It was the eve of our departure to Mbayi and I felt droplets of rain, almost as if the sky was sending us a warning of more to come. We all felt it—a light sprinkling—to which Wendy stated flatly, “Rain means poverty.”
As those words sank in, I began to realize, I’m entering a world very different from the one I left. Rain, which was normally a symbol for life and growth, is a harbinger for loss and poverty at this time year in Zambia. The maize (corn), soon to be harvested, is drying on the stalks in the fields. I have never forgotten those words, nor the image of Wendy looking intensely off into the distance, like she could see the suffering of the villagers.
One of the most noticeable features of Mbayi are its anthills. They’re huge—a few meters tall and many meters wide. They’re ancient. A villager said, “My grandfather’s grandfather saw these same anthills. No one alive has seen them grow from the ground.” They’re life-giving. Different species of ants, in addition to reptiles and snakes, can be found in them or call them home. Groves of bamboo trees only grow on or in the immediate vicinity of these anthills; it’s almost as if they could sense something unique about these hills, marking them as a place of shelter and growth.
These anthills are special. They are the source of life in the village of Mbayi. The villagers plant millet near the anthills as it has the most fertile soil; the excrements from the ants fertilize the soil around it. Wells, to provide water, are built adjacent to the anthills as the earth that is packed and processed by the ants is structurally the strongest and most sound. The anthill also provides the bricks to build housing and shelter. These same bricks are the ones we are using to build the Health Post—a building which will be used to save lives and promote health.
Excavating the soil of the anthill for bricks destroys the portion of the anthill in which the soil was taken. Yet even in its destruction the anthill continually gives life . . .