Re: Out, Here
Hotel La Croix du Sud
Dakar, Senegal

The streets of Dakar are filled with the victims of untreated polio, twisted into contortions that would be perversely comical if they were in cartoons; and were it not for the fact that they are so real and human, and the concrete is so hard.

There are also the elderly with no support, left to die, and impoverished children. Before I left for this trip I read a passage from a book about a young man seeking enlightenment in a monastery in Thailand. Talking to another young seeker he remembered seeing Mother Theresa at her center for the care of Calcutta's poorest poor. She was just leaving and on her way to her car when she was approached by two crippled men begging for money. He described how she acknowledged them, touched their heads gently and then walked around them to get into the car. Surrounded by deprivation it's impossible to help them all so you have to make choices, but with compassion. I remember this as I walk from one place to another here. I make choices based on many different criteria: sometimes it's women with children; sometimes it's the way a person smiles or doesn't. Sometimes I don't know myself why a particular person touches me enough to give a coin. But the important thing is trying to maintain an open heart in the face of all of this. I think, or hope, that they can feel that....

I mention this because I dreamed this morning about a crippled man with shriveled limbs and no hands. He was in prison and he and I were together in some way. I know that this image is the combination of two vivid impressions from this trip: the streets of Dakar, and seeing the movie Hurricane in Woodstock with Terry.

At first the man in the dream was silent, wearing rags and signaling to other inmates with a mirror. Later he opened up and talked freely to me about things I can't remember specifically but I woke up with a powerful realization: This is where I belong! Here, in Africa, staying in room 550 at the Hotel La Croix du Sud; eating mangoes and bananas for breakfast; eating one meal a day; running up the hill by the ocean and then swimming in the warm sea. The weather is hot and wet but I am not uncomfortable. The streets are filthy but I very rarely notice a foul odor, and only then behind the homes of the rich. I have yet to go into the bush and see the traditional lives of African people, but it's clear that something important is happening for me here.

But, of course this is not where I can stay. So many of the people I love are in the United States. Susannah and I are in touch but I can't touch her, or feel her hands on me. And even now she is there remaking our home in her image and I want to share that very much.

And the things I need to do with my life are still in California. So I tried hard this morning to understand what it was that makes this experience so inspiring....

And then I thought of Alioune (who by the way is sitting behind me right now watching cartoons on the hotel TV). Emotionally he is "out". When we met in front of the slave house days ago he simply adopted me and when we go to the store he links his pinky to mine as we walk. My first impressions of men on the streets with their pinkies linked were that they must be gay. Alioune does this because the men here are more open to emotional expression, he feels what he does and has the spirit to respond.

There are risks being out in this way. I felt some of that just after the robbery. Staying open to what was really happening to my body and what I could see and feel; outside in the real world rather than inside the closed places of my imagination where I might have gotten lost in panic and confusion.

My love for Susannah has drawn me out also. Out, Here, I call her when I feel the need to hear her voice. When she has something to teach me I take a breath and try to let it in. One of the amazing blessings of this trip is that Alan is able to share this experience because he is discovering the love of a beautiful Turkish woman named Yesim. Unfoldings are happening every day and each one takes him out into the experience of vulnerable freedom I am learning about so deeply.

Going into the bush may take me to even more exposed places. I may find boundaries I have to retreat from. I don't know. I'm here to find that out.

But I do know that even the streets of beautiful Paris don't feel welcome to me because I may find myself re-enacting my adaptations to the spirit of a familiar social environment. I always find the transition back to American culture difficult but now I'll be coming almost directly from a far greater cultural distance.

For all of these reasons it's especially important that I pay attention to the ways I'm responding to this place. It's bringing something out that is mine and I will need that part of myself badly when I'm not Here.