Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Addendum No. Five: Loss, Joy & The Other

Erfert, the ever joyous, suggested I write on these topics and I always do as she tells me to. We all experience loss from our very beginnings, but one of the things that gives me joy now is to see the reaction of my infant son when his mother returns home after being away for several hours. It almost makes the anguish he seems to feel when she departs worth it. As she walks in, or when he see her coming across the courtyard from our balcony, he glows, giggles, then hugs her as she enters the apartment, screams. He is unrestrained in expressing his happiness at seeing this person he is so powerfully connected to, and always will be. Not long ago I lost everything, partly through my own doing, partly through no fault of my own. All gone. Everything. I came within 45 mins of death. I also lost about 95% of my US friends. I now possess nothing and everything simultaneously. At nearly 65, I have no savings whatsoever, no regular income, no health insurance, no property except my clothing and shoes (I wear sandals most days, even in the rain; it's Africa). The everythingness of joy I possess is derived from my wife and son. They are a fire that burns with love. After about 9 years of living in Africa, I have lost most correspondents. Commonalities fall away; Richard Dowden mentions this in his fine book, Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles -- the difference of daily life in Africa and Europe or the US is so great that friends just can't relate and, over time, lose interest, associations fade. You lose each other. I rarely hear from friends or family any longer, and when I do it's a missive of 3-4 sentences. The era of the long form letter has been blown away by the digital breeze. I like social media. I text, use WhatsApp, Facebook, but they are not the same as real correspondence. My other loss since moving to Africa is my anonymity. Eyes follow me wherever I go, a movie star without portfolio. In the upcountry villages, everything I do is fascinating, foreign, often funny. I am now and will forever be The Other, the muzungu, the foreign one, always consulting maps, always asking for directions and how to say something, always joy.

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