Be careful what you ask for or you might find yourself in Africa's brush, going to the bathroom in a hole in the ground! Mind you, the dirt around this hole would have been swept clean -- probably with a small broom of twigs and leaves. You wouldn't have known who performed this task, or when -- but it would be obvious that care had been taken for your comfort.
While in the middle of the village, barefooted, khanga-clad, black skinned women of undeterminable ages, with high, wet cheekbones and wise mouths would be gathered around an open fire, proudly stirring a pot of steaming thick, white maize and another of broth, rich with chicken, peppers, cabbage, eggplant -- and unfamiliar smelling spices that would capture both your nose and your imagination. The women's dark eyes and shy smiles would be welcoming, expressing their easy delight in themselves and in you.
1991 - Mystery School. I don't remember which Mystery School month it was, but on Saturday night in the Greenkill Temple, "the hundred and twenty" were dancing to Paul's evocative music, drawn into that unselfconscious whirling that felt safe to me only at Mystery School. The strobe light darted about - a fanciful contrast to Jean's intense questions as she moved among us, microphone in hand.
"What do you envision yourselves doing five years from now?" she asked. "Speak it!" Say it! What do you want to do?" I danced and listened as others responded. Then I heard myself saying, "I want to build bridges between black and white people, using kything as a means to do this." "Will you do it?" asked Jean, her microphoned voice resounding, reminding me that my response would be on tape. I answered, "Yes." and danced into the night.
Even before coming to Mystery School, I had realized that I need to know, and be known by, persons whose life stories and circumstances are significantly different from mine. But experience had taught me the painful limitation of words to provide a safe and healing channel of communion. So my heart was ready for the soul talk of Gary Zukov's Seat of the Soul, and especially, for the notion of kything in Madeleine L'Engle's Wind in theDoor.
Kything is a conscious act of spiritual presence -- an intention to commune with others at the level of soul where what may be unshared or divisive in Chronos time is bridged and compassioned in Kairos time. I envisioned that I would gather people in a format that would some how engage our souls. Little did I know what wondrous scenarios life would gather for me.
1994 - November. So there I was, in Africa, with six other people from the United States. Our hope was to discover more about our own hearts and souls through hands-on, live-in experiences with African people: we called it a pilgrimage of reverse mission.
After one day in Nairobi, five of the seven left for a Rwandan refugee camp, while Joy, a quiet, grateful woman from Maryland, and I, from High Point, North Carolina, took the "night train" in the opposite direction, traveling thirteen hours from the mountains of Nairobi to Mombasa on the coast. Our destination was Moyeni, a small Muslim village two hours by jeep into the brush. Our hostess was Mesalim Mapengo, whose extended family populated the village's seven mud-walled, thatch roofed buildings. Of the forty or fifty inhabitants, only Mesalim and her brother, Omari, spoke English.
It was in the center of this village that the maize and the stew were cooking. It was here that Joy and I were wrapped by the women in native dress - hue, colorfully patterned rectangular cloths called khangas . . . and here that laughter rippled as Joy and I awkwardly hoisted buckets to our heads and strutted about, imitating our brand new friends.
At about four o'clock in the afternoon the atmosphere of ease changed abruptly. Mesalim came to us crying "My little daughter is dying. Tumaini is dying! You must come and pray." We were led to a room where the last pieces of rough furniture were being ritually removed, leaving only a woven reed cot on which lay one and a half year old Tumaini, the youngest of Mesalim's three children. Her tiny, feverish body had been placed at the top of the cot for some of the reeds in the center had been worn through, much like my grandmother's wicker chair. All but her ashen face was covered with a brown and red khanga. Two women sat quietly re-weaving the hole, confident that Eternity would gently wait for the completion of this task.
Mesalim pushed me down at the child's head, saying, "It is God's will that you should be here today. Pray. Pray!" It was hot in the room as women and children wailed and swayed in a circle around us. "Ah-agh . . ." droned the child's grandmother, a green and yellow bird perched comfortingly on her shoulder. She came to me and placed my hand on Tumaini's forehead. "Pray," again instructed Mesalim. The scene blurred before me, then cleared as I realized my soul's connection to these women and to this place. I had indeed "been gathered" here. As if in "tongues" I prayed, and nothing was boundaried among us.... Then I was drawn up from the bed and into the dance which was now snaking in and out of the room and around the village.
I don't know exactly when Tumaini died, but sometime before dark the wailing intensified, and as I passed by the cot, her precious face was no longer visible. Through the Khanga cover, grandmother was washing the nearly shrouded body with a small bar of soap. Later in the night, Tumaini, a victim of the menacing malaria, would be prepared by the village holy man for burial. Suddenly I remembered my friend Joy and how she had been overcome with sorrow and panic earlier as Mesalim had led us to the sick child. Where, I wondered, was Joy? I found her just beyond the houses, seated under a tree, her arms tenderly enfolding Tumaini's sobbing brother and sister. Some village children squatted around them, keeping watch.... No boundaries...anywhere.
And so we were there...for the long night of mourning, and the next day for the ancient rites of Muslim burial, as the men of the village assumed their roles. They dug the tiny grave; the priest offered prayers as he knelt toward Mecca with the dead child on his lap, still wrapped in brown and red. Then the men and boys processed to the grave while Joy and I were privileged to assist in the ritual cleansing of the women.
Later food was shared, children appeared smiling and posing for more photos, and laughter returned only to be soon followed by more tears as Joy and I said our good-byes and took leave of this holy place.
Some of our soul remains.
"As a man-of-war that sails through the sea, so this earth that sails through the air. We mortals are all on board a fast-sailing, never-sinking world-frigate, of which God was the ship-wright. Thus sailing with sealed orders, we ourselves are the repositories of the secret packet, whose mysterious contents we long to learn. There are no mysteries out of ourselves." Herman Melville