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Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 
I spend many of my days sitting here and marveling at the amount of time and effort Naida expends preparing her most recent book for publication — talking to book designers, editors and the like, reviewing photographs, re-editing drafts day after day. Even if I had the talent to write a novel for publication, I do not think I could or would put myself through this. She seems to enjoy it, except when things go wrong of course.

Her new book, a memoir, entitled “A Daughter of the West — Herstory” can be obtained at her booth at the California State Fair (During July) or at http://www.bridgehousebooks.com/ or in the future on Amazon.

While she was reviewing the most recent edits to her memoir, Naida commented that she may have misspelled the plural of dwarf. She had learned to spell it in grammar school as dwarves but had spelled it dwarfs in the draft memoir. She wondered why spell-check had not caught it. I immediately searched the net for an answer to her concern. I discovered the traditional correct spelling indeed was dwarfs but recently a popular misspelling has begun to be commonly used. The reason for this, I found both odd and amusing. You see it all began with J. R. R. Tolkien. Yes, that J. R. R. Tolkien of “Lord of the Rings” fame. In a fascinating blog (https://jakubmarian.com/dwarves-or-dwarfs-which-spelling-is-correct/) I learned:

“Tolkien himself admitted that ‘dwarves’ was a misspelling. In a letter to Stanley Unwin, the publisher of The Hobbit, he wrote (emphasis mine):

‘No reviewer [that I have seen], although all have carefully used the correct dwarfs themselves, has commented on the fact [which I only became conscious of through reviews] that I use throughout the ‘incorrect’ plural dwarves. I am afraid it is just a piece of private bad grammar, rather shocking in a philologist; but I shall have to go on with it.’”

A fine example of how now and then scholarly mistakes become accepted over time as right and proper. There must be a phrase or word for cultural evolution caused by the errors of those who ought to know better.

Exhausted, I went to bed early that evening. Usually, because of my failing eyesight, I read books on Kindle since I can adjust the size of the text for my reading comfort. Nevertheless, I keep some books by my bed out of a stubborn and I suspect, sadly forlorn, belief that I am observing some metaphysical notion that by reading books on paper I somehow am contributing to the preservation of civilization. Before falling asleep, I picked up Overstory by Richard Powers. I read its first two chapters. Suddenly, I felt as though, despite a head full of factoids and opinions gathered over almost 80 years of existence, I, like Jon Snow, know nothing. Whether I felt fear, despair, or elation over this insight, I do not recall. Somehow at sometime in our history, we humans, we blobs of consciousness, began to believe we were important, unique. That we understood things. I realized, at that moment, we were none of those. We, individually and collectively, were only a tiny insignificant entity within that great collection of things we call life. Insignificant true but capable of great mischief and savagery.

The next morning, I watched He Who Is Not My President, once again, play the press for fools by getting them to convert an insignificant photo-op with the Butcher of North Korea into an earthshaking event driving all other news off the airways and requiring platoons commentators to tell us whether and how this may alter the geopolitical landscape.

A few days have passed by. I do not recall anything worth recording here. Yesterday evening we did walk to the monthly Jazz by the Pool concert at the community center. We got there just as it ended, ate a piece of cold pizza and returned home.

One evening, we watched the marvelous “Thief of Bagdad,” a silent film starring Douglas Fairbanks. The sets and costumes alone were worth the price of admission. Fairbanks and the other actors hamming it up was the whipped cream and cherry topping on the art-deco wedding cake.

Today, after a morning of indolence, I decided to leave the house, walk to the car and drive to eat lunch somewhere. I had taken only a few steps from the door when I noticed the wonderfully sweet smell of flowers, the perfect temperature, and the still air. I quickly decided it was too glorious a day to drive to someplace in the middle of a parking lot for lunch. I needed to walk through the enchanted forest, take some photographs of the flowers and the trees along the paths and breathe the sweet air. And, so I did.

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Naida and I Live Here.

 

That evening we watched the 1955 movie “Trial” starring Glen Ford as an inexperienced law professor defending a Mexican teenager accused of killing a white girl. The white supremacists and Nazis in the town threaten violence against the boy and attempt to lynch him. I thought this was going to be like an early version of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” but suddenly and strangely, the focus of the movie changed to featuring Communist leader’s self-interested attempt to take over the issue for personal gain. It all ends with the Mexican kid being wrongly convicted but the bigots, upon seeing the error of their ways, and being good Americans, agree with the African-American judge that he should be shown leniency, more or less. The evil self-serving and corrupt Commie, and self-serving and corrupt he clearly was, was sentenced to jail for 30 days for contempt of court. According to the judge, he received a shorter sentence than the kid so that he and he and his Commie brethren could not use his sentencing as a cause celeb. Everyone looked as though they were happy with the outcome but for the Commie, who scowled. It all seemed like something that could be happening today. Little appears to have changed in the past sixty years here in the land where we all are created equal except for Commies and Mexicans and homosexuals. African Americans are accepted, more or less, as long as they were educated Uncle Toms, lived in their own neighborhoods, excelled in sports, and voted Republican.

Today, I drove up into the Golden Hills to visit HRM and pick up my mail. My mail consisted of a bunch of junk mail and letters from a few collection agencies threatening to hang me by my thumbs unless I pay up. I threw all of those in the trash. There were also two postcards from Barrie. Every week or so Barrie sends me a postcard with a fascinating picture on the front and an entertaining message. I love receiving them. I keep them all stored in a box by my bed.

HRM had three of his friends over. They were lazing around on the sofa watching a Sponge Bob Square Pants cartoon. They have now reached that point in their teenager-hood where they spend more time supine and draped over the furniture than upright and moving about. They eat a lot also.

I have just read in the newspaper that Lee Iacocca died (Iacocca developed the Ford Mustang, later became CEO and Chairman of the Board of Chrysler and was chosen as among the top 20 greatest business executives in American history.) A number of years ago, Suzzie and I traveled to Auburn Hills Michigan to visit Lee and his then new wife Darrien, a good friend of Suzie’s. We had dinner with Lee and Darrien. I remember the red velvet slippers with the gold embroidered design on top that Lee was wearing. I also remember Lee as a nice guy and gracious host, although at dinner he seemed a little grumpy— (he complained about the pasta). I think he and Darrien had just had a slight contretemps before we arrived. Today, I received a very nice email from Suzzie in which she wrote about our trip and her memories of Lee. Here is a portion of that email:

Earlier today I learned that Lee Iacocca had passed away. I’ve remained friends with his ex-wife Darrien, who maintained a relationship with him to the end. I spoke with her this evening and after our conversation, I recalled many fond memories of the times I spent around Lee. One of them was with you.

I’ve learned my memory is quite specific about certain things but not necessarily accurate. However, I do remember when you and I decided we needed to go to Auburn Hills where Lee and Darrien lived to pitch business, what business I’m not entirely sure, but I liked the idea of convincing the lobbying firm I was with at the time to pay my way to auburn hills to see my dear friend Darrien. You were game to go along for the ride. What a team!

I also remember Dick McCarthy was a big Mustang fan and gave me a poster of a Shelby mustang for Lee to sign. As I further recall, we were at dinner at Lee’s house and his friend Carroll Shelby happened to be there. I was so happy I could return to California with Dick’s poster signed by both. I’m quite sure neither of us returned with any business but we sure had a great time! I’m glad I have that memory of a really fun time with you…

I was very fond of Lee. He was a good man with a sparkle on his eye. He treated me with respect at a time when as a young woman in Sacramento I experienced the opposite from some men… He was one who helped build my confidence (along with you and Terry and Bill Geyer) and have made me the evil person I am today. Lol!

Rest in peace Lee Iacocca. I hope you are still wearing those bitchin slippers wherever you are.

On the 4th, I picked up HRM and Jake for lunch. We went to the Old Spaghetti House. I watched them stuff a ball of blue cotton candy into a glass of something green and wondered what something like that was doing in a so-called Italian restaurant, what it must taste like, and why teenagers seem to take such pleasure in doing things like this? After lunch, I drove them back home, returned to the Enchanted Forest, picked up Naida and drove to her daughter Sarah’s house for their annual 4 of July party. There, we played ping-pong and badminton, ate a lot, drank a little, watched a tennis match on television, and left to return home before the teenagers began their neighborhood fireworks war.

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Naida (in blue) and Sarah (in Pink) in Sarah’s backyard.

 

I sit here today, the next day, writing this. Somehow, somewhere far at the back of my mind, I feel an itch, a sense that something happened that I should record here, or there was some idea that needed telling — but nothing comes. My memory over the past few years has become like an ancient curtain more holes than fabric, or whispers too faint to understand. Perhaps that is a good thing, live for the day, forget the stories. On the other hand, my memories were the raw material of the stories I revel in. I like to shape them for their sake — for my love of a tale.

That evening, we watched Charles Laughton in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” followed by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Cary Grant, and Victor McLaglen tearing up the scenery in “Gunga Din.” The next morning while eating breakfast Naida and I enjoyed the old Wallace Beery and Jackie Coogan version of “Treasure Island”. I guess, as long as I am in the more sedentary period of my existence, old movies and fantasy novels will have to do as a replacement for the adventure and travel I may have enjoyed earlier in my life. I certainly experience fewer blunders and horrors now than I did then. Maybe that is a good thing too.

Then, it was off to the Golden Hills to pick up HRM and Big, Tall, Long-haired Jake. We drove into the Delta, to Rio Vista and Foster’s Restaurant. Haden, Nikki and I had been there years ago and H wanted to show it to Jake. During the drive, I was entertained by teen-talk — the dreams (To become famous race-car drivers when they are old enough to get a drivers license), the annoyance with anyone or anything limiting their desires (“I want to be rich enough to get the government to remove speed limits just for me so that I can drive my car as fast as I want.”), adolescent gossip (about the teacher who wears sexy clothing to school). This is that age when the explosive growth of their forebrain containing the ego assures them that the universe is there for their pleasure. It is only when they reach their middle twenties that the rest of their brain catches up allowing them to acknowledge that there may be others with similar claims. Strangely, they seemed to believe that if you were rich enough you could get away with anything. Trumpism poisons everything.

Foster’s Restaurant in Rio Vista is known for its display of the stuffed heads of just about every large mammal known to have roamed Africa and North America in the past one hundred years or so. All slaughtered by a bootlegger, turned taxidermist, turned publican who owned the bar from the walls of which he hung the severed heads of the hundreds of animals he butchered. But that of course was another era when things like that were more acceptable, like slavery and concentration camps. But, from a historical perspective, it does preserve the visage of those animals soon to become extinct so that we, if we survive, can have a drink, stare at their remains and ponder what we have wrought.

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At Foster’s Restaurant in Rio Vista.

 

I ate an elk hamburger. I was sure the elk that provided the chopped meat was old and at the point of death (or perhaps already dead) before it was harvested, because it was as dry and tough as one would expect the aged to be.

Then it was off to Locke the historical old Chinese town in the Delta. We walked around the town, visited the shops, explored the alleys and dropped into Al the Wop’s Italian Restaurant and bar and gaped at the hundreds of dollar bills stuck into its ceiling.

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HRM and Jake in Locke California.

 

When I first arrived in California in 1970-71 and was taken to that restaurant, I was still shocked and repulsed by anyone uttering that word. As a person of my generation and upbringing “Wop” was as repulsive to Italian Americans as “N****r” was to African-Americans (although without the same bloody history) or “spic” to Puerto Ricans. Use of the word, even by Italian-Americans, was grounds for instant mayhem being inflicted on the speaker. I could not even say the word without feeling disgusted with myself and yet here in Locke there it was, up there in a sign on a business no less, as well as falling lightly off the tongue of everyone around me. California was certainly an odd place, I thought.

After that little adventure, we drove through the Delta and back into the Golden Hills. The next morning, Naira and I drove to Denio’s Auction in Roseville where I purchased this year’s Hawaiian shirt and Naida bought a shovel.

The following day, Naida left early to play tennis. After she returned, we sat at our respective computers all day and did nothing more except walk the dog in the evening. I did not even take a nap.

Today, Tuesday, I did not walk the dog nor did I watch movies on Television. I did, however, begin reading Vital Question by someone named Nick Lane. It is not a mystery novel. It is a non-fiction tome about, as the cover points out, Energy, Evolution and the Origins of Complex Life. As I mentioned in a previous post, after reading about ten trashy novels, I like to curl up with something non-fiction. I guess it is something like cleaning one’s palate.

Some review copies of Naida’s memoir arrived today. We spent a few hours together reviewing them for typos and other errors. She said she was thankful there were not too many of them as there sometimes is. I thought there were a lot. I found participating in the process pretty exciting. I cannot remember ever assisting an author before. Usually, it was politicians, bureaucrats, and other lawyers and as everyone knows that is neither exciting, nor interesting, nor fun.

Wednesday, the day before the State Fair begins, Naida busied herself addressing last minute crises. I did nothing but read and answer her questions whenever she thought my input might have some value.

Tomorrow, after helping Naida drive copies of her books and sales material to her booth at the fair, I leave for the Big Endive by the Bay and my immunotherapy treatment. The pendency of that trip did not require I do anything to prepare, so I didn’t, happily. I did read more of Naida’s memoir and another chapter of The Vital Question which was all about chemical reactions in the earth’s primeval oceans. I did not understand it so I quit and consoled myself with Oreos and milk.

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The weekend passed by quickly — mostly waiting for the biopsy on Tuesday. Not having an automobile (it is in the shop having its crumpled fender and other maladies attended too), cuts down on my activities. I had to turn down an assignment from the Scooter gang over the weekend. So, I read and went on walks through the Enchanted Forest. I get all the angst and despair I can handle from social media and television news.

Well, well, — I went for my biopsy yesterday and for the third time during my age of physical deterioration, the doctor, in this case wielding his sonogram, could find no reason for a biopsy. In other words, he could not find a mass in which a malicious deranged cell would hide. I do not know whether or not to be embarrassed after spending a month or so in gloomy speculation and endlessly disclosing my fears to all who would listen — I guess at my age I should not be embarrassed by anything I do anymore. Anyway, I know it is, at best, only a temporary reprieve.

Onward and upward as Terry always advises. Lack of a car limits my mobility and the awful air pollution from the fires restrict my walks and swimming. So, I sit at home, watch Naida work on her memoir, read as much junk as I can, and nap a lot. So goes the winter of my life. It’s not too bad. I could still be sitting around wondering about the results of my medical tests.

This evening was spent watching Janette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies. The last movie ended with the Canadian Mountie and the Opera star in an embrace and singing:

You belong to me
I belong to you.

We then rolled up the stairs to bed singing, one with a professionally trained voice and the other with a throat ruined by radiation therapy:

When I’m calling you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh
If you answer too, ooh, etc.

That means that I offer my love to you
To be your own
If you refuse me, I will be blue
And waiting all alone

But, if when you hear
My love call, ringing clear, ooh, etc.
And I hear you’re
Answering a call so dear, ooh, etc.

Then I will know
That our love will be true

What could be better than that?

The next day I swam in the Nepenthe pool. It is my first time swimming in over a month. It felt good. While sitting by the pool a woman got out of her car and started banging on the gate demanding to get into the pool area. Eventually, she somehow got in. She was hugely pregnant. She took off her shoes, then jumped, fully clothed, into the pool, swam its length, got out, picked up her shoes, returned to her car and drove away. I did not realize it was that hot out. Life is wonderfully surprising even when you are doing nothing but staring at the leaves of some trees.

Today I spent the morning watching Doris Day — Gordon MacRae movies. Listening to them sing “Tea for Two” is an experience I rank somewhere between being drowned in a vat of medicinal cannabis or smothered in meringue.

Later I went to the pool and fell asleep in the shade only to be awakened by the sound of ten-year-olds doing flips into the water. I did my laps while trying to determine if I was in a good mood or bad. Gave up and went home.

My sister Maryann and her husband George dropped by on their way back to Mendocino from Nevada City where they were making arrangements for the wedding of their son Brendan to Ashley his intended. A few weeks ago, I discovered that a friend of mine from my childhood who I haven’t seen in almost seventy years, Snookie Salerno, now lives in Nevada City. I have been told he never returns calls from his old friends (Would you return a call to someone who called you Snookie?). He did not return my calls. So I left him a message inviting him to the wedding.

Anyway, I took Mary and George on a walk around the Enchanted Forest and along the banks of the river. Mary seems well recovered from her bout with breast cancer. I am well recovered from my bout of hypochondria.

I did not watch movies of any sort this evening. Instead, I went to bed at 8PM. Tomorrow the automobile comes out of the shop. I am relieved. I now can drive aimlessly about. I like that better than “tea for two.” Check that, it depends on whom I am having tea with and what kind of tea.

Picked up the car. Have not yet driven it aimlessly but have driven it between the shop and the house with great determination to avoid another crushed fender.

The days pass on — driving the scooter gang around, walking through the Enchanted Forest, swimming in the pools, singing show tunes, drinking margaritas, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, petting the dog, crying over Aretha Franklin, watching old movies, laughing at old jokes — the wheel turns on. And then there is this:

“For the past 2,700 years we have been evolving through the ascending Kali Yuga, and this Yuga is coming to an end in 2025. The end of the Yuga will inevitably be followed by cataclysmic earth changes and civilization collapses,…”
Bibhu Dev Misra

This morning when I left the house I ran into one of the TURKEY GANGS right beyond the front door. Yes, the Enchanted Forest is plagued by several TURKEY GANGS. They lounge along the pathways, mumbling threatening sounds and forcing residents to walk around them. They litter the sidewalks and don’t clean up after they leave. They terrorize small children and small dogs. They are huge, hulking, ugly creatures often four feet tall or more. Something needs to be done about them by the HOA. Perhaps once a year say in November we could have a community Thanksgiving Party and eat a few. They are so large they could each feed several families.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, isn’t that the celebration of a group of immigrants saved by the citizens of the area who in turn demonstrated their gratitude by slaughtering their rescuers and taking their land? Instead of Thanksgivings Day shouldn’t the day be called something like Ingratitude Day?
On Saturday morning, we attended then weekly Saturday Morning Coffee put on by the Nepenthe HOA in the Enchanted Forest. The usual group had assembled. I had a lively discussion with the 93-year-old architect about our various maladies. Later the woman that seems to run these things announced she was not going to run the “Sock Hop” in September (don’t ask — I think it is some attempt at replication of an ancient mating ritual that everyone believes existed and they experienced but it didn’t and they only imagined it. Ask yourself, “Did you ever attend a ‘Sock Hop?’” And if you did, did you think the experience was such that you would want to replicate it in your old age?). This set off a flurry of whispers. Later I learned that there is a conflict between the Nepenthe HOA and the nine other HOAs over the running of the social events. I did not understand the politics involved but agreed with Naida who leaned over and said to me sotto voce, “It seems pretty silly to argue over who gets the right to volunteer.”

There are three Ages of Declines:

The first Age of Decline is now. It is the first time in history that a majority of a generation lived to old age together, declined together and ultimately will die together. As usual for the past 80 years or so, we have, for better or worse, been the pacesetters.

The second type of Age of Decline is the end of an era. In our case, the end of the greatest Golden Age the world has ever seen.

The third version of an Age of Decline is experienced by all of us that live beyond 75 or so years. Not only do our bodies begin to undergo the inevitable physical and mental failures faced by all biologic creatures who have exceeded their use by date, but also our functions in society at large begin to dissipate. Oh yes, some of us keep on working and striving — and good for those of us who do. Others of us can sometimes pass through a brief period where we are consulted (not very seriously) or honored (weekly or monthly visits) by younger relatives or friends. But really for most of us, we ultimately gather in homes for the elderly or periodically meet with other elderly friends where we attempt to create a small replica of the society that we strode through in our past life — much like the members of the Nepenthe morning coffee, complete with its politics, petty annoyances, and amusements. Lucky are those of us who instead fall in love and experience a decline no less painful but much more blissful.

For the second time in a little over a month, I have been attacked by a Russian Bot. Three critical comments from the same person appeared on my Blog, Trenz Pruca’s Journal — https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/. This is unusual because almost no one ever comments on my blog. Two of the comments were general criticisms of my writing competence in two of my blog posts. A criticism I believe fully justified. In the third comment, this time on my blog about Vladimir Putin (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/petrillos-commentary-who-is-vladimir-putin-and-why-is-he-an-enemy-of-the-united-states/. Also, reproduced below.),

He not only objects to my writing style but included an example of how it could be improved by changing my criticism to a justification of Putin’s behavior.

I am so proud to have been noticed.

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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 sand 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 mustached. 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 goodbye 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 stony dusty desert well into the early afternoon when the landscape began to change, first into scrublands and then into a grassy savannah. A 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 speakers, 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 a 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 as 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 the 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 of 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 Fourth 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 rainforest 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 jawline 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 a 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 with 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 one 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.

 

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