Alte Kokkers in Africa travel blog

Traveling. Traveling. Packing stuff. Organizing stuff. Moving on. Being transported. Transporting. Goods, good people. Viewing. Meeting. Eating by ordering and being served, waited on. Waiting. Walking. Getting hot. Getting cold. Sweating. Bathing. Not being home. Finding beauty. Being found by beauty. Noticing. People. People. People. Different trees. Different animals, birds, songs, noises, languages, gestures, ways of being. Discovering. Exploring. Being yourself. In different places, different contexts. Observing. Being observed. Being solicited, wheedled, begged. Being helped. Asking for help. Learning. Traveling. Going. On the go. Going past, going beyond. Stopping. Holding. Seeing. Hearing. Grateful. Holding on. To grateful. Awed. Uncertain. Off balance. Rebalancing. Going home.

There is a difference. There is a difference between experience – or doing, and existence – or living, and being. There are differences - - between using body and mind to explore or achieve or create or take apart or find, and the routine of the body, the activities of sustaining and consuming and taking care of, the routines of love and obligation and the relatively unthinking mind. And between these and the state of being present, reflecting, absorbing, giving, being, aware.

Living a life takes time. Life uses time. Life requires time. Occupies and is metered by time. For my spirit to catch up to me takes time. I need time. Spirit, at least my spirit, does not live in time. For me, time must pause to allow my spirit to catch up to me. I hope that with practice, I can learn to move with my spirit, not run from it. I hope that the more I allow my spirit to stay with me, or allow myself to stay with my spirit, my center of balance and energy, my dare I say soul, the easier the work of living will be.

I need to ask: so when I am busy where does my center go? I think it hides. I think I withdraw protectively from the world, from the effort required of me to feel safe and to feel sound, and by hiding from the world within my own skin I hide from that part of me, that center of energy and being we call ruach or neshama or spirit or soul, which is that piece of the all-encompassing we describe as holy and divine and Melech and Shekhinah, and so by disconnecting from all that is around me I disconnect from myself. God give me the strength to love and trust myself so I can love and trust my neighbor as I love myself.

There was so much beauty around us on this holiday, these holy days when we put aside daily life and set out to find the new and beautiful and surprising in a different part of the world. Beauty, as always, side by side with pain, the pain of working to live, the pain caused by selfishness and injustice, the monopoly of power, the pain caused by scarcity and misunderstanding, and aggression and defensiveness, by the division of the world into multiple delineations of us and them, us and them, us and them and them and them. And so much caring, and cooperation, and compassion, and understanding, attempts to understand, attempts to help, so much seeing and listening and asking and noticing. Deep knowing and the courage to sense what we don’t know. The pain of seeing. Its sense of beauty.

We sensed something of the life of Africans. We sensed something of the differences in geography and its effects. We sensed something of the life of animals. We were amazed – by the dedication, skill, knowledge and earnestness of people who came from simple villages to help us live our lives of greater consumption. Shadrack, who drove us to Waterberry Lodge in Zambia from the airport, drove us back to the airport this morning. On the dirt road through the nature preserve we needed to traverse, he stopped the van because of butterflies. On the road, feasting on what he said were minerals deposited from a spill from some previous vehicle, sitting on winged haunches or flitting nearby, were nearly one hundred common yellow grass butterflies, as he identified them, butter yellow wings on yellowish bodies, some a little black on their wing edges. He has been studying nature, out of both love and a desire to increase his income. And there we were, on our haunches, eyes and smiles equally wide, in awe of a small community of butterflies, in their bustling routines of sustenance, hour by hour lives.

We were similarly amazed by dung beetles, by lions and leopards, by the power and ages and volumes of Victoria Falls, grateful for the delightful company of strangers, compassionate for people in need and hippopotami in mud baths, looking forlorn. I could go on, but it all comes down to this: what holiday could be more valuable, more memorable, than this? How privileged – in every sense – we are! How blessed. May we always remember that, and remember the state of amazement we found. May we never lose it. May we allow ourselves to continue learning from it, and may we be transformed – into more present and aware and compassionate forms of ourselves.

And may I never forget – and I mean this with my whole heart, if I have not paid enough attention to it in what I have written so far – how lucky I am to have traveled this road with a partner who helps me see what I don’t see myself, who shows me the world in a phrase or a new path or an activity I would have shied away from, who shows me her heart so in it I can see both myself and herself and our place in this world. Thank you Robin my love. I could not have come this far without you, nor could we return home except as one, together.

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