“This desert is a place of life; We live here crouched between time and space; where we long to dance.” (Mango Elephants In The Sun: Susana Herrera)
Awaking, I sat up, stretching for a very long time, to loosen the stiffness that normally comes with sleeping on a thin plastic mat on the hot sand of West Africa.
Rubbing my eyes, I could see the hazy sun just getting ready to peek over the horizon. Through my thoughts came the the noise of a village waking and beginning life again. The donkeys, the sheep, the chickens, the sound of children calling to each other as they ran and played together, the clank of pans as women began to cook the meagre meals that are routine in such a difficult place. As I deeply inhaled, the riveting smell of an African village transitioned between moments of sweet and pungent, something only those who have been there understand, but can never adequately describe.
I swung my feet around and placed them on the dry parched West African soil, wiggling my toes in the powdery dust. I am still stunned how dry season brings on a whole meaning to the word “dry” in the Sahel of Africa, only a few hundred kilometers from the thirsty grip of the Sahara desert.
As I look around, I see an old man with a sack over his shoulder heading for the fields to work for the day,
“i Ni Sogoma”, good morning, he calls,
“Mba, i Ni Sogoma..”, I’ve received your greeting, and good morning to you, I reply .
Somogow ka kene”, is the family well, I ask.
“Owo, ka Kene” Yes, they are well.
Now standing, and looking in all directions, I realize this place is for me. There is a longing to deeply, and irreversibly, love and serve these people. I turn my head and see my still sleeping wife, amazed at the courage and great depth of this precious woman, who would lay at my side in this dusty place.
As I put on my sandals I reflect back to the day, years ago now, when I realized, almost confessed, that I could not go back to serving as I had been for a time. I made the choice to trade the four walls of an office, to be surrounded by walls of people instead.
Pushing my hands in my pocket, I rub a line in the soil with my sandal, and ponder why I revert back to that sometimes, knowing that every time I do, something inside me shrivels up and dies. I am aware that I’m wired different than a lot of folks However, it’s more than that; all I know is that this place is where I am to dance my story! Living, breathing, laughing, sharing, and belonging to these people. There have been times when I have forgotten how to dance. Doing what good folks do, you know. But there was really no dance inside.
Resolved, I take one more deep breath and I awkwardly do an African dance toward the opening to our court yard, and as I clear the gate and shuffle onto the path, whatever possessed me I don’t know, but I jumped up sideways and clicked my heals. The two ladies pounding Millet across the path see me, smile and giggle, thinking who knows what.
Hopefully, I will never forget how to dance among the people again. Have you forgotten how to dance?
“I don’t want to be an outsider; I don’t want to be full of fear; I don’t want to resist this adventure. I want to become part of this desert, this village, these people, these laughing children. My body is filling with Africa’s Spirit. (Mango Elephants in the Sun: Susana Herrera)
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…. a time to dance..” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4b)
Why are we so afraid to give in to the dance of life? Why do we pull back from the joyful rich depths of dancing with, and for, the love of a woman, a man, a cause, or a need, a people, a place? We must learn what to fear and what not to fear.
“But I was frightened of everything that moved – every insect, every animal. My Grandmother would sometimes try to reason with me ‘A wild horse that bolts at every moving thing stumbles and breaks its leg,’ she told me. `As you run from your small insect you may fall onto this bush and die, because it is poisonous. You may fall onto this mound and die because it hides a snake. You must learn what to fear and what not to fear” (“Infidel” Ayaan Hirsi Ali, her Somali Grandmother said it to her.)
Where do you long to Dance? For whom will you Dance? But, please, please, dance with someone.
The day ended, and I am walking back to our modest home, sweaty, dusty, tired. I shake my head as I remember how my tongue tripped over this language so many times today. But the old men just laughed and they slapped me on the back, making fun of Andy Coulibaly’s struggle with the language. But they seem happy that we came. Coulibaly is now my African name. An old man adopted me and gave me his family name – I am now a Coulibaly.
As I approach our simple home, I see my little “Dougnon”. Lynn Dougnon, my wife, given a Dogon name, is sitting with a group of ladies talking and laughing and they are all working on something in the cooking pot. It’s good to see her making relationships with these women. She springs to her feet , like she always does when she sees me, and I like this kind of love. We give a hearty wave to the ladies and turn to head home, enjoying the last rays clinging to a hazy sunset horizon, where the sun has already dipped down, and despite all the struggles, the unanswered questions , we smile, because we danced in Africa.