I am what is referred to by some as a vivid dreamer. That is, my dreams are in color, I know that I am dreaming and I can alter them as they go along. I also can wake myself up if things get too stressful. Moreover, I generally remember a lot of them in their entirety. Sometimes, those dreams become as real in my memory as any other experience. Periodically I used to analyze which of my memories were real and which were dreams in order to purge those not real. I no longer do that. I now believe, if it is there it is as real as any memory.
I prefer sleep to being awake because on the whole my dreams are far more interesting and exciting than my waking life is. I guess that goes for most of us.
Perhaps a little over a score of years ago I dreamt I was flying in a plane. We passed from the ocean over the land somewhere in Africa where we landed. I then took a small jitney bus that drove directly from the airport into the desert. The desert was not the sandy dune desert of Lawrence of Arabia, but barren, dusty and rocky like parts of West Texas. After a day or two we arrived at a small city of mud-walled buildings. In the center of the city was a large dirt plaza filled with men with guns, shooting them into the air and shouting at people in cars or busses and stopping them as they tried to make their way through the plaza. The men seemed to be grouped into gangs with no one group in charge. They appeared mediterranean in complexion with large bushy mustaches. They wore dark pants and vests over their shirts. I assumed they were Muslims since most of them wore ragged turbans on their heads.
They would not allow our bus to continue, so I disembarked and walked into the city to search for some distant relatives whom I knew lived in the town. The relatives strangely were Armenian shopkeepers. I found their shop. I never learned what they sold there. The relatives lived above the shop. After I explained who I was, they welcomed me in. The father, a man of about 60, was relatively short statured, clean-shaven with a round face topped by a mostly bald head with a few long black hairs combed over. He had two grown sons, they were much taller than he, broad-shouldered and moustached. Strapped to their backs were guns of some sort. Their sister was a slender dark girl of about 14, I guess. She wore a light-colored dress imprinted with small pink flowers. The mother was thin like the daughter with more grey hair than the father. I told them I had been stopped by the gunmen in the plaza and I wanted to continue on to the jungle beyond the desert. He said that it would be difficult under the current chaotic circumstances to secure permission to travel beyond the City. He said he would have to think about it and promised to do his best. In the meantime, they prepared a dinner in my honor attended by the father’s brother and his family. After the dinner the brothers spoke with each other in a corner of the room out of my hearing. Eventually the father came over to me and told me that the leader of one of the strongest militia was a friend of his and he thought he could arrange passage for me.
Early the next morning after saying good-bye and thanking everyone I, accompanied the older son, returned to the plaza and after enduring several threats and insults from the militia leader, was put into an old Range Rover and allowed to continue on my way.
We drove on across that stoney dusty desert well into the early afternoon when the landscape began to change, first into scrub lands and then into a grassy savannah. Small copse of trees dotted the terrain here and there. Near to sunset we topped a small ridge and saw a little valley beyond. The savannah continued across the valley along with the dirt track we had been following until along the smaller ridge on the opposite side the green expanse of the forest began abruptly. Where the road disappeared into the trees, I could see a small village of conical mud-walled houses nestled in the shade of the trees stretched out along the road.
At sundown we arrived at the village. I got out of the vehicle at the edge of the village. About 10 or so adults and innumerable children assembled around the vehicle as I disembarked. One man approached. He seemed to be in his late twenties or early thirties. I guess he was Somali or other Cushite speaker, thin, light brown complexion and a straight narrow nose. He greeted me and asked what had brought me to the village. I answered that I had heard about what they had accomplished in creating their vast environmental and ethnological preserve and I wanted to see it for myself. This was the first time in the dream that I had become aware of what I was doing here.
He contemplated me for a moment then said, “Mama discourages casual visitors to the reserve.” At first I thought MAMA was an acronym for the NGO operating the place. I was soon disabused of that assumption when he glanced to a large woman standing off to the side surrounded by passel of young children.
She was a large woman, large indeed, about an inch or two taller than me and at least 50 pounds heavier. Her skin was a deep chocolate color and a thick dark tangled ring of hair floated around her head like Medusa’s snakes. She wore a deep blue tent like dress that fell from her shoulders almost all the way to the ground. Thick red stripes containing faint yellow pinstripes broke up the wall of blue.
“Perhaps I can persuade her to let me stay,” I said. “I don’t think so,” he responded quickly. “But it is too late in the day to send you back, so you can stay the night as our guest and if she is not too busy perhaps you can try to persuade her tomorrow.”
With that he led me into the town past several of the huts to one a little back from the road. “This is my house,” he said. “You can stay here for the evening. There is a cot in the back. You can leave your backpack there. I will show you where to wash up and you can join my family and others for dinner.”
The hut was nicely sized containing a single room. It seemed to be used only for sleeping. I found a small cot at the back and with both relief and trepidation dropped my backpack on it and rejoined my host.
He showed me to a surprisingly comfortable bathhouse with both hot and cold tubs and showers. It seemed available to both sexes.
After my bath he led me to a clearing a little way from the village. Here there were benches and a few sturdy wooden tables. Several modern grill type cookers and other tables containing copious amounts of food surrounded a large campfire around which on a variety of strange tripod like contraptions other pots and viands hung over the flames.
I met my host’s wife and their two small children. She was young and quite attractive. I am sorry to say, I no longer remember their names even though they became some of the closest friends I had even known. That’s the way it is with dreams.
The clearing filled up with what appeared to be at least a hundred adults and even more children running about. The others seemed to be a mixture of ethnicities and races, predominately African but I could see some Europeans and Asians also among the crowd.
Although I remember the food was delicious and the feeling that I enjoyed myself immensely I recall little more about the evening other than that whenever I glanced across the campfire through the flames I saw Mama on the other side staring at me with what looked like hard cold angry eyes.
After the dinner I returned to the hut, laid down on the cot and fell immediately asleep.
The next morning I awoke just as the light of predawn had made its way into the hut. My hosts and their children had already left. I dressed quickly, used the bathhouse facilities, grabbed some rolls from the breakfast tent set up near where I had dinner last night and strolled toward a large fenced in compound in a clearing in the woods about a quarter-mile or so from the village. I figured it would be a good idea for me to make myself useful around there before any meeting with the formidable Mama.
The compound contained a number of trucks and several buildings. A lot of people industriously worked or walked about. There seemed to be more people milling around here than lived in the village. I asked the first person I came upon where I could best be of help. He brought me over to one of the trucks being loaded with medical supplies and equipment. I worked throughout the day at various things not stopping at all except for a brief lunch break. At about dinnertime, I washed up and joined my host and his family at the campfire. They mentioned nothing about me leaving and seemed to expect me to spend the night again in their hut.
During dinner I asked my host a question that had been on my mind most of the day (from here on I will call him Tre because those letters are next to each other on the keyboard. His wife I will call Yu for the same reason). “Why was the work area fully equipped with modern facilities including electricity and modern plumbing while the village living area, as comfortable as it is, contained virtually none at all? Tre responded, “Because Mama believes where work is performed it should be as efficient as possible for the benefit of the work to be done and the laborers who do it. On the other hand, she believes where one lives, after accounting for health and adequate comfort, should be a frugal as possible because we owe it to the earth, it makes us more sensitive to the lives of the indigenous people in the preserve and it encourages us to share in our community.”
So, the next few days at the village continued like that, working in the compound and eating dinner by the campfire with everyone. I was even given a small hut of my own.
One day after lunch I looked out across the village into the valley. About two or three hundred yards away there stood a large outcropping of rocks. They broke into the slope of the valley and on average towered about 50 feet or so high. The outcropping extended in a curve of about seventy-five yards or so. It looked like a rough amphitheater facing down the valley. The various boulders that made up the outcropping were stepped and flat-topped further accentuating the theatre effect.
On the rocks about two-thirds of the way up sat Mama on a large flat area facing toward the sun. Around her throughout the outcropping were many children playing and jumping from rock to rock and splashing in the small rock basins filled with water from various springs that leaked through the outcropping from the valley slope that backed up against it. There were also a number of other women tending the children or sitting down talking in small groups. There were a few men about too.
I thought this would be a good chance to speak with Mama about my status, so I walked over to the outcropping. As I climbed up the rocks to where Mama sat, I saw her looking at me not unkindly. As I got near to where she was sitting I heard a rumble not too loud at first but quickly gaining in volume. Then whole valley began to shake. I turned and looked down the valley. What I saw terrified me.
I heard Mama say behind me, “Do not be afraid.”
A great brown and grey cloud billowed at the far end of the valley through which plunged a stampede of animals. Not like the great Serengeti migration where large herbivores run the gauntlet of predators but a stampede of all sorts of animals, herbivore and predator alike. Elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, wild pigs and warthogs, even monkeys and chimpanzees plunged down the valley toward us. It looked a lot like the start of the SF Bay to Breakers race. I was so frightened I considered waking myself up. But recalling Mama’s calming words, I plopped down on the nearest rock, my heart pounding almost as loud as the sounds of the hooves and paws plunging toward us.
The herd split into two, each half passing the rock outcropping on opposite sides. The others on the rocks with me clapped and laughed. Suddenly a large male lion all ruff and fangs detached itself from the herd and sprang up the rocks right toward me. It swerved just before it reached me, brushed by and bounded over the top or the outcropping to rejoin the stampede leaving me little worse for wear other than a slightly strained sphincter.
A rhinoceros bumped out of the pack stumbled up the rocks a few feet, fell down and struggled to get up again. A child sitting nearby leaned over and patted it on its horn. The beast chuffed, backed itself down and ran off.
After the animals passed leaving only the rumble of their passage further down the valley and swirling clouds of dust, everyone on the rocks clapped and cheered like the Forth of July crowds after the fireworks.
We then all walked off into the woods until we came to a stream. Everyone dove in to clean off the dust and dirt. Some removed their clothing and others jumped in clothes and all. I decided to explore the stream a bit and walked away until I could no longer hear their cries and laughter. I soon came to a place where the stream widened out into a small pool. Across the way the stream entered the pool in a small two-step waterfall. The upper stories of the forest were pulled back around the pool allowing the sunlight to flood down glittering the spray of the waterfalls and turning the bottom of the pool iridescent.
The trees surrounding the pool although open to the sun at their tops crowded the pool in a seemingly impenetrable wall. Sitting or hopping about on the branches of the trees were hundreds of birds of every color and shape of feather. Where they did not hide the trees behind from view, thousands of butterflies fluttered about filling up the spaces. Strangely there was no sound of birds calling to one another, only the thrumming of their wings and the shushing of the waterfall. After a while I began to think the whole thing was spooky and so I returned to the village.
A few days later I was invited to ride along on a truck going deeper into the preserve. I jumped at the chance. We started well before sunrise and drove through forest and savannah for several hours until the solid green wall of the jungle rose up before us. Nestled at the edge of that seemingly impenetrable mass of vegetation was a small village.
The people of the village did not appear to me to be African at all. Traditional Peoples south of the Sahara tended to be pastoralists and farmers, not hunter gatherers. Nor did they look a lot like natives of the Sahel and further south. They looked in fact more like the indigenous people in the South American rain forest or Borneo pictured in National Geographic which is where my dream probably got them from. They were mostly bronze skinned and festooned with bones and beads piercing their septum or ear lobes or hung in their hair or on strings around their necks, arms or ankles. Their hair ranged from tightly curled to early Beetles bangs. They wore various colored dyes on their faces and bodies. I did not notice any scarifications or tattoos.
They were, of course in keeping with their National Geographic genesis, mostly naked. The children, starkers, running every which way, screaming and laughing. The men, the older the more pot-bellied, bare but for a ragged cloth over their privates or nothing at all. One or two sporting a penis sheath. The women, naked breasts becoming more slab like and drooping towards their waste as they aged, here and there sported a grass kirtle or a piece of cloth or leather like the men. The younger women, their brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples protruded proudly from their chests.
For males of my age, I suspect many of us recall that time before Playboy began publication when most of us got our pre-adolescent titillation from surreptitiously staring at the brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples in the photographs of the ubiquitous National Geographic magazines of which it seemed every home had at least a modest supply. I wondered at the time, being too young and inexperienced to understand the subtleties and complexities of racial prejudice, why brown nubbins with puffy dark nipples were freely exposed while white breasts with pink nipples were covered with cloth. I concluded that to most adults white breasts with pink nipples must have appeared too horribly ugly and therefore needed to be hidden from view.
I met the representatives of the preserve, a middle-aged man and a youngish woman. They were both dressed like the other residents of the village. The man sporting a grey beard and thick white hair might have been European or Middle Eastern, but his skin was burned so dark and leathery it was difficult to tell. The woman seemed clearly of African descent. They shared the duties of providing medical services to the people of the village as well as those deeper in the jungle and conducting anthropological and sociological studies. They also accompanied and assisted scientists and others allowed into the preserve.
I was told that the residents of the village were quite antagonistic to strangers. I learned this first hand as I toured the settlement. The residents seemed happy and often laughing except when I came close. Then they became silent, sullen and almost threatening. As my guides explained, they see themselves as protectors of the preserve and everyone else as a threat. It all appeared to me to resemble the theory behind the establishment of those seed banks deep in the arctic so that in case of a disaster we would have stock to begin again. Admirable but naïve I thought .
I was taken briefly into the jungle to observe hunting by the villagers. After a lot of walking about, missed shots and mutterings they managed to bring down a small monkey with a blow gun.
All in all I was happy to leave and return to the village where I was staying.
After a few more days, I left the village to return home. I did not go back through the armed town containing my Armenian relatives, but drove on a very curvy road through some mountains. Now and then subdivision development appeared along the side of the road that seemed suspiciously like those in the foothills where I now reside. Eventually we topped a ridge where I could see the coastal plain before me and the airport. Beyond the airport was the ocean. At that point I woke up.
Over about the next year and a half, I returned to the village six or eight times. Sometimes I would fly into the airport near the ocean, at others I would find myself in the armed town and now and then I would just appear in the village itself.
The first time I returned, Mama and I became lovers.
There’s not much to tell about how our affair began. It was night and I was walking by her hut. She stood in the doorway leaning against the frame, gazing at the sky. I walked toward her and directly on into the hut. She followed and we laid down together on the bed.
Most of the beds in the village consisted of a straw mat like they have in Japan at the bottom. On top of that were layered one or two soft blankets or rugs or something like that. Then a cool fitted sheet was placed over it all. In this case the sheet was white. The bed was comfortable if a bit hard, but certainly nowhere near as hard as some of the beds I slept on in Thailand.
After that first evening, when I was in the village, I spent almost every night in her hut. Generally we would sit on the bed our backs pressed against the cool mud wall staring at the night sky through the window on the opposite wall of the dark hut. That window provided a view of the night sky framed by a few black branches of trees. A wide streak of light bisected the night sky. It was as if a huge ribbon hung down from somewhere above the roof of the hut. On that ribbon there seemed festooned what looked like an infinite number of blinking Christmas lights, white, yellow, red and blue. So many that it seemed like a single pulsating band of light. Now and then a meteor would flash by. I never saw a moon.
The light from outside that window provided the only illumination in the room. I could just make out the outline of her face and the arc of her jaw line as it curved to meet her earlobe.
I could smell the harsh fragrance of the basic soap we all used in the village and the acrid smell of sweat mixed with the sandalwood aroma of the dust that was always with us. Floating through this melange of aromas was the hint of perfume from the shampoo she used. One of the few indulgences she allowed herself.
Eventually we would shimmy down on to the bed.
In the morning, before dawn, I would leave her hut and return to my own to prepare for the day.
We rarely spent time together during the day, even at meals. I would however occasionally see her walking through the village almost always surrounded by children. Now and then I would notice her meeting with people or escorting them around the village. Some of the visitors had suits, others were dressed in various forms of military uniform. There were also some in more casual dress that I assumed were academics of some sort or engineers.They often seemed to be vigorously arguing with her about something or other.
I began to sense tension and stress in the village and especially in Mama. When I asked her about it one night, she dismissed it as a minor irritant.
At first I thought it was merely the ongoing pressure of budget, funding, personnel and administrative matters that are ever-present in any organization and exacerbated by the lack of staff to handle the endless paperwork that is a way of life for most eleëmosynary organizations.
I had some experience about these things and I could sympathize with what she and the other members of the village were going through. Then, one night I found the young son of Tre and Yu unconscious by the side of the road. He had been severely beaten.
I called someone over to run and find one of the paramedics that worked in the village. We bundled the injured child into an old Land Rover and drove him to the hospital.
The hospital located about 10 miles away on the other side of the valley was quite new and surrounded by a small town. I assumed the town was peopled by medical personnel who worked at the hospital and those who worked in the preserve but were unwilling to live the spartan lifestyle enforced by Mama in the village.
Tre, Yu and I sat outside the emergency room waiting. Mama arrived a few minutes later and waited silently with us.
The child, all bandaged up and still unconscious was placed in a hospital room after emerging from the emergency ward. There we spent the night. Tre, Yu and I alternately napping and talking quietly among ourselves. Mama sat in a chair rigid and silent, never moving her eyes from the child as though she was willing him to recover. Recover he did and we all returned to our various duties.
Following this I learned that the preserve had been under political, economic and physical assault for many months. Terrorists, resource extraction organizations and the like all hungered for access to the reserve and its resources.
It was as though having fouled every place else (their own nests so to speak) they now ravenously looked at this unspoiled place like the rapist observing his next victim.
Many preserve workers had been injured and some killed. On one of my visits another child had been attacked and Mama and I spent another sleepless night at the hospital.
I noticed on each of my visits the stress on her exacted a greater and greater physical toll. Then on day when I returned to the village I learned that she had been taken to the hospital. I rushed there and into her room. She was lying in bed. He body was horribly shriveled. Her skin had lost its luster and appeared dry and brittle like a piece of cardboard.
I stayed there with her day and night. She still ran the preserve from her bed. She continued to decline. Finally I told her that I had some experience it managing organizations like the Preserve and I would be happy to do so until she got better. She said, “No, this is my life, my world. Your life is somewhere else.” I woke up back in my bed. I knew she had died.
I returned to the village two more times after that to visit with my friends. But, the colors of the place seemed washed out and I had trouble holding on to the dream for more than a few moments. Eventually I stopped going there.
Since then every once in a while in that period between sleep and wakefulness the image of us in the hut, or on the rock outcropping or even in the hospital hovers for a while before disappearing. It comforts me knowing that this is not a dream but a memory. END.