Re: A New World
It was probably silly of me to think that I could make the transition to this new life so easily. It's one thing for my body and mind to arrive at Susannah's door at 3 am Sunday morning after, 35 hours of travel from Africa; it's quite another for the deeper parts of me to fully return; the parts that really attune anyone to the spirit of a place.
I say this because of a dream I had last night. I call this a dream because that's what it must have been but it had the intensity and vividness of an altered reality. This came after a wonderful day spent with Susannah, where, other than recovering from a head cold, I thought that I was clear-headed and present.
In the dream I woke up in the middle of the night utterly confused about where I was. I looked around and recognized nothing of the light patterns on the walls, or the trees outside of the windows. I then realized that I had been sleeping naked cuddled up against a person I didn't know! I couldn't even tell if the face was male or female because the hair was wild and curly and the face seemed gray in the dim light. Alan is the only person I could think of so I pulled away as far as I could and tried to go back to sleep.
Suddenly the house began to shake violently as if something was trying to push up through the floor under the bed. I then had an image of seeing a herd of large, jet black boars being herded towards the house by a small boy. The boars gathered under the house and milled around until they were relaxed and quieted down. At this point I went back to sleep.
There was a wild energy to these images that reminded me of the streets of Dakar or some trace of the forces that animate African art. It may also be side effects from the ginger tea Susannah gave me to help with my cold, but Ithink there is more to it than that.
The fact is that I have been through what could be a life changing experience in Africa. The details of survival in any situation have to be dealt with, and I did that well enough. But the conscious processes do not account for all of the meanings a world so different holds for a person like me.
Flying through the turbulence and lightning approaching Charles DeGaulle airport at night I found myself less afraid than I might once have been. In Africa there's a toughness and an alert clarity that you need in cities to avoid being ripped off. Walking around you are instantly recognized as a symbol of hope, a way out, or a source of money either from begging or theft.
Focused awareness is important but you also need the smiles and offerings that make the poor feel like human beings... as their glance patterns go directly to the pouch over my belly with it's bright golden new lock.
And there are other ways that living for a time in Africa changes things in you. When you find yourself absorbing that climate without it dampening your ability to move from place to place, you develop a tolerance for sweating and discomfort and that makes you more flexible and functional.
Now that I'm back in the Western world I find myself wanting to stay within the sense of strictly personal power and energy I experienced in Africa. I want to keep my life that vital and meaningful, but hopefully without the discomforts or without needing to be separated from the people I love. It doesn't seem likely. I'm sure everyone returning from poor countries feels this way to one degree or another.
But I'm not quite ready to be back yet. Sitting with my back to the fountains behind the glass wall in DeGaulle airport, people's voices were still just foreign noises I could ignore. I wasn't really back until I had to know what all those people were saying and they all seemed overweight and either depressed or vacuous. I won't be back completely until I again become a part of the attitudes and values that operate in my own culture. That's what worries me.
In the airport a deaf woman tried to get some money from me by putting something in front of me that I would pay for. I knew the routine but her trinket was in French so I used that as an excuse to not respond. It's not as if I didn't know what her smile and body language meant. What happened is that, I was familiar with this approach so I could easily slip into my normal
reactions. I'm sure that Senegalese people are just as familiar with the routines of the poor that I found so compelling just hours ago. I saw it happening within myself but didn't really think about it until just now.
But it's not just the sense of being on edges or sensitive to new experiences that's important for me to bring back here. I want to know that the spirit of community and sharing that I felt in small villages will draw me into closer relationships with those I love.
I want to know that the creative energy and love affair with my new camera will re-awaken my creative life.
And perhaps most importantly, I want my sensitivity to my emotional and spiritual center to carry me into deeper experiences of opening and giving and feeling and knowing?
I suddenly feel a bit awkward and pretentious writing this. I'm already slipping back perhaps. Even after so short a time it's difficult to bring back more than specific memories of the trip. The engulfing sense of being exposed and present there is fading. But, I have always felt that it is not necessary to remember dreams for them to change your life. It's the impact of experiences that changes us, not the remembrances of experiences. And it seems to be that dreams are entirely real experiences to our unconscious minds, so the changes are already imprinted where they matter the most. All that's left is for me to fulfill them and live out the potentials I discover.
In that case, I am suspended between two dreams right now: the African Dream of lovely people living and loving and sharing the struggle of survival and joy; bustling in the middle of busy streets and sitting alone on narrow wet roads.
There was the woman living in the tree on the main street leading to the Presidential Palace; the entirely naked man walking calmly down the dirt road in Kaolak; the thousands of street hustlers yelling "Hello my brother" with perfectly winning smiles and completely useless goods to sell. And always the children, either far too wise, too beautiful or too vulnerable to be comprehended.
The other dream is the one I'm in right now. Susannah appeared out of nowhere and is transforming what it means to live my life. My visit to the house yesterday was stunning. Where there were once dirty, white carpets, there are now shining hardwood floors. This will be the living room where we will sit and entertain amidst the towering built-in bookcase, the fireplace and the new couch.
Where once there was a whole, dark room filled with clutter, there are now brilliant French doors that open onto the back garden with the trees of the park following the wind back and forth in the distance. This is where she and I will sleep from now on.
And if the huge changes to my personal spaces were not enough to make all of this feel new, Sue Ciriclio reminded me that the massive renovations of the Photography facility that we planned were busily being done while I walked the streets of Africa.
There simply are no familiar, fixed surfaces for me to project myself upon here. There could not be a better setting for transformation; for testing to see if maintaining a state of grace is feasible.
The little bit I've learned about what skills might be helpful with this tell me that I will need to remember how to stay awake, and open, and generous and loving. I will have to remember that the spirit of things matters the most so it's worth looking for, even in the roughest places.
And I will have to remember and respond to processes that are greater than myself, that are unfolding right now in Africa and everywhere else as far as I can know.
Thank you for your love and attention to this journal. I will be in touch with you.