I woke early from my uneasy slumber. The sun was lifting herself over the horizon, and her beams steadily pulled themselves through the screens of our bedroom window. An orange hue filled the dark room. Our neighbor’s rooster added his voice to the new morning’s symphony of light. He shouted to all that the world was fresh and that today we should expect, like every other day, everything and nothing, terrors and treasures, horrors and hopes.
As I sat up in bed and climbed out from under our mosquito net I ignored the rooster’s call, and I thought nothing of what the day might bring.
It was neither the sun nor the bird that had pulled me from bed that morning. Nor had I abandoned my rest for any idea or ethic or principle or discipline, but for a friend.
Life is a treacherous beast — if you don’t believe this then you, like me, are a part of the world’s elite, and you and I are sheltered from many of this planet’s monsters. But B___, the friend for whom I woke, he has no affluence, few connections, and even little food or shelter to shield him from the beasts of destruction. In the last 6 months they have devoured his family, taking from him, first, his youngest son, a 9 year old, next, his dear wife, whom he loved, and finally, his last remaining child, Ali, a thirteen year old boy. He was left alone, brokenhearted, and with news that he had a life-threatening disease that would drastically alter the coming years of his life, if those years came at all.
There were, and still are, many dark hours for B___, and hope is sometimes more evasive, more transient, than most admit. But laughter drifts up from all corners of the earth, and everyone has moments of joy that, even if just for that brief moment, outweigh even the heaviest sorrows.
So I woke for a friend. A friend who, like me, has self-destructive beasts living even within his own soul, but who, also like me, is trying to follow a candle through a dark room. I woke for a friend who I really don’t know all that well, but with whom I have already laughed and cried many times… and laughed some more. I pulled myself from bed for another day with another friend — a day like any other.
We were headed to B___’s home village, a place called Nachunyu, about an hour and a half by motorcycle from my home in Mtwara. B___ met me at my house with his supplies to spend a week in the village visiting his extended family and childhood friends. We loaded up my dirtbike, strapping everything on tightly, and started our journey north. As we left town he shouted excitedly to a few friends who we passed, “We’re going to visit my family! He’ll come back today, but I’ll stay for a week!”
B___ shouted over the roar the of the motorcycle and the wind, telling me about the places we were passing and directing me around new turns and down new paths. Almost two hours later we were pulling into the remote, hilltop village of Nachunyu, in distant view of the Indian Ocean. People shouted to B___ as we pulled into his part of the village, welcoming him home. “I’ll come by and visit you later!” he shouted back.
The following hours were spent meeting B___’s friends and family. I was warmly welcomed, and enjoyed meeting everyone and seeing the place. Soon into my visit my friend invited me to walk with him and his oldest and closest childhood friend, Sele, out to the nearby edge of their village. Here we came into a thickly wooded area with many towering trees as well as smaller, younger ones growing beneath. A few gravestones stood beneath the trees, and I quickly learned that this was the village cemetery and that those who couldn’t afford gravestones, which was nearly everyone, would instead plant a tree over the resting place of their loved one. The tree would be a marker to remind where the loved one rests, and to remind that from death will come life.
We had come to visit the graves of B___’s wife and two sons. Their deaths being recent, small, young saplings marked their graves. The large number of other young saplings in the area reminded us that sorrow and death are shared by all, and perhaps unite us as much as life itself.
I left B___ with his mother in Nachunyu, where his father hopped on the back of my bike to hitch a ride to his home village, about a half hour away. After a nice visit there, I left for home, finally alone again except for the pile of Papayas loaded on the back of my bike and a handful of chicken eggs in my backpack, gifts from my kind hosts.
Except for the roaring wind, the ride home was quiet. As I drove south I noticed many roads branching in many directions, unexplored paths that I wanted to turn down — paths that might, for a time, distract me from my current one with all its difficulties and ambiguities. But this was the road I had chosen, and it was the road that I needed to travel, so I clicked my dirt bike into fifth gear, turned the throttle, and bent my gaze forward to the road ahead and the glowing horizon beyond.
Loaded up and ready to go.
In Nachunyu with B___'s family.
With B___'s Dad. The Papayas at the bottom left (including a huge pile off screen) were a gift to me.