Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Fog of Life

In the summer of 1983, I traveled to what was then called Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). I spent six weeks showing the Jesus Film with Campus Crusade.

That first night when we arrived in the hot, chaotic airport, I couldn't really see anything of the countryside. Our luggage and selves were hustled through customs with big African men shouting and smiling and waving and grabbing. Our entry to Africa remains a blur in my memory - bright flourescent lights and wide open doors and heat. It was already so hot.

We stuffed ourselves into old taxis and drove on bad roads for miles and miles, flying by trees (those Belgians thought tree-lined streets the bomb, apparently). When we arrived at our destination, we were ushered into tiny quarters at a Catholic monastery. The odd number of college girls meant I got a dorm to myself.

The little room was bare, with a cot and a nightstand. A dingy mirror hung on the wall with a pedastal sink beneath it. Exhausted after the long flight from Europe that began in New York, I collapsed into bed.

The next morning, unfamiliar bird song roused and reminded me that I was a long way from home. I padded to the door, barefoot, in my nightshirt, nothing beneath it but my bare body. Moist air slipped under the doorway, lifting the shirtails, embracing my skin. I cracked the door open; where was I? Had I walked through the wardrobe?

In an instant, the warm fog transported me to the center of the little garden. I stood under thick, green, rubber tree plant leaves, receiving their blessing. Red hibiscus flowers popped through the mist like lover's lips. Insects and birds sang to me, called to me, prayed for me. Soft grass cushioned my feet.

I opened my eyes wide, but could hardly see. I stood still... watching, waiting.

Every cell in my body vibrated.

I raised my arms over my head and turned my face to the sky (filled with low-hanging clouds). Life, fog, warmth—covered and penetrated me, right through to my insides. My Garden of Eden. Nearly naked, not ashamed, safe in the bosom of Africa. I wanted to hug the earth and leave the ground all at once.

Some time later (I lost all track of time), another door creaked open and two giggling American co-eds bounded out of their quarters, heading to the veranda for our breakfast of crusty bread and nescafe with evaporated milk. I came to and found that I was starving.

On mornings like today, where the mist rolls in and the humidity rises from the topsoil, I am transported back to that African garden. It's good to remember that one of the more honest, transcendent moments of my life happened in a warm, embracing fog.

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