children in the village at dawn
monday, 20th august
Mornings in Shelui begin before the sun. Behind our small room is a compound with two or three mud-brick houses. Goats, chickens, and children emerge as the women set off for water; voices call, music starts to play, and the cockerel announces the dawn on the other side of our window.
Some days I wake eager to get started on the day ahead. There is much to do here, but we are settled into our long days now and I crave our small successes. Today I was sleepy; last night's Eid celebrations went on into the early hours and kept me awake under the mosquito net. It also seems that in Shelui one can have either running water or electricity, but never both at the same time. We have finally been able to charge our phones, but washing my hair under a bucket shower was difficult this morning.
We pull on the same clothes we've been wearing all week, paint-spotted and dusty, lather on our suncream, pull hair into tight high buns, and brush our teeth with Kilimanjaro drinking water. Bags are ready-packed next to the wardrobe; most evenings we are too tired to go through them. Outside, in the small courtyard, clothes hang drying between the citrus trees (green lemons?) and the spiky bush has blossomed pink-headed flowers which scratch against our window in the wind at night. We pass through here, and through a narrow passageway where one of the Big Man's sons washes endless dishes and where the women peel potatoes and prepare food outside the heat of the kitchen. The cafe is often already abuzz with flies and men eating breakfast, so Emilie and I sit on plastic chairs on the roadside, or at a table constructed around a great tree.
The sun presses at our backs before we are brought mugs for our coffee. At home I barely drink it, but here Africafe has a strong, bitter hit which I douse well with a spoonful of brown sugar. The boiling water comes in a plastic thermos flask which never fails to remind me of picnics back home. I watch the activity at the roadside while I wait for my drink to cool. Lorries and tankers are pulled up on the bank above us, often knifejacked or with half a torso with a spanner somewhere underneath them. Daladalas and open-top pickup trucks sound their horns to attract passengers, slowing just enough to allow people to run alongside and jump in. Women with children wrapped on their backs sit on upturned buckets next to tables with sunflower oil and noisy chicken coops. Some climb up onto the back of lorries carrying shipping containers or tarpaulin-covered cargo, and sit with their legs over the tailgate as the driver pulls away, unaware.
Our chapatis arrive. We sprinkle them with sugar and eat them like pancakes. (Perhaps I will write about the surrealness of finding such a rich layer of Indian life across this African culture.) Sometimes Munchkin appears, giggling, and we play games with big facial expressions. Yesterday she made a ball out of a passion fruit. There are none in the market, deeper into the village; this is the perk of living by the side of a busy transport route. People call over to us, "Habari za asubuhi!" Today there is an old man in red-checked Masaai dress at the table across from us, eating a great bowl of grey soup. From his cloak his mobile phone rings. The red-and-white striped vodacom tower looms over the village in the distance, across the road.
Breakfast costs 1600 Tsh, about 65p. We pick up two litre bottles of drinking water from the fridge in the cafe and pay the Big Man. There are always things we need to pick up from the market before we head through the village to the school. On our way out Big Man's wife, dressed in beautiful Indian-esque saris and patterned headscarves, bids us goodbye in her language, and we tickle Munchkin's head, looking back to wave as we ascend the slope. As we cross the highway our morning shifts to our day of work - we are already discussing the road ahead.