Amadaka
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Amadaka

Fire Starters from Cow Shit.

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Amadaka
Personal Photo

To give you some context, this article is from a section of a travel essay I am working on, focusing on the challenges and the experiences that pushed or helped me discover my boundaries. This particular scene is from the last in a village where our group was staying; it stuck with me for the entire trip and I knew I had to talk about it.

Glen and Peterson, our program directors, had both talked to Thobile, the only member of our host family who spoke English, about including the four girls who were staying with her in some of the daily chores. I stepped outside from Thobile’s grandmother’s hut, the smaller, round turquoise building we had all been staying in at Mkhonjane Village. The grass around me moved with the breeze, waving to tickle at my ankles and legs, the sun shone down on my face, and the air smelled fresh with a hint of cow shit as I looked around the property for Thobile to help with the chores.

Thobile was not exactly who I had pictured I would be staying with in South Africa. At 21, her English was really good, although she would giggle and laugh when we said something she didn’t quite understand. Her hair was very short, like an American buzz cut, but she was still so confident. I don’t think I could have her confidence and swagger if I had next to no hair. She often wore jeans, flip flops, and long sleeve shirts in the bright sunshine. Her smile was easy and her laugh was contagious.

Earlier in the day, Thobile’s mother had been out in the yard, next to the cow pen where many rocks stood still among the sea of grass. She had been molding some sort of clay on the rocks, creating curved ovals on the rocks. This is what Thobile was doing as I saw her and began walking toward her. I watched her as she took some of the mud or clay, I wasn’t sure, from a wheelbarrow at my feet, molded it into a large ball, large enough to fit in both hands, and bring it over to a rock. I followed her and watched as she brought her hands together, all fingers extended and touching with her thumbs tucked into her palms, and she started to mold the mud into an oval shape with the curve of the rock. The dark brown of the mud stood out against the red brown of the rock it was sitting on.

I asked her what she was doing, what we were making. “Amadaka,” she said, “to help make fire.” As I looked more closely into the contents of the wheelbarrow, Thobile told me that these fire starters weren’t made from clay or mud, but the dried cow shit from the yard and surrounding land mixed with water. My nose immediately wrinkled and my mouth followed with a slightly disgusted expression (I was trying to hide my surprised disgust from Thobile). However, I was oddly determined to help with the chores, and that beat down the ugly feelings that had been rising to my mouth.

“It’s only mud! It’s only mud!” After a few deep breaths and this repeated mantra to build up courage in place of “gross,” I reached down into the wheelbarrow and stuck both of my hands into the poop mixture, grabbing enough in my hands to form a large ball. In the sun, it reminded me a little bit of how my mom and I make meatballs from scratch, except our meatball were a lot smaller and they had a lot less liquid in them. I quickly walked the short distance to the rocks, searching for an empty spot as I walked. I dropped my poop ball onto the rock in front of me and, giggling in discomfort and disbelief at what I was doing, began to mold the poop into an oval shape just the way Thobile had shown me earlier. When I was done, I turned to Thobile: “Is this good?” When she smiled and said yes, I felt oddly proud of myself as I walked back to the wheelbarrow to get more poop to make another amadaka. The entire time I helped make the amadaka, Thobile was giggling at my facial expressions and actions.

Who knew that molding cow poop and making it into something useful for the family that took me and four other American girls in for four nights would feel so rewarding?

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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