The day the helicopter came, it hovered over our village like an airborne hippo, rocking the sky with the buzz of a churchful of bees. The children threw down their pencils and raced out to the football field to wave. Their parents were not so readily impressed. We might have raised our heads from our work and squinted up against the sun, but only for as long as it took to wipe the sweat from our brows. We knew that no helicopter could help us get our maize planted or cook the ugali at the end of the day.
All but Albert Lumumba. What could he do? A man cannot call himself a teacher unless he has pupils to teach.
By all accounts, he reached the football field in time to see the broad-shouldered men in dark glasses step down onto the rough grass. To watch them hand out sweets in cellophane wrappers to the children. Just in time to clap his hands and draw his pupils' attention to how the blades that lifted the machine into the sky were shaped like the wings of a bird, as if the sudden appearance of two men from the city were part of his lesson plan.
Albert Lumumba escorted the visitors back to the school. He invited them to sit on stools in the shade of the great thatched roof and watch his pupils perform their song and dance of welcome. He sent one of the children to Miriam Moto's stall to fetch chai in china cups. What else could he do? Visitors, however noisy and inconvenient, must be entertained.
Before the sun went down, Albert Lumumba called us to the school to meet these strangers from the city. He said they had a message that concerned us all. We sat cross-legged on the floor while the broad-shouldered men explained that if we built a brick house with its own latrine, wazungu would come and spread dollars around our village.
We laughed. Why would the wazungu want to come to Kanini? Wazungu like to see elephants, crocodiles and leopards. Elephants that trample the crops in the fields. Crocodiles that steal the best bathing places in the rivers. Leopards that snatch sleeping babies from their hammocks. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we have no elephants, crocodiles or leopards in Kanini. Only a few cows and a herd of goats.
The city men shook their heads. In their dark glasses we couldn't see their eyes. The wazungu are interested in more than our country's wildlife, they said. They want to meet you. Watch you smooth cow-dung over the floors of your huts. Carry water home from the spring on your heads. Wash your clothes in the river and hang them over the bushes to dry in the sun. They want to learn how you live.
And then we knew that wearing dark glasses or living in the city or flying through the sky in a giant hippo, deafened by the drone of bees, had made these men mad. For if there was one thing we all knew about the wazungu, it was that they didn't ever want to learn from us. They wanted to tell us to have fewer children. They wanted to take pictures of our too many children and display them in their homes. They wanted to harvest our seeds and sell them back to us at planting time. They wanted to preach and they wanted to steal, but they didn't want to learn.
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by Patrick Fontes
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