My Lost African Memories… How Could I Forget His Name? Why I Cried Today.

imageI Put My Head On The Table And Cried….  over the lost memories. I’m kind of a wreck today, all sparked by this photo.

Here is my wisest and most sincere advice to you, to anyone going to Africa, Asia or wherever. Extended stay, or short stay.

Journal, JOURNAL, Journal, or the memories will be lost forever.

Be honest about how you feel, what you are struggling, perplexed, excited, hopeful, and heartbroken about. Summarize your encounters, conversations, and how you spent time with people. What you learned, what insights (positive or negative) you gained about the people, place, history, culture or context. Tell the stories of how the people laugh, cry, celebrate and are heartbroken where you are.  Let those recorded memories guide others through your life as you work through the international life. Your friends who receive that journal will get sick of your ramblings, mine do.  But the memories , the people, and the living stories you have with them are too priceless to loose. Somewhere along the line you may have one, even if it is only one, distant relative, or a great great grand child who wants to know what made his grandfather or grandmother tick… why they went to Africa… Asia …..or….
And they will know your story. Your ordinary human story of a weak and fallen man, who had a big heart for a people.

We lived in Ivory Coast from 1995-2000, and I was looking at  old pictures today and was posting them on FaceBook to the few Ivorians I know on there.  It still blows me away that at least six of my former Ivorian colleagues, and forever friends, are on FB today. Things have certainly changed.

Anyway, I looked at this photo, and I remembered where he lived, many of the things we did in his village together. He was one of the kindest gentle souls I knew in Ivory Coast.  But I could not remember his name. I’m not even certain where this photo was taken, probably around 1996.

How come I could not remember his name when I saw the picture?  Seriously,  I was blank, and I panicked. And really, honestly, it broke my heart. I had to stop what I was doing and I put my head down on the table and I cried like a baby, and now several hours later, as I write this, I’m still a mess.  For three reasons.

First, it felt like I betrayed him and my life-time in Ivory Coast. He was in many of my training classes, we had so many bush conferences, and planned so many events together… so many things we did for his village together, and I went blank on his name … for way too long. How could I forget raw life encounters in the bush with these men? We slept, ate, and worked side by side  in the some of the the most remote villages in the country. How could I forget any of these people I love so deeply?

Secondly, I realized that the memories are fading and a great sadness came over me.. My life of twenty years ago in Côte D’Ivoire Africa is fading. The old memories are dropping off, as I add new ones on this end in Mali. However, frankly, I don’t want to loose them. Because they are my first memories of West Africa. My first encounters, and they were the most vivid, well, they used to be, and now they are fading or gone.

Thirdly, how little we now know about the lives of most people we left behind in Africa.  A few get on the computer, email, or Facebook, but most don’t. We loose all contact and news with most people, especially those  in the bush…. I was last in Ivory Coast in 2009, and I can’t recall if I even got to see Ambroise then or not. I don’t even know if he is still living near Adjamé, or even if he is alive, or ever got married at a ripe old age? So I asked an Ivorian on Facebook about his news just now. I love the guy, but I just don’t know anything anymore. Makes me sad about this reality of life today.

In Ivory Coast, from 1995-2000, I used to write a journal three or more days a week and send it by email to hand selected people. It recorded the good bad and the ugly. They heard stories from the inside raw fact. Not the glossy pasteurized Newsletter versions. It was called The Rayner Rambler. But, I lost five years of those notes and journals in a computer crash. Some people still had a few of the old emails on their computer, and they printed off and sent me what they had not deleted.  I may have about two of the later years from 1998- 2000, But 1995- 1998 is all but lost, forever.

In the copies I have, I read things that I have long since forgotten, have never told anyone else. Those thoughts would be lost forever, except that the old email journals flame my memories, and it is alive and vivid again and I remember in great detail.  Without those few remaining paper reminders… much of my first Africa story is gone.

Today, it is breaking my heart to know even the bigger details are getting sketchy.  I forgot his name.

When we came to the field, our mentors Lew & Vida Cass were in their 60’s and had served in seven countries for over forty years. Their kids were raised in Indonesia. Lew passed of Cancer after only a few, though rich for me, years together in Ivory Coast. Vida returned to Canada in 1997,  However, Vida still received and read my Rayner Rambler avidly until 2000, at which time we moved home to Canada too. She followed my journals during five short trips back to West Africa between 2003-2009.  When we began work in Mali, West Africa again in 2011, Vida has again been an avid encourager, follower and reader of my Sikasso Journal, which only 19 select people get almost every day, at the end of each day in Mali. She often responds with some good humor, insight, and wisdom. She is living on Prince Edward Island now too, and recently moved in to an extended care facility. However, her heart is still out there in the nations, and from her IPad she still responds to many of those journal entries.

When we first arrived in Ivory Coast Vida told us to save all those Rayner Ramblers from 1995-2000. But we were young, and thought nothing about it at the time, so those paper memories were  not properly safeguarded. Now, Vida tells Lynn often,  “I hope you are keeping those Sikasso Mali Journals filed and some place safe, so that your kids and grandkids can read them some day.   She often said that so many of her International life memories were simply gone.  That is unfortunate, because  their life encounters, stories and gained humor and wisdom, must have been incredible over those forty years. Protect those stories, those conversations, those encounters

So Journal, JOURNAL, Journal…. sketch them down, and secure them safely, where they can be found one day by your great grandchildren.

Back to the story at hand… 

It finally came to me. His Name is Kuadio Kuadio Ambroise. He is Baoulé, living in an Attie people region of Ivory Coast. His village is fifty kilometers off the road, on the South West edge of the Koumé River (Comoé) I wrote this about him in 2007. Though the story context is 2005.

Jewels in an African’s Crown

Kuadio Ambroise’s face slowly turned into a smile, and so did mine,  that soon became a full grin as all the men began to sing together for the evening. Yes, sing, and powerfully so.  I had forgotten the power and passion with which my African brothers sing. When these men sing at night, they sing loud. I am sure the whole village could hear us as I chocked back tears of joy to be with them again.
This was the beginning of a week long meeting where we were to plan our strategy for the next year. We sing every night for five nights while we ate and slept together in the village of Adou. I was invited back to run this short course, and I was glad to reconnect with these men.
Kuadio Ambrose is a single man who lives eight km in the woods from the nearest village (Adjame is 40 km in the bush from a paved road), where he works his fields all week. His small mud house by his fields is referred to as a “campement”. Kuadio Ambrose walks 8 km each way to Adjame to lead a group of people every week.He was almost in tears that night when he gave these words to his brothers near the end of the evening.
“What have I got back home? I go out to the campement and there’s nobody there. I work all day in the field and I come home to nobody. I walk 8 km to the village, and I walk 8 km back home at night, and what do I have to look forward to when I get home? But when I am together with my brothers and sing like this, it encourages my heart.”
He was at the point in life that the girls though he was too old to marry now. Brother Kudaio Amboise, I’m praying for you today, out there in that nameless bush where you scratch a living. You encourage my heart too. When I think of all you do, with what little you have been given, and for the little thanks you receive for doing it, brother, I know your crown will have many more jewels than mine, and you deserve them most.
Did you hear me?
JOURNAL, Journal, Journal…. or Blog Blog Blog . I think Journals are better, because you can say things you can not put out there in open air. So if you blog, let the posts rise out of your nitty-gritty detailed journal.

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