It is rooster o’clock and the dawn is just creeping up over the Mbala Plateau to bring another day to my village. Dry, cold season, and the urge to crawl back under one’s blanket and eek out a few more minutes of sleep fights hard against the morning light. The early air tingles with a temperature somewhere between chilly and crisp and a low morning fog still slumbers across the fields of dried maize. It’s morning in Mbala.
The first birds of the early hour claim the skies and the first insects. They flit over the mango and guava trees, nabbing whatever they may find crawling or buzzing about the opening blossoms. Dew clings to the grass like a chandellier of glistening jewels, weighting down the grass seeds with a bowed grace. Men and women are rising and going about their daily chores. The men shuffle slowly to their fields, axes and hoes slung over their shoulders, balanced in a practiced gait as they sway down the paths. The women begin the first of their many daily walks to the water hole. They dip their brightly colored buckets into the hazy groundwater, scaring away the water beetles and clouds of flies. With pained expressions of both effort and repetition, they sling full buckets up onto their heads and nestle them in their dark and knotted hair. With a dancer’s balance and mother’s patience, they begin the slow walk home. Backs curved around the pillar of their spines and hips set wide with the birth of many children, their morning greetings and laughter fill the air with a sing-song quality that only fades out with increasing heat of the day.
The corn stalks are dry now and each day the women bring in sacks of maize to shuck, dry, and peel the kernals off, row by row, to pound into maize flour. Passing the fields one can hear the rustle of the dried husks like sandpaper upon coarse wood. The afternoon grows hot and the insects begin their chorus. Sawing, squeaking, and chirping, the drying grasses come alive with a cacophany of a thousand minute voices singing in tandem. The weight of the afternoon air sits heavy on the sweating shoulders of the farmers, some harvesting their sweet potatoes, some diggings furrows along their fish ponds. The sun glimmers off the water of the ponds in the late day, a new nest of jewels now that the dew has long since dried. Looking into the ponds, the silver and green and yellow of tilapia flash in the sun and disappear into blooms of algae, the pea soup of fish farming. The path back home is slowly turning to miniature deserts stretching across the fields, each growing red with sand as the sun bakes the soils into its basic elements. Cattle lowe in the heat, chickens lazily chase insects across the yards, and goats seek refuge in the shade of huts and trees.
An hour later, the world has changed again. The sun is finishing its daily journey and now lends its light long and low across the landscape. Shadows grow and the overbearing heat of the day diminishes into a cool and tired finish to the day. Children return from school and play and mothers make a last trip to fetch water, tired babies swaddled to their backs in colorful cloth. Cook fires begin to send up their smoke signals and families come together for their evening chores before a last meal around the heat of the dying cooking embers. The sun retires completely in a blaze of orange and pink and gold, sillhouetting the trees and huts across the savannah in a juxtiposition of brilliant color and the blackening of the night. Slowly, stars pierce the black and have an hour of grandeur before the moon, a silent spotlight in its fullness, takes the stage and casts everything in a soft and sleepy light. The night insects begin their songs and the rest of the world grows silent and still, the cold of the season descending to blanket everything in a temperate cover of night.