That and How.

Someday, when this journey is over, we will sit together. Perhaps we will be cupping steaming mugs, perhaps we will be stabbing salads, perhaps we will driving to and fro. Because that is what one does when one is young and lives on an island.

And we will be talking. Of boyfriends, of other friends, of awful bosses, of the more awful lack thereof. Because that is what one talks about when one is young and lives on an island.

And then you will ask me of Africa.

And I will tell you certain things when you ask me of Africa.

You will ask me of the weather.

I will tell you that there are three seasons. That it rains from November to April. That May through August have cold morning and nights. That the heat descends as viscious beast in September until it is deadened by fall’s first storm.

I will not tell you how when it rains, it silences all sound of humanity until you cannot remember what it was to think and just sync your breath and your heartbeat to the steady staccato drum. I will not tell you how when it is hot, you sit doing nothing but track the sweat as it beads in your elbows, the back of your thighs, some little nook of your soul as the temperature sweats from it any desire besides lethargy. I will not tell you how when it is cold, the thatched roofs steam with the warmth of breakfast fires and sleeping hearts, and how you enumerate every drop of water in you as the dryness closes in, a desertification of chapped lips, of cracked heels, of absent tears.

You will ask me of the village.

I will tell you that the people live in mud-and-grass homes, clustered by families and clan. That they get water from wells and cook on fires in open-air gazebos called kinzangas. That they grow cassava and maize and groundnuts and pumpkins. That they buy incidentals like soap, salt and cooking oil from little stands called tuck shops.

I will not tell you how the women sit for hours plaiting each other’s hair and how their laughter reaches to a place in your femininity that you did not remember existed. I will not tell you how when you return home, the grandmother who sits sentry in your path raises her hands in greetings and how the skin hangs like war medals from her bones and how if there are gates to some heaven surely they should be manned by a woman such as this. I will not tell you how on full moons, families morph to creatures of singing and dancing and how you lay in patches of moonlight and let the bonds of others cocoon you into sleep.

You will ask me of the children.

I will tell you that there are many. That they can make balls out of anything. That they run from their houses just to see you bike by as though your daily commute is a Haley’s Comet and not some fixed constellation in their skies.

I will not tell how they wear the rags of clothing that were once designer – Oshkosh jumpers, babyGap tees – and you wonder if the happiness of previous owners lingers on and if mutual proximity to growing bones and scrapped knees will bring a connection yet unknown. I will not tell you how they are in the schools, with shorts that ride up thighs and shirts that no longer button and with feet and minds that make the long walk to classes every day knowing there is no future beyond what this simple village can provide. I will not tell you how sometimes when you look at them, your very body aches for it, with its white skin and residual cells fed from supermarkets and hope, houses a spirit equal to theirs and the claustrophobia that injustice provokes leaves your spirit banging to get out.

I will not tell you all this because I have lost the words. Between here and there, adrift in the ocean or at unclaimed baggage perhaps, are my descriptions, my adjectives, my nouns.

I will tell you the that’s but not the how’s. I will try to make us understand. Because that is what one does when one is young and lives on island and once, once lived in Africa.


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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.