– Part II –
Last night I felt as if a thousand nsongonyas were crawling over me, biting the flesh of my arms and torso and I woke up to find it was only partially untrue. The red marks on my skin itched and burned with an urgency that was impossible to ignore and I got up from the bed, completely awake in less time that it took to say “African ant”. Ah, the temptation to draw my nails on the skin, but instead I dug my fingers into my arms, kneading the muscles, trying very hard not to scratch. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. That was not a sight I was prepared for at 3:00 in the morning. I saw red, literally. While thoughts of doctors and medicine were beginning to flicker through my wide awake mind, I saw no other alternative but to go back to The Poisonwood Bible and try to see what happened next. Maybe I could get lost in the pages again, forget about the aching need to scratch my skin open. Sleep was as far from me as the invisible moon.
There is a chapter in the book that starts with the invasion of the nsongoyas, the African ants. The author filters this experience through the eyes of the four Price girls which gives a rather unique perspective on things.
While this can be seen as one of “the plagues” in the biblical sense, a more rational explanation is also given. And it makes perfect sense. “Africa has a thousand ways of cleansing itself.” In a land so luxuriant and wild, man seems almost out of place. You can’t tame the land, it is you who has to change in order to survive living there. That is one other lesson the Price family has to learn the hard way.
How can you teach something new without trying to link it with something old? How can you expect people to give up their ancestors’ beliefs in favor of new ones without first trying to understand those beliefs?
Nathan Price tried to have the children in the Kilanga village baptized in the river, not understanding why people were against it. Not understanding why until he found out about the crocodiles. What kind of religion did the white man preach if this new religion required the lives of the children? This is only one of the misunderstandings that are constantly brought to the surface in the novel, and sometimes told from a humorous point of view.
Without the humor this would have been a very hard book to digest. Half of the novel made me want to laugh and the other half, to cry. To write a short review seemed inappropriate and yet after all these words, I still feel I haven’t said enough. I could take each chapter and analyze it, and still feel coming up short. There is an almost palpable richness in the language and the sadness and the longing are weaved together with the different characters that are like threads in this vibrant piece of cloth that is Africa.