Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

The smell of the dung fire and freshly made Ugali wafted into the dark interior stirring the old man’s senses as it crept temptingly under the door of animal skins he had tanned with his own hands. The memories of the corn mush cooking outside his hut reminded him of happier days when he was a boy. Trying to stifle a low moan he rolled his tired bones off of the soft pallet on to the dirt floor and opened eyes that had once sparkled like the obsidian he used as the killing end of his spear. Now his eyes were clouded like the mists that rolled up the mountains in the early morning. Faces that were once so familiar were now dimmer, distances he had once explored now disappeared. His thoughts were no longer about the vast herds he once led, but about how he now sat idly outside of his hut, and of course there was the thought of the ultimate humiliation, that of being carried to the next campsite on a stretcher like a baby. Those sour images accompanied him as he contemplated the day he was about to face.

“Am I really too old to be of use to anyone as my son has accused me?” The argument still sat like a burning rock in the pit of his stomach. It wasn’t often that words passed between the two of them, but last night they just seemed to spill like boiling oil off the tongue of the rash young man who looked so much like he had when he was a young warrior. His son was a man whose dreams didn’t include staying within his community, with the clan of his father who was one of their elders, the clan of his sister and brothers, where they had all grown up, where his uncles and other young men had faced the rites of passage in the same manner for all of memory, as all young men did when they had become warriors.

“It would take a miracle, as those who believe in the Christian Maker, would say, to make his world right again the old man thought.” “His other children loved and honored him, but they didn’t speak to him in anger and tell him he was just a useless old man, maybe his eldest son was right, maybe he wasn’t as wise as others said he was.”

The Gorge

The young couple were barely out of breath, even after making the strenuous climb up the rocky, twisting paths that led them higher onto the Alduvai Gorge or Oldupai as the neighboring Maasai called it. They hiked this area often and had become as adept as mountain goats in avoiding the rocks and boulders that lined the edge of the deep gorge. The sun warmed them enough that they shed their sweatshirts for the cooler cotton tee shirts they wore underneath. Stopping to sip from water bottles they had filled before leaving home in Arusha, the young woman decided to take just another minute to lift her camera and snap photos of the views spreading out before them. Aiming and focusing she documented sights she never tired of, sights she had grown up with and still felt in awe of.

The young man glanced over at his friend in admiration watching as she lifted her camera. Her hair had a beautiful red sheen that reflected the sunlight and reminded him of the color of the chestnut horses that ran freely on the ranch he grew up on in the American west. Tanzania never failed to amaze him with its width and breadth of beauty. Every day here was a new adventure and the young woman by his side was the best guide he could ask for. She was born in Canada, but raised right here in Tanzania and knew the area like a road-map, he felt confident they would be safe wherever their adventures took them in this vast country.

He had volunteered to work for the mission program her parents headed in Africa, and there was never a day of this past year that he regretted the decision that had brought him to this place. The friendships he had made here just added to the wealth of acquaintances he had accumulated in his 23 years, and the depth of commitment this young woman and her family had to their faith bolstered him in a way he had never dreamt possible.

Glancing behind him he said with some urgency, “Sarah, I think we’d better think about heading back down this mountain. Those clouds look menacing and look, there’s lightning on the other side of the savannah.” There smell of rain permeated the air and he was concerned that they were in for a wet, uncomfortable walk down the path they had trekked up just a couple of hours before.

The Race

“Oh Jake, a little bit of water won’t hurt us, it’ll just wash some of the dust off, and actually might feel good after all the exercise we’ve gotten today.” The young woman said as she turned to face him with a radiant smile that lit up a pretty face tinged pink from sunshine and the exertions of the day’s hike. Her brown eyes had a mischievous glint in them as she spun around and looked over her shoulder and said; “I’ll race you down.”

Even as the words were said Sarah was already sprinting over the pebbles and grooves of the dirt path that had been created hundreds of years earlier, starting as a narrow animal path and evolving into the trail it was today when the Masaai started taking this same route in their wanderings.

Laughing, she raced out of Jake’s sight speeding around sharp curves, pulling her camera tighter to her body, protecting it from bumping into the rock wall that rose up on her right.

As Jake had predicted the rains started, first permeating the air with a heady scent of moisture and wet earth, a perfume like no other on this earth The storm continued as a spattering of wet onto the dusty path, wetting her bare arms with one, then two, then a multitude of chilly plops of rain, and before she knew it the downpour started in earnest, soaking her to the skin, quickly blocking her vision as a mist lifted like a curtain when the cool wet fell against the hot dry creating a wall of steam.

“Hey, wait up, Jake yelled, we have all afternoon to get to the bottom.” Turning quickly, he chuckled as he grabbed his pack off of the ground and started walking quickly toward the curve in the path where he had watched her turn.

This woman will certainly keep me on my toes, she has more energy than all three of my sisters put together back home,” he thought.

Suddenly, without warning, Jake choked at the scene that was unfolding in front of him. The narrow path where Sarah had just been was falling away into the canyon below, as if some entity were eating away at it, rocks and clods of dirt were sailing off into the depths. Sarah was now just a flash of color against the brown and sage green of the gorge walls as she tumbled over and over down the steep incline of clay and stone, slowing as she slammed into large boulders that had been planted eons before by a volcano that once shook the area. He watched in horror as his friend slid further and faster downward, slowing and speeding up again and again as she hit bushes that seemed to be reaching their branches out to catch hold of her bright yellow sweatshirt tied tightly around her waist, than just when it looked as if they would halt her careening roll those same branches would suddenly release their grip, and she would tear away once again, looking as if some giant pin ball machine were playing a game, with Sarah acting the part of the little metal ball, gravity pulling her further and further down the side of the mountain, deeper and deeper into the abyss below.


A plaintive lowing on the trail ahead alerted the young man that at least one, and maybe more of his cattle were in trouble, why didn’t I pay more attention, he thought, how could I let part of my father’s herd disappear this way?” The young man, standing tall against the dark sky looked handsome and regal dressed in a bui bui, a traditional flowing robe, a bright red pattern denoting his tribe.

Frantically he scanned the pathways, running forward, dark eyes searching from side to side as he followed the distressed sounds. He knew he shouldn’t have driven the herd so close to the base of Oldabai, his cousin had warned him over and over again, saying they needed to pay more attention to what they were doing, but what did his cousin know, he was just a young boy? Besides, paying attention to the herds wasn’t nearly as interesting as planning, and dreaming about a different kind of life, a life in the city, where he could make lots of money, he would be important and be able to buy things he could never have staying here in the Bomo where his tribe had settled. Maybe he could even impress some city women, and not be promised to someone of his father’s choosing from the tribes nearby. Those in the city didn’t have their lives planned out before them, they could make up their own mind.

His father didn’t understand his need for excitement, he was an old man only excited about the noise and movement of the herds and the festivals of the tribe, he believed these things should be enough to make his son content, but there was no contentment for the young man in this kind of life, only an aching yearning to find something other than what he had been born into.

Yelling at his cousin to guard the main part of the herd the young man raced toward the sounds of the wayward cattle, little knowing that he was racing toward a different type of excitement, an excitement that would forever change, not only his life, but that of his whole family.

A Climb Downward

“Sarah”, oh God, please keep her safe,” Jake prayed, as he swung long legs over the side of the crumbling path, reaching for a foothold here, groping for the roots of a brush there, plants that had just moments before slowed Sarah’s fall. As his feel slipped on tufts of grass growing in clumps out of the side of this impossibly steep gorge, he kept reminding himself that he shouldn’t panic, Sarah needed him and he had to get to the bottom safely. Dirt fell from under his boots as he crept slowly from spot to spot, inching his way down, trying to reach the spot, far below, where he could see Sarah’s body laying so still.

A wadi, usually dry now flowed rapidly just inches from Sarah’s head, a rush of roiling brown water and branches cascading from the mountain above, lapped at her inert body.

Even as he slid and wormed his way down the side of the now muddy gorge the storm that had just beat down upon them with such force was now starting to slow, the once dry dirt had turned into a dangerous slippery foothold.

Just as Sarah had disappeared so quickly down the steep incline Jake’s body too seemed to take on a life of it’s own as the spot where his toes were dug in suddenly slipped away from under him. Grabbing for something to hold on to, Jake felt everything he touched tear away from the wet ground in his hands.

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