Swimming souls of poverty

10 March 2019

Lumepa Hald

I love the sight of smoke of the umu houses leaving the village in the early hours of Sunday mornings. It goes well with the heart squeezing sunrise. 

The food we eat, drowned in milky fresh coconut cream, taro baby leaves, red fish on hot stones, raw bonito fish with coconut cream, juicy crab meat, and pork as in a whole pig without pesticides injected in it. The sound of crackling hot stones, and the black ashen faces of the brown boys cooking it. The ripe breadfruit made into a Frisbee shape after squashing then baking it for the elders usually. These are good for making things come out of our bodies, good for digestion and good for tourism too. 

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The romantic scent of home-grown food, to be eaten by our guests, our children, our elders waiting in the house as the children and the youth go to church while some of us stay behind to cook. If only life would remain so delicious and grounded all week. But like any simple life, with a bit of a twist, nothing is what it seems.

The unemployed youth are some to watch to analyze the change of culture. Alcohol is consumed from the mouth down to the shoes. That is why there are big feet in small flip flops. And it is the reason for the staggering clumsy dancing and walking along the streets. The yelling on the road in the middle of the night is, well, an outlet for individualism. So for some youth, it is also a practice for the English language. 

One such youth, when drunk, would call out the only English words he knows as if he is swearing, “ Michael Jackson!” Of course he was fined, for yelling only I hope. But where do they get the money to drink so much? Well, studying the habits of the unemployed youth is a pattern to finding culprits. There is the planning with friends, the actual break in and the drinking after. Simply put, do not ask them all. Just make one of them brag about it. 

The bragging may even lead you to a small farm of unlawful plants,  placed somewhere in the back of the village and owned by an old lady that nobody would suspect has such a numbness in her too. She smiles like an angel. You would think at first sight that she was a saint reborn. But there are deeper circles under her eyes, depicting a lack of empathy, a row of quarrels with her growing unemployed children and climbing fines from the village council for behavioral issues within the household. 

But it makes sense to want to disappear when they all wake up in the morning, hung over and lost for purpose. There is a big white church in the village that supposedly lures the lost to it. However, inside, I find, the loss of God herself is deafening and profound. But where is God, when the youth and old ladies with wretched hobbies are this numb and this empty? Can you tell me? 

It is not the tin roof thatched house, the simple gardens they feed on, the humble fishing that defines poverty. It is not the lack of drinking water because we have rain. It is not the distance from the supply of electricity, because we have the moonlight. It is not the pot holes because we know now it is a lack of honesty, not lack of money that is drilling more holes into our roads. But  I think that poverty is more of a lingering air of unconsciousness. It is like walking into a graveyard of cars. The wretched youth are broken and un-repairable. Their souls are merely swimming. And they are always swimming against the tides of change. 

10 March 2019

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