it has been difficult for me to write lately. partly because days need space for words to creep in. partly that, but partly because across the street, a music store has opened. perhaps "music store" makes it sound a bit grand. it is a tin shack with half a dozen tapes and one gigantic speaker. at 8 am, their generator starts up and, seconds later, booming congolese tunes strain the speakers. i just sat down, enjoying some quiet for the first time this evening, hoping that a spare, bare wire may have dropped into a puddle and stunned the owner (temporarily). alas. i have been intending for a few weeks to write a smart ass post about how avant garde the minimal techno scene is here, how it was so minimal and meandering that you couldn't even find the beat. found it.
i'll be right back.
it is quite late. near eleven. deng graciously turned the music first down, then off. i have finished a preliminary pack. six months worth of living. it took me twenty minutes.
the abyei night. the clicking of crickets, clacking of generators. every few minutes a bat flutters in, swoops and dives its way through the crowd of insects hovering around me. mosquitoes dance over my hands then land. i blow them off. a vine that i have been watching for a few days has now crept into my tukul, and decided, for some reason, to turn left and follow the wall. i marvel at the gentle insistence of nature. quietly, it would reclaim this tukul if i let it. only bats and bugs and vines and clicking crickets. it is one of the things that gives me some solace. if we humans don’t figure it out, if we use everything until there is nothing more to use, and slowly or suddenly join fossil record, it’s ok. there are other things besides us.
mosquito whining in my ear.
one night, a month ago, i stayed up late talking to Maurizio. he told me how he had studied nuclear engineering because he wanted to know more about the universe, more about that one billionth of second right at the beginning where before it, there was nothing, and after it, everything. everything.
i told him that when i finished in africa last time, traveling with a photographer and writing about disease, she suggested that we work together again. i asked her on what. she wanted to travel the world and take pictures of people dancing. i suggested to her that we go looking for magic.
i felt foolish when i told him the story. i couldn’t explain it well. i didn't mean voodoo, or trickery. i meant the unexplainable. like that one billionth of a second. the deep mystery of life and of time.
how do we know what life is? why is it that if we all read the headline tomorrow "LIFE DISCOVERED ON MARS", it could describe a lichen, a bacteria hovering around a hot vent, or a wise wrinkled martian, but we would all know it was life, instantly, everyone. we would all recognize that silky equation where one doesn't stay one, it grows, then changes, then becomes two. why that? how amidst all of the cold rock hurtling through cold space did this happen? sure, water meets carbon dioxide meets the light from a star, lipids form a bilayer and one of the little bubbles folds around a delicate piece of protein that twists on itself and pokes through its slippery cover. and then? why does that make two? why that silky equation?
though unknowable, its beauty is unmistakable. but that is what i meant by magic. and that is what this work is about. and the writing. we don't have to look as far as mars, only around us.
we live in a blessed time where we have the chance to see it as never before. and the true gift is, we aren't only resigned to recognizing it, we are given the chance to care for it. to let it grow. while we will never be able to answer the question, "why are we?", we can ask with all the knowledge of where we are, "where to from here?". we have never known "here" so well, never had so many tools.
this is our question. though its answer will not tell us why we are, in it we will discover what we are.
i would not be here, not in abyei nor in front of this computer screen, if i didn’t believe that what prevents us from treating the world and its living things more carefully is not indifference, but distance. the distance from the plastic wrapper in the gutter to the overfull landfills teeming with garbage. the distance from the groaning shelves in toronto’s organic grocery stores from the people in akur eating grass. that's it. it is easy to remove for me. i can come here. i can only write about it for those who cannot. but that's what i try.
i left. just now. i am on call. my last. i was called to the bedside of the woman i spoke of earlier, the one whose perineum was burned so badly after delivering her baby. she has been in the hospital for weeks. her fever would come, and go. she was losing weight, refusing to eat. tonight, just now, she started to lose her breath. when i put my stethoscope to her chest, it sounded like she had inhaled a handful of marbles. i gave her some oxygen, some lasix. i could think of nothing else to give, so i left. she won't live the night.
allow me to answer one question. if this woman was in toronto, would she be alive tomorrow? yes. absolutely. and it is my belief that there is a part in all of us, as life not just as humans, but a deep integral part of that silky equation, that knows this is wrong. the problem is, i can't answer alone what to do about it. we will everyone's help with that.
it is late, this is long. my last day tomorrow. i feel sad. i don't want to leave. i worry about everyone i leave behind.
i just stepped out of my tukul to get some water. the night is clear, silver pepper stars. the milky way is so bright, a smear of a million suns. did you see it?
from nothing, everything.