Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lice in Church

The village church sat right outside our front door, a giant pavilion consisting of cinder block pillars supporting a vast tin roof. It was filled with simple benches that ran down each side, with a central aisle leading up to the alter in front. The church was divided strictly by sex, with the men sitting on the right and the women sitting on the left. In Luaniua language, the right hand was called, "kelima laoi", or, "the hand of love", and the left hand was called, "kelima Sakane", or, "the hand of Satan". You can draw whatever conclusions you want in regards to the women's placement in the church, and their role therein.

Us children would sit in the very front, balancing our bony behinds on the wooden 2 x 6's , which were polished smooth by the generations of restless supplicants who had come before us. Time tended to pass like molasses through a sieve in those Anglican services. I learned to entertain myself in a variety of ways.

I would focus on the 'Lord have mercy's' and 'Lord hear our prayer's', trying to say each one a split second before the rest of the congregation. You could also say them more quickly, slowly, in a high or low voice, pious or obnoxious, or tap out the rhythm with your fingers underneath the bench. I would study the line of curved brown backs in front of me, and pick out every one's spines. I would stare covertly at the boys across the aisle. These were all interesting ways to fill the time, but paled in comparison to our favorite church-pew sport:

Lice circus.

Most kids' mamas and aunties kept their offspring's pretty well groomed, with their head population down to a respectable minimum. This was done over hours spent with our heads in each-others' laps, as we took our turns getting picked over. A select group of children, however, came from families who either didn't have the time, didn't care, or had too many offspring to keep up with the growing louse population on every head. If we were careful, my friends and I could position ourselves behind one such unlucky individual when we sat down for the evening's service.

With eyes peeled, we would stare at the black, stringy hair, and soon enough were rewarded at the sight of a small brown oval wriggling its way among the strands. A quick hand can snag a louse out of another's head and then we had all we needed for the next half-hour's entertainment. Let the lice circus commence!

Event 1: Tight rope
Place the louse on a stray hair held taut in each hand, and watch it scale its way from fingertip to fingertip.

Event 2: O-Course
Set the louse on your prayer book, and challenge it with obstacle to overcome as it attempts its bid for freedom; a strand of hair, your finger, a pebble from the floor, the inclined book cover.

Event 3: Wrestling
Sometimes (if you get two feisty ones), you can pit two lice against each other. It's a fight to the death! (or until one gets turned over on its back)

Event 4: Acrobatics
Place a lice belly-side-up (do they have bellies? Abdomens?), and see how long it takes to get its feet underneath it. Another fun variation on this event is to dangle a strand of hair over it as it is on its ... back? ... and see if it can grasp hold while in that upside-down state.

Event 5: Seek-and-Hide
Place the louse back into the hair of the person in front of you, and see if you can find it again once it disappears. Warning; This tends to anger the person in whose hair the louse is doing the hiding!


  1. Ugh. This reminds me of the time we came home for a short furlough and, on the third week of being home, finally figured out why our heads were so itchy. Fortunately, the JAARS nurse wasn't bothered by our predicament when we finally landed there.

  2. Brava, this wast a great one Danica. I love your imagery