Weaving Reed Mats

When I first got to my Peace Corps village, I made friends with the oldest and most crotchety man in the village.  I made friends with him because he wove these beautiful reed mats and I wanted to learn how to make them.  At that point in my service, I didn't know that only men who were "retired" (old enough to do nothing else) wove these reed mats.  My language skills were rudimentary and he spoke no English.  I figured this would be a good way to improve my language skills and learn how to weave those mats.  He and I would sit for a few hours each week and work on those reed mats.  I would attempt to ask him questions and he would attempt to answer in a way I could understand.  People from the village were astounded that a) a girl would be trying to learn this skill that only old men have, b) a white girl was learning a skill that only Lunda men have, and c) I was actually trying to speak Lunda AND weave reed mats!  Everyone thought it was hilarious, and I was having fun meeting people and building my language skills.

About six months after I'd been coming to his house to weave mats, he met me and refused to give me my work.  Instead he made me sit down with him in silence. He wouldn't say a word.  Every time I tried to ask a question, or even open my mouth, he would hold up a finger and "shoosh" me in a way that only an elderly African man can...In the moment I had no idea what we were doing, and it was very hard not to speak and ask all my questions.  We sat there for somewhere around four hours that day, and from that day forward we continued to work on reed mats together - but we often times didn't feel the need to fill the space with questions.  We would work together and ask questions only when we really had a burning question.  (Which sometimes meant he would say "America" and we would both point in a semi-north-westerly direction, and he would say "China" and we would point in a semi-north-easterly direction.  He loved this game)

This crotchety old man was one of my best friends in the village, and sadly he died just before my service ended.  One of his grand-daughters came to me as I was preparing to leave the village to tell me something her grandfather had told her before he died.  He told her about that day when he was "shooshing" me, and told her that all he wanted to do was teach me how to be a real Lunda.  He told her that I was his white Lunda, and I learned well.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.