As he sat bemused by their shy smiles, he tried to tell them why he had come. To take portraits of their people, of their way of life.
The colored rubber bands will keep him engaged in the hours and days to come. He will test the mettle of his little fingers and see how many shapes and figures he can muster with them. He will seek then unravel possibilities in the hollows of his mind, creating and recreating again and again.
A storm was closing in on the bald mountain and we had chosen to climb today of all days. He came swiftly on foot to carry my load and hurriedly swings the bags over his back, and hoists one more atop his head. Hasten, hasten, he says. Must reach camp before darkness descends as ominous clouds blacken the sky.
When he learns ABC’s and 123’s in school, he’s also learning about his home, their island and the vast seas that surround them. He sees the Chinese boats hundreds of meters off our shores. He knows the stories of our local fishermen who used to see giant clams deep beneath the waves and huge sea turtles nesting inland beside the beachfront.
I was told years ago that when I came of age I would be wife, I would be mother. There would be a boy, barely a man, who would speak to my parents and honor my family with material wealth in order to take my hand in marriage.
When his father closes his eyes at night, he has visions of his African child, running carefree, dwarfed by giant golden maize stalks glistening in the sun. Wind blowing across his face, a smile brandished, his laughter ringing thru the air as the fatted cattle graze nearby.
At the break of dawn, a new ark is launched into the clear blue waters off Bongao. She knows not the weight of cargo in her belly or the smell of fish freshly hauled from nets, and her boards taste the sea for the very first time. She will get to know that hands that soon command her hull, who will steer her past these islands into the open sea where a greater bounty awaits, men whose footprints will begin to mark her every flare and curve.
Her healing instruments are rudimentary – the small, black stone, a half-foot bamboo tube and a glass. With these, she performs the bolo-bolo, a healing ceremony that is unique even to her province where strangeness is commonplace.
Once within sight, the old man had gotten up to welcome me. We got to know each other over a handful of visits and on this one I carried what I had promised him previously. I handed over the metal box, he opened it, and beamed at the shiny yellow metal that filled it.
En route to a mission, he tries to catch a few moments peace and quiet. The rhythmic thuds of the C130 can lull one into a slumber, seemingly half asleep and half awake. Are there ever truly restful hours for him?