Last week, I drove to Lichinga on Friday. I went by myself to do some shopping, spend some time with my adopted family (the mum & baby of my friend who died last year) and pick up Sally to bring her out for a weekend in Massangulo. The road from our place to Lichinga is atrocious. It’s about 90km but it takes well over two hours. I always seem to get myself into trouble on that road – thankfully nothing tragic has happened but we’ve got some good stories to tell.
Like the time my wheel fell off and went flying off into the village and smashed a hole in the side of someone’s house. Or the time I found a guy lying unconscious in the middle of the road. Or the time we rolled the Goods car over. After the time I stopped to help the guy lying on the road, my friend made me promise I would never stop to pick people up again, saying it’s just too dangerous – especially if I’m alone.
So on the Friday morning, I drove past countless people asking for a lift – apologist’s ing for not stopping from the safety of my car. But then, I got to Magiga, the last town before you leave our district. There, standing on the side of the road near the school, were two cute little old grandmas waving me down. At first I flashed my lights (the signal to say you’re not stopping) but then I changed my mind and stopped to offer them a lift.
I greeted them in Chiyawo, they didn’t respond, I don’t think they were expecting me to speak their language. I asked where they were going and they said to Lichinga. I said I was too and that they could get a lift. They smiled and did the nervous laugh that people here do when they think you want to eat them and they’re trying to politely decline. I asked them if they were scared? Because I’m white? They replied saying yes they were.
I remembered that the parents of one of the guys who works for us live in the village we were in, so I talked to the grandmas all about our worker and his parents and where they lived and where I lived… all in Chiyawo, in the hope that I’d build a bit of credibility. They were happy to chat, but still wouldn’t get near the car. I tried one more time but they just politely replied… bari (you can go now).
It’s not the first time that’s happened. For the most part, people we just meet are genuinely scared of us – worried we’re going to steal them, kill them, eat them and goodness knows what else. It’s a good reminder about where we’re really starting from in terms of building trusting relationships… I reckon it takes about a year or pretty regular contact before people start trusting that we’re not out to hurt them.