The rumble of a dirt bike climbing the red road to the lodge disrupts the calmness of the morning. Mr. Soko, one of the field staff for PROFIT, has come to take me to the Chinjara. I look at the dirt bike, then at my fifty some odd pounds of luggage, and back to the dirt bike. I ask him if we should make two trips. He laughs and shakes his head. We tie down my pack and some other random loose items like cooking oil I bought for the family, and my camera bag, with the thin rubber straps. I get on the back.
We take a road that is reminiscent of a black diamond mountain bike trail past fields of maize, cotton, and small shops selling airtime and soap. The ride is slow, and there are no foot pegs for passengers. My feet are resting on the kickstands, but the springs are weak and I can't let my legs relax because I'm scared too much pressure will cause the kickstand to swing down and cause some kind of catastrophic event. It's quite the quad workout.
When I thought the roads couldn't get any worse, we turn off onto an overgrown trail that narrows into a single footpath. I need to duck to avoid tree branches, and the roots and rocks make it seem as though we are driving up and down stairs. There is a reason we are on a dirt bike, a car could never make it this far.
As we pull into the compound Austen comes strolling over with an ear-to-ear smile. Austen is the PROFIT trained agent who I will be staying with. I shake his hand and helps me take my bag into the hut they arranged for me. I don't lower my head enough and it hits the thatched roof overhang. The small crowd of kids that has gathered giggle as I brush the dirt and twigs off my shoulders and go inside. I duck to the left under a forehead height doorway and throw my bags on the thin foam bed.
Ensuring I keep my head low I walk back outside and swing the reed door shut. It hangs lopsided on the thin wires that have been fastened as hinges. The kids are crouched in the kitchen area behind a half brick wall, their big eyes peering over. I smile and wave. They just continue to stare.
Soon after I say goodbye to Mr. Soko I find myself walking with Austen towards the village center. He explains to me that Chinjara is a farmers settlement. It is vast and spread out. Family huts are separated by several fields of cotton, maize, groundnuts, and sunflowers. Only occasionally do you see a cluster of homes. There is a hammer mill where people can bring their maize to grind it into flour, and a row of a dozen shops. Only one of the shops, which is more like a booth, is open for business selling soap, talk time, and Fanta. I feel like I'm in a ghost town.
Chinjara is not the typical African village you would imagine. There is no outdoor market where you can buy fresh fruit, vegetables, and knick-knacks. It is not bustling with crowds bartering for goods, and the smell of dried fish and charcoal does not hang in the air. It is almost eerie.
Home for the next two weeks.