Part One: The Edge
I walk out the gates that creak in the colour orange. I don’t know if its the rust binding the brackets or if its the ever present sand that causes the creak, or causes the colour I hear it in. My sandals land over the rocks that have emerged from the worn down path. It’s not the sun, but the air, that causes me to sweat. Drips instantly begin to build along my shoulder blades, and the nape of my neck. Soon, my hair will wet with contact. I show too much skin. Children with no shoes, and the same clothes -if any, I saw them in yesterday, race past me to scare wandering goats. These are the children that wait outside the orphanage gates, peering in, jealous of the food, the clothes, the roof. These are the children that the orphans jeer at, in the strange and ever present hierarchy of human sociality. These are the children, and their wondrous eyes, that sat on the edge of my experience. They never sunk in. I couldn’t let them.
I walk a few feet to meet a main road. Chickens line the dirt gutters along the side of the road, pecking at open sewers filled with garbage. A dog has been hit by a car, his tongue having fallen slightly out of his mouth, lay dry at his side. There is blood. And flies. I walk past, looking back once. A woman saunters by with a slight limp on one side, balancing a basket full of eggs on top of her head. I look in amazement. She smiles with a spark in her eye. I imagine the limp giving out. Her balance being lost. The eggs falling, breaking. I imagine her face.
My hair, worn long, curly and wild, begins to drip like a tap left on. The moisture, so heavy and so present, falls to the ground and for a moment causes a dark spot in the orange, burnt sand. It lasts only for a second, much like an illusion, and then it is gone. My eyes are blinded by the brightness of the open road. I have blue eyes. But, the children, when asked, tell me they are white.
“God will provide,” I am told through a confident smile. “Things take time,” I am told through a timid one. I wonder, when God and Time will align.
Part Two: A Fine Balance
My legs stick to the faux leather seats as the sweet smell of wood burning floats in through the windows. With each bump from the uneven ground beneath us, our bodies bounce, and we’ve long since given up any attempt to resist the motion.
I have to bend my neck, just enough that it begins to hurt, to see the full view we’re driving through. Rolling mountains covered in hundred year old trees, keeping safe the communities you find within. The sun sets slowly, cutting through the bush, producing incredible depth and shadow. The dirt road kicks up so much red dust, it comes out of your hair like paint from a paintbrush when you wash.
Old women carrying the next days worth of firewood on their heads walk along these long stretches of roads that connect village to village – they’ve mastered a fine balance, as with most things in their life. They glance at the vehicle as it races by them, one of many, filled past capacity.
This is a country of travellers. Mostly, by foot. From the farm to the house to the market to the lake, and back again. Transporting their goods by their head, often, with a small child tied on their back. Some, by shared van. Twelve people sit leg to leg, arm to arm, each with a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from their faces. Every single person is dressed well. Even if it is their only set of clothes, it is cleaned and ironed and worn with pride. The women, their fabric, their beautiful contagious smiles.
Occasionally, there is a goat in the back. Sometimes, standing on the roof. Not this time though, this journey is a journey of people. A journey of travellers.
These people, in constant motion, hear tales of far off places. Where all the roads are paved. Where girls get to go to school instead of stay home and help run the house. Where boys can do more than what their fathers did. As with most travellers, they dream of going places they haven’t been. I can relate; it is how I find myself knee-to-knee with them.
On this ride, amongst friends and strangers, I am free. Never have I breathed so slowly, so intentionally, so richly in the glorious moment I find myself. The euphoria, the raw appreciation for life, and the desperation to lock away the feeling so I could later recall it. Produced by a simple ride, in between two simple towns, for a simple purpose: I am here because I chose to be.
We pull into the no-longer-bustling station. It is nearly dark now. And, the familiar feeling of coming home ignites as I start walking back to the house. I make a remark, noting it. We enter, just in time for dinner. Children giggling, friends laughing, the smell of ground nut soup fills the room.
It is slow. It leaves a lasting impression. It impacts the senses. I am thankful.
Part Three: Home
On the flight home, uncomfortable with the incessant roar from the long sought after, but no longer desired, air conditioning unit, I trepidatiously look forward. I realize, quickly, that when I re-immerse myself back into my home culture I will have to try and justify all the components of my life. Because I know, as I sit here well fed, comfortable, and healthy, a mother of 11 whose husband won’t stop forcing children upon her, tries to suckle her five year old daughter, whose development has been so stunted that she appears to be no more than 16 months.
I have to come to terms with why I ended up living here, in this life, and not there, in hers. I did nothing to deserve the quality of my life, and she did nothing to deserve having to fight to survive. It was just a matter of time and space, something far bigger than either of us can imagine.
So, I will continue to sip my imported coffee in my branded clothes and wonder about where to place myself in the world, and she will continue to struggle to feed her children and her raping husband. And I am supposed to go on, drive my car to work, enjoy a lunch with friends, and continue on with normal life, without feeling a thing. That is what is expected. And that is what enables me to function in this society. And that is absurd. But I know that in time, I’ll have to do it anyway.