Day Twenty-Six: Vive La Différence

It was so simple … my great friend Lydia wanted me to taste my favourite flavour. So Marie-paule and Fatou whipped up some penne for lunch, to be adorned with pesto. Ahh … the only thing better than pesto pasta is love.

The family sat down to share the blessed feast with me. Lydia remarked that it’s so unusual for Senegalese folks to eat pasta in the middle of the day. The tradition is rice. And so my friends with their forks were being jolted, while for me it was a natural event.

The previous day, at dinner, pasta also made an appearance, along with a sauce full of unknown goodies. I put a spoonful on my plate. Fatou drew in her breath as she saw my move. I mixed the sauce in with the noodles and got my fork in action. Yum – lots of flavour. Twenty seconds later the burn went deep. I reached for the glass in front of me. “Water won’t help,” offered Lydia. She was right. Grin and bear it for a few minutes … Woh. No more of that. However, lots more of that for Moustapha and Fatou. They yummed their way through plates of fire.

Hmm. A bit different, you and me. And isn’t that what makes the world go ’round?

Sometimes on the patio, I hum opera or Beatles songs. Eyes travel my way. I also love flourishes aloft with my hands, and a pirouette or two. The audience pauses to wonder.

Coming towards me from most every person approaching is “Ça va?” (How’s it going?). It’s expected that my response will be “Ça va” (I’m well), perhaps augmented by “Très bien” (Very well). It’s considered impolite to not give a verbal response. A smile and a wave is not enough.

If it’s in the morning, most Senegalese humans will also ask “Bien dormi?” (Did you sleep well?) I’m not sure how much of that is a true concern for me and how much a ritual. After so many a.m. conversations that went this way, I got really bored with it and replied “Non, je n’avais pas dormi depuis huit nuits.” (No, I haven’t slept for eight nights) Now that was impolite, but I couldn’t resist.

I love periods of silence. I love meditating. As I mentioned yesterday (or was it two days ago? No matter), here in Africa what mostly happens is large gatherings of virtually non-stop conversation, in languages I don’t understand. Maybe I’m exaggerating this contrast, but there’s definitely a difference.

There’s no “better and worse” in all this. Our life experiences and perspectives are sometimes foreign to the other. I figure that’s as it should be.

The world doesn’t need a whole bunch of Bruce’s around every corner. We need large portions of Zidane, Youssoupha, Mariama, Bakerie, Gnima, Nano, Ousmane, Abdul, Luc, Arlette, Anja, Revi, Camille, Pascal, Liesbet, Jo, Lydia, Lore, Baziel, Pil, Jo Jo, Iddy, Kebas, Astou …

… as well

Day Seventeen: Réunion

A few days ago, a great spirit died. Thousands of us, if not millions, have been touched by the wisdom of Ram Dass. He was an American (Richard Alpert) until he came upon a Hindu spiritual master and became his devotée.

Ram Dass spoke many words in his life. Here are my favourites:

When you go out into the woods, and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.

The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying ‘You are too this, or I’m too this.’ That judgment mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.

Jo and I have been in Senegal for eleven days. It’s the longest he’s ever been away from his dear wife Lydia and he’s missed her so much. Yesterday Lydia, Lore, Baziel and Marie-paule (Lydia’s mom) awoke at 5:00 am so they could catch their late morning flight from Brussels, Belgium to Dakar, Senegal. The loved ones would be reunited by 11:00 pm. So many different trees would come together in the darkness of the Toubacouta night.

At 10:10 we heard a honk. Jo jumped up. So did Moustapha. I was a bit slower but we all were drawn towards the arrivals pulling up in the van. The headlights blocked all else but a moment later there was Lydia’s smile in the front passenger seat. Tired faces spilled out of the vehicle, still full of the sweetness of connection. There were many soft hugs.

After we had unloaded the van of luggage and food, we all sat together, some on padded seats and some on the arms of chairs. Here we were: Jo, Ousmane, Baziel, Fatou, Ansou, Marie-paule, Lydia, Lore, Ali, Moustapha and me. Plus the little one Nima asleep in her bed. We were young and old, male and female, black and white, shy and outgoing. From three countries, speaking French, Flemish, Warlof and English. I looked around at all the trees – the curves of their trunks, the fluttering of their leaves, the colours of their bark. Our forest contained it all.

Each of us had their place
Each of us brought a uniqueness into the world
Each of us mattered