Far more than a road

Its been a long week, but finally after many hard days I can say I have a road! Days started at 7. A short drive to the existing road ended and ours started, followed by shoes thrown off and trousers hitched up. As we received our cold morning wake up call, crossing the river. I crossed alone one day and surprisingly the men told me off. Don’t cross alone Ngwenya they said, meaning crocodile. Depending on the rains the water would go up to our thighs and on the worst days hip level. I went with a gang of 7, local people who would pick up the water and smell for fish I didn’t know if this was to see if they could drink or a way of telling if the Ngwenya would be lurking. Tree chopping started directly after the river crossing. And never before have I worked so hard! With a hoe and an axe we began. The men cutting down most of the trees and women thankfully filling the holes and trenches. There wasn’t much talking the first day and if they spoke to referred to me as Madam, I put that to an end quickly having them all repeat da-nee a few times. Thankfully I went with Tilda who could speak English and it wasn’t long until we were all semi communicating. Mainly laughing at my attempts to repeat words and ushering me back to spots id missed whilst filling holes. I made the terrible mistake of trying to impress the first day and couldn’t quite keep it up. Slow and steady definitely wins the race. The first tree I chopped was entertainment for the group, they all stopped to watch my 20 something swings to pull the thing out of the ground. And I defiantly wanted to sit down for a 7hr break after doing it! We would walk and chop continuously and turn around for the hour ½ walk back around 2. I tell you, the car never looked so glorious before sat on the other side of the river waiting to take us home. We didn’t have breaks but thankfully the men would collect sugar cane from the villager’s fields for a re-boost. I had to receive lessons on how to eat it and how to properly, but I was a lot better at that then the tree removal. On the fourth to last day, I walked to the school with Taweh and Kiso trying to gage how many more days of blistered hands I had left. Halfway through our walk, the rains came! And didn’t finish until the last day. Some days it wasn’t so bad, the air was still warm and a quick excuse to duck under a tree came in handy. The last day had to be my favourite, hard rains and cold winds started about an hour away from the school. The team wanted to carry on as I suggested we should return. We were all soaked, one of the men gave me his jacket as I shivered down the road. Slightly miserable but close to completion I was still able to pull my only joke shouting Ngwenya (crocodile) every time someone walked through a large puddle. I think they regretted teaching me the word. We arrived at the school and by some miracle, the builder was sat in a small hut making a fire. All of us quickly huddled around, Tilda took her jacket off and without talking the guys grabbed corners and held it over the fire. The builder started cooking Sudza (sort of thick mash made out of corn) and Mopani worms. They showed me how to cook the dish and offered me a worm, I couldn’t really refuse and was given my second lesson how to eat the thing! Off with its head and their faces were full of delight as they watched my face screw up as the insect tickled its way down my throat. I was proud of the work on the road, impressed with what it meant but the achievement didn’t compare to the simplicity of being huddled around a fire with the gang, who I’d like to call friends now. It had to be one of the simplest moments I have ever experienced. Food shared with people who don’t have a lot to share, all looking out for one another. Checking each other’s jackets were dry, one of the girls taking my hat and holding it above the flames for me. I learnt communication goes far beyond words, a smile, being pointed at half a brick to sit on and share, the boys pointed at thorns and prickles before I walked over them. Compassion and love truly are wherever you look for them.

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