Sunday, April 8, 2012
The very fact that I'm calling it Africa that i talk about Africa - I am in Tchad only. I am in one country in a continent that has hundreds. What I am experiencing is Tchad specific. and even then - has my agenda and my worldview prevented me from fully experiencing it? yes, it has.
I think any traveler can tell you a a time when they felt foolish. Of a time when direct human experience with a people, an individual, a place, stripped them of their cherished thought processes and forced them to begin a journey armed only with the fact that they had been wrong. that there was more to the story. and I have this morning realized the depths of my own foolishness. that there is more to the picture. that i am missing essential elements swirling around me. It is not my fault that I have a particular world view. We are results of our exposures and our environment, of the books we read, the people we talk to, the knowledge we gain. but if we are not open minded in pursuit of that knowledge, what we find will only reinforce what we came look for to find all along.
so while my exposures in this world have been largely circumstantial, it is my fault if i cling to these and i do not open myself up to the discovery of unexpected truths . I want to write about the women of Tchad but I have already created many suppositions. mainly 1. that the women of tchad suffer. 2. that this suffering is propagated by the male-dominated cultural norms and gender role hierarchy here. I am already worried i won't find stories that are horrific enough. i want horror to support my hypothesis that Tchad is a terrible place to be a woman. I f i start out like this, how can I write and honest book? i want to be open enough to be surprised. I want my suppositions to be shaken down. i want them to crumble. i want to find an answer with an answer locked in a maze of questions.
i need to open my eyes, my heart, my mind, and not portray what i want to hearer but instead capture the true tone of the voice of the women of Tchad. i need to be humble and search foremost for humanity.
this funeral is rolling on around me, it is across from our compound, at the neighbors, mango trees and crumbling mudbrick walls are seperating us yet i can hear it as if it were in our front yard. they drum have been drumming beating since yesterday morning. all day yesterday and all last night, beating into my skull and becoming part of my dreams, through breakfast this morning, into the sticky heat of the day, the buzzing of the flies drowned by the steady beat.
the chanting and singing and shuffle of feet is rising and swelling building wild rhythmic momentum then down down softer towards the earth sliding through the dust and rolling over the mangoes then up up thum thum building crescendo and the wailing is rising too, more and more voices join and it is a broken AAIIAAIIIIAIII pitched and cracked and in unison. I wish i knew my neighbors. i wish i knew who died. I wish i could sit there and be apart of the funeral. I wish i could have gone to Clison's funeral. I wish I could have gone to Sarah's funeral.
Teskrio told me this morning that this is normal - that they will often dance and sing and wail night and day for 3-4 days without sleeping. Without sleeping. Sarah's funeral was 4 days long. and i feel as if finally, as I begin to slightly understand the funeral process here, finally I feel that i begin to understand a little more the thread that holds the fabric of life together here. I begin to understand that it is the intensity through which life here is lived that makes life possible.
we can even think of it in the therapeutic sense, how workshops and and various other forces of therapy use dance, running in place, pillow pounding, screaming, crying, to break down a person, to strip away emotions of an anger and despair and other periphery to bring a person to a place where they are truly in tune and connected to the core of their deepest struggle and how they contrive to create a "safe space" of community for all this to take place - except there. across the wall and through the trees - the same process in unfolding naturally - beautifully uncontrived, unconsciously, intrinsically.
this type of deep grieving, an environment of everyone who loved that person coming together in their love for that person, dancing, moving down deeper into their horror, screaming and falling to the ground and losing their voices are they wrestle with its core. the exhaustion emotional and physical it drains the grief it creates a space for that grief to live and twist and convulse until it exhausts itself.
and i think that this is a very large piece of the puzzle as to how in a land of such documented difficultly and hopelessness, how a family who has lost more than one child, how they can keep going on, because they have created a place for the purest expression of their grief. they have taken the time and sacrifice to come together and this is one of the great truths here. here there is no facade - no barriers to the raw experience of the moment. and that is one of the essences of being here, the reason that expats says that Africa "beats in their blood" and those that come here, often fall in love.
it is the reason that here it is easy to feel more alive than you have ever felt before.
because people live love breathe and die close to the earth.
we sleep on the ground, under the stars. we collapse together in the cool of the evening on the woven mat, laughing and talking and scratching at fleas and falling asleep one by one. sweating and working under the trees, pulling water from the well, cooking over an open fire, the houses with doors and windows always open, everyone does everything outside - even in the cool season, working eating, socializing, resting, studying.
just ask a hippie. ask someone that makes their home on the road and their bed under the stars. ask the person that climbs mountains. ask builders of bonfires. ask the people that live off the land - ask the people that either make it their life or their weekend to escape the picket fence -
here, people look you in the eye. here, you greet everyone. anyone that comes into your compound, you get up and greet them, or they come and greet you. you always start each interaction with asking about their family - and they mean it here.
Comment la mama? est-que elle va bien?? anyone that ever met my mom when she came asks about her faithfully. and when i say
Elle va bien, they say,
Dios Merci! merci, merci.
thank you. and they are thankful. thankful that she is alive. thankful that she is doing well.
they look you in the eye. they greet you. they ask about your family. you ask about theirs. you spend time. you sit on the mat or under the trees or in the few preciously guarded plastic chairs. sometimes you just sit and don't have to say anything. if someone is sick - everyone will show up, they will come by. they will sit with you. ask after your health. if someone dies - they also show up.
family here is important. it is the most important unit and provides much of the cultural structure that they move within. here, you have many cousins, many brothers, a cousin is a brother, many fathers, an uncle is a father, many sisters.....relatives abound. you are always welcome at the home a relative - no matter how distant. and they will extend the best of their hospitality.
emotions are felt more intensely here. whether it be a laughter that consumes you and sends you rolling on the ground to being bent over double, vomiting everything you ate that day, heaving and crying as flies swarm over you.
you can yell at somone until you aren't angry anymore, they will say what they have to say right back, and then you can drink tea and laugh together. when you are healthy, and someone inquires after your health, and you say it is good, they will clasp your hand, and look into your eyes and they will thank god.
and when someone you love dies, they will clasp your hand and look you in the eyes and not look away.
the best of humanity and the greatest of its evils - it is here.
the most exquisite beauty, and the dust of a barren landscape. it is here.
and in a land of extremes, what they have been born knowing and we learn only as an epiphany, is that the only way to live and love and survive here is to live deeply in each moment as it comes. to let the rawness of the extremes grate and shape your soul.
to not shut out the happiness in fear of future sorrows, to not shut out sorrow in a desperate grab for happiness.
the only way to live here is cracked open - bare toes in the earth and sleeping under the stars, taking time to have a conversation, taking time to love someone, taking time to grieve the dying, taking time to round out each moment, to pack it with all the raw elements as they are thrown at us - and this is why anyone that comes here can never forget Africa. because it is here that the human experience is at its most devastating and vibrant.
because it is here, a step away from death - that you can feel the freedom the gratitude the wild joy of being alive.