With twigs crackling at the mercy of the growing fire and birds scattering to the four corners of the earth escaping the mass of rising hot air, the campfire sprung to life. The noise from the fire outside was drowned by our excited voices which filled the dining room. The three day youth church camp was fast approaching the end. That was the last night Matusadonha National Park. Through the dining window we could see the how inviting the fire was yet we could only have a chance to sit around it after dinner. To everyone’s chagrin dinner was delayed only to be served after what felt like infinite eons. Through the darkness we could make out the lanky figure of the man assigned to make the fire. He was patient enough to keep it growing. The indegionous wood lying in a heap at the corner of the lowly built wall surrounding the fire held the promise of uninterrupted flames and joy.
In trickles, those who finished their meals impatiently scampered to the bon-fire. Soon the fire place was abuzz with chattering. How I wished we had mad a fire each night of the camp. At the slightest opportunity for collective conversation when the hubbub ebbed a bit I shared how I had throughly enjoyed the camp in a manner bordering on sentimentality and arousing nostalgia. It was an interesting gathering of people who had barely known each other except by sight only: the way church relationships are accussed of being superficial sometimes. We got to really know each other outside the decorum of Sunday service. It was fun getting to relate to each other in ways I had not expected. To open up about struggles with promiscuity, about victory over alcoholism, about confronting laziness and anything else we cared to discuss. The team building activities, canoeing and the mountain hikes had cemented us together into a solid unit. It came as no surprise when Tom sitting next to me whispered, whilst managing to chew at the same time, that he wanted the group to be there the whole night. He had earned the nick-name ‘Corny’ through his love for porpcorn. As time progressed every stone was unturned inasmuch as matters of friendly discussion were concerned. We were running out of fascinating threads. Tom tried to raise the spirits once more by raising a bowel of porpcorn asking if anyone still wanted more in a funny spooky tone. The invitation was met with wild spasms of uncontrollable laughter. But still that could not help reviving discussion.
My memory nolonger remembers who exactly started the political debate that ensued. I had just caught myself half-dozing when Tom’s chair hit mine as he stood up trying to drive his point home. The camp had been divided into two polarised groups. One believed rural folk were not capable of running their own developmental initiatives becaused of lack of exposure whilst others believed otherwise. Tom was part of the latter. He believed that urban-based technocrats were the ones capable of championing rural development because they were endowed with exposure. Such was the antagonism in thought, much similar to the contrasting temperatures our bodies felt; warm in the front facing the fire and cold at the back facing the wild. Surreptitiously, I remembered what the college professer had once said regarding development. ‘Development is not development unless the people concerned regard it so….of what use is the telephone to the nomad who has non need of it?’, his insights came to my mind in bits but clearly. Being soft-spoken the tense atmosphere made it difficult for me to articulate myself leaving dominance in the hands of Tom and his party. Clearing the corn husks caught in-between his front teeth with his fingers Tom blurted, “ The rural folk are senseless, they are pre-occupied with out-dated activities more than anything else.’’ Little did we know this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the lanky figure sitting at the same spot he was hours ago helping feed the fire with wood. He had been quitely listening in and he was a villager, having stayed in the viccinity his whole life. He coughed, as though choked with the remarks made demeaning him and his fellow countrymen and all eyes turned in his direction.
Judging by his elderly look we expected some form of reprisal or at least a rigmarole on challenging negative stereotypes of rural dwellers. His face looked intelligent as it shone in the light emanating from his smartphone. He was surely capable of understanding global developmental patterns. Shoulders shrugged, he made his way to a path leading to the playing fields going past the dining hall and exiting the site altogether. Frozen by the realisation of how his blatantly patronising utterances had impacted the elderly villager, Tom was lost for words to say never mind the course of action to take. Like everyone else he didn’t know where to start and whilst trying to get everything into perspective the offended person had vanished to a place we had no idea of; making it all the more difficult to make ammends. In my mind the words haunted me with increasing frequency, “ Development is not development…..”