The sun rose from behind the hills, the rays harshly burning the ground. The ground was dry and dusty, bringing with it a feeling of hopelessness. It was only a few hours into the morning, but it felt like mid-day. Mama Sikovia could see the rays of heat rising from the ground into the atmosphere. She remembered how she used to walk around the compound barefoot, but that was no more. The ground was hot. Each step she took raised a small cloud of dust into the air. It choked a little, she coughed a little. Some dust settled on her face and some on her clothes. She was used to it. She kept her hair covered. Everybody kept their hair covered.
There was nothing in the granary, but she walked to it and peeped through the window every day…. as if miracles still happened. She hoped a kind neighbour would suddenly think of her, and surprise her with maize, only maize. She could not borrow. Villagers talked, you know, and were rude sometimes. Others did not bother to hide how relieved they were, that some people were worse than they.
She knew things were going to be bad when the rains failed, but she had not imagined it would take this long. Each day that passed she grew thinner, as she sank deeper into despair.
“Mama what are you looking at?” Her four-year-old Sikovia, was curious. The last time she was there, the granary was empty. “What is there?” she raised her hands up to Mama. Mama lifted her and helped her look into the granary. “There is no maize,” the sweet little girl said, looking at Mama.
“Yes.” Mama said and knew it was useless to explain. She placed Sikovia carefully on the ground. Sikovia took her hand and pulled her towards the shamba. “There is nothing in the shamba,” mama said softly.
“There is,” Sikovia said pulling harder.
“We were there yesterday,” Mama was reluctant, she dragged her feet.
“The maize has grown,” Sikovia insisted. She thought maize grew overnight, because Mama used to get maize from the shamba all the time. What she did not know is, the stream that enabled Mama to harvest throughout the year had dried out.
|Children dying for causes they don’t understand…. |
We’ve been taking their futures right out of their hands….
They need the handouts to hold back the tears….
There’s so many crying but so few that hear
If there’s a God in heaven…. Well, what’s he waiting for….
~ Elton John ~
They stopped. Mama remembered the time she peeped through the window and saw some neighbours pointing at the shamba, speaking in low tones, shaking their heads. Later, she learnt from a friend that they were saying how foolish she was not to do animal farming instead of plant. That was before they knew the drought would last this long and many animals would die.
Sikovia tugged at her Mama’s hand, jolting Mama’s memory back to present. There was no maize, Sikovia realized. Mama stepped into the shamba and uprooted an almost dry maize plant. She removed the leaves and broke the stalk into two. She peeled the cover from the stem and chewed the soft inner part of the stem. She gave Sikovia the other. Footsteps approached from behind. They turned, Mama frowned.
“Hm…. How times change!” Her neighbour, Aholibah mocked with a smirk on her face. “No one would believe you were the best farmer in the land,” Mama Sikovia pulled her daughter close, attempting to cover her ears by placing one side of her head on the thigh and covering the other with her dusty hand.
“You have finished all your human food, now you want to finish the cow’s.” Aholibah laughed Sarcastically.
“You know, I cannot do what you do, Aholibah.” Aholibah clicked her tongue and sneered.
“You cannot do it, because you are not as beautiful as I am.” Aholibah said, then spat. She slept with anybody for food. She hated Mama, because Mama’s husband was very hard to get. She walked away, swinging her hips.
‘If Aholibah’s words came out of her mouth, as a gush of water,” Mama thought as she removed her hand slowly from Sikovia’s ear. ‘the whole village and the neighbouring one would be green. There would be many rivers and a lot of fish. Villagers would sail and swim too.’
Mama did not want to think much about Aholibah’s disrespect and unkindness. She knew she was not finishing food for any animals. She always allowed the villagers to cut the stalks for their herds, a little at a time, so that they would be enough for everyone. She exchanged this for a little food and water, but the quantity of the food reduced, as days went by.
Aholibah was just one thorn in the bush, some of the villagers were kind, they gave out excess food, the rest who were unkind, gave out food which they could not bear to eat. Some of it stale, some of it rotten. No one complained because they were hungry and did not wish to die.
|In some cases, dogs will eat you because they’re just really hungry. |
A middle-aged woman had been eaten by not one but two dogs.…
And the worst part…. The dogs consumed her entire body…. The only things left of the poor woman were small bone fragments, a piece of her skull, and some hair. The woman had been dead for a whole month before she was found. Officers at the scene arrived to find two bags full of dog food that had been ripped open and eaten. They had run out of their normal food, so they had to look elsewhere.
“The dogs appeared healthy,” she said.
~ Science Direct ~
~ Rando ~
The village was silent, except for the dogs that growled, then barked. Sikovia opened the door some inches and peeped. The dogs growled louder. Their ribs more visible than they were the past week. The last time she peeped, which was the day before the previous, someone gave her a box of biscuits. On this day she was disappointed, nobody brought biscuits. What she did not know was, many people were afraid of dogs…. no one would approach the house with the animals at their door…. or…. Were they grateful the dogs were there and that would be a good excuse for not sharing their food?
Mama, who was very afraid of dogs, lay on the bed. She raised her head slowly. “Sikovia! Get away from the door!” she ordered. Sikovia who was four years old, had realized that Mama was not about to get up and pinch her little thighs and arms. Mama did not want to get up anymore. The little girl closed the door slowly, and stood still.
|You cannot tell a hungry child that you gave him food yesterday. ~ Zimbabwean Proverb ~|
“I am hungry,” she said in a small voice.
“Those dogs barking,” Mama rose and supported her body by leaning on her elbow. “Those dogs have taken our good luck away. Nobody will be brave enough to come here.” …. But…. Mama knew, it was not everybody who was afraid of dogs, they just did not want to share their food. The last time Mama saw the dogs, they were thin, nobody fed them, she could count the ribs and she knew they were here to eat her, and her daughter.
“Why don’t you throw a stone, like the other day?” Sikovia walked a few steps towards Mama.
“We have no more stones,” Mama explained.
“And those,” Sikovia pointed towards the fireplace.
“Those are our cooking stones,” Mama struggled to breath, “we will not be able to cook with one stone less…. furthermore, they are too heavy for me to carry…. and we do not want to kill the dogs, do we?” Of course she wanted to kill the dogs.
| There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread…. |
To a hungry man…. a piece of bread is the face of God.
~ Mahatma Gandhi ~
The last time the chief and sub-chiefs delivered relief food, Mama was very weak and knew she could not walk all the way to the chief’s camp. She was sure the villager, who gave her daughter the biscuits, did not know she was in the house, maybe he would have given Sikovia two.
Mama slumped down onto the bed and looked at her arms, then at her daughter. “We are too thin,” she mattered to herself, “even if the dogs managed to come into the house, there would not be any meat on us to eat, they are just wasting their barks out there” …. she was thoughtful…. “but dogs love bones too.” They scratched the wooden door, Sikovia ran and climbed onto the bed. Mama wished she could breastfeed Sikovia, but the milk stopped coming, several weeks back. She stared at the grass thatched roof. She pulled the blanket up to the neck. She felt colder every day, especially at night and in the morning because there was not enough food to generate heat in the body. Neither was there any activity. Days were useless with nothing to look forward to.
Mama remembered the day she fainted on the queue, the day of relief food. She was very hungry. she begged the people in the queue to let her pass, but….
“Are you pregnant?” Mama shook her head.
“Are you sick?” no, Mama answered.
“Are you old?” she fainted before she could respond.
| The day hunger disappears…. The world will see the greatest spiritual explosion humanity has ever seen. |
~ Federico Garcia Lorca ~
When she came to, her friend Fabirisina was towering over her, very impatient. All the other villagers had left her. She had only remained behind because one of the villagers had told her, it would be a shame to leave her friend there, in that state. Fabirisina helped her into a sitting position and gave her a sip of water, then a biscuit. Nobody remembered to get any food for her. When Mama was sure she was strong enough to walk, she got up, and they walked home.
At her door, Fabirisina gave her a one-kilogram tin of maize and said good bye. Mama walked a small distance to the bush and collected a little firewood. The only thing that was abundant. Firewood everywhere, but no food or drink to place on it. Oh! ….and vultures, vultures were everywhere. Mama thought of trapping some, but changed her mind. She was sure some had fed on dead humans.
Something moved behind her. She turned. Dogs! They did not attack. They were afraid of the sticks she was carrying, but they followed her home.
She reached for the keys she had tied to the corner of her leso, opened the door and found Sikovia still asleep. She placed the maize on the floor and walked out.
She stood outside Millicent’s hut. The next door neighbour. “Please give me a little water,” she begged. Millicent looked at her for a long time, then brought her a five litre Jerry can of water.
“Thank you,” she took the water. “May the stars shine upon you.”
“Why are you carrying that stone?” Millicent was curious. “You scared me, you know…. this hunger comes with a temper.”
Mama was startled, her eyes wide. “I have two stray dogs that have refused to leave my compound.”
“It is because of the meat,” Millicent said nodding trying to sound very knowledgeable.
Mama almost told her that she did not get any meat, but changed her mind. She walked away slowly. Millicent shook her head.
As she ate the maize, almost in tears, she longed for the meat and beans. She missed Baba. Baba always came home from work with meat.
“This maize is hard,” Sikovia complained pushing the food from one side of the plate to the other. “Where are the biscuits?” Sikovia looked around.
“Here,” Mama handed a cup of water to her, “We were given maize only,” Mama lied. “Next time I will come back with better food.” Sikovia nodded and sipped the water.
|They tell us every thing’s alright…. |
And we just go along….
How can we fall asleep at night when something’s clearly wrong….
When we could feed a starving world with what we throw away….
But all we serve are empty words that always taste the same….
We must stand together….
There’s no getting even….
Hand in hand forever….
That’s when we all win….
~ Together we stand ~
~ Nickleback ~
Mama started to eat very little. She wanted her sweet little daughter to have food the longest time possible. Days before…. before most of the strength left Mama’s body, she walked to Millicent’s hut.
She knocked on the door, softly. There was a lot of commotion in the house. Mama knew they were hiding food. Millicent opened the door.
“Sorry for bothering you again,” she began.
“Yes,” Millicent nodded.
“That cow over there,” she continued.
“Yes?” Millicent responded.
“I do not mean to be cruel,” Millicent nodded. “Do you think it has long to live?” with her eyes wide open, Millicent shrugged. “Why don’t you slaughter it for food before it dies?” Mama Sikovia was very hungry, her thoughts were not very clear and she longed to eat meat.
“The cow will not be slaughtered, my friend.” Millicent smiled, not from her heart. “Where have you been?” She placed her hand on Mama’s shoulder. “The villagers have been slaughtering dogs in secret,” she paused, hoping Mama got the point she was trying to put across. “and who knows?” she continued. “We might slaughter the cow today, and the rain comes tomorrow,” Mama was silent. “You have not suffered yet. You should thank God that you are still alive. People have died, you know. You are very lucky.” Mama smiled and nodded. With her head bent low and heart heavy, she walked away. ‘My Sikovia is going to die,’ She wrung her hands.
|The day each family keeps aside food to feed one hungry person or animal or bird everyday….|
Nobody will go hungry in this world….
There is enough food to feed every hungry stomach….
Mankind just does not have the heart for it….
~ Ruzbeh Bharucha ~
The cow died two days later. The rain that the villagers were waiting for, did not fall. It was not the only animal that had died, sheep died, goats died, chicken died…. as people watched…. dogs died and cats died…. humans died. Mama had no desire for meat from dead animals. Even if she wished to eat this meat, it was too late. There was no meat left on the animals.
It was a stinking village. A village with little life left. Everybody walked alone most of the time. They bitterly realized no one was spared. They were scared. There was nothing to talk about, nothing to discuss anymore. What use was it to speak, when there was no solution. The poor did not want to be the centre of gossip. The rich, feared a conversation would result in begging for food. They imagined poor villagers were everywhere on the road, waiting for the ones coming from the city with food. Some of those who came with food had to pass through the bushes to avoid the beggars.
Misery and loneliness chewed into everyone’s brains, their hearts, and bones. The ones who stopped to say hallo to the other, seemed impatient, always looking around, as if expecting to see an animal to hunt, or a fruit dropping from a tree. Everybody was restless.
|Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat…. |
It is not the characteristic of there not being enough food to eat….
~ Amartya Sen ~
A month earlier, Baba came home. He could not work well at the village blacksmith’s little shop because his stomach was never full. His employer was concerned.
“Baba Sikovia,” he looked up, tired, but trying very hard to be strong.
“Yes, Baba Neema,” He stopped polishing the metal and stood.
“I am sorry, I have to let you go for a while,” the boss was sad. “We do not have enough food for everybody anymore, I will send you home to rest. I will call you when the rains fall. Baba’s heart skipped a beat. ‘What would he and his family eat?
Baba Neema took a wad of notes from his pocket and gave them to Baba. He entered the house and brought a small sack of food and gave it to him. Baba Sikovia nodded.
“I wish you well, my friend” his boss smiled.
“I will be back, and thank you for being kind,” with his head hanging low, he walked away.
He brought food home with him. Food he was given and food he bought. Although Mama Sikovia cooked good food for him, he was worried about his family. He ate very slowly. When Mama was not looking he would pour half of his food back into the pot, so that food does not run out soon for his wife and child. Baba was very hungry most of the time, but he kept a straight face, and even smiled sometimes, in spite of the fangs of hunger that bit into his stomach muscles. He did not wish to worry Mama.
|Poverty is not an accident…. |
Like slavery and apartheid….
It is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings….
~ Nelson Mandela ~
He looked around the house. The clothes were dirty. The utensils were dirty. Taking a full bath was a luxury. Baba Sikovia had used most of his remaining money on water, the money was very little and then finished. There was no water anymore. He went into depression, food lost its taste. He ate less every day. Soon his muscles were getting thinner. The body used up its fat, and started getting energy from the organs. Baba tried to buy food with the little money that was left, but the ones who got food from the urban areas were not willing to sell anymore. They always spoke of ‘tomorrow’. “We are saving for tomorrow.” The ones who had food in the shamba sold it at a very high price. Those who were greedy for money, sold all the food, forgetting that soon the money would be useless with no food to buy. Eventually Baba’s body was at its weakest and the brain was very tired. His breathing was so slow, barely visible.
|The interesting thing is…. |
While we die of diseases of affluence from eating all these fatty meats….
Our poor brethren in the developing world die of disease of poverty because….
The land is not used now, to grow food grain for their families….
~ Jeremy Rifkin ~
~ American Economist ~
Everything was turning to dust. Mama thought Baba was also going to die. He was very sick; no one knew where. He shivered with fever. He felt cold, firewood was added onto the fire, he felt warm, windows were opened. He lay on the bed most of the day. The medicine man was called, got him some herbs, but the herbs did not help a starving Baba. Baba needed to eat to get well. It is when he closed his eyes, almost breathing his last that the medicine man took Baba on a donkey to a hospital in the neighbouring town.
|Hunger is not an issue of charity…. |
It is an issue of justice….
~ Jacques Diouf ~
~ Former FAO Director-General ~
The candle in Mama died, she felt the darkness pour into her heart like soil into a grave. Baba kept her strong, Baba kept her alive, but now with Baba gone…. Her body, already longing for nourishment, had no appetite. The villagers were already troubled and worried about the famine, they did not remember to visit and keep her company. She wondered if she should really wish for someone to visit. The last time she had a conversation with someone, it left her feeling hopeless.
“Oh, sorry, I heard your husband was taken to hospital?” Aholibah wished to confirm.
“Yes, the herbs he was given did not work.” A sad Mama Sikovia stared at the ground.
“Has he left a will? You know these men of ours wait until it is too late.” Mama fidgeted uneasily. “See how Mama Daniel is suffering because her husband never left a will” Mama was speechless.
She walked into her hut, took her leso and covered her head. She cried bitterly. Sikovia climbed onto the bed and tried to uncover Mama. Mama attempted to swallow the lump in her throat three times. If she was asked to choose between her husband and wealth, she would choose her husband. She wanted her companion back. People regain wealth, but they never regain the same husbands. She sniffed and took a deep breath.
Still covered, she whispered, “Mama is feeling very sleepy” She cried silently. Sikovia caressed Mama’s head ever so lightly, like Mama did, when she was very sleepy. Mama lifted a corner of her leso, let Sikovia in and hugged her close.
She wanted to throw her hands up in the air and cry out from the bottom of her lungs. Where would she get another man like Baba? Images of him sneaking towards the pot when he thought Mama was not looking, flashed through her mind. Nothing was more painful than seeing Baba make that sacrifice. Mama knew her words of disapproval would go unheeded. So she made Baba’s gruel thicker and gave it to him more often hoping it would compensate for the food he poured back into the pot. Usually she gave him porridge two times a day, but she increased this to four. Porridge is not food, is it?
Images of how little the food was before Baba worsened brought a mild headache. One potato on the plate, ten spoonfuls of gruel in a bowl, tea with a drop of milk and then none, then no tea. Two meals a day to one. The ones with large families sometimes counted the number of grains on the plate to make sure everyone got an equal share.
The scratching on the door stopped and Mama’s mind drifted back to the present. She knew she was getting weaker every day, but it happened very fast she did not realize she had no strength left. She breathed in deeply, gathered all the strength left in her and walked slowly towards the door, pausing to take a breath with each step. Sikovia followed her.
|When I dropped my crayon box in rainbow silvers on the floor…. |
One person stopped to help me gather rolling crayons….
Crawling on our hands and knees….
We picked up bits of green and blue….
When someone else spills their crayons….
I will stop to help them too.…
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
She was about to open the door when she dropped to the ground. “Sorry,” Sikovia was sad. She tried to lift Mama. Mama was too heavy.
Sikovia loved to write A, B, C, D on her rough book. Every time she picked the book and asked Mama to help her practise writing, Mama stopped what she did for a moment, helped her, then went on with the house chores, stopping now and then, to correct her. Sikovia rushed to get her book and pencil, and sat beside Mama, thinking that this would miraculously get Mama up. Mama moved, only a little. The edges of Sikovia’s mouth quivered.
“It is alright,” Mama said, “when you are bigger, you will be stronger.” Mama lay her head on the ground. ‘Why did I not slaughter those dogs while I still had the chance?’ she regretted. She looked at her daughter and her heart sunk. ‘No, she was not going to let her daughter die.’
Many footsteps passed outside the house. Mama had forgotten what day it was, the day of relief food, though it did not matter. The villagers were back with food from the chief’s camp. She was not angry anymore that they had forgotten her. In this dry season, with no food, everyone was too troubled to think about the neighbour. Fabirisina had a large family. Mama understood that if her friend, Millicent, shared her food with her all the time, her family would not have enough…. ‘But her friends had forgotten her,’ she thought sadly as her eyes dropped. It kept creeping back to her mind…. ‘everybody had forgotten her.’
|The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. |
~ Dr Paul Farmer ~
One time, she visited Millicent again and learnt that men are less tolerant to hunger than women. “You know; I must keep some for Baba Douglas” she said. “There is no peace in the house when he is hungry, and he believes that people should work hard, if they want to eat. Would you believe it if I told you that our three-year-old son also carries a small tin of food for himself?” That was the hundred time she had heard about men, boys, working hard and food. She was tired of people thinking that she did not have food because she was lazy.