Monday, February 28, 2011

The Colour of Poverty

Brett and I lingered over our candle-lit dinner, and reflected on our day.  While I had taken the opportunity to lounge the day away, he had ventured out with his camera slung around his neck, intent on capturing the heart of Malawi via his lens. Children had swarmed around him, jumping, posing and begging to have their pictures taken. Laughter followed him around the beach and through the village, as he wandered. The sparkle in his eyes told me that he had enjoyed every minute of it.
I had seen that myself, when he ambled up the beach with his entourage of boys giggling and yelling. They had stopped at my towel where I was reading, and their antics were a sight to behold. Gregarious boys were laughing and running circles around us. Shy girls quietly clung to the outskirts of the circle, a part of the fray, but by their nature, removed. A few daring girls came over to feel my hair and skin, to see if it felt any different than their own black counter-parts. I encouraged their curiousity and admired their beauty as well. It was a delightful exchange and the mirth was infectious. By the time the group dispersed, I was smiling and laughing too. 

Over dinner our conversation was a little more serious though.  While the children had been happy and friendly,  their poverty was all too apparent. They were dressed in nothing more than rags. Excessive wear had robbed the clothes of any colour that they once may have sported. The contrast between their childish glee, was strangely muted by their drab monotonous colour palette. While it did not dampen their enthusiasm, it did diminish our joy.
One image remained in my mind of a little boy in the group that had been wearing a pair of trousers that were bereft of a crotch or bum. His little “chaps” spoke volumes of the standard of living that was so disparate from my own, so far away.  While Brett reminded me that he probably kept his better clothes for school, that could not shake the vision from my eyes. I would not have kept his clothes for rags back home, but here he was running around in public without adequate covering. I am not overly prudish, but his exposure hurt my heart and soul.
 As we watched the last light of the day disappear, we wondered what we would learn the following morning. It would prove to be interesting, as we would see exactly what some of these children did wear to school. It was the last day of the term for the students at Mwaya Beach Primary School. A couple of boys that Brett had met on the beach had invited us to tag along with them to hear test results and tour their classrooms.
I watched the full moon rise into the sky, before being driven under my mosquito net for the night to dream of my date at the chalkboard.


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