July 4, 2005

Green corn

Green corn
Towards evening the old boat chugged into a deep inlet, what had been a steep narrow valley in the hills above the great river before the dam was built now a convenient harbour. They had taken soil samples at two spots along the shoreline during the long day, each time leaving the water and following game paths inland , carefully labellig the sealed bags of earth with the map co-ordinates and depth they were from, then storing them with the growing collection back in the boat.
Here they would have tracks made by people to follow, company for the evening, beer and talk around the fires. There was a prospectors’ camp, two geologists and their gear, quite a few helpers and others in a sprawl of tents under the trees where a stream met the lake. Further up where the ground levelled out was a great expanse of corn , head high and bursting with vigour, and beyond that rose the smoke of a fair sized village..
“ All right guys, lets get set up over there beside the other tents, Adam you go see about getting some of that corn, a couple of ears each should be good, Henry you start the fire , Pete lets go meet those geologists, bring that case of beer. Oh yeah, Adam , heres some cash for the corn, just find someone who actually owns it before you start paying though “ and Andy and Peter headed for a shady seat under the thorn trees, where two empty canvas chairs signaled a welcome amongst the half dozen already there. Guy and Alex , the geologists, were both bearded and sunburnt , Guy a lanky twenty something with yellowish curls straggling over his shoulders , and Alex getting on for forty with years of beer fighting his belt. They were sitting with a young woman and an older man, both dressed in khaki shirts and pressed pants, smart contrast to their hosts’ crumple and wear style. They were Chief Luto and his daughter Tuli, visiting from just over the other side of the corn field, both fluent English speakers and obviously better educated and more prosperous than your average subsistence farmer. Andy and the Chief were soon deep into soil chemistry, corn varieties and pests, with side excursions into lake water levels and vegetables. Some quick words to one of Alex’s guys sent him running off to tell Adam not to worry about paying for those ears of corn, the Chief didnt want any cash . Tuli and Guy and Peter had their own technical discussion going, music and mini skirts, guitars and chords, the Scene in London where he had just come from and In the capital Lumaka, where Tuli had just finished high school. Alex was happy with beer and the cool breeze, just sitting and sipping and listening to a dove cooing the last sunlight away somewhere nearby.
After one of those short sharp tropical sunsets and the metallic clamour of the guinea fowl going to roost in the thorn trees , the creaks and croaks of frogs and crickets praised the rising half moon and the blaze of the milky Way and Southern Cross over them. Guy brought out his guitar and played and they sang Beatles , Dylan and Baez , stopping to munch roasted green corn and pork sausages. They sang “ I been working like a dog “ with enthusiasm, everyone joined in. They sang “one two three four what are we fighting for ? “ with just the young people , and a couple of duets from Guy and Tuli , “Parsley sage rosemary and thyme” went down well with some nice harmony. Then Pete tried one he’d heard just a couple of weeks before in a pub in St Albans, “In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty I wanna be In the warm heart of your loving mind “ and everyone swayed to the tune and sang along the second time around, but somehow Pete was convinced there had to be more to the song than that, so he extemporised “Ah to wake once more and feel your arms at Edens door “ which was ok, but still kinda short .Hippos started to grunt and snort somewhere offshore, getting closer as Luto frowned and cursed “ Oh no here they come again, they had a taste of corn last night and now they’re back , we didnt see them around here until yesterday, they must have moved along the coast. Damn. I’ ll get some guys to light a fire in the field and see if we can scare them off. It wont be easy because they must be quite hungry, there’s no reeds or grass for miles along the coast except here and we drove them off pretty quick last night. “
Peter was up for adventure and excitement, cocky after the encounter with the Rodians on the lake, so went along into the field and waited by the blazing logs in the path from the water . Two young guys from the village armed with tin cans and stones as noise-makers had been appointed to this duty by their chief, and they had a fair sized calabash of home brewed sorghum beer, nkomboti, to help pass the time quicker and several large joints rolled in brown paper to slow things down again.
Some hazy time later the logs were blazing four foot flames, and they had all moved back away from the heat, when the noise of something large and sure of itself crashing through the thorn branches across the path sent his buddies off into the shadows . Pete grabbed a blazing branch and waved it in front of him like a lion tamer with a chair , shouting “ Go on get outta here “
One of the other guys grabbed him from behind and hustled him off the path into the corn as the hippo just kept coming . He threw the burning branch right into its open mouth as it stamped by, then stumbled blindy deeper into the dark field. Woke up with a lump on his head and a really bad headache , lying in Guy’s tent sometime after sunrise. Andy had left to get his soil samples and the rest were down by the stream , looking for diamond indicator minerals in a process that involved shovelling gravel into a wooden sluice and pumping lots of water through it, then picking through their gleanings with tweezers and magnifying glasses . There were a diesel generator, a pump and several radios all going full volume, a scene of bustle and industry sending a plume of silty brown out into the lake. Sounded like one hippo felt unhappy too, because one of the four or five out there was grunting and complaining loudly instead of snoozing with just his nostrils above water in proper hippo style. They had munched through a wide swath of the cornfield despite all efforts , and most were busy digesting and keeping cool. Tuli brought Peter clean water and a damp cloth, but not much sympathy;” Hey man , you were sucking it back pretty good last night, werent you ? Just drink lots of water and take it easy. What did you do to yourself anyway, fall over into a donga and hit your head or run in to a tree or something ? You look like you got yourself a concussion, your one eye is really big, and the other is normal , let me see. Oh yeah you got a nice bump right here . Well that will help when Andy gets back, he might let you off with some of your hide left, everyone has been up and working for hours already. “
Anyway when Andy got back from the bush everything was already packed back in the boat and they set off for the next stop somewhere to the West up the lake with little delay. “ You know that is quite remarkable back there” Andy commented “ That Luto is really someone around here . They are lucky he”s the chief, he gets things done .and he works hard, and hes not afraid to try things . That corn was planted months before the rains came, when the Rodians dropped the water level in the lake it left a big area of level mud and shallow water, and he went in and dug drains and planted corn , they dont have cattle around here bedause of the tstse fly you know, so everything had to be done with hand tools, no ox ploughs. If he can get some of that corn to the city they should make a bit selling it to eat fresh. Make way more like that than as a staple crop, and looks like the hippos will get most of it if they leave it in the field to mature and dry. You must have run right into one of those drainage ditches.” Then he turned his attention to the map and started to plot locations for the afternoon soil sampling hike.


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