scared thrilled scared thrill scared thrilled

I find most things in life both scary and thrilling. I suppose I should hope it's always this way, but sometimes it feels like an awful lot of work.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A letter to a friend.

Below is a letter to a friend. I´ve included it here and I hope he doesn´t mind.

Dear Mark,
You gave me three material gifts on my departure from Seattle, and I think it proper to describe to you their utilisation on my trip so far. You gave other, non material gifts of course, and these I hold in my heart and use every day. For them I will thank you in person next time we meet. The gifts materio:
1.Helly Hanson Anorak. Red. Folds into a pouch.
2. This journal, in which I am writing.
3. REI soft-shell. Black with pit vents and waterproof zippers.
1. Anorak
This piece I have used just once, though I will say the occasion had such great need of it that I would gladly carry the tiny red package through many months of non usage in order to have had it available. A `rain coat`by definition, its location of use was, ironically, the Sahara. There is a train which carries iron-ore from mines in the deep Sahara of Mauritania all the way to the coastal city of Noadhibou for transfer to waiting ships. On the return journey the wagons which had carried the iron ore are empty. As is only possible in Africa, such an arrangement means that the big iron wagons are free to carry npaying passengers, along with their assorted packages, livestock, furnishings, vegetables, etc deep into the desert. I joined the hundreds waiting next to the tracks in the afternoon sun for the train to stop, and scrambled onboard into a wagon near the train~s end. I don~t know what iron-ore looks like, but judging from the the thick black residue coating the insdie fo the wagon I would guess it resembles coal. There was a fine black dust covering everything, though the iron of the wagon itself was black as well. The lightest touch to any surface left the hand covered with a greasy black soot. I stretched my raincover over my backpack and brought out the first of your gifts, the anorak. It provided a perfect barrier against the blowing dust. With the anorak covering my torso and arms, the hood drawn tight around my neck and a scarf wrapped around my head and fae, the only part open to the dust was eyes and hands. The first four hours of hte journey we were enveloped in the blowing and swirling iron ore. I imagined it filtering deep into my lungs, coating them in black.After the first four hours the iron ore had mostly blown off and we were eating the desert dust kicked up by the 2.5 km length of the train ahead of us. This was far preferable, as it seemed to me much healthier and the black of hte wagon began to be covered in a layer of white dust.
We left Noadhibou around 2 or 3, in the heat of the day. The anorak, performing its intended function, kept all external elements out and all internal elements in. The wind at full speed minimized the sweltering effect, but each time the train stopped at a village I could feel the sweat starting to run beneath my protective shell. But then the train would begin again and my own temperature would level out. I would suggest an anorak, like your generous gift, to anyone else taking this journey. It was perfect.
The atmosphere in the wagon was congenial. There were perhaps 12 others, plus the three Japonese tourists and myself. Some of the men had bags of sand which they poured into the corners of the wagon to make beds for the coals which would heat the tea. Tea was made and passed around. Most Mauritanians, and Western Saharans as well, carrying with them at all times a small tea set. It consists of:
-a small stainless steel teapot, often painted with a thick green lacquer. Usually old and battered, but beautiful to my eye in its miniiarized mimicry of the shapes that poured the strong black tea of my childhood.
-three small glasses, chipped and cracking
-a ridiculous quantity of sugar
-a metal tin of green tea
-a bag of fresh, sometimes not so fresh, mint.
The third glass is for keeping the froth of the high pouring of the first pot in order to start the frothing pour of the next pot. Like sour batch bourbon.
It was too loud in the wagon for easy talking, but some communication was made shouting style. The guitar was produced and I played country music, surrounded by clapping men, pairs of shining eyes from the depths of their long turbans. The guitar was passed around and performed its function of lowering barriers and equalizing everybody. I can only say it has been the best travelling companion imaginable.

The trip lasted some 13 hours. We]d begun under the full sun, so had seen the Sahara pass through all of its daily phases, save the sunrise. As the light began to fall, the shadows of dunes and scrubby trees stretching westward, the desert took on a warm and reddish glow. It softened and revealed all the contours which had been washed away under the midday sun. Occasionally we would pass herds of camels, grazing on who knows what. Small villages went by with the men waving and the children running and shouting after the train, the women of course shut inside. I murmured quiet apologies to each little village we passed for the dust storm we left in our wake. Occasionally the train would stop to pick up more passengers. Black and dusty bodies would emerge from the wagons, the passengers scampering down to kneel in the sand to relieve themselves, quick before the thunder of the train pulling at its clanging connections 2.5km away signalled the shocking jolt of departure. The train started slow, and catching it up was no problem if you didn]t wait too long. The real danger was to be climbing the ladder or straddling the wall of the wagon when the train gave its thunderous jerking start. In my mind these have been the most dangerous occasions of my journey so far.
Oh, and the stars in the desert night are incredible!

2.This Journal:
The heat of Africa has undone the glue keeping the leather cover bound to the paper. After breakfast i will see if i have a needle strong enough to stitch the two together. I~m nearly halfway through this notebook. At this rate I will easily fill all the pages before leaving Africa. This will mark the first time in my life that i have actually filled an entire journal. What is usually a guilt-induced chore, journaling, has become a real joy. Also, the impossibility of venting electronically (bloggy style) has made these pages the sole recipients of my recorded thoughts.

Number Three. The Soft Shell (ooh, i could use a taco right about now)
You referred to this jacket as `your piece` and a security blanket. In the last six weeks it has been both of those things. I have felt that sense of invulnerability in its tight and warm hold. The design is really a work of genius, undoubtedly the best designed garment i have ever worn. I had thought it would become impractical as I moved south. I think i imagined i would lose need of it somewhere in Mauritania, but en effet I used it as near as two nights ago, lost on the sea off the coast of Guinea Bissau.

It has proven useful in all climates so far. From the rain and cold of Paris where, combined with a couple of layers and a heavy scarf, it was enough to keep me warm, to the muggy chill of the nights in Guinea Bissau. A quick explanation of the last time I used it, as I have already recorded this event in previous pages: I was in a boat carrying myself, 5 others and a giant ice making machine from Bissau to one of the more remote islands of hte Bijagos Archipelago. Our boat lost power and we were stranded at sea, the five hour trip becoming something like 27. We ran aground three times during the night. I was glad for your soft shelf figt, as it kept me warm during hte night and gave me the invincible feeling required to fall asleep, perched on a gas canister on a pitching boat somewhere off the coast of Africa.

Thank you for all these three gifts. They have all served me very well. More, thank you for the invaluable gifts of your friendship and your hospitality. Mostly, for your belief in me, for your belief that I have something to contribute in this strange and difficult world. I truly cherish your friendship and lean on the memories of my time as your employee, your friend and your houseguest.

Warmest Regards from Warmest Africa,



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