Worlds Apart

I live in Warren County, N.J., U.S.A.

It’s around 10 a.m. on Saturday and I’ve just finished checking out today’s N.Y. Times and Washington Post on-line, while sipping a second cup of coffee, with a measured amount of half and half. I slept late, rising around 9:45 a.m. but in time to see my disabled daughter off with her mentor for a few hours of hiking and probably lunch at Panera’s. Next, I’ll spend a few hours working on my blog on the laptop, possibly delving into another deeply existential topic like what is the meaning of meaning.

Later today, depending on the weather, rain is possible, I may cut the lawn, back and front, totaling about a half an acre, a difficult job made harder because the mower has no automatic drive, which would have been too expensive, but I get a very good workout, hot though it may be and afterwards I may sit outside, in the backyard, with my book and my shades on and my feet up on the lawn chair as I listen to the birds flying by, a dog barking in the distance, a motorcycle zooming up the street. And by then, I’ll do my regular one hour on the stationary bike while using my Iphone to watch a film on Netflix or Amazon Prime, which may be a crime drama involving a gruesome triple murder of three teenagers or a light comedy about a young Irishman who is hopelessly hopeless while he tries to steer through a life of crazy situations, all the while as he is trying desperately to be respected and to have sex, not necessarily in that order. The rest of my day may involve a barbecue, possibly of ribs that have been basting for a few hours or maybe chicken or even shish kabob with tomatoes, onion, beef and chicken. At night, I’ll have my routine of two large beers with high alcohol content, say 9 percent, then watch an episode about a British family on Acorn TV and by then, I’ll nod off from the effects of the beer, awaken to have my evening pills, brush my teeth and gargle, settle in bed, getting the pillows behind my head just so, read a few pages of a mammoth epic about the Beatles and then it’s time to fall into the nightly land of nod, but first I’ll turn on the AC to low so it won’t be that hot and at low, the AC isn’t that noisy, until tomorrow when I will get up and do pretty much the same things as today, although the lawn won’t need another cutting yet. I get by comfortably on my furlough check and my wife’s healthy income so all in all, things are pretty good even though sometimes I think I have a very difficult life.

My name is Isom and I live with my four sisters, Aquinnah, Eufemia, Dahma and Fendi and my father, Mamadou and mother, Aimerance, in a tiny village about five miles from Basankusu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, although I had five sisters but my baby sister, Vanda, died last week of malaria. The only doctor is in a village 10 miles away and he could not have gotten here anyway because the recent torrential rains have made the unpaved roads an impassable, foot deep muddy morass. For breakfast, in good times, we’ll have cassava but lately the crops are suffering so we may have to settle on some wild berries and leaves from the Lalop tree, but I don’t like them because they are very bitter and they give me diarrhea.

We all live in a clay hut with dirt floors and we go to sleep when the sun goes down because we have no electricity and because it’s cooler in the night time and the mosquitoes aren’t as bad, although I do worry about snakes. My father has a small farm where he raises cassava which is used to feed the family, our two cows and when there is enough, my father sells the cassava in the market.

Today it’s very hot but that won’t stop me and my sisters from our daily chores which begin when we all awaken around 4 in the morning, early enough to do the hardest work in the fields before the sun reaches its scorching zenith. I’m 10 and I went to the local school for two years and I liked it except for the three mile walk every morning but I had to quit last year to start working. My sisters are 6, 7, 8 and 9 and have never been to school, only the boys are allowed.

When we come home I really like to play soccer with my sisters, we have an old ball that I found while walking to school two years ago and I have gotten pretty good at soccer, better than my sisters. It’s really fun at some nights, if my father is not too tired, when we all sit outside the hut and sing while my father plays the Kisanji by plucking the keys with his thumbs. Our Kisanji was given to my father by his father and it is made of a turtle shell and natural fibers.

A lady from the Save the Children foundation will come in the late afternoon when she’ll put small, color-coded measuring tapes around our arms to see if we’re growing up well, if the tape reaches the green zone, we’re OK; if it only gets to yellow, it means we’re moderately malnourished and red means severely malnourished. Often our bands turn red and usually that is because the farm has had a poor harvest.

I don’t know what I will be when I grow up but I expect my life will be like my father’s and his father’s. We do the best we can and care for each other and just hope that there will be no famine or blight.



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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer