Twenty years ago this week I arrived in Kentucky to attend Asbury College. It’s really hard to believe it’s been twenty years. I don’t feel that old.
I wrote the following blog post in 1999, and never published it, because I never got around to finishing writing it. So most of this post is 9 years old, and the last 3 paragraphs were written this afternoon. It’s kind of disconnected ramblings, because I figure if I wait until I make it into a coherent narrative, it’ll probably be another 10 years before I publish it.
The summer before coming to college, I had an adventure.
We flew from Nairobi to Kigali, landing in one of the smallest international airports I’ve ever been in. Mom and Dad were going to some conference or other, and Andy and I went on from there to further adventures.
Rwanda is probably the most beautiful country I’ve ever been in. We drove for hours through virgin jungle. Folks make remarks about how I should be used to jungle, having grown up in Africa. In reality, this was probably the first actual jungle I had ever encountered. It was amazingly green – eye-jarringly green, and *so* beautiful.
When we crossed into Zaire, a sign on the wall in the customs office declared “Do Not Insult The Crocodile Before Crossing The Nile.” Sage advice, there.
We drove to the hospital where Andy’s highschool roommate’s family worked, way out in the middle of nowhere. Several incidents have imprinted themselves on my memory.
As we were driving the 50-some miles into Zaire, which took us 3 hours or so, we encountered a landrover plastered with various advertiser stickers. Since we hadn’t see any other cars for quite some time, we stopped to chat. This character was driving from Cape to Cairo. He had previously driven from North Pole to Tierra Del Fuego, and this was the second leg of his journey. He was doing a story of some kind for National Geographic.
A little later, we came to a bridge. Actually, it would be more accurate to call it a former bridge. A large steel skeleton spanned the river, but there was no road. The boards that made the road had all been borrowed. Fortunately, we arrived there right behind a bus. Upon arriving at the bridge, everyone got out fo the bus, unloaded boards from the roof of the bus, and built a road across the bridge, and drove across. They let us drive across, for a fee. They then collected the boards, reloaded the bus, and drove on.
At one point, we came to a little town with the road passing through the middle of town. The town itself was about 10 feet lower than the road surface. The road had been resurfaced sufficiently many times that it had grown to this height above the rest of the town. I remember that we stopped here to buy a 5-kilo bag of sugar, which cost 10,000 z (the local currency at that time, the zaire).
While we were at the hospital, a long-awaited shipment arrived. It was a railroad container on the back of a flat-bed truck. The guys driving the truck wanted to leave immediately, and had no way to unload the container from the back of the truck. The solution to this was to lash one end of the container to the side of a building, drive the truck out from under it, and then put truck jacks under the other end, so that the truck could drive away.
This left the container suspended in the air, with truck jacks on one end, and roped to a building on the other end. And, due to the way that it had been loaded onto the truck, the doors were flat against the side of the building. I don’t remember if we ever heard how they solved this particular dilemma. It was still hanging in the air when we left.
We (Andy and I) spent 2 weeks out there at this bush hospital in the middle of nowhere. One of the days, we built a dam in the little stream nearby. That was fun. And I remember that when the generator went out in the evening, it was dark as soot.
One day, Phil took us out to see the airstrip. After hunting around for a bit, he found the place where the airstrip had been a few weeks before. It was overgrown with full-sized trees. Apparently it’s so fertile there that this was enough time to make the airstrip unusable.
Towards the end of our visit, we took a hike up into the mountains. We drove as far as we could go, then got out and hiked for a while. I remember Phil’s brother saying “We’re almost there. I remember that herd of cows.”
Eventually, we got to a teensy cabin, which was our destination. Although there was no running water or electricity, it was still quite comfortable, with cots, and a loft with more sleeping space.
In the morning, being Sunday, we had a makeshift church service using the one book in the cabin, which was an ancient methodist hymnal. There were four of us, and we taught ourselves “Come Thou Almighty King” in four parts. Every time I hear that song, I remember that morning, singing to the cows (and to God) on the top of a hill with the thick forest all around us.
The four of us have moved on to other things, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Phil or his brother since that summer, although I expect my brother has. This was twenty years ago now, and it’s still so clear and recent in my mind, when so many other memories have faded.
It grew in the Kericho sun
watered by the rains that swept up from Lake Victoria
every afternoon at 4
like a heavy felt curtain.
Top two leaves and a bud
picked in the pouring rain.
Flapping black raincoats and hats,
bright faces and bright singing.
The emerald of the freshly washed leaves
almost hurts the eye.
Miles of smooth green hills
stretching to the horizon of my mind.
Dried on acres of wire racks,
the smell of them a liquor in the nostrils,
drowning in the thick black scent of it,
bathing in the aroma,
the smell of home and happiness
and warm rain running down my back
and black earth and blue skies.
Memories, packaged in a green box
and sent to me by kind strangers.
In the high and far off times, oh my best beloved, various persons read books to me.
My parents read the Narnia books to us kids at home, and Mr. Bruce read The Hobbit to us in class. I think that these two, more than any others, ignited my love of books, and in particular of that genre of fantasy that Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tolkien were particularly good at.
There were many, many other books that were read to me, but those are the ones that I most remember.
I read to my daughter, every night. We’ve gone through The Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and are almost done with the last of the Narnia books. And of course there have been many other books – the Junie B Jones books, the Boxcar Children, and the Magic Treehouse feature many times.
And I listen to audio books every day on the way to work. I have a membership at Audible.com, and get a book from them every month. When that runs out, there are numerous free podcasts of stories that I listen to. Some of these are from the Old Time Radio Podcast Network, which is one of the websites that restores my faith in the original goals of the Internet, or at least my interpretation of them.
I was discussing all of this with a coworker, who said that he doesn’t feel that he’s actually read a book if he’s listened to it. I can agree with that at some level, with some books, depending on who did the recording/reading.
There are some books that I simply wouldn’t ever get through if I couldn’t listen to them. Some of this is due to time, and some of it is due to the difficulty of certain books. Anna Karenina just about killed me, but I got through the entire thing, reading it the old fashioned way on paper. But that was an act of sheer willpower. There are some books, however, that when read in a different voice, can hold my attention a little better, and I can get through them. I made it through a number of Anne Rice books this way, which I really don’t think I could have done otherwise.
I still do read a lot on paper, too. At the moment, I’m reading Eldaterra, The Abolition of Man, and Montessori, a modern approach, among a few other things. I’m reading the Just So Stories for the umpty billionth time, and recording it for your listening pleasure. 🙂
I love reading aloud. I love reading to kids (if they actually listen) and, for some reason, I love reading and recording, with the notion that other folks are listening and enjoying, particularly when it is stories that I love so much, like the Just So Stories, or A Christmas Carol. I’d like to also do some readings from Dandelion Wine, but there’s the trouble of copyright there.
Anyways, nothing much profound to say about this. Curious what folks feel about the validity of claiming to have “read” a book, when one has only listened. I guess that once a year or so has passed, I no longer remember whether I read or listened, unless the reader was spectacularly bad, or spectacularly good. For example, I listened to “The Man Who Was Thursday”, which was just awful, because the guy reading it either didn’t get the story, or had a head cold, or … I don’t know. Anyways, when I read it (on paper) it was brilliant, and a lot of fun.
Jack Palance has died at the age of 87. In addition to his better known stuff, he was in a lot of cowboy movies in the golden days of the cowboys and indians wild west movies and spaghetti westerns. They don’t make ’em like that any more.
Several blogs I read have linked to this article about Hinglish. When I lived in Nairobi, all those years ago, folks spoke Sheng, which was a mix of Swahili, English, and pretty much anything else that came along. It mutated so fast that you either knew it or you didn’t – there was no way to learn it. These days, it’s called something different, and has a completely different vocabulary. It’s interesting to watch the changing vocabulary used on my Kenya site, even though I no longer understand most of what is said there.
When I was going to St. Andrews School, in Kenya, 20 years ago or so, one of our arch-rivals was Pembroke House, another boarding school.
Here at the conference, one of the meeting rooms is named Pembroke, and every time I see the sign, I can hear their Rugby coach yelling “Let’s go Pembroke!”
** Transcribed from the original manuscript **
In 1986, I think, my class from Nairobi Academy went to Mt. Longonot for a field trip. No zoo or chocolate factory for us, no sir. We climbed a mountain. And not just a mountain – a volcano!
A few thousand years ago, Longonot blew its top. Literally. Its top – Mount Suswa – is several miles away, where it has no business, geologically speaking, being. The crater that remains is Longonot.
We left the bus at the bottom and climbed up to the crater rim, where we could look down into where Suswa once was. Then we set out to circumnavigate.
Jens and I, of course, had to be first. We had to run. Remember when you could run forever?
The highest peak lay directly opposite from where we had climbed, and we ran along the narrow path around the gaping crater, with certain death on both sides. What is certain death in comparison to the need to get there first?
Just for the record, I got there first.
From the peak of Longonot, you can see the whole world. At least, the important bits. Naturally, we had to get back first, too, but I wished we could have stayed a little longer. So many wonderful moments rushed past on the way to the next one.
We three – who was with us? Modupe? I can’t remember for sure. – slid down the scree in the best roller coaster in the world. An avalanche of boys. Jens. Me. Modupe – yes, surely it was Modupe. Jerome missing. Forever missing. So recently missing. Always with us.
We return to the starting place, and wait for the return of our friends. Isn’t that the way it always is?
Then, back home, knowing that we had conquered the ancient giant, and could conquor any other. Knowing that we would some day, very soon, climb Kenya, Kilimanjaro, Everest! (One of out three’s not bad!)
And so, forever after, in every hike, climb, camp, I’m trying to return to Longonot.
** Transcribed from the original manuscript **
Yesterday I discovered that the word in the Toto song ‘Africa’ is ‘bless’, not ‘miss.’ I always knew it as ‘miss.’ Obviously, it should be ‘miss.’
I miss the rains in Africa. Every afternoon at 4pm A.T. they would sweep up from the lake, hundreds of miles away. A.T. That’s African Time. I shall get there when I get there. You will know it is time when it is time.
Like a gray curtain, woven of dreams and memories, the rains approach over the field, hiding what is behind them. The curtain climbs laboriously up the hill until it pauses on the other side of the road. It is dry here, and pouring over there. Looking both ways, the rain crosses the road, and now it is all around me, soaking me, hiding me, whispering secrets brought up from the lowlands.
And then the rain passes, the back side of the curtain climbing the hill, and now it is raining there, and here is only the sweet smell of wet grass and the drips from the big tree.
I miss the rains.
The rains bless me.
Matsu posted about locks, indirectly, in reference to folks getting sued for exposing vulnerabilities. Fortunately, my bike lock isn’t susceptible to this vulnerability.
The lock on my bike is a chain with a combination lock that I’ve had for 23 years. It was the lock that was on my locker at Florida High School, in Tallahassee, and apparently I stole it from my locker when I left there. For years, it sat in various crates and boxes as I moved around, and I rediscovered it last month when I was looking for my other bike lock.
I remember coming across it at various times over the years, and feeling vaguely uneasy about it. I don’t remember the exact incident, but I *seem* to remember that I swapped it for another lock, because I thought it likely that whoever had the locker the previous year might remember the combination, as I remembered my combination from the previous year’s locker. Whatever the real story is, I still have this lock, and, through some bizarre trick of memory, my fingers remembered the combination, although I couldn’t think of it when I stared at it at first.