Every one grieves for the people of Haiti, in the face of the wrath that Nature has visited on them. May the dead rest in peace, and may the world community – that hoax that always comes too late - show generosity to the survivors.
They used to tell us not to trouble trouble, but then who said you had to trouble it for it to retaliate? Think of the people who were calmly going about their businesses, unaware that somewhere Nature was planning their demise.
Personally, trouble stalks me to this day despite my innocence, only not as horribly as it did, in my childhood. In fact, I hate to remember my days in the refugee camp of Nshungerezi, south-western Uganda.
There, the refugee camp was composed of clusters of about 50 grass-thatched houses. Our cluster was Kibungo 20, while a few meters before us was Kibungo 19 and, a few meters after, Kibungo 21. This collection of clusters occupied two sides of a valley that spanned more than 15 kilometres.
I remember one particular day, when I think back. It was a usual day, where you woke up early to fetch water, then firewood, then to the fields of the natives some 15 kilometres away, to work for food, and finally to fetch water again.
One day after such chores, my old man called out my name and, when I arrived, addressed me thus: “Enda, sha, run to Kibungo 16 and tell Gahunde to replenish my calabash!”
Everybody knew daddy’s calabash and all you had to do was to go to his favourite vendor of the local banana brew and say: “Papa arantumye.” ………
‘Enda, sha’ may translate as ‘Here, lad, take this’, while ‘papa arantumye’ means ‘I carry daddy’s message’. But, as usual, I digress from my main story. ..........
So, despite the gathering darkness, I happily ran to Kibungo 16 to do my old man’s bidding. As I danced my way back home, I made sure to count the thick, dark bushes between the clusters.
However, you cannot be too careful! As I approached the last thicket before entering our Kibungo 20, I noticed it moving. I took off on a tangent, diving into the bush on my left. I didn’t realise what happened until I groped on my sides: I was standing upright in a narrow ditch, my head barely level with the ground!
Phew, I’d survived a hippopotamus attack! It was some five hours before a torch-bearing party fished me out of the ditch. Even then, it was not easy for them as I was hardly breathing.
A hippo can detect the slightest movement or sound, so I couldn’t allow myself the luxury of even a twitch of my skin.
And, daddy’s calabash? It was intact, grasped tightly in my hand! And so, when we reached home, my old man allowed me to take breath for a second prolonged drag at the brew. Even then, I did not sleep well, in spite of sucking at the potent brew that long.
Which accounted for the second disaster of that accursed night. As I lay shifting uncomfortably in our bed, which consisted of a heap of soft, dry grass on top of which was spread a grass mat that ten of us shared as brothers and sisters, I heard the stampede of cockroaches. Yes, a column of red ants (intozi) was advancing!
I shot out of bed and ran to the outer kitchen house, groped for the torch-stick and then put some dry grass on the dying embers in the fireplace. When the grass caught fire, I lit the torch and then raced back to the house.
The ants were in the sitting room, marching towards the bedroom.
To deter them, I put the burning torch on the head of the column, and continued to burn them relentlessly as I retraced their endless column. At the entrance door, they’d started to spread out to the grass walls of the house. I continued to burn these, too, but a spark quickly caught onto the grass wall.
If you’ve seen these grass houses, you know how futile it is trying to stop such a fire. I raced to the bedroom, screaming as I woke up everybody and pushed them out of the house. Luckily, in the village everybody sleeps in their clothes – when they have them!
We all got green branches to douse the fire, as we screamed for everybody in the camp to come out of their houses. Of course, we knew that such a fire was unstoppable and that from one house the wind would blow it to the next.
So, we all stood on the side, watching helplessly as Kibungo 20, and all its 50 houses, was reduced to ashes. Luckily for everybody, the fire was not blown windward to the next cluster of houses.
To-date, I grieve when I recall. Talk about troubling trouble!