“Perhaps he knew, as I did not, that the Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road,” – Karen Blixen, Out of Africa
Before I left for Kenya, I read Karen Blixen’s (nom de plume: Isak Dinesen) book, Out of Africa. Taking place at about this time 100 years ago, the Baroness owned a coffee plantation just outside of Nairobi. Her book is ripe with the soul of the country and its people, with less of the entitled colonialism than I expected.
Karen wanted nothing more than for her bones to lie in rest in Africa. She did not get her wish. Her coffee plantation suffered locusts and other acts of God, and she was forced to leave the land she loved, later dying of malnutrition in her Dutch estate. A minor tragedy of dislocation.
On the day I took this picture, I wanted nothing more than to make it out of Africa. I’ll likely process the full scope of traveling during the outbreak of a worldwide pandemic over time—peeling off the layers of weeping revelation like an onion. The unthinkable happened a million times over daily, and I wasn’t even paying that much attention, until reality forced my hand.
It gradually dawned on me that I was on one of the last planes out of anywhere in the world. That other countries (see: Morocco, Peru) closed borders a week before with less than 24 hours warning. That entire airlines and international routes were shutting down in the blink of an eye. That hundreds of thousands of people were trapped far from home everywhere.
And I was on safari. On the Sunday we came out of the Maasai Mara, the Kenyans in my group arranged to visit a Maasai village, delaying our departure, and eliminating a back-of-the-mind possibility to change my flight out to later that night.
It can’t really put into words, not yet, the sheer soul-expanding magnitude of that Maasai village visit. I inexplicably connected deeply and immediately with the son of the chief. He will always be in my soul, burning like the ember of fire that falls out onto the sword from the friction between human will, cedar wood and the sandpaper tree.
When he slipped off his beaded bracelet and somehow shoved it onto my wrist, still puffy and swollen from sunburn, I knew I’d make it home, transcendentally. The bracelet has no clasps. It’s not meant to be taken off. Even now, it smells like fire and smoke and him. He also gave me (I mean, of course I gave him money before I left for all of these wonderful gifts), the Maasai-made bright pink sheep’s wool wrap he wore. I bury my face in it often, and I’m immediately brought back to Africa. To the night sky of the Maasai Mara. To him, far around the world in his small hut under the stars of the Southern hemisphere. To the time-and-space-defying power of human connection.
Miraculously, I made it on the last Seattle flight out of Dubai before Emirates grounded all planes later that day. The Maasai Mara is now closed. I am coming to grips with the changed world from inside my Boise home. And I am washed aground here awe-struck by God and humanity and Africa. And this precarious and magical opportunity to be alive. Fully alive. In it all.
handmade African orange, yellow, blue & green print dress – $3700 Kenyan shillings (about $37) – Nairobi market | Maasai red, white & blue beaded bracelet – $2000 Kenyan shillings (about $20) | Maasai armour bijoux blue & gold beaded breastplate – $3000 Kenyan shillings (about $30)