Jacques has a farm at the village of Bodenge about a 45 minute drive from Gemena. This is his place of retreat. He took us out there one day.
On the way we stopped and attempted to make our way to a large outcropping of rocks, a high cliff, below which we could see the dark opening of a cave. Jacques says that people will go there to pray. No one seems to have been there for awhile. The sobi grass is tall and thick. We followed a path that took us past some gardens but then disappeared into grass and brush over our heads. We gave up since we had no machete with us to clear the way.
We continued on our way to the farm which is reached by taking a turn to the left partway through the village, between the rows of huts that line the road.
Jacques isn’t the chief but acts the part of benevolent landowner. The village benefits from his presence with access to a clean water source and a certain level of security. He knows the political leaders and is not afraid to speak out against injustices like theft of livestock by passing soldiers. But his goodness isn’t always repaid in kind. One of his herders, from this village, disappeared one night. So did three head of cattle. The timing was a bit suspicious.
There is a mud brick house with a small cookhouse off to the side. The thick sobi thatch keeps it cool. Out behind is a covered area and “goi goi” (lazy) chairs. Jacques brings out a large cooler. There is cold pop for myself and the kids. Jacques enjoys his cold Mitzig. While we relax our meal is being grilled over a charcoal fire. Authentic barbecue- the way most food is cooked in this country.
Afterwards Sara, Grace, Tantine and I walk down to the water source, a fresh water spring that has been capped so that pure water flows out of a couple of pipes. There is still a pool for washing and bathing but the drinking water can’t be contaminated. Bruno comes along with us but is warned by his father that at this time of day it is the women’s turn to go there. And, sure enough, we are there a few minutes and a woman comes to bathe. He hikes off back to the house while we women and girls enjoy the coolness of the water.
The girls have brought along one of their soccer balls. Before long there are dozens of village kids – the boys – eager to play. It has been years since they last played with a real soccer ball, maybe the first time for some. When it came time to leave, my girls presented the ball to the village. Jacques made a little speech. All the kids told Grace and Sara “merci” but the sparkle in their eyes spoke more than their words. The girls will become part of the villager’s stories – how the girls from Canada brought them a ball. That is part of how things happen out here.