STOLL/Falling Uphill ©2005
Part III: The questions life asks
What is poverty? (Zambia)
"I want to be Coca-Cola this time. Sprite is unlucky." Some ragged and robust men are teaching me
to play draughts (checkers) at a bus stop. We are using bottle caps as checkers on a sheet metal board. The
only indication that this is a bus stop is a path through the woods to the village and a gigantic mancala
board made from a fallen tree. The object of mancala is to sow your beans around the board and capture
your opponent's beans. I have played one variation called bao with 32 compartments; the game can last
an hour and end in stalemate. The board we are using as a table has about 200 compartments, which
indicates how long it takes for the bus to arrive.
"Jump backwards," a bystander instructs.
"Thanks. I keep forgetting." They have changed the rules so that any piece may jump backwards,
which forces many errors because I play too much from habit.
"Don't worry, my friend. We feed you spoon, like baby."
"Tell me about America." Rather than the usual mundane questions, like, "How many kilometers do
you ride per day?" (80-100 KM) or, "Do you ever crash?" (dozens of times), my opponent makes a wise
"It's a good country, but like all countries it has problems."
"You mean it has poor people like us?"
"Even more poor than you."
"But you see how we suffer." Everyone thinks they are suffering in Africa. There are hundreds of
missions to alleviate the suffering, sucking billions of dollars out of the world economy; yet, the old-
timers say Africa is worse now than fifty years ago.
"No, I don't see."
"Hello. Gimme bicycle," a boy pants. He has sprinted here as if this is his once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to have all his wishes granted.