Wednesday, June 11, 2008

25 years ago

Zaire, 1983
I spent a summer in what was then called Zaire back in 1983. I joined a group of college kids led by Campus Crusade for Christ to show the Jesus Film in remote villages. The experience of that summer remains one of the most powerful in my memory. There was something about Africa: jungly, wild, unwilling to be American yet the Zairois (as they were called) were fascinated by our money, our privilege, our ability to leave at will.

We Campus Crusaders slept in huts with bats in them, we made beef stew with grizzled meat, a few carrots and potatoes and tomato paste over an open flame in a big black pot. We recruited villagers to watch the film by parading past little huts, marching through the dirt, holding signs. We'd draw children like magnets.

Many nights, I'd look up at the most starry sky I'd ever seen, watching the moon, amazed that it was the same moon I knew in smoggy Los Angeles. I've never felt so far away from the world I knew as I did in Africa.

I still remember how to say "God is good" in Lingala: Nzambe Malamu.

The people were good, and sneaky, and friendly, and under privileged, and desperate, and content, and so interesting to me. I never got enough of them.

Africa got under my skin.

Our team of college kids helped to paint and upgrade the Crusade HQ during days and weeks between outings to the bush. I got to know the staff pretty well because I spoke French, unlike the rest of the kids (got to a level of fluency I haven't duplicated since). Staff kids played with dirt clods, sticks and tire rims and bits of broken plastic. The two boys in this photograph were staff kids. They begged me to scoop them up, so I did, and one of my friends grabbed my camera and "clicked" the shot. One take. Perfect timing.

The photo hangs in my bathroom. Every day I see it in reverse reflection in the mirror as I put on my make-up. Makes me miss Zaire, that world. I also miss the "me" in that photo. The summer of 1983 represents a time in my life when I handled myself independently, when I stretched myself to do and be without reference to other people. I was as fully myself as I could be at that point in time.

In August 1983, when I boarded the plane to exit Kinshasa (capital) and head back to Europe, I remember thinking: before I know it, it will be 25 years and I will not have been back and I'll miss Zaire, wondering why I never returned. Shore 'nuff.

Where were you 25 years ago? Do you miss it?


Carrie said...

25 years ago this summer I met Will and got engaged. It was also the summer my dad died from cancer, so in major ways that year marked a turning point, or shift in my life. On the one hand I was "Daddy's girl" and I couldn't imagine life without his love and guidance. On the other hand I met this wonderful man just weeks before my dad died, and so had that joy mixed in with the grief.

For me, getting married was like someone with ADHD getting Ritalin. It was as though getting married and having that solid, sure thing got rid of so much background noise in my life. It's interesting how we are different. I seemed to accomplish very little while single. I couldn't seem to concentrate on life. I guess I hadn't thought about it in these terms, but marriage to a person I trusted was much more "freeing" than being single for me.

30 years ago this year I walked away from the race track, and on News Years Eve of that year I decided to walk away from my first marriage, as well. I don't miss the stress of those years, but I miss the horses. When I left the track I never dreamed I'd never own a horse again.

Unknown said...

I loved reading this Carrie. It is interesting that you found yourself more through your second marriage. Perhaps that is the key... you married, were on your own and then found a true partner!

For me, the time alone was short lived as I married the very next year.

Dalissa McEwen Reeder said...

25 years ago I was 14 and living out the repurcussions of having two girlfriends and three friends that were boys sleep over my house while my stepfather was away on a business trip. This was the year that I lived alone with my stepfather because I had told my Mom that I would kill myself if she made me move one more time. (We had moved multiple times before moving to PA before I turned 12 and we had Iived in PA the Iongest by the time I was 14). Anyway, after being found out by one of the boys parents, the shit hit the fan and right after schooI ended, I had to go Iive with my Mom in Virginia Beach and my stepfather never found out why untiI a few years ago. My Mom moved back to PA when schooI started again supposedIy just for me and she reminded me how I ruined her Iife everytime she drove me to highschooI in the morning and other times as weII- try starting your day with that guiIt. What's reaIIy ironic about the whoIe situation is that I was introduced to pot and hung out with boys much oIder than me that summer in VA Beach and the peopIe giving me pot were doing harder drugs as weII which I avoided. I babysat for a coupIe that had a bong setting out in pIain view in the Iivingroom- I had no idea what a bong even was at the time!

BeautifuI picture of you!

Dalissa McEwen Reeder said...

I keep coming back to this photo... I just love the angle and the smile you have on your face.