shoulders, I ponder the humility of failure, or worse, the injury to the children if I pull them down from a miscalculated jump.
Now is the time. One step, two steps, three steps, jump. Relief of success, disbelief by all others. Children scream wildly, calling for their friends, telling anyone passing by. The crowd thickens. Grandmothers, their time waning, mothers nursing newborns, their time also waning, some are nearby, others stopped on the path. Within moments generations of people are pleading to prove the excitement. Where are the men? Some have made their way to the fields, some huddle elsewhere with home made alcohol, some are teaching in the school; all are active doing something, even if it is nothing.
I am here jumping over string.
The circus ends: I jumped over string raised off the ground three and a half feet. I jumped over string using only my right foot, only my left foot. Stories are being created. I arrived. I greeted. I played with children. I rode a bicycle away. I worked.
Night time dreams continue. Maybe it is because of Malarone, an anti-malarial prophylaxis. The moments blend. Dreams of dreams, dreams of the past, dreams of the future, dreams of dreams I hope to live all blend with the reality of knowing my eyes are open. A new day begins with roosters crowing. Disturbing dreams are disturbed by "thud-thud-thud." A new days begins at 4 AM. Much can be learned in darkness so pure. Women wake silently and set forth toward more immediate needs. We do not have electricity here. Many dream of the happiness it might bring, I contemplate the sacrifices people will make to obtain it: will it be education for the children, will it be nutrition or medical expenses, maybe it is simply soap for washing one's hands after using the toilet? The curse of myopia brings happiness now, blaming later.
As the pounding beings, the thuds of turning dried cassava into powder resonate deeper than my ears. It is a sound of progess. From the fields where it is grown, to the buckets where it is soaked, onto the reedmats and tattered tarps where it is first dried, the sound of women raising then lowering batallions into the canoe, crushing soft vegetable root before being halted to a stop by a now decaying tree, THUD. The sound pierces the silent night, shining light onto the prospects of food, energy for survival. Is it now that a new day begins, well before first light?
It is 5:02 AM. Beep-beep-beep, progressiely faster each time. I know this time because the watch says so. It has traveled the world, much farther than most desire, much more than most have the luxury to enjoy. It takes a beating. Banged against walls, scratches will prove it, dust lodged into its crevices, submerged without giving permission, this simple watch beeps until I press the button silencing the dreams, muffling the rooster's crows, bringing peace to cassava pounding.
I struggle to reach the watch in time. Kicking off the warmth, a leopard printed fleece blanket gifted by someone, I must untangle myself from a mosquito net that serves as protection during the night, but because a new day has arrived, now becomes an enemy during this groggy haze. I stumble with each step. Feeling my way to the sound, bumping into bricks made from moistened Earth, molded into rectangles and constructed to create a shelter, my home now, but lost in the darkness, I am simply a pinball bouncing arounding a corner and tripping over two water basins resting on the ground where dirty dishes are washed and rinsed. The beeping quickens. The sound echoes only ten steps from bed. It taunts with extreme might. If the sound stops before I hit the button it resets itself. The game will resume five minutes later. Finally, reach out, like two sprinters neck and neck until the end, it is a photo finish, I reset the alarm and a new day begins.
Fill the brazier with charcoal, ignite it, and swing until the charred wood glows orange. The sun is still beyond the horizon, teasing someone with its slow disappearance, it now begins its tantalizing dance for me, an astounding array of oranges, the preparations to enlighten again have begun. As the Earth spins ever so slowly, but ever so noticeably, I turn to the South. BaJoseph's home is already illuminated from within. Powered by the very ball of energy we have waited all night for, his solar panels collected then transfered and stored this precious star for use at his convenience. In addition, the music resounding from ostentatious speakers, often the centerpiece of the community, are a faint reminder: for him a new day has begun.
On cue, the sun now washes across this landscape, our home. It is 6 AM, nearly precisely. The brazier pops and cracks as charcoal gathers strength from surrounding elements, a kettle on top waiting for a transfer of heat to bring the water inside to a boil. Coffee will soon be prepared. Just like the watch that beeps, the sun now rises with quickening fury. People spring to life with similar enthusiasm. Wraped in citenge, a utilitarian patterned cloth, to stay warm, we begin sweeping the settled dust, clear sprouting weeds or make our way to the fields, ostensibly this is when the day begins. This new light sheds new hope and opportunity onto us. It is likely the pattern of time has engraved a routine into our life. We will repeat yesterday wondering why nothing changes. Pounding will continue for several hours, music will increasingly grow louder, gossip is well rested and ready to exploit the day, goats, sheep, chicken, children, and adults will walk about. Just like on a highway during rush hour, I wonder where they all go, what they think, what their goals are?
Days do not begin and end at midnight. Just ask those who work the nightshift. I used to do that. The middle of the night meant four hours into moving cardboard boxes from a pallet of other cardboard boxes onto a conveyor belt. So when do days begin and end?
Time is a device used to validate. We watch in awe and put off sleep when our favorite sport goes into multiple overtimes, pondering the extreme capabilities those humans were gifted with the capacity to exploit. We demand a high price for our prouduct because it takes a long time to produce it. With time pain lessens, wounds heal. Time is a crutch used to justify beginings and endings. Time is reified from within. I can start now, I can stop worrying now, but time allows me to procrastinate. I will do it next time. I hope for better luck next time. When I live within the constraints of time, I live without life.
Here in Zambia, here in Luapula province, here in Samfya district, here in Ntumbanya village, here in this house, here in this mind, I have twenty seven months remaining. What will I do with this time?
*Image sourced from simple Google images search