Yua

In Africa the rooster crows in the heat of night and sets off a riotous chain reaction across the savanna, rousing the cows and goats stabled down the path who in turn rouse our dogs who in turn rouse the dogs of neighboring shambas and the wild dogs. It is the wild dogs that finally rouse the Baobab children and in turn the rat will begin its frantic scrabbling in the steel latticework between the roof and ceiling of our room. Piercing the cacophony is the wailing of watoto a Afrika¸ calling out to the night long after the wild dogs and the farm animals have faded to restive sleep. Dreamnoises, hopeless things, untranslatable things, wending through cornalleys and masaipaths and the avenues of the dusted town, drying and dying in the city yua long before they reach the salt flats of the outgoing sea.

There is in my mind the suffering of the watoto as I quietly untuck the mosquito net from the mattress and step out onto the porch to change. The metal is whitehot even this early and I balance my bare and bloodied feet atop my shoes. There is a little sun rising but the heat is very mild this early and there is even a dry wind that jingles the school flagpole out on the silent dusty road. Tanzania rises with its brutal tropical yua but not with first light, and the savanna is quiet and still as I jog out down the dusty drive. The stable door is open and the cowherder is bent over to draw the morning watoto mlik. He wears tall waterproof boots and a fur-hooded winter coat to brave the 85 degree chill.

I am shirtless and sweating in moments and I think of the pack of shivering schoolchildren we saw the week before emerging from the warm water of the Indian Ocean into the chilling 85 degree midafternoon sun. They huddled together and shook and rubbed each other’s shoulders as they passed a towel amongst them. The water was hardly cool enough to dry my sweat. Yet under the harshness of the full equatorial yua is when Tanzanians will thrive, when children will play football on the beach in jerseys of sand and when the men on the roads will shovel cement filling and carry truckloads of sand from the pit back to the construction site. They use well the shade of the long mango trees but not prohibitively. You are just as likely to find Tanzanians huddled about waiting in the open road as you are to find them lounging in the shade.

Under the rising sun I run past the nafaka corn farm and all is quiet and I run past the sugar cane house of our student Maimuna and that is quiet too. Corn stalks run alongside the road as it turns down into a gully and the sunlight is caught in the edges of the leaves. From the top of the gully the savanna to the west turns into open mudflats with gentle slopes of farmland disappearing to a white horizon. To the east there are shacks and mudhouses built along the dirt trail that winds through much thicker vegetation. Passing the algae pool at the bottom of the gully I think of the crocodiles and their habitats that I read of in the field guides. There is the feeling there of tiptoeing across a narrow log in dangerous rapids, but this is not the first time I have crossed this pool and the feeling is lessened each time. On this morning as I head up the yellow hill on the other side of the gully there is no fear but instead something like wistful disappointment that passes through me. I see no crocodiles and no snakes, and in the barren stretch of open path beyond there I see no bandits lurking in the brush awaiting the purse of the passing mzungu. There is only the white yua, whiter with every step, burning away all else until the fact of the star in the sky is all that you can imagine remains.

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