15 August 2012
It’s an understatement to say that life in Africa in the 20th century was a tough living. But what do I know? I was just a young British boy then, born in Africa and didn’t quite grasp what was happening around me. Later on in life, I discovered that we had arrived in Africa as missionaries and traders but somewhere along the way, the scripts had been flipped and we had taken over the land. My father became a very powerful figure and owned vast fertile land. After that, Africa became a love and hate affair: loved Africa: hated the politics.
Her name was Sarafina and she and her mum came every weekday to work my father’s land. I would hide in the house and watch Sarafina pick coffee and from this angle, all I could see was her long black hair as it cascaded down her back and shifted in the wind. It was all I needed to make my heart soar, at least for the moment. And every time Sarafina turned to look at the house, I would hit the ground on all fours and crawl out of sight. But as the weeks turned into months, my desire to chat up Sarafina burned my insides: I wanted to talk to her, to tell her that I liked her, get to know her… kiss her. Deep in my gut I knew that she was the woman for me. One day I would marry her and take her with me back to England, and show her off to the people. But every time I approached Sarafina, my dad would mysteriously appear with a frown on his face. “Now George, that’s not a good idea.”
“But why can’t I talk to her dad?” I would whimper.
“I can’t explain son.” My dad would then turn and look into the forest, “Something stirs in the air son. I can feel it.”
I had no clue what my dad meant but the crushing reality was that I couldn’t talk or laugh with Sarafina and this made my heart yearn more. I mean you know what they say about forbidden fruits … they are the sweetest, maybe. The height of my relationship with Sarafina was reduced to stolen nods and hand waves. Every evening, I would run to the gate and watch Sarafina and her mum leave and then at the last minute, Sarafina would turn around and briefly wave. My heart would leap and I would skip around the house in joy. That wave was all I needed to know that Sarafina cared for me or like a wise man once said, life is the moments that take one’s breath away. Sarafina, as corny as it may sound, took my breath away.
One day I woke up sweating at night with a feeling of foreboding. Something was wrong! It was hard to place it and being half awake didn’t help much. I walked into the kitchen and drank some water as I cracked my brain. And then finally it came to me, Sarafina hadn’t waved!
Without further thought and against all voice of reason, I grabbed a jacket and ran into the cool night, headed towards Sarafina’s house. This was crazy! Apart from the nods and waves, I didn’t even know the girl and here I was in the middle of the night, the prince with shining amour rushing to her rescue, if at all she needed one.
Sarafina’s homestead constituted four huts as most African men had more than one wife. Each wife resided in her own hut with her own kids and the man of the house slept in a separate hut. When I arrived, the doors to three of the huts were ajar, swinging in the wind. The goats snoozed in the locked hut. I felt a strong presence in one of the huts and I instantly knew that this was where Safarina slept. The beds were unmade, the smell of paraffin and smoke in the air. Sarafina was gone! A portrait on one the walls beckoned me … no… a sketch on the wall lured me and I found myself gazing at the face of a girl. The features were distinct and I could easily see that it was Sarafina, covered in a fur coat. Something nagged at the back of my mind and I couldn’t pull my eyes away. Could it be possible? Sarafina looked like… no… it couldn’t be … she looked like ... I was thinking the unthinkable.
I took down the portrait and sat down on the dirt. My head was swimming; I was incapable of holding down a single thought. Was Sarafina the girl who was going to introduce me into the world of love? I took a moment and wondered.
I walked outside the hut with a mystified expression. The village was dead still: a dog barked nearby. It was at this point that I heard a rustling noise coming from the trees, footsteps crushing leaves. I dashed forward in time to see a man vanish through the bushes. There was something eccentric about the way the man kept glancing over his shoulders that instinctively made me follow: the way he hugged the darkness. He looked nervous and even scared and deep inside I prayed that he would lead me to Sarafina. I followed stealthily. What are you doing George? I questioned my own judgment. Diving into the forest in the middle of the night was a bad idea - incongruous. Something stirs in the air, I remembered my father’s words.
Finally the trees became sparse and an array of caves appeared. A crowd of murmuring villagers was gathered in front of the caves and I moved closer, looking for one, until I saw her – Sarafina! Hidden in the bushes, I searched her face and saw nothing out of place. Everybody was dressed weird, I mean, cowhides and animal skins, kind of like witchdoctors. A huge smokeless bone fire blazed the middle. Machetes, spears and home made rifles glittered under a full moon and a shudder ran down the nape of my neck. What was happening? This wasn’t a normal ritual: this was something else. I was about to find out.
A goat’s throat was slit and every boy and girl was told to take a sip of the blood. I could tell that it was more than just normal blood because I saw Sarafina’s eyes turn all white after taking a sip. She looked dazed or hypnotized, I couldn’t tell the difference. This was an oath, I realized as I listened to the words spoken out aloud. Being a British African, I pretty much new the native language. All the kids took the oath and swore to protect the land, take it back from the white man and kill anybody who stood in the way. For the first time in my life, a cold reality dawned on me – I was a white man. I was now really afraid as I listened to Sarafina repeat the words and I knew that it was time to go!
Suddenly a huge hand appeared from nowhere and grabbed my shirt. I fought but it was futile.
“We found this one in the bushes,” a deep voice roared as I was carried and thrown into the open. I rolled on the ground then quickly stood up. All eyes turned on me and I wanted to dig a hole and hide.
Silence. Shock, confusion and then … here it comes, I thought – anger. “Kill the little master!” The chant grew stronger by the minute and feet stamped and shook the ground.
I looked around in panic and saw Sarafina standing to the side, alone, watching me nonchalantly.
“Sarafina!” I yelled. “Sarafinaaaa!”
She looked me dead in the eye and then turned and walked into the darkness. I had never felt so alone, so betrayed, and it hurt. Sarafina? I was an alien, a personae non-grate.
“Kill the little master!” the chants continued.
“Wait!” Another voice. Much more composed and wise. It was the real witchdoctor. I could tell the difference because of the white and black paintings on his face. “Lock him up.” The witchdoctor touched my face with calloused hands. “At the crack of dawn, we will offer him to the gods. He will make a good sacrifice. No blood shall be wasted.”
Everybody agreed and I was locked in a wooden cage to await my fate. All was quiet a few hours later and I shivered from a cold gust of wind. How could I have been so stupid to think that Sarafina cared for me? How could I have thought of her as my future wife? My dad had been right. These people were not to be trusted.
I was half asleep when I heard an axe crush into my cage. I looked up and saw Sarafina hacking through wood with all her might. Her face personified anger and determination. My heart skipped with joy as I realized that Sarafina did care for me.
“Run George! Follow me!” Sarafina whispered urgently.
I dashed through the broken cage and headed for the trees hot in Sarafina’s steps. I couldn’t help noticing how fast she was. We ran for a long time through dark bushes and trees until finally when we were sure that nobody was following, we slowed down and walked.
“Shssssss…” she cut me off. “The forest has ears.”
It was at this juncture that I realized that Sarafina wasn’t just another normal girl: my dilemma at her hut was put to rest. We walked through the night and at the crack of dawn the forest finally came to an end. We walked through hilly land until a small town finally emerged below us: an array of wooden shops and restaurants with corrugated roofing. The ground here was red volcanic soil and only a few early birds graced the streets, mostly farmers carrying milk tanks.
“Thank you for saving me Sarafina,” I said as we sat down outside the town. And then Sarafina blew a gasket.
“What’s wrong with you?” She yelled. “What were you doing in the forest?” I opened my mouth to answer but the glitter in her eye hushed me up. “How could you be so stupid?” She said in bewilderment.
Her anger took me by surprise and my words faltered. “You didn’t wave at me Sarafina and I knew something was wrong.”
“What!” Her stare unnerved me. “We don’t even know each other. I don’t even know your name?” She had a point I realized.
“My name is George,” I said as I watched her throw her hands up in exasperation.
“Perfect,” she said. “Guess what George, you can’t go back home now. They will kill your father if you do. You have seen their hideout… our hideout. The rebellion has begun. The people want their land back.”
“What must I do Sarafina?” I was confused. Where would I go? My father’s house was the only place I had ever called home.
Sarafina was pensive. I studied the metamorphosis of her face: anger, resignation, and then, concern. “You are the only one who can bring peace to Africa George,” she said. “You are the chosen one.”
“What? What are you saying Sarafina?”
She sighed. “I don’t know George, but I felt it last night. You are a white man born in Africa. You are as much an African as I am. You are the bridge between our people.”
I finally understood.
“George?” Sarafina said as she softened her tone. “I can’t go back either. I betrayed my people.”
I weighed my next words carefully. “You are the chief’s daughter?”
She raised her head and smiled, her first smile. Her teeth were as white as milk. “You are not so foolish after all,” she jested and I smiled too, feeling the tension ease off my body.
Her face grew solemn again. “Together, you and I, we have to find a way to bring peace to Africa. Together we will make our own destiny.”
Suddenly I was happy. As long as I had Sarafina beside me, I would be okay. Everything would be okay. Africa would be okay.
“So where do we start?” I asked her. She sounded wise beyond her age.
Sarafina stood up. “We head to the other side of Mt. Kenya,” she said.
I looked at her in shock. “To the Maasai land? Are you crazy? The Maasai are the most feared natives in all of Africa.”
“Exactly,” Sarafina said, “We go to the Maasai land George. This war will be long and cold. It will be spoken off for many generations after we are gone. Many innocent people will die in the struggle: many will be tortured. But nobody will dare mess with the Maasai tribe!” Sarafina unclenched her fist and I took her hand in mine. She smiled at my firm grip, my initiative. The dawn light hit her face, her hair blew in the breeze; she looked like the cover of a beauty magazine.
The sun slowly rose above the hills of Mt. Kenya, the people in the little town begun to stir. Together, hand in hand, we took the first step. The future was ours to take, maybe.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...