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The Smiling Mask- an African short story ch 10 and 11
The mask speaks and is heared.
The Smiling Mask - Chapter 10
The search for the person who had carved the mask took some time. Jerico, the young man sent to help with the search, sat next to David and hopped out at several places in Chemba to make inquiries. This group of white people with the black man and the local guide searching for someone caused quite a stir in this small rural town just as it had in Cala. Information was not always offered easily as people were somewhat suspicious as to why they needed to find the person. Was the person in trouble? Did they want to buy some masks? Everyone knew someone with masks to sell. This undoubtedly was mask making country with an abundance of product and a serious shortage of buyers. Wasn’t that man with the white people David, of the white Toyota Corolla? The normal quiet town was full of questions.
As none of the searchers really knew why they were looking for the person it made things rather complicated. David, who was from the Ndebele Tribe, did not speak the local language and he knew only enough Portuguese words to get by on his buying trips. Jerico however spoke the local language and Portuguese so became an important member of the group. He seemed to really enjoy this role. At last he seemed to be making some headway as he got involved in long conversations with several locals, accompanied by much gesturing and head shaking. The four in the car could only look on in amazement.
“The person who made the mask is a she and her name is Julia and her house is not far away”, Jerico announced with a big smile on his face. “We go there,” he announced proudly. “Yes we go there,” thought Jennifer, as her heart began to beat faster.
The hut stood between a couple of Banana trees and the woman who stood at the door, looked at the arrivals with a smile on her face. As they got out and David greeted her they were all amazed at her greeting; “You have come,” she said, as if she had been expecting them. Jennifer stopped in her tracks. She did not know what to do or say but she knew immediately that her life and the life of this woman was going to be linked in the future. It was the same feeling that she had had when she saw the mask for the first time. “Come and sit down”. Julie Masana invited them to sit on the logs outside her hut. “I was looking for you but not so soon. You are very welcome and I am glad you got my message.”
You could have knocked them down with a feather. Their mouths hung open in amazement and they looked at each other in disbelief. It was John who asked the question that was on all their minds; “What message?” “The message with the mask of course”, she replied.
It took some time for the story to be told but everyone listened with rapt attention. Julie had desperately wanted to do something to change her life and the lives of her children and so she had gone to the local Sangoma for advice. He had thrown the bones, burnt incense and then told her that there was someone who would help her. She could contact that person by sending a message with one of her masks. She needed to talk to the mask, carve a special sign on it, and then the message would go out to be received by the right person. She was not surprised that they had come. The Sangoma had been right.
In African belief a "life spirit" exists in all levels of human and created objects. Communication is possible through a hierarchy with God on the top and animate objects like a mask at the bottom. The spirits of the ancestors are an important part of that channel and the Sangoma can get that communication going. People who live good lives can send messages into the world.A problem is that there is also a strong belief that not only positive message can be used, but also evil ones.Often when bad things happening to people these events are ascribed to some one practicing "bad magic', and in so doing causing the situation.
“Let’s go and visit the Sangoma”, a voice came out of Jennifer’s mouth but not out of her mind. Everyone looked at Jennifer and then at Julie in a mixture of surprise and amazement. “I have come this far and so I need to find out more”. Julie seemed to be deep in thought before she replied; “I will go and ask if he will see you”.
The Smiling Mask - Chapter 11
The visit to Ganzani Fahdisi was something that not many white South Africans and certainly few Americans had ever experienced. The meeting took place in the main hut of a small group of huts located in the forest some distance from the village where Julie lived. No one came near to Ganzani’s special hut without an invitation, but Julie had arranged for the meeting. The door was small and so they had to bend down to enter into the semi-darkness. Sitting on the mud floor that was covered in places with animal skins, was a very old large man dressed in skins and a variety of bangles and necklaces. His big white eyes seemed to shine in the darkness as he greeted them in a language that they did not understand. They wondered how they were going to communicate but then to their surprise he spoke in English. “Welcome my friends, the spirits of my forefathers told me you were coming”.
A small fire was burning to his right and John wondered about carbon monoxide poisoning that killed many in Africa, but Ganzani seemed to have survived and so he kept his fingers crossed. “Let me tell you what else I was told when Julie, my sister came to visit me”, he continued. “This area is in desperate trouble. We were devastated by the big flood of 2007 and are far away from the economically growing areas of Mozambique. Many of our young people are dying because of the aids epidemic and I seem to be the only help they can get. The nearest clinic is in Cala and that is understaffed. In spite of our requests to the government no help has been forthcoming.”
John could not help but think that the information that Ganzani was giving did not come from the spirits but from the common sense of this man, who seemed to have received a pretty good education somewhere, judging by his excellent English. As if reading John’s mind he continued; “Yes I was educated at the University of Fort Hare in Alice many years ago and returned here to help my people. Many in Africa went to that excellent University in the Easter Cape during the colonial and apartheid years, but that is not important. What is important is that we need help and so when this good woman (pointing to Julie) came to me we sent a message into the world and here you are!” "I use the term sister when I refer to Julie because in the spirit of Ubuntu we are all brothers and sisters in the community!"
Turning towards Jennifer he looked intently at her and said, “You listened with your heart and soul and heard our cry. The spirits have told me that you are going to do great things for us. Thank you my sister. Nkozi Sikilela Africa, God bless you”.
The rest is, as they say, history. The full story has to be told elsewhere and has many twists and frustrations, but also great joys.
Here is a brief overview;It took some time for Jennifer to convince Roy that they needed to get involved in the Chemba Community but eventually he also got excited. The power of the mask had that effect on many people.
Jennifer donated some and raised the rest of the money to set up a clinic and factory in Chemba and Julie runs the mask making section with twenty four skilled carvers working on the masks, still using their traditional carving skills, but with better equipment. They produce handmade masks of excellent quality under Julie’s eagle eye. There are three other departments producing baskets, hand spun material and carved animals. All these excellent products are in high demand in shops all over the world carrying the Smiling Mask logo. The village has become a model of what can be done in Africa. With input of some capital and wise guidance a lot can be done to improve local communities. In this way the trend of the desperate movement of young people to large towns can be slowed down, if not stopped.
Ganzani was a huge help in getting everything set up and proved to be a good leader and shrewd business man and negotiator. The clinic was named in his honor after he died.
Mary runs the clinic and there are several nurses and two doctors working there who treat the many people in that area which was previously in desperate need of such services. One of the doctors is her husband Peter. David is in charge of exporting the products and lives in a comfortable house overlooking the Zambezi River. He now drives a double cab Toyota like John’s. He watches his soccer team on satellite TV and is convinced that life in Mozambique is better than life in Soweto.
Jennifer still lives in Atlanta, but handles the distribution of the exports from Chemba, in the USA. She travels regularly to Mozambique where she owns a cottage on the coast near Beira. She and Roy both enjoy fishing and diving in the sparkling water of the Indian Ocean. Does she believe in the supernatural? You had better ask her yourself.
John, although he is getting older now, can be contacted to arrange a visit to Mozambique. He knows the area much better now that he has grandchildren in Chemba. He still is totally confused as to how all this happened. Perhaps he needs to see Julie’s new Sangoma next time he is in the area. (The End)