Monday, May 23, 2011

Children of hope... Part 3

Linet (Lee-net) opened her eyes. It was black inside. Through the small unscreened window she could see a section of blue ribbon accenting the distant black mountain peaks. It was early morning. The night was about to finish. The roosters were beginning to crow. As she lay there on the bamboo floor, the little girl became more and more conscious of the penetrating cold, against which the sheet that she shared with her younger brother did little. The chills forced her thoughts straight to the now black fire pit in the middle of the room. Having gone to sleep by the heat of its glowing embers, the darkness residing there now only served to heighten her awareness of just how cold it was.

Her little brother was still asleep next to her as she removed the half of the sheet that covered her and carefully found her way through the dark, to find her father who was still sleeping. "Nan. Nan." she whispered as she nudged his shoulder with her tiny palm. Having elicited only a stir, she tried again. This time he awoke. In the darkness all he could see in front of him was the faint blue glow of pre sunrise making her eyes and teeth the only discernible features of the little silhouette standing over him. "Nan, I'm cold. Make a fire. Let's eat," she said.

He propped up on one elbow and gathered his thoughts. A flitting sense of disappointment came and went as he realized his planned time to himself to read some of God's words and meditate on them in quietness was now gone with the early awakening of one of his children. "Alright. First you need to go get some wood from under the house," he told her. He knew that, as young as she is, this request would only result in smallish twigs and sticks. He would have to wake up her mother so she could go get some proper firewood and bring back some food from the garden. Or maybe he could just get a few pieces of firewood from his brother's house nearby. He got up and slipped out the door where the morning light, still faint on the horizon was quickly turning to orange. Seeing that his brother had plenty of firewood he grabbed a few pieces and brought them back into the house where Linet huddled, trying to keep warm as she waited for him. Her little sticks lay there at the end of the rectangular fire pit.

Her dad poked around in the ashes exposing the few remaining embers that lay buried from the previous evening's fire. He combined them together and quickly had a nice little fire going with the wood that had been gathered. Linet sat there on the edge of the fire pit, feet inside it, and waited to be warmed. Meanwhile her dad laid back down to get a little more rest. Her stomach grumbled, reminding her of the hunger. "Nan, Nan, I'm hungry! Can we eat?" Giving up on the idea of continued slumber, he sat up again and nudged her mother out of sleep. "Do we have any food leftover in the pot from yesterday?" he quietly asked her. She stirred a bit and then mumbled hoarsely, "That food is old. We'll have to cook up some new stuff. I got some bananas yesterday. Just cook those for now. I'll get some more food to cook in the pot in a little bit." Linet's dad went over and took the bananas out of the string bag where they hung on the wall. Taking them over to the fire, he carefully separated each one and placed them on the fire where they would cook. Once cooked, he carefully peeled the blackened skins off, handing a steaming banana to Linet. He told her to place it on the edge of her sheet on the floor. "It's hot. Let it cool off a bit first," he said.

After complying, Linet looked across to the other side of the fire pit where her dad was sitting. She watched his face glowing orange in the firelight as he got his book out, opened it up and began reading to himself. She wondered about that book. She'd asked him about it several times. He seemed to read it a lot. He had tried reading a bit out loud to her not long ago, but it didn't mean much and she had gone off distracted and played with her brother. But still, that book made her wonder. She knew that some of the recent changes in their family were because of that book. She also knew it had something to do with how God helps us. Her mom and dad had even fought over it one time. They didn't know it, but she witnessed the whole thing, peeking through a gap in the wall planking, as it happened outside their house. Whatever her dad was reading in that book, it made him want to change things. Her young mind could recognize her dad's frustration with one of her moms who would argue about these changes. Along with the confusion, Linet had some happy thoughts about some of the changes. Her dad was much more gentle with her and her brother than he used to be. He paid more attention to her now too. But still, she wondered. There were times, when the talk of change seemed only to add to the tension. It seemed like her moms and her dad weren't very sure. She remembered having watched him on many occasions talk with his friend, the tall white skin, about kids and the way families are in their houses. He always had lots of questions. Her mom had had similar conversations with the tall white skin's wife. Linet's little mind was brought back from wondering as her stomach reminded her of the banana that would be ready for her by now.

The rest of the family was waking up now, joining Linet and her father around the edge of the rectangular fire pit and eating cooked bananas. The sun had appeared above the mountains now. Its brilliance seemed to seek out every little crevice and hole in the facing wall of woven bamboo. It beamed its light into the darkness, its little parallel rays cutting through the smoke. Linet's birth mom went to the garden, coming back after a while with the day's nourishment. Now sweaty from the trek and the burden of a full string bag hung on her head, she went back to a small room and began to prepare the food for cooking. Meanwhile Linet's little mom finished nursing her youngest brother and took the pot and dishes out to wash them and fetch water for the day's needs. After the food was cooked and the family had eaten, Linet's father called her and her little brother and told them that he and their two moms would be gone all day, working in the coffee garden. The kids would need to stay home. It was just too inconvenient to bring them along for that job. They didn't want to risk being slowed by the young ones and have to walk back in the rain. Their grandma would be around if they needed anything. Otherwise, her and her younger brother, Malcolm, were pretty much free to do whatever. Both Linet and Malcolm cried as they watched their parents heading up the trail on their way to the coffee garden.

Standing outside their house, Linet scanned the mostly vacated village. Most of the adults were out picking their coffee. The older kids were in school. She could hear the rhythmic drone of their scholastic drilling echoing up from the school house down below. Linet couldn't wait until she was old enough to attend school with the rest of the children. But for now, she found herself, with her little brother following, meandering up to her grandma, who she spotted sitting in the entrance to her house, smoking her tobacco.

After spending the morning around her grandma and eating leftover food from the meal they'd eaten earlier that morning, Linet heard the sounds of some other children in the middle of the village. She wandered out to join them. It was a small group of kids who, like her, were too young to be in school yet and found themselves busy each day with whatever their imaginations could conjure up. One of the boys was her cousin. Being mostly boys, the chosen activity which kept their focus was shooting their little mini sized arrows with the mini sized bows their fathers or uncles had fashioned for them. Lizards, leaves, tree stumps - whatever. If it posed a potential target, they were all over it. But the ultimate prize for these young hunters was a bird. This particular bird unwittingly became the center of their attention after flying over them and into a tree at the lower end of the village. Linet was content to merely be along for the ride. Girls didn't hunt. So she followed the group who's interest in the game they played was just heightened into something more serious. No longer loosely galavanting around letting their arrows fly, they were focused now. All of them wanted to be the one that shot that bird. They were in a stiff and quiet run now, Linet bringing up the rear as she observed. She watched them as their eyes pierced the foliage of that tree, scanning for signs of that little bird. One little boy whispered, "There!" and quickly fired his crooked little arrow which twisted through the air, missing. The bird flew. The boys followed. On to the next tree. At one point, Linet got caught up in the excitement and picked up a rock, throwing it at the bird. The bird quickly flitted away out of the aim of the boys who hunted it. Linet's cousin approached her angrily, yelling about how she messed up their hunt. He acted on his anger and hit the little girl squarely in the face with two blows of his hand, eliciting tears and screaming - and blood.

Play time was over. Linet screamed out her frightened pain as she made her way back home. Her grandmother met her in the village, having detected an issue needing attention. When she saw the blood she queried in her terse tone that was so typical. Linet managed to blubber out through the tears that her cousin had hit her. The old woman took Linet, going behind the house and digging up some cognac roots with which to treat Linet's wound. She washed a piece of root, then chewed it up to a loose wad of pulp before placing it on the corner of Linet's lip from where the blood had coursed a now coagulated path down to the under side of her chin.

Tired from the trauma and the pain, Linet fell asleep on the bamboo floor of her grandmother's house. She was awakened by the familiar sound of her mother's voice, who had just returned from the garden. Excited, she woke up and called out to her as she went outside to greet her. Her mom commented her surprise on the now swollen cheek and lip that graced Linet's face. Her father and her little mother, who were just a few minutes behind also joined in asking who had hit her. Upon further examination they noticed too that a few of Linet's baby teeth were loosened on the side where she'd been hit. "He must have hit her really hard!" her father exclaimed. Linet's cheek and lip hurt, but she was just happy to see her mom and dad back. She ran with them back to their hut.

That evening, when the sun had set and everyone had eaten their fill. A couple men from a nearby village came into the house and were sitting around the fire, smoking tobacco and talking with Linet's dad. Linet lay down sleepily. Though her attention was being pulled away by her drift to unconsciousness, she overheard her moms and her dad starting to talk with the visitors about her encounter with her cousin that day. The last thing she would remember was a quiet group chuckle as the story was being relayed. As the conversation carried on one of the visitors wondered if her parents did anything to the offending boy. "No, it's not like we were there. We didn't see what happened," they said, both in agreement on the issue. Following the pattern of social etiquette, some betelnut was passed around, each taking one and chewing it as they continued to socialize. The discussion then went on to a series of more random topics. As the betelnut high died off, so did the conversation. The day's toils in the garden were catching up to them. The last thing Linet's father mentioned before the visitors departed was that he still had a lot of work to do tomorrow with his coffee. He debated whether or not to bring the kids. Or maybe one of the mothers could stay home and keep them from getting into trouble. He'd decide in the morning. For now, all he perceived between now and another day's labors was a good night's sleep for his family.

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