Friday, September 19, 2008

Which Way?

Today was a TIA moment, as some of my fellow volunteers like to call it. This is Africa.

I live in a calm neighborhood on the edge of a cornfield, about a twenty minute walk from town. I often feel too far-removed from everything, so I spent much of this morning checking out houses for rent that are more conveniently located, closer to town. I have a feeling that that when the 120 degree hot season arrives, if I live more than 5 minutes from urban civilization, I’ll go home after work and stay home. Or fry my skin off. If I live close to town, it’s easy to be that much more involved in my community.

And then my afternoon walk made me think again…

Independently of house hunting, I decided to do some exploring this afternoon. I took off from my house in the opposite direction of town. I’d never gone this way before and had no idea what lay beyond the corn fields. About fifteen minutes into my walk, I realized, there is NOTHING out here. It was vividly beautiful. I walked straight west, toward Nigeria, with the 4 pm sun in my face, setting over the mountains. We’re near the end of the rainy season, and thus the mountains are a rare vibrant green rising from the sandy Sahel.

Occasionally I pass a group of huts. Little children scream “Nassarrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaa!” (whiteyyyyyyyyyyyyy!) after me as though their lives depended on it. They straggle after me for about fifty feet and then lose interest in keeping my power-walk pace. I’m following a dirt path that’s not wide enough to be deemed a road. The path forges a stream, where women somehow are managing to bathe with their clothes on. Skills. They hardly notice my passing, which is just fine with me. If I were to continue in this direction for fifteen miles, I’d arrive in friendly Nigeria. I’m astounded by how different the scenery is in this direction, only twenty minutes from my house. I keep on walking through the fields.

Then I hear the drums. And singing. A rhythmic hollering. Where am I??! And can I get in on this drum circle? I can’t tell exactly where they are coming from, but it’s through the trees to my right—north—invisible in the distance. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction would be if I strolled up to the gathering. I even hear what sounds like the rara horns of Haiti, long thin horns that bwat out a sole note. I can’t believe I’m twenty minutes from my house, in a totally foreign and perplexing place. Twenty minutes in the opposite direction would have taken me into the center of bustling commercial activity. I’m terribly excited to hear the drums. So often when I’d envisioned living in Africa, I couldn’t help but imagine drums, how much I like them, want to learn to play them, to dance to them, to be hypnotized late at night by them. And I’d almost given up on hearing them at all, they seemed to be only for sale to tourists in the capital.

Just this morning, I’d been house-hunting in town, oblivious of the fields now stretching before me. As I walked back towards home, sun on my back, distant drumming still in the air, I couldn’t help but ask myself, is that convenience of nearby-civilization what I really want? I did come to Africa for something different…

I’m not sure yet where I’ll land, but I’m excited to be discovering and I know today’s won’t be my last trip out into the drum fields.

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