Chapters Eight & Nine

Summary: Chapter Eight

As the famine continues, William’s dog, Khamba, becomes increasingly sick. Charity convinces William that they should kill Khamba out of mercy. William feels sad but leads Khamba far from the house where Charity ties him to a tree. They return several days later and bury the dog. Cholera sweeps through the district. William says that between “hunger and cholera, there were burials every day.” Geoffrey’s health is also getting rapidly worse. William’s mother shares some of the family’s food with Geoffrey’s family. The tobacco crop is harvested and is set to dry. William’s father makes deals in the trading center, exchanging the future dried tobacco crop for small amounts of food. After five months of national suffering, the president announces that he has concluded that there is an “emergency.” Eventually, William can harvest dowe cobs from the maize field and cook them over a fire. His family rejoices, and he sees the people in the surrounding area become healthy as more food becomes available. 

Summary: Chapter Nine

William’s family still cannot afford the fees for secondary school. Since there is not much work for William to do on the farm, he tries to find a new hobby. He visits the library in the primary school that he used to attend and checks out textbooks like those that Gilbert is studying in primary school. William reads through a book called Integrated Science that answers many of his questions about electricity. After reading a higher-level book, Explaining Physics, he learns about magnets and electromagnetic induction. A third book, Using Energy, depicts large windmills in America, used for generating electricity. 

William thinks back to the bicycle dynamo that powered the radio and starts dreaming of building a windmill so that his family will have electricity. With a functioning windmill, his family could also have a water pump to irrigate the crops, allowing for two harvests a year. He states, “With a windmill, we’d finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger.” William builds a small windmill out of plastic, wood, and the motor from a cassette player. With it, he is able to power Geoffrey's small radio. William finds out that a bicycle dynamo will be expensive but plans to work for the money. William walks to the tobacco plantation near Kachokolo school, where there is a scrapyard. He spends entire days harvesting parts for a large windmill, causing his hands to blister and bleed.

Analysis: Chapters Eight & Nine

Khamba’s death in Chapter Eight symbolizes the hardships of life in Malawi. Now a trusted friend, the dog becomes too sick to recover, and William must bid the dog farewell. He is helpless against the dog’s death, just as he and his family are helpless against the famine. This tragic event also signals a change in the narrative. The famine mercifully ends after the dog’s death, and William can once again think of the future. The dog’s death thus parallels the cholera epidemic and widespread famine in Malawi. Saying goodbye to the dog is, in a sense, how William mourns for what has happened. He mourns the people withering in starvation as the dowe crop finally grows. When the famine slowly subsides, William is compelled to prevent tragedies like the death of Khamba in the future. Saying goodbye to Khamba, William now looks to the bicycle dynamo and dreams of a windmill for his family.

The bicycle dynamo reenters the narrative in Chapter Nine, now a tangible symbol for the effective changes William might be able to make in the community. Finally, with enough to eat, William becomes obsessed with preventing future famines in Malawi. Electricity seems like the answer since a windmill could conceivably run a water pump for the family’s crops. But William must puzzle out this symbolic hope into a real, functioning windmill. The bicycle dynamo provides a spark of hope, but William’s perseverance is what gains him needed engineering knowledge. William overcomes language difficulties and bad schooling to teach himself about electricity. He scours the junkyard for parts, all the time the windmill in his mind spinning just like the bicycle dynamo. The dynamo sets William on a path to change his community forever.