Ironic Happiness

You can listen to the voice recodrding, or read through the text below.



We were not surprised when we caught the faint babble of men on the breeze. We had started picking up human signs a day earlier – a few tracks, a sapling stripped of bark to tie down something, a little glass jar that once contained Vicks Vaporub…  We had to be within a day or two from one of those lone villages in the bush.

We followed the sound and found a group of fishers. It was an overcast morning and the breeze goose-pimpled our skin where it was bare, but it did not deter the men. Some were waist-deep in the water and could manage only short gasps of excited chatting from their cold-taught bodies. They were happy with what they had managed to haul with the nets they had so painfully lugged through the bush – all the way from Lake Nyassa, some two hundred kilometres to the west, most likely.

The fish were migrants from the big river. They got stranded here when the dry season turned the little stream into a twisting ribbon of sand and cracked mud and a few pools. They were small. All of them. They hadn’t had time to grow. The pool was being fished too heavily for the population to be sustainable. There were no crocodiles in the pool – they often get marooned too – so it was mostly humans that did the fishing. Birds of course accounted for some – kingfishers, herons, hamerkops, spoonbills and ducks that forage along the green-edged meander, but not that many.

The village was probably getting too big. It was approaching the limits of the bush’s ability to support it. Already the number of young men in the fishing party seemed high. Some would have to move to towns, find work. But what? They had lived in the bush all their lives.

But move they will, in the idyllic belief of plenty in that obscure world that lay beyond the fringes of their wilderness. First, they will venture further than the small Middle World villages they know, to rural towns, where they will linger until desperation drives them on, to the cities… There they will likely end up sharing in the meagre income of some relative or try to survive on the odd menial “piece-job,” or they will drift into crime, first petty, then maybe bigger, or turn to begging. Some will wander to the next town, the next city, the next country, and find the same. And slowly their misery will fester into discontent and they will be ready to soak up the populist rhetoric of some self-centred radical.

And the village? The bush will probably never recover sufficiently to support it again. It will bleed more and more able people to the Modern World until only a few remained; mostly old people and children left in their care. Desperate souls, dependent on alms arriving along tenuous links from migrant parents and relatives in distant towns and cities. And then the big-business poachers might move in, recruit, supply guns, if necessary, pay a pittance for horns and tusks and claws and tails and skins – a pittance, but to the villagers, a fortune, a saving grace. And soon the poaching trade would gobble up the village until everyone and everything was dependent on it, connected to it.

It is the story of Africa…

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