There is Africa good. And then there’s Africa fabulous. Sue and I call Africa fabulous those unexpected, serendipitous gifts you couldn’t even begin to imagine. Like the day she helped set up the jewelry co-op for WE-ACTx. To her mind’s eye, the women workers seemed distant and disconnected from the American volunteers. And yet, when the work was finished they spontaneously burst into song and dance, and invited their American counterparts to join them.
Today is Africa fabulous.
We are riding our bus called Malcolm X North, to a traditional cultural village a few hours East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We climb up windy paved roads into the mountains. The terrain is lush, with terraced gardens climbing steadily up. A man is hand painting the white stripe in the center of the road. People are riding their bikes on the shoulder. And walking, always walking. With yellow jerry cans for water and carrying sticks on their heads. Many are dressed for church.
As a group, we settle into the roles we’ve chosen for ourselves. Rich is in the front of the bus, shooting photographs. Nancy and Trudy are talking about travel. Sue and I share a set of earbuds and have a dance party in our seats – grooving to Donna Summer, Barbara Streisand, Lily Allen and Barry Manilow. An eclectic mix to be certain.
When we exit the bus, we are greeted with throngs of children selling crayon-colored pictures of elephants and gorillas. They are selling them.
Our visit is guided. A re-enactment of what once was in Rwanda. All the actor/participants are former poachers, offered a new livelihood.
Rich is voted king and dressed in an African sari and headdress. Rabbi Brant is his advisor. Katya, the youngest, is queen. And Trudy, our elder, is the King’s mother. The rest of us are commoners. It is pure kitsch. And we are good sports and play our parts well, especially King Rich. We learn about the politics of life in the kingdom, and in the king’s bedroom. About traditional medicine and “”herbal Viagra.”
A group of men, shirtless, donning headdresses and wearing bells on their ankles, begin to drum and dance. I can hardly contain myself, and suddenly I am being pulled from my bench to dance in the dirt. First with a sari-wearing drummer. And then, and I am indoctrinated. A spear and shield are put in my hands and a headdress is tied onto me. And one of the dancers catches my eye. I follow him. Arms up and out from my shoulders. One knee down to the dirt and then the other. Flipping my head in one direction and then the other. I am keeping up. I am following. And I know it.
We dance off the dirt “stage” and they take the costume off of me and tell me I am a great dancer. I am dizzy. I am flying. And minutes later, I am pulled out again to dance. The other women join us. I am breathless and still following.
My private-secret-fantasy career has been to be a choreographer. I am dancing with professional dancers right now and I am keeping up.
We take photographs together. My lead puts his arm on my arm. His head to my head. Sweet. Gentle. Another dancer puts his arm around me and places his hand on my breast. I smile and move it.
I don’t have words for what has just happened to me, and this is problematic because I am a writer. My friends show me videos of the dance on the way home. Sue and I listen to Madonna “The Immaculate Collection” until her Ipod runs out of battery. We pee on the side of the road.
I tell Sue that on the drive up, listening to Lilly Allen, I had the physical sensation and knowing that I was now divorced. The paperwork, the mediator, is all detail. The connection, or at least, a connection, was severed in that moment. And I am sad, and a little bit more free.