[episode 7] The day I get poisoned


Beyond the mistrust understandably linked to the presence of a stranger, I discover the effect of jealousy. An oshirumbu, which means red since a white man becomes red in the sun, is synonymous with wealth. With my presence, the village of Kondonga is richer than the other villages. Why this village and not another one? How can you explain rationally that I have come into that village rather than into the other one a few hundred meters farther?

In an environment in which the population has almost nothing, jealousy can take huge proportions; the consequences can go as far as death.

One morning getting up with the sun rising at about five, I notice the chief and Warimisa cutting up two goats. Normally eating meat is associated with a special occasion such as a wedding or a pregnancy, etc… So I ask what this occasion is. They simply answer that the goats have been found dead that night. Wasting the meat is out of the question. When I try to ask what caused their deaths, they answer they don’t know.

After eating only maize porridge for one month, I feel both very happy to gain some strength with proteins but a little worried to know how my stomach will react. As usually, cooking is divided into two phases. During the first one, the chops are grilled. It’s a real treat. The second phase lasts for the whole day. The goat meat is boiled and gradually eaten when it is done.

Sitting under our tree by forty degrees in the shade, instead of gaining strength, I feel a terrible tiredness fall over me. I can feel the heat as I have never done despite the coolness of the coming evening. I quickly tell everyone that I have to go to bed. I will get up only forty eight hours later.

People are extremely worried in the village. The women regularly come to my hut to see how I am. The Chief brings me mixtures that look like digestive powders. Mbaganta, who is pregnant doesn’t feel very well either and Waponwa sleeps a lot too.

When I wake up, everybody is happy. To celebrate, they offer me a piece of meat they had saved to give me strength. It’s impossible to say no. This meat is so valuable that I can’t refuse. Luckily, the symptoms have not come back. I will learn a few weeks later that the goats had been poisoned by neighbours who were jealous of my presence. I had been the most badly hit because it was the first time I had ingested it. The grilled chops had not been cooked long enough to destroy the substance whereas the longer cooking had stopped it working.

Of course I was at first really angry at being assaulted. Then I managed to admit the understandable consequence of my presence despite my precaution. How can you feel resentment against people who see a village benefit from an advantage without any reason?

I have understood that the world is not Manichean. The village responsible for the trouble is certainly no different from mine. Frustration and difficulties in living have brought them to act as they did. I can’t forget that I remind them of the devastating effect of various western colonisations on these peoples.

So I adjust my behaviour to the different difficult situations I may have to face. No counter attack but great signs of respect and listening. Never impose relationship. Take the time they offer me rather than ask for it.

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