Although Geoffrey, Gilbert, and I grew up in this small place in Africa, we did many of the same things children do all over the world, only with slightly different materials....Children everywhere have similar ways of entertaining themselves. If you look at it this way, the world isn't so big.
One of my least favorite chores when I was little was feeding our dogs. Mostly because they were huge and hungry (a St. Bernard and Irish Setter) and would cover me in slobber. Already well on my way to becoming a professional procrastinator, I usually put it off until right before bedtime (sorry pups) and it was a long walk in the dark to their dog house. Trying to preempt anything real from scaring me, I'd allow my imagination to run amok and scare the daylights out of myself—cooking up scenarios where a variety of bad guys were chasing me, making it back to the safety of the house with only seconds to spare.
My late-night dashes and imaginary bad guys were a walk in the park compared to young William Kamkwamba's walks through the forest—in fear of the Gule Wamkulu, a gang of secret dancers, who were said to be the spirits of "dead ancestors, resurrected from the after-world and sent to roam the earth. No longer human, they shared the skin of animals and their faces resembled the beasts of hell—twisted devil birds and demons howling in anguish." Yikes. Add to that the magic lions sent to "kill delinquent debtors," snakes the size of tractors" lying in wait in the fields, or the very real lion that killed his grandmother, and you've got fears my young self couldn't have conjured up on her worst day (even after her older brother thought it would be fun to let her watch a Charles Manson movie).
Clearly, what separates us, and makes the the world seem larger than ever, is our fears. Real and imagined. Yet, when real tragedy strikes in the form of his uncle dying, and William sees his father collapse from the weight of grief, he writes, "It was the first time I'd ever seen my parents suffer, and the sight of it frightened me more than any magic ever could." And just like that, the world isn't very big at all.