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The first time I saw her I was dazed but recovering from a hellish sleep of nightmares. Not sure if it was the scent of coffee lackadaisically meandering across the Serengeti that brought us to our serendipitous moment (do big cats drink coffee?), or if it was that she had told me she'd be here soon. I generally don't have conversations with animals- other than the human kind. I suppose if the dialogue occurs while dreaming you aren't crazy, right?
As far as how I came about to live just inside Kenya at the Tanzanian border overlooking the Serengeti, well, that is another lifetime dappled with hurt and a lost love elsewhere in the world- I won't bore you with the details. I wanted to get as far away from that pain as I could. The 'geti is about as distant as I could travel. Funny, no matter how far one travels the past is just a moment, just a thought away.
I will not taint this story with that past. This is a story of a more recent past, of a friendship- the most important friendship I've ever had.
I live east of a village. I am the only white man for probably twenty miles or more. I suppose there could be a few around or many in town but I haven't seen any. This life can be hard to adapt to, especially when one is accustomed to the rote American life of excess for its own sake. Pressure. That is part of the reason why I left. No, this is a lie. It's not why I left, but I promised I wouldn't scar this story with my American past. There may be a trace of it betrayed here and there but I will do my best to check such impulses.
Where was I, oh yes- life is slower here; not in a dimwitted way, but in a take-a-deep-breath-and-live kind of way. Speaking of breaths, I promised that I wouldn't start smoking again. But that was in my old life. I made a lot of promises then, this is now. I don't smoke processed cigarettes- Western market contraband. No, my good friend Abasi is a tobacco farmer. Did I say he is a good friend; he's a great friend, genuine, forthright and not afraid to smack the hell out of you when you need it, or deserve it. More often than not I am the latter. Who would have known I'd have to travel half way around the world to find a friend that wasn't a sycophant. One of his virtues is that he doesn't know the meaning of the word. I teach Absko, his son, English in exchange for fresh tobacco, among other things. Truth told I'd do it for free. He knows this. Sometimes I work the fields with him. Wielding a machete and tying bundles is unbearably taxing at times but I try not to let it show on my face- though everyone knows, I'm not fooling anyone. One could say I'm paying for my deep-seated American complacency I suppose.
I must make one point very clear: I am not "anti-American-way." Far from it. This is, like I said, just a different way of life. It is nothing here to slaughter your own food or dig your own latrine, or hear of children starving to death, despite Doctors Without Borders. Unsheltered is what I'm saying. Far from texting and Ipods. I will one day go back. Maybe.
Van Heerling
Outskirts Press
Publication Date
Short Title
Outskirts Press
Country of Publication
United States
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