images from the heart of africa

my repressed artist’s eye, taking photos without a camera, trying to capture in words what my out-of-practice hand cannot draw…

 white floury footprints leading through red dusty dirt out of and away from a little mud-brick corrugated steel-roofed house thoroughly caked through-and-through in white flour.  this is where folks in musha take their maize to be ground into flour for making ugali.  it looks as though a white dust bomb has landed and detonated leaving powdery ash to settle over every possible surface, even the noses ears shoulders eyelashes of the two gangly boys who laze in the doorway, watching me watching them on my walk to the bus.  the flour mill.

 sun going down to silhouette six hovering bundles of sticks suspended over spindly legs stopped dead in their tracks in the middle of this road-less-travelled.  if i duck to munchkin-height i can catch beneath stick hats: eyes bulging jaws dropped heads turning to follow my progress in turn causing branch bunches to rotate like dominoes, like the wave at a baseball game, like a row of men ogling a beautiful woman swing her hips as she passes.  these are local kids carrying firewood home on their heads, in descending order of height, oldest to youngest.  a walk in the woods.

 three enormous trucks, the kind usually packed to bursting with green bananas, barrel down a kigali highway spewing dust and black billows in their wake and causing this unsuspecting mazungu to sputter through the cloud.  army-issue green with canvas flaps flapping in the wind, they proceed caravan-style through the neighborhood pulling glances from passers-by because: their cargo is not bananas, but children.  boys.  perhaps ten or twelve years old.  at least a hundred in each truck.  all dressed in the tell-tale ripped and dirty garb of street kids, packed in standing up with some hanging off the sides.  my friend, where are you going today?

 crisp brisk morning air on musha mountain.  two women stand chatting in the road, shaking hands and patting shoulders and making mmm sounds for assent.  one is younger.  a small sleeping child is strapped in cloth at her back, its bite-size feet poking out at her hips, a giant plastic yellow umbrella carried as parasol to keep away the sun.  her hair is braided and piled up, her clothes are handmade in brilliant colors in the rwandan style: a bustled straight skirt, matching blouse with short puffed sleeves, 1980s meets turn of the century.  she is radiant with youth motherhood wealth happiness.
the elder is in her sixties, a rare sight in these parts, wears a bright printed wrap tied at the waist, another thrown around her shoulders, one binding her hair.  on her feet are neon orange foam flip flops, in her right hand a walking stick which she jabs playfully at her listener for emphasis.  the left hand sits comfortably in the small of her back, pushes gently to aid the stick in holding her upright.  her face (ah to have a face like that!) is creased and crinkled with time.  wars march down her cheeks, joy and suffering compete for the corners of her mouth, her eyes are deep wells.  a laugh like paper breaks the tension, sending wrinkles rippling upwards and out.  she folds her lips together.  nods a goodbye.  good morning, sister.

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~ by aliciawolcott on January 30, 2008.

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