Yesterday was two more village visits. We are meeting with village leaders to assess the progress toward their “holisticgoal“. This is a vision for what they want their land and livelihoods to look like. The key steps for land restoration will typically include the collective herding of village cattle (as opposed to haphazard or family based herding), planned pack grazing on predetermined parcels (paddocks), preservation of watering holes, and the moving every one to two weeks of kraals (stockades) over the crop fields. These meetings with the villages leaders and the Africa Center are fairly formal events which only occur a few times a year (although a program manager who is fluent in the local dialect is working on site every week). There is singing, prayers, presentations, visits to the herd and crop fields, and occasionally a traditional meal. I am fortunate to be in the heart of this and witnessing village life first hand in a way that I believe few Westerners could.
So far, these meetings have been held outdoors under the shade of a tree, or, in the last case, in a nursery school – a small brick room with tiny chairs, a guano smelling thatched roof, and the English alphabet written above the blackboard. At the head of the room sat the chairwoman and to her right was the village head, also known as the headman. The headman is always present at these meetings. His job is to say a few introductory remarks and then, as is almost always the case, turn the meeting over to a chairwoman. Either the headman or chairwoman will ask someone to lead a prayer, after which the meeting will start. As far as I can tell, these are Catholic prayers. Many of the woman wear skirts with Catholic imagery and messaging, and brick Catholic churches are common. One word that I hear often during the prayer that I recognize is “siyabonga”, which means, “thanks on behalf of us”. In contrast, when they give feedback about the program, one word that I hear often is “kamanzi”, which means water.
Also present at every meeting is singing. Typically the singing will precede formalities, but it may also be during. In at least two cases, the villagers starting the singing as soon as we arrived. It is wonderful. It is catchy, joyful, and harmonic. No meeting has had less than two singing sessions, and some sessions may have two or more songs. The singing is a fundamental part of the meeting. Women always lead the singing but it is not exclusive to them. Men will participate in the side or back, but are never in the center nor take a lead. These songs, also, are unique for the occasion. In the last village visit, they closed the meeting with a song based on the word for thanks, mentioned above, “siyabonga”. The first verse went:
Where “Dimbangombe” is the traditional name for the location of the Africa Center for Holistic Management. Villagers simply refer to it as Africa Center, or, Dimbangombe.