From my journal, 25 March 2014, 06:15
I’m sitting in the trees next to my field, waiting for a kabwalala (thief). Sad that it’s come to this, but funny in a way, too: a PCV lurking in the bushes before dawn for the express purpose of catching a young child pulling up imbalala (groundnuts) and filching ears of amataba (maize).
Yesterday, just as I was winding down the day and thinking I’d have an early night for a change, Chola, Maria, and Allan Jr. came by. Like me, they’ve noticed that my crops are being stolen, here and there, bit by bit. Unlike me, they realized something needed to be done.
First they suggested setting traps to snag the kabwalala, who almost everyone I know agrees is a child, or, more likely, children, on their way to school. This was by far the most entertaining suggestion, but they also mentioned the hiding-in-the-forest option, emphasizing, of course, that they would be happy to provide this service for a mere 10 kwacha (a fortune in terms of piece work here, especially when all you’re doing is sitting around).
For now, I’ve chosen to wait and see on my own. I want to catch these child thieves myself and put a little of the fear of god into them. Like the time I tracked down six-year-old Doro, who had stolen a colored pencil from me, and almost put her in tears. But she never stole from me again.
It’s not that I will starve without my crops. It’s not that I mind kids eating my food. It’s the principle: stealing is wrong, in this culture or any other. I’ve even talked with Ba Bernardi about this extensively, and we agree: in a culture where anyone who has food will give you some, there is no reason for anyone to be stealing from me. Except that I’m a muzungu, and my field is right next to the path through town – and on the way to school. I also know that other farmers have to deal with this too, and not just from children. They’ve caught people stealing maize, avocados, fish from fish ponds, you name it.
But that doesn’t make it right. I want to have maize and groundnuts to harvest and give away to people I actually WANT to give to. And no way am I going to be known as the person you can steal from.
Immediately after writing that entry, I heard a small cough coming from my field. I cautiously looked up to see my buddy Allan Jr., walking the perimeter and scoping the field. Now, some might think, “ah, he’s the thief!” But there are some people you just trust implicitly, and nine-year-old Allan is one of those. (Not to mention it was he who told me to wait in the bushes, and he is NOT a stupid kid.) I knew exactly what he was doing. So I stood up and silently motioned for him to join me. Instantly, a huge grin broke out over his face, and he came RUNNING across the field.
We spent the next hour together in virtual silence, sitting on my maize sack to keep the dew off of us. It took a long time for the sun to come up enough to penetrate the trees and grass. He must’ve been freezing. Zambians do NOT like cold, and like most young boys, Allan was clad only in a thin long-sleeve shirt and a pair of shorts. No shoes. I gave him my long-sleeve shirt to wear, then asked if he wanted to go home, since I was holding down the fort. He shook his head. This was probably far more exciting for him than it was for me.
So we waited. We pulled apart grasses to discover their fuzzy insides, watched insects, listened to half the village – including the schoolkids – going by. We listened in on their talk and gossip, tried to guess whose voices we were hearing, whispering names of particular loudmouths and holding back giggles.
An hour came and went. It was 7:30, the time when even the straggling Grade 1 & 2 schoolkids should have passed, and we’d heard no one. How unexciting. We both returned home to have breakfast.
Not 45 minutes later, I returned to the field for a little weeding, and to be around when Grades 1 & 2 switched out with 3 & 4 in the 10:30-11:30 window. And dammit if there wasn’t a freshly-pulled-up bunch of groundnuts awaiting me!
So I made an executive decision, which I pitched to Allan, Mavis, and Maria when they came by again a couple hours later. (Though I tried to find Chola, she was nowhere to be found, and sweet, dependable Mavis seemed a good replacement.)
OK, if you come spend an hour-and-a-half weeding and hanging out in my field every morning, at the time when the younger kids are on their way to school, and keep your eyes peeled again when YOU’RE going to and from school later in the day, I will print you each two photos of your choice. (This is the ultimate reward for any child in my village.) They agreed, and Allan immediately chose the photo I’d taken of us waiting in the trees that morning.
Then: “Ba Terri, most of your maize is ready anyway. You should just harvest it.” And because they almost always know better than I do, I said, “OK, let’s do it.”
I have only three rows of struggling maize, so it didn’t take long. Before I knew it, Boke had joined us, along with some younger kids who were much less helpful. It was a great big crazy mess of a harvest, with cobs flying everywhere and Allan and Boke karate-chopping the maize stalks after they removed the cobs.
It was also a great chance to finally GIVE away some of my maize. (The groundnuts will have to wait another week or two before they’re all really ready.)
Yes, I know this sounds like child labor, and it is. But these kids work all the time, planting their families’ fields, walking long distances to buy salt and cooking oil, slashing grass at the school, caring for younger siblings. Working for the PCV, on the other hand, isn’t work as far as I can tell. It’s an exciting opportunity to hang out with the muzungu, show off their skills, and get free photos. For me, it’s just a nice way to get a little help from my friends.