Thursday, February 25th, 2010
A Justin Timberlake song was playing from the rows of Ugandan maize. The awkward clash of cultures, the absurd juxtaposition of civilizations struck me as funny, and I let out a light, girlish laugh that echoed into the African void. The women were working in the fields, talking amongst themselves. Their voices spoke with force. Their words cut easily through the thick, pineapple air. I repeated the strange syllables in my head:
“Chibumba murungi. Esansa. Burungi. Ecucholi.”
The tangy vocabulary made my mouth water; the foreign sounds made my mind spin. Despite my novice native status, I’d already picked up a bit of the language; so I recognized a few of the words. My brain began sifting through the cluttered chaos of its consciousness to find the correct connections: “Ecucholi means, means… maize. Burungi means, means, means… good.” Despite the short time I’d lived there, I had already begun to recognize that my own vocabulary was becoming more and more of a foreign tongue, that my native language was evolving, that my small English lexicon was dying unto itself and transforming into something entirely new: “Orphan means, means, means… human. Life means, means… toil. To love means, means, means… to suffer.” Despite the small amount of time I’d spent there, I had already begun to recognize that vocabulary and humanity are similar: we both evolve; we both survive by killing off the irrelevant and breeding the necessary, the awkward and absurd.
I made my way over to the women. An acre of thick, muddy rice paddies separated us, so the progress I made was slow. Every step I took sunk deep into the earth; every move I made required a determined, conscious effort. I had to concentrate hard on my calves, my ankles, my feet, focusing carefully on the movement of my steps, the mechanical rhythm of my body’s beat. About halfway there a crawling sensation came over one of my feet, and looking down, I saw the microscopic movement of hookworms swimming their easy way into my bloodstream. Realizing I might have officially taken it all too far, I hesitated for a moment—not sure what I had done, not sure what I should do—but the moment of self-doubt passed, and my feet, once again, began to move. My body fell back into its rhythmic movement, except this time, it did so without the resolute consciousness, the determined effort. To my own, innocent surprise, I found myself innately walking through the remaining stretch of mud and intuitively joining the Africans in their labor. The women kept their heads to the ground, their torsos to the earth; and I hummed along to the Justin Timberlake, keeping everything to myself. We spent the rest of the afternoon harvesting maize, sweating our sorrows away; and once dusk hit, I gathered the fruit of our fruitless labor into a basket, placed it upon my head, and naturally set off for home, just like they did.
When I got back to my hut, I put the basket down and let out a sigh of weak, feminine relief, grateful to be able to un-bear the heavy burden of the day, to be able to let go of our sweaty sorrows and lay them down at the foot of the cross of the mundane. I was expecting to feel a sense of physical relief once I let go of those sweaty sorrows, once I put down the maize; but to my own, innocent surprise, the relief never came. The heavy weight of the basket lingered. The oppressive pressure of those sweaty sorrows remained. The burden of the day lay trapped in a knot at the nape of my neck, and no matter how hard I tried to wish that knot away, it stayed. I attempted to fall asleep that night, but the knot sat there, silent and sinister, keeping me awake.
Every once in a while, now, a knot forms at the nape of my neck. It sits there, silently. It stays there, sinisterly. And to my own, mature surprise, it reminds me, sweetly, of maize and Justin Timberlake, of life, love, and the pursuit of Vocabulary, of parasites and bloodstreams, of sweating sorrows away, and of feminine burdens that do not die with the day.Miss Megan Michelle is a former Classics Major, greatly-skilled Goatherdess and full-time Romantic who has always loved The Living Logos.
Filed under: travel