“T.I.A.,” you hear people here say, when they witness something dysfunctional or dangerous or corrupt: “This Is Africa,” as if dysfunction or violence or corruption are in-dwelling in the place, and of its nature; I’ve said these things myself. Yet today, without my seeking or asking for it, I am brought into contact with something very different.
On the chapa from Namialo, a dozen or more women, clad in identical black, in identical orange headscarves, fill the coach with singing. Choruses of voices, ululating, the voices rising and falling, falling off and joining in, three men with hand drums – little more than wooden boxes stretched with animal hides – set rhythms beneath the voices; and the whole coach becomes a rolling African choir.
We drive a dusty off-road thru a village, shady with mango trees, countless, hung with heavy fruit. Children run from the daub-and-wattle huts beside the road, bare-assed and dusty, and as the women sing, the song pouring thru the coach windows, the children start to dance.
There is some profound, unreckonable spirit in these people, in Africa, for all that I often sit in judgment of them and this place for all its roughness and dysfunction; such profound soul and spirit. And such a purity to it – uncorrupted into anything commercial, a spirit expressing itself for no other reason but joy – the women singing on the dusty road, their voices lifting, the men drumming, the children dancing in the shade of the mango trees.
This Is Africa.