Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Ghosts of Africa

They will be there in the instants between my carefully planned appointments.

Invading my conscience with faded snaps of an
open, brown field, and a herd of 400 zebra,
tossing their heads swishing their tails...
Scattered giraffe,
straining their necks into the warm breeze,
Looking like far-off sailing ships against the
blue sky.
A rogue elephant or rhino crashing through the bush, with no need for stealth and a
giant crane circling to the ground
in silhouette against a setting sun.

I will wheel the car into the driveway, reach for my cell-phone, and they’ll be gone; all the animals, the scorching sun, dusty trails and bleached white bones, disappearing into the whirlpool of the present.

Then she comes...
Dressed in a dirty, stretched-out-of-shape tee-shirt that says,
Aspen, Colorado”, on one side, and
For the fun of it!” on the other.
This one is Sudanese,
but she could have been from Congo,
Uganda or Ethiopia.
She is breastfeeding a child in her arms,
while two others tug at the konga about her waist.
Her cheekbones are set high, and she has no teeth behind her lower lip.
A scar is on her forehead.
Her feet are cracked and dry, as
she has walked perhaps several hundred miles
to stand outside my office.
There’s no milk, there’s no ugali she says...
No husband, no home, no water, no clothes for the baby.
The small ones reach out and touch my hand,
then pull back immediately;
as though the white skin gave off an electric shock.
Their noses are running...they smell of urine.
Now, the mother’s eyes meet mine, and the despair in them falls over me like shadow.

Then the alarm near my pillow begins to drag me into the new day, and the shadow creeps away into some abyss and I’m thankful.
When I’m watching the TV, or rather looking at the screen and watching nothing at all; when the car pauses at an intersection; while the offering plate is making its tour down the aisle or when I’m staring blindly into a restaurant menu, I know that during these unguarded moments the images will return.

Shining mouths, singing atop their voices, in a foreign rhythm,
Wamilele, wamilele, Mungu wa baraka ni Yesu Bwana!” 
(Eternal God of blessings, it is Christ the Lord)
Jacaranda trees, glowing purple, surrounded by a sweet mist, rising from the hot
sticky, tarmac street....
Seas of black faces, that peer at me with curiosity
as I spin the four-wheel drive through the market of Kikomba...
Elegant ladies walking gracefully down ancient footpaths,
with baskets of maize balanced on their heads...
Pickers, bent over a blanket of deep-green tea plants, their bright colored wraps,
dotting the Kericho country-side...

They will always be with me, these ghosts of Africa, haunting me like a welcomed song, learned long ago; the words lost to my mind, but their meaning fresh in my heart.