“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” – John 1:5
It all began one cold, windy and a very rainy Saturday morning when I awoke to the sounds of thunder in the distance and rain gently tapping on my bedroom window…
Quiet. The occasional faint pitter-patter of drizzle on the corrugated iron roof would perk my ears up. Then more quiet. The only sounds above a whisper that reached my house over the course of a 34 hour period, from 2am Saturday morning until 12pm Sunday afternoon, were of families chatting and laughing as they cooked their meals over fires or gas stoves.
The reason behind this silence and darkness was that the electricity had been snuffed out from a most terrible and great thunderstorm. A thunderstorm so great it had the capabilities of shutting down the electric grid across an entire collection of villages. In addition to electric damages, there may have been some emotional damage as well. That is to say, I wasn’t scared out of my wits at all. No, that’s a lie. I was scared to death by the lightening and thunder, which decided to have a light show and make awesome cracks and rumbles just above my house.
Adding to my uneasiness about the thunder, I began feeling lonely and isolated as the silence penetrated my mind. I just needed to hear something other than rain and to be with someone other than me. Please, just anything other sound than rain pelting softly on the roof, which only made me extremely sleepy. Anything. On top of it all, the gray of the clouds muddled my spirits. So, I began humming, whistling and singing tunes to myself to brighten the day. Or so the theory goes, but only would temporarily lift the spirits. The occasional “moooooo!” of a cow or a “baaaaa” of a goat would interrupt the day’s silence, then nothing.
I did manage to walk over to a neighbor’s house through typhoon of wind and rain in search of social interaction and to use her gas burner stove to heat some water. To say in the least, I was extremely grateful for both. We chatted for a while about the weather and how crummy it was outside. I laughed as she joked, “Eish, we are just here and it is so cold and we are without electricity. Yoh! You can’t do anything other than just to sleep”. A wide smile then spread across her face and she gave a laugh, as if stating our shared feelings made her feel better. I certainly felt better from her smile and laugh.
She had a puddle building outside of her house, which I became quite worried that it would seep into her house. She, however, was not worried in the least. I guess she had been through worse or similar weather than what we experienced that day. Besides, what do I know? I’m only here for a year.
After a while of some well-needed social interaction and a time to heat up some water, which I was extremely grateful for both, I went back up the hill and back to my house. Despite the comfort of having friends and neighbors around me throughout the quiet day, however, a feeling of eeriness settled over my mind.
On any normal day, the village was filled with a vibrant social hubbub from the chatter and the laughter of people going about their daily business. Walking to the local water taps to fetch water or over to the tavern to buy bread or to play a game of pool are a few common activities in which people regularly participate. These sounds of normalcy, of people going about their daily business with family and friends, then radiate throughout the entire community. No matter where you stand across the village: its streets, yards and into the living spaces of each household, one can here these most common and comforting sounds of Masealama’s people. A social buzz filled with the dynamics of friendship, family and of people finding a place within their community. For me, the regular village sounds of conversation and laughter have become a source of comfort not only in observing these things but being an active participant in village life. I too enjoy making jokes with friends around the village, playing pool and feeling present in today’s world.
This day, however, was different. No one was walking around or doing any activity, really. It was as if everyone had up and moved out of the place, which rendered Masealama a “ghost town.” And who would want to? It was raining cats and dogs outside and it was pretty cold, too. The heaviness of the rain was just too powerful a force to keep people from going out at all, including myself. It seemed to me, both from experiencing this “ghost village” during the storm and speaking with people about it the next day, that many people in Masealama had the same mindset. The mindset of staying in and getting cozy, that is. Familiar village sounds as powered by electricity, such as the rhythmic beats of house and techno music of the nearby tavern, were silent. There was little doubt in my mind that the rest of the day, into evening and deep into the dead of night could get quite dark, lonely and cold.
When afternoon shifted to evening and when night quickly set upon the world, I realized that the next few hours had the potential to go well, or not so well, to put it plainly. The transition from the grey and cloudy day into night was moving very fast, as night does here usually, and I was given a limited amount of options. Here in Limpopo, electricity serves many numerous purposes for people. For instance, with electricity you can perform many different functions such as: turn on a light bulb, charge a cellular phone for communication purposes, keep your food cool with the refrigerator, watch television, and magically and instantly turn on a stove burner for your most immediate cooking needs and much, much more. Oh, the wonders of electricity!
Besides, what were I to do if this was a regular occurrence or if this were every night like it is for many people around Masealama? I began to collect every light-emitting object around the house.
Not only was I going to survive this impenetrable night, I would embrace this opportunity to learn and be thankful for what I had. Thankfully, I had candles. Thankfully I had matches and a little dry wood, despite the damp conditions, to start a fire. Thankfully I had tin foil, food such as potatoes and canned food and a metal grate upon which to cook. Uffda I had fun putting this all together. Though fun for the first night, I’m not entirely sure how many more days the fun would have lasted. I now feel like I have greater appreciation for those who, day in and day out, live a life relatively free of electricity.
The people of Masealama are a social safety net for me. When I feel lonely, others are around for conversation and to allow for me to heat some water. When I feel isolated, others are around to comfort me and teach me valuable lessons on companionship and hospitality. Wherever there is darkness, there is the light of thankfulness, resourcefulness and companionship. Thanks be to God.
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” -John 1:5