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  • Writer's pictureIno Ati


The morning star’s twinkle has yet to fade, and the rooster is still fast asleep. Three thuds on the door and a call, “Let’s go guys”. Hungover from yesterday’s hours in the fields, we begin to get out of bed. The round room has three beds covered by a huge thatched roof. You can tell which of the seven of us had a comfortable spot in the overcrowded beds by their enthusiasm to start the day.

The elders always tell us that we must be up before daybreak. I never understood why. We can barely see because it’s still dark outside and it is cold. The morning cold has a wicked gentle slap but before I can fully indulge in my pity party, it’s time to start the morning tasks.

The pipeline that supplies water to the house has been disrupted, so the first task is fetching the water from a waterhole not too far away. But the thick sand that swallows our feet at every step makes it feel much further. The adults in the house who go to work need water to get ready for work, so we have been waking up extra early. Nobody ever questions why they don’t get it themselves or at least go with us, but in the confined of a trusted few there has been the occasional talk of a revolution. My brother is still sleeping, if he doesn’t get up soon, he will be in for a rude awakening.

We congregate by the water tanks, all five hundred liters, with less than an eighth left. “Everyone, one must go at least three times today,” she exclaims. “And if your container is small, you must go five times,” as her eyes searched for me in the crowd, but I avoided contact. Life in the village is all about strategy, if you are smart you can lessen your workload. It’s not just out of laziness, there is always something to do so you will never be done anyway. Clearly, yesterday’s plan was picked up. 

The bigger guys can carry twenty-four-liter bottles on their shoulders that have been strengthened from swinging the ax for firewood. I can’t carry that. I’ve tried and ended up spilling the entire bottle. So, I pick up a smaller bucket. As we take off, I see my brother scampering from behind with his white plastic bucket. He is coming from the pantry chewing last night’s leftovers. “Is there anything left in there,” a deep voice asks. The twinkle in my brother’s eyes indicates that he is the lucky one today.

The first trip to the waterhole is quiet. The roosters are just about to begin their morning patrol. The second trip is a little livelier, the sunrise behind the towering palm trees has a simple way of making one optimistic about the day. Jokes are flowing, clothes splattered with water as we playfully race each other. 

“The older boys are needed at the garage,” she shouts from a distance. “The rest of you must go three more times now to fill the tanks,” she continues. I don’t know who put her in charge, but she is the oldest, so we listen.

The sun’s rays are starting to heat up and it has barely been in the sky. Soon, it will be unbearable to most, but we are not most. The departure of the older guys has downed the morale of the group a little and the jokes have died down. I’m tired and hungry. Normally, at this point, I would get one of the older guys to feel pity for me and get him to carry my bucket. It’s time to be strategic. First order of business: The jokes must return because we might as well have a good laugh. Around here, you make the most of what you have. 

Wa-me pt 3 (2024) by Ino Ati

My brother spots a wild berry tree. He has always been good at spotting hidden treasures in the thickets, it’s one of the benefits of having him around. While enjoying the bittersweet berries and recharging for the last two trips, we unanimously decided to have two people carrying one bucket together, even if it meant going to the waterhole an extra time. At this point, we really don’t care, the adults have already left for work. 

The neighbor zigzags through the pathways created by livestock that roam this land and we all greet her from the other side of the fence. It is law that you greet everyone you pass by, especially an adult. Yesterday, she chased us with a stick because we were collecting firewood in her yard, a scarce resource. The sun is now in its full glory, radiating a scathing heat carried by a light breeze. Between a false snake alarm, the neighbor, the fruit tree, and a few stops under the shadowing tree that has been struck by lightning multiple times, I have lost count of how many times we have gone back and forth. The splashes of water from the bucket, tilting left and right as my sister and I shuffle on through the thick sand that is burning hot due to the sun’s rays incessantly beating down on it, are now a welcomed refreshment. 

“We don’t have to go back anymore,” exclaims one who has already made it to the tank before us. The sun’s heat has drained some of the euphoria of freedom, but we are all happy to hear it.

As we enter the house, it is almost noon, time for breakfast. The menu is normal butter and jam on brown bread with a cup of tea doused in sugar, this never changes. But after all that,  those two slices are a bite into heaven every time. A plane flies above us. We all look up undeterred by the sun’s rays and someone asks the group where it’s going. “To America!” shouts another. That is the popular guess every time. I sometimes think about the people in the planes that frequently fly over us: They will never know about the morning I just had. 

Wa-me pt 4 (2024) by Ino Ati

America is a way more interesting story. Mine is a story not worth telling. One day, I would love to see a cloud as close as they do. I keep this dream to myself, safely guarded in my imagination. “Wa-me!” Let’s go eat before the bread finishes. 

Story and paintings by Ino Ati.

If you like the paintings that accompany this short story and are based in and around Malmö, you have the opportunity to see more of the artist’s works in an exhibition at Bellevuegården köpcentrum between May 24 and 26, 2024. The exhibition features over 25 paintings by Inotila Nghaamwa that are connected by the theme of the cyclicality of life. The exhibition is open from 10 am to 7 pm on all three days. Entrance is free. You can follow Ino on both Facebook and Instagram, or through his website.


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