The thing about playing Visitor in a world such as this, is that it is very easy to forget this is not a game for the people who inhabit it; they are not playing; for them, this is real.
It didn't take long for reality of living in a mud hut with one mother, one younger brother, one best friend, a handyman/driver, and several village rats, to grate on my apparently fragile nerves. I thought 48 hours was heroic, but the troop was nonplussed by my decision to beg off the trip to the market and instead bask in some much needed alone time.
Even alone (save for the rats), being cooped up in a mud hut was not appealing; instead I chose to sit beneath the big tree, drinking leftover tea from the large saucepan. I am not sure what advanced form of technology was used to divine that I had stayed behind, alone, but as soon as the message was received an executive guard was sent to awkwardly stand on centurion duty in my best interest. The guard came in the form of an 13 year old boy named Ham. Ham, ironically, was made up of not much more than bone-thin, malnourished arms, and a great wide smile; he looked to be about 9, such as it goes. But I have mispoken; among those superficial qualties, he also possesed a valuable gift: the unyielding sense of duty to protect and look after me. I was willful, desperate, and in my defense, thoroughly Americanized; I could not understand this gift or why I should need protection and set about making myself wholy unagreeable and put off until I chased him away.
Shortly thereafter, a man came down the path that seperated our compound with that of our host. He was carrying a jerrycan for fetching water and not far behind him followed 3 young girls doing the same. It was then that I realized, this path was the main access to the well at the bottom of the hill in the lower fields. In chasing away my centurion I had left myself utterly exposed to be gawked at by pretty much ninety percent of the village, who would all need to fetch water at some point for their household duties.
And gawk they did. They were not going to waste this jewel of an opportunity to have a real live Black Mzungu sitting on display before them whilst they carried out one of the more gruesome tasks of village life. The tableaux I painted, with skin bursting at the seems with extra flesh, legs long and heavy, feet soft, fingers carelessly adorned with rusted jewels, would have been aptly labeled "La Negresse En Chomage". It would have been considered a provokingly ironic piece of art, should the gawkers have had the time, language, or inclination to articulate what they saw.
Needless to say, I soon scrambled to the safety of the hut, to commiserate my humilation with the sympathetic rats and peer through the small wooden windows, my hubris tucked between my legs. I could hear Aesop's ghost laughing in the treetops. At one point, I watched a man come down the path on his bicycle, pause, and look directly, or so it felt, at my hidden form. He watched and waited; I watched and waited. In a sudden show of bravado, he threw his bicycle to the ground and walked with swagger to the hut that resembled a dog's house. It was not a dog's house; it was, in fact, our outhouse; and this man was now defecating in what I could only assume was a luxury: the privacy of a privy. He came out and took one more cocky glance my way before resuming his journey. I squealed at this affront, and ducked down into my mattress, having lost all interest in the scenic view.
In time, I feel asleep, only to wake to the troop of children surrounding my mud castle with chants for me to come and play. Perhaps the messenger service, realizing my aversion to Ham, had decided to appeal to my maternal nature while still securing adequate watch over me. It didn't work. At first I sat up in fear, feeling as if the Wolf himself was at my doorstep, daring to blow my house in; my three little hairs were at an end. But soon enough, as I realized the rusty nail that was my bolt was doing much to keep the children in check, I sat back and listened with amusement to their lilting, sing-song chants heroically made in broken English, while the leader of the pack futilely scolded them: "move off, she's asleep, move off!" By the proximity of her voice, I knew she, herself, was too enchanted with my possible emergence to mean what she said.
I must have drifted off again. I awoke, the second time, with a Snow White resolve to cheerfully adapt to my novel, rural life. With virtuous humming, I looked out at the setting sun and proclaimed:
"I will go and light the fire."......