Sunday, July 11, 2010
If Onlys and Escapes
A recent escape to the bush with a dear friend cemented my connection with Tanzania and brought me to my feet after a challenging month back in Dar. Two weeks in the UK, celebrating my parents 40th wedding anniversary, seems like a dream and I my soul was crying out for the calls of the night and the pumping hot heart of the day in the African wilderness.
We walked through long grasses, chewed a few too.... I climbed a tree, rolled about on the ground, pretended to hunt an elephant, acted so daftly that I was laughing at my own idiocy,and remembered what it is that makes me me.
Star-gazing, photographing sunset, watching the baboons dancing in the trees, spotting a breed of grasshopper painted in such vivid pink that it seemed like a Tim Burton fantasy creation...this is the stuff of life. There is a stillness, a silence about the African bush which - even when broken by the call of a hornbill or the chatter of monkeys - simply cleanses. It reminds you, no matter who you are, of your place on the planet (which, my life, is miniscule in reality though at times overwhelming in day to day life)and grounds you as nothing else can.
Last weekend, I swam in a river which has seen a few crocodiles in its day. I ate fresh, raw corn plucked from the waving stem, grasped from its silky husk and so sweet and tender that it satisfied at once my craving for liquid and sugar. When I doubt my path or question why I ended up here, in this curious land of Tanzania, this kind of earthy pleasure instantly wipes away any shakiness. I am in love with the plains, the endless sweeping vistas that release hosts of butterflies in my tummy and tickle my skin with goosebumps. I fall in love, at times like this, with life and the earth and with Africa.
Yesterday, a dala dala driver tried to kill me again. This is other side of the same Tanzanian coin - the at times dirty tail to the abundantly wondrous head of my homeland. The driver seemed not to see me, or maybe he was being rewarded for muzungu killing..... a new sport. This morning, cycling on a bike which has been royally serviced by someone who treats me like a princess (a princess who rides a bike...mmmm), a man wound down his car window and murmured 'Helloooooo baaaaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy. I love you'..... Under my breath, I uttered a catalogue of expletives too explicit to be posted on my otherwise clean blog, and decided I hated this crazy street life.
But that is the richness of life - no? This kind of love-hate relationship with one's own surroundings. It is human nature, for sure, to think always of the road untravelled, the fork we could have taken. "If only, if only....." But no - this is not the way to live.
'If onlys' are impossible, chimerical imaginings. I am giving them up.
My niece, aged two and a half, knows me as Pennie Africa. She delighted in the handmade painted drum I took with me on my recent trip. We danced along to its beat in a fairly conservative seaside hotel, attracting as much damn attention as we could. Me, brown as a granary loaf, shaking my bum a la Africa and she chortling at the silliness of her auntie. I ran barefoot into the icy waters of the North Sea as my nephew, now five and oh so wise, regaled me on the delights of the English countryside. 'Pennie.... England is green AND brown. It's always beautiful.... but Africa is just brown..... when are you coming home? I miss you.'
Those moments, when a lump so heavingly immense rises from your stomach and lodges itself in your chest and throat, do make me question what I'm doing. It's certainly hard to explain. The thing is that I made a decision to do something different with my life: to challenge the status quo and see if I could make it. Even now I wonder: can I make it?
My job is going well. Work rolls in at such a pace that I rarely finish one thing before I start another. On top of that, I am involved with a few other outside interests that have become passions for me. I admire and get so motivated by what others are doing here that I cannot stay away. I want to join in and make some meagre contribution. I cannot believe how my life has changed.
It is orange season. There are always oranges, but right now they dominate the roadsides - great citrus pyramids that scent the air with their tangy, sweet-sharp zest. The lady opposite seems to spend here entire day carving away the outer peel, leaving a layer of pith so that they can be handled cleanly. It is, in itself, an art form. Strawberries and raspberries, too, can be found. I have, unsurprisingly, become something of an oracle on where to gather such goodies and am regularly seen hurtling along with a fruit-laden basket barely balanced on the handlebars of my trusty two-wheel friend. Having developed an ironically cruel allergy to my erstwhile favourite fruit - papaya - I am experimenting with a spell away from the tropical stuff.
I miss the English summer, especially as it manifests in my parents' garden. The daily feast of wild strawberries that proliferate in their garden paradise; the first sharp gooseberries and the quaintly misshapen cucumbers that drip in the greenhouse; the contented, busy hum of bumble bees. You may think I wax lyrical, but this I can say for sure: nothing, no nothing, beats a balmy, hazy, lazy English summer's day that oozes through to ten o'clock at night.
If you are there, enjoy it for me. Wherever you are, thank you for reading and I hope to be more inspired again soon.