That night Rod has arranged for us to have dinner at the home of a local family. We each take a bowl and spoon from the truck and are led down a series of paths in the pitch black night air to a little mud hut. Various families and clans have their own paths which cross one another and we would have become hopelessly lost among the thorns and branches of this jungle-like neighborhood without our leader who we stuck to like glue.
Dinner of delicious chicken, rice, cooked cabbage and beans was served to us on straw mats on the ground in front of the hut. We had wanted to taste Cassava root, the staple of the people, but it wasn’t served that night. After dinner we were told that the children of the village would �sing� for us. What followed is almost impossible to describe. There were probably 40-50 small children aged 3 to about 8 (or it seemed like it was that many.) A few were as old as 12 or 14. They clapped and moved their little bodies in a very fast rhythm to their loud energy-charged chanting in their Tonga dialect. Spontaneously two would jump out in front of the group and really go at it-moving their hips, butts and legs.
When they all had a turn we were each invited by one child to come dance with him/her in front of everyone which absolutely delighted the children and greatly entertained the rest of us! The group was so charged and the chanting was so loud that when you danced with them you got a tremendous hit of emotional and physical energy. They were alive to this moment in which they were able to express themselves, affirm their presence in this world. They were visible, needed and important-this was their creation.
Then they all sang their National Anthem both in English and in dialect. Then we (Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and the two Americans) were asked to sing them a song in return. We had a hell of a time with our heads together trying to come up with a song that we all knew but we finally did it-Row Row Your Boat-in rounds even! Must have sounded pitiful to those Tongan ears! I will never forget those beautiful alive children as long as I live.
Then the older boys brought out some little paintings to sell for a couple dollars each. African culture is a culture of exchange. You give me something and I give you something. My dignity depends on it. But things of a very different order can be exchanged. Something non material can be exchanged for something of material value and vica versa. If an African bestows his presence and attention, imparts information (warning you about thieves, for example) which ensures your safety this generous man now awaits reciprocity and he will be very surprised if you turn on your heel and walk away. There is a cultural dissimilarity of expectations here that we did not understand in Egypt-not that it would have made it any easier. The question then was how do I refuse the exchange in the first place when the Other is insisting? We are still working on this.
Back at the gate to the camp a group of young boys and men had begun to drum. Several hours later we fell asleep…still listening to the sound of the Drums Still Drumming…a meditation on sound…during all these hours there was not a break in the rhythm…