Sunday, June 5, 2011
How can a country so capture my heart when it has also broken it? How can a land so harsh and unforgiving have such exquisite beauty? How can I one moment wonder how I can live here and the next wonder how I can live anywhere else? How? Such is the paradox of life in Africa. I don't know how it manages it, but I do know this wonderful and strange country has woven itself through my soul. It is no longer just a country I can visit and then leave. It has invaded deeper and has become a part of me.
I realized this just today while sitting under a grass thatched-roofed veranda in Zakouma Wildlife Preserve. As an unexpected gift from God I was given the opportunity to visit Zakouma instead of take my planned trip to Ndjamena. As soon as the small plane touched down on the dirt runway, I knew I had found somewhere special. Never have I been more remote. It’s a feeling beyond description to be surrounded by nothing but miles of African Savannah. You know those times you come to a new place, but feel you've been there before? Zakouma is just such a place. It has provided the time and distance needed for me to think and reflect. As I sat soaking in the peace and breathing in the sweetest air I've ever smelled, my mind wandered over the last 3.5 months of my life. Scenes passed before my mind’s eye.
I was once again sitting on a mat with an elderly Nangere woman, exchanging Lapia's. We cannot communicate through usual means, but manage to communicate things like interest, laughter and goodwill. Later she joins me on the bench I'm sitting on. Murmuring something in Nangere and with smiles beaming from her aged eyes, she places a loving hand on my lap. Smiling back I take hold of her hand and give it a loving squeeze. We sit holding hands for the longest time. We adopted each other for the evening. In that moment I was content, comfortable, and settled.
Then I saw an Arab woman tenderly holding her only surviving triplet. I was once again greeting her family and being dazzled by their smiles. I remember them laughing as I dug through 5 layers of brilliant clothes in order to find the little tike. I remember her giggling with giddiness as she fingered my hair when I took it down for them to see. I recall the many times I have passed the maternity department and found her sleeping with her baby beside her. Standing there watching her sleep, I am nearly overcome with something best described as love and tender regard. They are special to me.
I thought of the beautiful afternoon walk I took in the soccer field, when the sky was resplendent with clouds. I thought of my African family, my nursing friends, and all the animated discussions we've had. This place has ceased to be a mere dot on the map. It has become a place in my very soul. As a popular saying would put it, you can take the girl out of Africa but you can’t take Africa out of the girl. I don't yet fully comprehend how much I’ve changed while here. Only time will tell. I know some of my happiest moments have been here in Tchad. Riding on top of the jeep in Zakouma I could hardly wipe the smile off my face. I felt so free and happy. I have also had some of my saddest and scariest moments here--times when I thought I might die or break in two.
It is a paradox, but a beautiful one.
Simply put - I love these people - I love this land - I love Africa.