The Lives of the Dead

Some of the most interesting people I meet are dead…

Archive for the tag “life in poor village”

Keen Observer

Originally posted August 31, 2014

Bread in Oven

Re

In the village where I lived my entire life, the roads were made of dirt and mud. Those people who could afford to, built their homes from brick or block, cement, and corrugated metal. Those who could not, build theirs of wood, metal scraps, and mud. Nobody had more than four sets of clothing: two for summer and two for winter. Many had only one.   Some people had shoes; others did not.

I suppose by some standards,  we lived in poverty, but since we had no idea how others lived, we had no basis of comparison, and so we never thought of ourselves as poor. Ultimately, it made no difference to the lives we lived, the lessons we learned, the love we shared, the pain we suffered. The human condition is the same everywhere.

Even among those who have so very little, there were the haves and the have-nots.   My family was in the middle. We went hungry from time to time, but mostly that was because of the weather, when the crops didn’t do well, or the animals starved. But then, most everyone suffered during those times, as well.

I never felt myself poor. We were not so different from most everyone we knew. I never longed for more. I was content.

From the time I was a young girl,  I enjoyed observing people,  watching how they behaved, how they socialized with others.  In my small village, everyone knew everyone. Keeping secrets was impossible. We knew who was happy in their circumstances and who was not, and why.  We knew who loved unrequitedly, who held a grudge, who envied whom. We knew who was stupid and who was wise,  who was selfish and who was magnanimous,  who could be relied on when you needed help and who you could count on to stick the knife in deeper.

From an early age, these personalities, these relationships, these behaviors fascinated me.

There was an old baker in the village who had built his brick oven himself,  long before I was born.  All the women brought their bread and larger meals to be cooked there. None of them could have built such a hot fire at home because it would have been impossible for a woman (even with the help her children) to collect that much wood. It was difficult enough to gather enough to keep a house warm in winter. A fire in the small stove might be enough only to heat a pot of water for tea or to boil an egg or to keep a pot of bits and scraps cooking until it became soup. Of course in the summer,  it was  too hot to keep a fire going inside.  And so we had a communal bakery.

Every morning,  the wives or their young daughters or sometimes a servant, brought their kneaded loaves or other ingredients to the baker, to be cooked together with everyone else’s.  The old baker, who everyone called Grandfather even though he had no children of his own, also sold his own bread and buns and some savories and sweets, which some villagers bought as well.

Grandfather was a nice man with a good soul.  Everybody liked him.  If a family could not pay, he would never shame them. He would tell them kindly to pay when they could, even when he knew he was likely to never be paid at all. It was not in his heart to let anyone starve if he could help it.

When I was about 8 years old, there was a young man in the village who worked for the baker. He was very full of his own worth,  full of important advice for everyone, always telling others the best way to run their businesses even though, he, himself, had no business of his own. He was always telling Grandfather how to improve things, but Grandfather had been in business since before this young man was born, and he did not appreciate the unsolicited advice.

Others advised the young man to mind his tongue and do his job,  for the old man would eventually pass away and then he could take over the business and do with it whatever he wanted.   But he could not wait.   So, he moved away to the city, which was very far. He worked there for a few years at something (nobody really knew) until he had saved enough money to start his own bakery in the village.

When he came back,  he built his own oven. In front, he built a low wall to create a kind of outdoor room. There he put some tables and chairs. It became a kind of spontaneous café for men to gather, to drink strong tea and eat a small cake or two, to smoke, to play cards, to discuss politics and religion.

The young man thought he was very clever because now he had both a bakery and a café, and was sure he could make twice as much money as Grandfather. The fact is, the bakery was where all the profit was. A café didn’t earn much. These men sat all day with one pot, always asking for more hot water.

In his foolishness and ignorance he expected the village women to flock to his bakery, which was larger and of course newer and offered some social activity. What he failed to consider, was that the women did not want to pass through a group of men, on their way to the oven. These women worked hard.  They gathered wood and carried water from the well. They minded the small animals. And the children, too, of course.  They worked like donkeys from sunrise until everyone in their families was safely asleep.  These women resented working hard while men sat idle. They did not want to be reminded of it.  It made them bitter.  And so,  they avoided the place.

Soon,  with no customers for his oven, the young man could not keep his business open. He lost everything. Ashamed , chastened, and once again poor,  he left the village for the city once more. I never saw him again but I thought about him a lot.

He had failed because he was a bad judge of human nature, including his own.

That was the first time I understood how tragic a human flaw it was not to understand others; how much more successful someone could be in life if they paid close attention to the needs and desires of both their friends and enemies.

And from then on, I made it a point to study others and to understand what they wanted most deeply.  I quickly learned this was rarely what it appeared to be on the surface.  A man might start an argument with someone of a higher status not because he was angry at the man but because he resented his own low standing. To win such an argument was to steal some of that man’s power. A woman might want a new piece of jewelry from her husband not because she needed more finery, but because it showed others that her husband valued her. She craved the status of that; not his actual love..  A girl might act aloof or tease a boy, not because she wants to hurt him or push him away, but because she likes him and doesn’t know how to express her own feelings.

Like everywhere, people desired the same things: love, power, status, freedom from pain and discomfort. And like everywhere, they often went about getting them the wrong way.

I observed these things closely all my life, and I thought about them as I went about my days. And the more I understood, the more things made sense to me.   I didn’t get upset when people behaved badly because I could see through it to the real reason, and I had compassion.

Many people came to me, asking for my advice. And from where I sit now, I still believe it was good advice.

______

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is al

 

 

photo: Roseman Creek Ranch

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The Great Rift

 

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Aki

I lived in a small village at the edge of a large salt lake. We did not have much that we didn’t make or grow ourselves, or trade for other goods. We had existed in this place, on this dry, inhospitable land for as far back as our collective memory and stories went. We followed a careful social order which kept everything and everyone stable and status quo. We each knew our duties and responsibilities — to our family, to our neighbors, to our small tribe. There was a strict hierarchy, and we all knew our place. The chief was at the top. His was only law we knew and the only law we needed.

One day, some wazungu arrived on a small bus driven by a man known by our chief.  The driver spoke our language and also that of the mazungu. Some of the men in our village had seen white faces before, in the city, but never had they come to us.

They were completely strange creatures to most of us women…not just their skin color, not even the texture of their hair or their impractical clothing… but the way the conducted themselves. There was no chief. The women laughed and talked among themselves, mostly ignoring the men, who never thought to scold or beat them.  What kind of women were these? Where were their children?  Did they have no important work to occupy them?  Why did they behave so freely, so foolishly,  as if they had no care in the world?  Were they not aware of all the misfortunes that might befall a woman if she let down her guard even for a moment?

We stared at them, and they stared at us. The driver told our chief to tell us to simply ignore them as they came from far away and wanted to watch us go about our lives in our usual way.  For this, the driver paid the chief a few shillings.  As he kept the entire amount for himself, he was quite happy with this arrangement.

After that, they came approximately once a moon, sometimes more, sometimes less.  This went on for many years.  Sometimes the driver gifted us all with a large bag of rice or beans, and then perhaps we might have a feast.

These wazungu were pleasant and friendly enough even though we could not communicate with them in words. Mostly, they wanted to watch us women doing our work…fetching water,  cleaning grain and pounding it into flour, weaving thatch, gathering wood and making a cooking fire, nursing our babies.  They liked to see inside our huts, where we slept. They seemed to particularly like watching the children, playing and climbing and running.

They pointed their small boxes at us but it was a long time until most of us understood what the purpose of that was.  None of us had ever seen a photograph of ourselves. I doubt I would even have been able to identify myself in a photograph. Some of the friendlier wazungu seemed to ask permission before pointing their camera box at us, but since we had no idea what they were doing, we just shrugged and smiled and let them do it.  We found it inexplicably strange.

We became accustomed to the visits. Some groups were nicer, more friendly,  more polite than others,  but mostly they were a waste of our time. Usually, we could truly ignore them as we went about our business but sometimes, they got in our way and made things more difficult. And for our compliance, we got nothing for ourselves.

We villagers knew better than to ask them for anything as compensation. That arrangement was strictly between our chief and the driver. The visitors also understood this and never offered us anything.

And then one day, the village was turned upside-down.

The wazungu came and their visit was going as they usually did.

There was a woman, in the village, of very low status. Her husband had left her and their infant son, and run off to the city, (so we were told.) She had been a bad wife (for why else would he have left her?)  and now she was a burden to the rest of us.

This woman, I shall call her K, was always far more fascinated by the wazungu than the rest of us. We used to tease her that one day she was going to hide on the bus and go away with them, but of course, it was a joke because where would she go?  What would she do?  She might have been low status in the village, but at least she was cared for.  Would any mzungu care for her out there?  She, as we, knew the answer.

Then, one afternoon, just before the guests climbed back into the bus, one of the mzungu women pulled the colorful scarf from her own head and gave it to K.

This small, soft, useless square of cloth nearly started a war.

After the bus left,   K tied the scarf around her head, the way the mzungu wore it,  and strutted around the village, acting better than the rest of us, behaving higher than her status.  She wore it like a crown and carried herself like a queen.

This immediately caused anger, resentment,  and jealousy among the village women.  The girl had done nothing to deserve any such honor, and in fact, she’d only received this gift because she’d lingered too long around the bus people, and let them hold her child,  when she should have been working.  It seemed doubly unfair that she was rewarded for her bad behavior.

We grumbled and gossiped, but she pretended not to care. This went on for several days, until one afternoon the chief’s first wife walked across the village,  her eyes burning with anger and purpose.  She walked into K’s small hut , pulled her outside, struck her knocking her to the ground, pulled her hair, grabbed the scarf off her head, and triumphantly tied it around her own.  K lay crying and moaning in the dust.

Violence among women was unheard of in our tribe, and this was shocking. None of us had liked K’s attitude but we were appalled at the behavior of the chief’s wife.

The women were immediately divided in opinion. Some believed the chief’s wife did the right thing, that it was the only choice.  Some believed that as badly as K had behaved, nothing justified violence. And along this line, we fell into two camps.

The rift threatened to tear us all apart. Finally, the chief himself,  who tried as much as possible to remove himself from the petty problems of women, stepped in to settle things.

It was a delicate matter since his wife held high status, and it would be a humiliation for her to beaten publicly. This would only cause further problems.  He had the right to beat K, if only for her inappropriate behavior in the days prior. But he could not beat one without beating the other, and fortunately for all of us,  he was not the kind of man who enjoyed giving beatings.

He consulted with each woman alone, and heard some other opinions (whether he wanted to hear them or not.)  In the end, it was arranged thusly:  His wife returned the scarf to K, and in turn K made a show of giving the scarf to the chief to use as the village flag.

The wazungu never returned.

Throughout the rest of my life and even now, my mind returned to those few days.  I recognized how close we came to being destroyed by divisiveness and unrest and lack of forgiveness; how easily the fabric of our society might have become completely unraveled despite the fact that we depended upon each other for survival.

We were fortunate to have a wise leader who resolved the problem in way that satisfied everyone, and allowed us each to learn some important lessons.   The wrong decision might have destroyed us.

 

—————–

If you are enjoying this blog,  please click the link above to subscribe and receive posts via email (new posts every three days).  When you think of others who might enjoy it too,  it’s easy enough to help spread the word! Post your favorite stories to social media.   Email a particularly apt link to a friend.   Even better,  talk about the concepts with others (whether you agree or disagree. )
Also,  I have started a discussion group on Facebook,  for conversations about any of the concepts/issues in the posts.  Honestly, these are things in here which I don’t fully understand myself.  I would love  get your thoughts on this…even if you think this is all a bunch of hooey!

Keen Observer

Originally posted August 31, 2014

Bread in Oven

Re

In the village where I lived my entire life, the roads were made of dirt and mud. Those people who could afford to, built their homes from brick or block, cement, and corrugated metal. Those who could not, build theirs of wood, metal scraps, and mud. Nobody had more than four sets of clothing: two for summer and two for winter. Many had only one.   Some people had shoes; others did not.

I suppose by some standards,  we lived in poverty, but since we had no idea how others lived, we had no basis of comparison, and so we never thought of ourselves as poor. Ultimately, it made no difference to the lives we lived, the lessons we learned, the love we shared, the pain we suffered. The human condition is the same everywhere.

Even among those who have so very little, there were the haves and the have-nots.   My family was in the middle. We went hungry from time to time, but mostly that was because of the weather, when the crops didn’t do well, or the animals starved. But then, most everyone suffered during those times, as well.

I never felt myself poor. We were not so different from most everyone we knew. I never longed for more. I was content.

From the time I was a young girl,  I enjoyed observing people,  watching how they behaved, how they socialized with others.  In my small village, everyone knew everyone. Keeping secrets was impossible. We knew who was happy in their circumstances and who was not, and why.  We knew who loved unrequitedly, who held a grudge, who envied whom. We knew who was stupid and who was wise,  who was selfish and who was magnanimous,  who could be relied on when you needed help and who you could count on to stick the knife in deeper.

From an early age, these personalities, these relationships, these behaviors fascinated me.

There was an old baker in the village who had built his brick oven himself,  long before I was born.  All the women brought their bread and larger meals to be cooked there. None of them could have built such a hot fire at home because it would have been impossible for a woman (even with the help her children) to collect that much wood. It was difficult enough to gather enough to keep a house warm in winter. A fire in the small stove might be enough only to heat a pot of water for tea or to boil an egg or to keep a pot of bits and scraps cooking until it became soup. Of course in the summer,  it was  too hot to keep a fire going inside.  And so we had a communal bakery.

Every morning,  the wives or their young daughters or sometimes a servant, brought their kneaded loaves or other ingredients to the baker, to be cooked together with everyone else’s.  The old baker, who everyone called Grandfather even though he had no children of his own, also sold his own bread and buns and some savories and sweets, which some villagers bought as well.

Grandfather was a nice man with a good soul.  Everybody liked him.  If a family could not pay, he would never shame them. He would tell them kindly to pay when they could, even when he knew he was likely to never be paid at all. It was not in his heart to let anyone starve if he could help it.

When I was about 8 years old, there was a young man in the village who worked for the baker. He was very full of his own worth,  full of important advice for everyone, always telling others the best way to run their businesses even though, he, himself, had no business of his own. He was always telling Grandfather how to improve things, but Grandfather had been in business since before this young man was born, and he did not appreciate the unsolicited advice.

Others advised the young man to mind his tongue and do his job,  for the old man would eventually pass away and then he could take over the business and do with it whatever he wanted.   But he could not wait.   So, he moved away to the city, which was very far. He worked there for a few years at something (nobody really knew) until he had saved enough money to start his own bakery in the village.

When he came back,  he built his own oven. In front, he built a low wall to create a kind of outdoor room. There he put some tables and chairs. It became a kind of spontaneous café for men to gather, to drink strong tea and eat a small cake or two, to smoke, to play cards, to discuss politics and religion.

The young man thought he was very clever because now he had both a bakery and a café, and was sure he could make twice as much money as Grandfather. The fact is, the bakery was where all the profit was. A café didn’t earn much. These men sat all day with one pot, always asking for more hot water.

In his foolishness and ignorance he expected the village women to flock to his bakery, which was larger and of course newer and offered some social activity. What he failed to consider, was that the women did not want to pass through a group of men, on their way to the oven. These women worked hard.  They gathered wood and carried water from the well. They minded the small animals. And the children, too, of course.  They worked like donkeys from sunrise until everyone in their families was safely asleep.  These women resented working hard while men sat idle. They did not want to be reminded of it.  It made them bitter.  And so,  they avoided the place.

Soon,  with no customers for his oven, the young man could not keep his business open. He lost everything. Ashamed , chastened, and once again poor,  he left the village for the city once more. I never saw him again but I thought about him a lot.

He had failed because he was a bad judge of human nature, including his own.

That was the first time I understood how tragic a human flaw it was not to understand others; how much more successful someone could be in life if they paid close attention to the needs and desires of both their friends and enemies.

And from then on, I made it a point to study others and to understand what they wanted most deeply.  I quickly learned this was rarely what it appeared to be on the surface.  A man might start an argument with someone of a higher status not because he was angry at the man but because he resented his own low standing. To win such an argument was to steal some of that man’s power. A woman might want a new piece of jewelry from her husband not because she needed more finery, but because it showed others that her husband valued her. She craved the status of that; not his actual love..  A girl might act aloof or tease a boy, not because she wants to hurt him or push him away, but because she likes him and doesn’t know how to express her own feelings.

Like everywhere, people desired the same things: love, power, status, freedom from pain and discomfort. And like everywhere, they often went about getting them the wrong way.

I observed these things closely all my life, and I thought about them as I went about my days. And the more I understood, the more things made sense to me.   I didn’t get upset when people behaved badly because I could see through it to the real reason, and I had compassion.

Many people came to me, asking for my advice. And from where I sit now, I still believe it was good advice.


Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you so much for your support!

 

photo: Roseman Creek Ranch

Keen Observer

Bread in Oven

Re

In the village where I lived my entire life, the roads were made of dirt and mud. Those people who could afford to, built their homes from brick or block, cement, and corrugated metal. Those who could not, build theirs of wood, metal scraps, and mud. Nobody had more than four sets of clothing: two for summer and two for winter. Many had only one.   Some people had shoes; others did not.

I suppose by some standards,  we lived in poverty, but since we had no idea how others lived, we had no basis of comparison, and so we never thought of ourselves as poor. Ultimately, it made no difference to the lives we lived, the lessons we learned, the love we shared, the pain we suffered. The human condition is the same everywhere.

Even among those who have so very little, there were the haves and the have-nots.   My family was in the middle. We went hungry from time to time, but mostly that was because of the weather, when the crops didn’t do well, or the animals starved. But then, most everyone suffered during those times, as well.

I never felt myself poor. We were not so different from most everyone we knew. I never longed for more. I was content.

From the time I was a young girl,  I enjoyed observing people,  watching how they behaved, how they socialized with others.  In my small village, everyone knew everyone. Keeping secrets was impossible. We knew who was happy in their circumstances and who was not, and why.  We knew who loved unrequitedly, who held a grudge, who envied whom. We knew who was stupid and who was wise,  who was selfish and who was magnanimous,  who could be relied on when you needed help and who you could count on to stick the knife in deeper.

From an early age, these personalities, these relationships, these behaviors fascinated me.

There was an old baker in the village who had built his brick oven himself,  long before I was born.  All the women brought their bread and larger meals to be cooked there. None of them could have built such a hot fire at home because it would have been impossible for a woman (even with the help her children) to collect that much wood. It was difficult enough to gather enough to keep a house warm in winter. A fire in the small stove might be enough only to heat a pot of water for tea or to boil an egg or to keep a pot of bits and scraps cooking until it became soup. Of course in the summer,  it was  too hot to keep a fire going inside.  And so we had a communal bakery.

Every morning,  the wives or their young daughters or sometimes a servant, brought their kneaded loaves or other ingredients to the baker, to be cooked together with everyone else’s.  The old baker, who everyone called Grandfather even though he had no children of his own, also sold his own bread and buns and some savories and sweets, which some villagers bought as well.

Grandfather was a nice man with a good soul.  Everybody liked him.  If a family could not pay, he would never shame them. He would tell them kindly to pay when they could, even when he knew he was likely to never be paid at all. It was not in his heart to let anyone starve if he could help it.

When I was about 8 years old, there was a young man in the village who worked for the baker. He was very full of his own worth,  full of important advice for everyone, always telling others the best way to run their businesses even though, he, himself, had no business of his own. He was always telling Grandfather how to improve things, but Grandfather had been in business since before this young man was born, and he did not appreciate the unsolicited advice.

Others advised the young man to mind his tongue and do his job,  for the old man would eventually pass away and then he could take over the business and do with it whatever he wanted.   But he could not wait.   So, he moved away to the city, which was very far. He worked there for a few years at something (nobody really knew) until he had saved enough money to start his own bakery in the village.

When he came back,  he built his own oven. In front, he built a low wall to create a kind of outdoor room. There he put some tables and chairs. It became a kind of spontaneous café for men to gather, to drink strong tea and eat a small cake or two, to smoke, to play cards, to discuss politics and religion.

The young man thought he was very clever because now he had both a bakery and a café, and was sure he could make twice as much money as Grandfather. The fact is, the bakery was where all the profit was. A café didn’t earn much. These men sat all day with one pot, always asking for more hot water.

In his foolishness and ignorance he expected the village women to flock to his bakery, which was larger and of course newer and offered some social activity. What he failed to consider, was that the women did not want to pass through a group of men, on their way to the oven. These women worked hard.  They gathered wood and carried water from the well. They minded the small animals. And the children, too, of course.  They worked like donkeys from sunrise until everyone in their families was safely asleep.  These women resented working hard while men sat idle. They did not want to be reminded of it.  It made them bitter.  And so,  they avoided the place.

Soon,  with no customers for his oven, the young man could not keep his business open. He lost everything. Ashamed , chastened, and once again poor,  he left the village for the city once more. I never saw him again but I thought about him a lot.

He had failed because he was a bad judge of human nature, including his own.

That was the first time I understood how tragic a human flaw it was not to understand others; how much more successful someone could be in life if they paid close attention to the needs and desires of both their friends and enemies.

And from then on, I made it a point to study others and to understand what they wanted most deeply.  I quickly learned this was rarely what it appeared to be on the surface.  A man might start an argument with someone of a higher status not because he was angry at the man but because he resented his own low standing. To win such an argument was to steal some of that man’s power. A woman might want a new piece of jewelry from her husband not because she needed more finery, but because it showed others that her husband valued her. She craved the status of that; not his actual love..  A girl might act aloof or tease a boy, not because she wants to hurt him or push him away, but because she likes him and doesn’t know how to express her own feelings.

Like everywhere, people desired the same things: love, power, status, freedom from pain and discomfort. And like everywhere, they often went about getting them the wrong way.

I observed these things closely all my life, and I thought about them as I went about my days. And the more I understood, the more things made sense to me.   I didn’t get upset when people behaved badly because I could see through it to the real reason, and I had compassion.

Many people came to me, asking for my advice. And from where I sit now, I still believe it was good advice.


Thank you for visiting.  If you enjoyed this post, please follow the blog and/or sign up to receive email posts. New posts every three days, and they are getting more and more interesting. I promise! Comments are welcome here or at https://www.facebook.com/livesofthedead.   If you know anyone who would enjoy or relate to this,  please forward and/or share on Facebook or Twitter.  Thank you so much for your support!

 

photo: Roseman Creek Ranch

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