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Ngugi_wa_Thiongo.jpgI am a fan of art transcending reductive ideologies and, in A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi wa Thiongo may have provided us with an example of such transcendence.  

The story follows Mugo, a young Kikuyu man, who has been tapped for leadership roles in his village in the aftermath of the 1952 Emergency that pitted the British colonial forces against Mau Mau freedom fighters.  Mugo is deeply conflicted about serving as a leader because he has a shameful past: during the Emergency, he betrayed Kihika, a fiery rebel commander, to the British.  In the end (spoiler alert), Mugo confesses his betrayal to the assembled villagers, and he is condemned to death by the former resistance fighters who have long been seeking Kihika's murderer.

Despite two audacious acts - betrayal and public confession - Mugo is an ambivalent person:  

Mugo . . . . had always found it difficult to make decisions.  Recoiling as if by instinct from setting in motion a course of action whose consequences he could not determine before the start, he allowed himself to drift into things or be pushed into them by an uncanny demon; he rode on the wave of circumstance and lay against the crest, fearing but fascinated by fate.
(p. 23-24.)  In the course of the novel, Mugo struggles to identify with his family, which has abused him; with his tribe, which wants to force him first into war and then into leadership when he'd rather abstain; and with the British, from whom he craves absolution but receives, instead, total rejection.  These struggles endow Mugo with the strength to make a final moral decision (public confession) that leads to his death, rather than to enjoy a diminished life as a corrupt leader with a guilty conscience.

By contrast, Kihika is a person to whom ambivalence is a stranger.  Here, for example, is Kihika discussing his forebearers' responses to colonialism:

I despise the weak.  Let them be trampled to death, I spit on the weakness of our fathers.  Their memory gives me no pride.  And even today, tomorrow, the weak and those with feeble hearts shall be wiped from the earth.  The strong shall rule.  Our fathers had no reason to be weak.  The weak need not remain weak.  Why?  Because people united in faith are stronger than the bomb.  They shall not tremble or run away before the sword.  Then instead the enemy shall flee.
(p. 180.)  Throughout his life, Kihika has exhibited a devil-may-care rebellious bravado.  He alone among the boys at school challenges the religious instruction against female circumcision (a Kikuyu custom).  He similarly rejects his devoted girlfriend, Wambuku, because accepting her love would require him to settle down into village life.  In the end, Kihika dies because - unused to any approach involving compromise or tolerance of differences of opinion - he too forcefully tries to push Mugo into fighting for the cause.     

And now we arrive at what may be transcendence.  From his two-dimensional and unsympathetic depictions of the colonists in A Grain of Wheat, we know that wa Thiongo is not especially interested in a holistic understanding of the white man.  From his choice (after A Grain of Wheat was published) to write only in Kikuyu, we know that wa Thiongo is not even especially interested in communicating with non-Kikuyus, let alone whites.  And yet A Grain of Wheat ultimately discourages the reader from embracing inflexibility of mind or heart.

By the novel's end, two conclusions - both arrived at by women - complicate the novel's moral landscape.  First, Wambui - a feisty crone who'd risked her life running guns to the Mau Mau fighters and who served as the judge in Mugo's trial - is seized with regret at Mugo's execution.  Mugo was a conscientious man who could have contributed much to an independent Kenya; instead, he had been executed for ideology:  "Wambui was lost in a solid consciousness of a terrible anti-climax to her activities in the fight for freedom.  Perhaps we should not have tried [Mugo], she muttered."  (p. 228-229.)

The second conclusion involves the resolution of a sub-plot involving Mumbi, a gorgeous woman, and Gikonyo, her husband who was imprisoned by the British.  During his imprisonment, Mumbi succumbed to the sexual advances of a former suitor, who has been installed as a village leader by the British.  Returning from prison to find his wife having given birth to his former rival's child, Gikonyo punishes Mumbi for her unfaithfulness.  By the end of the novel, however, Gikonyo wishes to rebuild his relationship with Mumbi, and she refuses any easy reconciliation:

"No, Gikonyo.  People try to rub out things, but they cannot.  Things are not so easy.  What has passed between us is too much to be passed over in a sentence.  We need to talk, to open our hearts to one another, examine them, and then together plan the future we want.  But now, I must go, for the child is ill."
(p. 232-233.)

In short, although the novel condemns white missionaries and humiliates a black teacher in a missionary school for his complicity in the white man's Christianity, A Grain of Wheat also preaches for the redemption of Judas and the forgiveness of Mary Magdalene - on her own terms.  Despite its unquestionable allegiance with the anti-colonial cause (and what appears to be genuine dislike of white people), the message of A Grain of Wheat is hardly the propaganda of militant nationalism.  This textured multi-facetedness - even (possibly) inconsistency - imbues the novel with an admirable humanity.  With these qualities, A Grain of Wheat joins the ranks of works that enlarge the author - and, by extension, all of us - beyond the confinement of our personal limitations.  

I could wish that wa Thiongo had taken the additional step of providing a nuanced portrait of Pontius Pilate and his ilk, but perhaps such a greedy desire for even more transcendence would be un-Christian of me.

(Image of Ngugi wa Thiongo from University of Kwazulu-Natal website)

"Dear Doctor, I Have . . ." issues with rejection

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I love George Gordon, Lord Byron's poem, "Dear Doctor, I Have Read Your Play."  It's funny, fun to read out loud, fun to imagine a play that Lord_Byron.jpg"purges the eyes and moves the bowels" - moves the bowels?!  Apparently, the good doctor of the title (Byron's friend, John William Polidori) invented an entirely new (and not-to-be-seen-again) genre: the laxative drama.

But, much as I believe the English literary canon would be diminished for its absence, I have to wonder why Lord Byron wrote the poem.  The man, after all, was a super star by 1817 when he wrote "Dear Doctor," by which time he'd long been famous for accomplishments like Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and the unpublished (but no lesser known) I Had An Incestuous Affair With My Half Sister.  

"Dear Doctor" allows the reader to infer that recent criticism of Byron's writing might have been a reason for the poem's composition:  

There's Byron, too, who once did better,
Has sent me, folded in a letter,
A sort of - it's no more a drama
Than Darnely, Ivan, or Kehama;
So alter'd since last year is pen is,
I think he's lost his wits at Venice.
Nonetheless, such cause seems a tad inadequate.  Byron was not a man unfamiliar with rejection.  His clubfoot, for instance, did not provoke an outpouring of acceptance and tolerance from his peers.  And his personal life - incest, anal sex, divorce - seems to have generated sufficient expression of social condemnation to convince him to go into self-imposed exile.

Moreover, whatever the critics opined about his work, Byron was never at a loss for either publishers, fans or sales.  

So why should Byron care about a rejection from John Murray, much less care enough to write a rhyming verse poem about it - a poem that, even for as skilled a hand as Byron, surely required more effort than the dismissive sigh of, "Well, that happened, moving on," that characterizes (for example) my reaction to rejection from publishers?

Plainly, something needled Byron into diverting poetic energies from the Romantic imperative of composing verses as aids to seduction and devoting those energies, instead, to a Philip Roth-like anxiety orgy of venting/moping/carping.  I can think of at least three motivations for this trek off Byron's beaten path:

1.    Byron was outraged, not by rejection of him, but by rejection of his friend, John William Polidari.  The poem, in this interpretation, was an expression of loyalty and friendship.
2.    Despite his experiences, Byron was unusually sensitive to criticism, to the point that he'd stoop to bashing easy targets.  According to this theory, the poem is an expression of insecurity (and possibly immaturity).
3.    Byron felt a heroic passion to expose the brutality of the publishing industry, which was inhumane in its treatment of authors and destructive to the cause of literature.  In this scenario, the poem is an expression of reality.

In proffering this critique of the publishing industry, my own motivations are, of course, transparently obvious: to bring healing to the ill.  Out of concern for what appears to be a plague of industry-wide, chronic constipation (of which reflexive rejection is a symptom), I am pioneering the laxative blog post.

(Image of Lord Byron from The Independent)

What the Houseboy saw

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oyono-ferdinand.jpgI am grateful to University of Nairobi history professor Margaret Gichuhi for bringing to my attention Ferdinand Oyono's 1960 novel Houseboy.  Originally written in French, it's a valuable and rare document of black perspectives on colonial rule - exactly the sort of post-colonial literature that is unlikely to see another print run and, unless it finds new life in digital form, will bury its insights with its lack of availability in hard copy form.

A quick read - 122 pages (properly a novella by some people's score) - Houseboy is an entertaining, fast-moving account of a peasant boy's employment with a French colonial family in Cameroon and the dismal end to which it brings him.  Nonetheless, I wish Oyono had slowed down the pace.  As credible and interesting as is the voice of Toundi, the protagonist, he doesn't reveal enough truly to earn the novel's sad ending.  

The opacity against which the reader struggles is a built-in limitation to the first person voice; Toundi can only tell us what he sees, experiences and thinks.  The reasoning of the colonists around him is hidden, except to the extent that they unburden themselves to Toundi, which they do not in any significant way.  But Toundi's account - his observations and analysis - are too slim, and the reader is asked to infer too much, to give the conclusion the weight Oyono clearly wants it to have.

Toundi's demise occurs, in part, because he is insufficiently discreet about the affair his "Madame" - the wife of the Commandant - is having with M. Moreau, the prison warden.  Toundi's indiscretion is not a matter of gossiping, but of ignorance: he asks too many questions, he doesn't know what condoms are when, cleaning up, he finds them, etc.  His co-workers warn him:  

Toundi, will you never learn what a houseboy's job is?  One of these days you'll be the cause of real trouble.  When will you grasp that for the whites, you are only alive to do their work and for no other reason. 
(p. 87.)

[B]ecause you know all their business, while you are still here, they can never forget about it altogether.  And they will never forgive you for that.  How can they go on strutting about with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth in front of you - when you know.  As far as they are concerned you are the one who has told everybody and they can't help feeling you are sitting in judgment on them. 
(p. 100.)

Toundi doesn't heed their warnings because, as he rightly points out, "I'm not the only one who knows that Madame sleeps with M. Moreau . . . ." (p. 100.)  

The chambermaid, Kalisia, predicts that Toundi will be punished as a scapegoat because, "At the residence you are something like . . . a representative of the rest of us."  (p. 100.)  But Toundi doesn't listen, and the reader can understand why: Kalisia's explanation isn't enough.

Colonists - indeed, anyone with a coterie of servants - is used to having house workers knowing all their business, indiscretions and moral lapses included.  Moreover, people with servants have to acclimate themselves to the judgment of those who know their failings and secrets.  If the judgment is subtle, unstated or otherwise easy-to-ignore, employers are probably happier; but if the servant is valuable enough, an employer can accommodate him or herself to extremely high degrees of articulated disapproval.   P.G. Wodehouse wrote scores of books making comedy out of exactly this situation.  Karen Blixen understood the dynamic as being intrinsic to the master-servant relationship.  When she is leaving her farm in Out of Africa, she describes the response of her servants as follows:

There is a paradoxical moment in the relation between the leader and the followers: that they should see every weakness and failing in him so clearly, and be capable of judging him with such unbiased accuracy, and yet should still inevitably turn to him, as if in life there were, physically, no way round him.  A flock of sheep may be feeling the same towards the herd-boy, they will have infinitely better knowledge of the country and the weather than he, and still will be walking after him, if needs be, straight into the abyss.  The Kikuyu took the situation [of the sale of the farm] better than I did . . . but they sat round my house and waited for my orders; very likely all the time between themselves expatiating freely upon my ignorance and unique incapacity.
(p. 318-319.)

In short, knowing of a master's indiscretion is not enough to justify imprisonment, flogging and death, but Oyono doesn't tell us enough about why Toundi was less lucky than the other servants who knew of the Madame's infidelity.  He doesn't show us Madame's (or her husband's, or her lover's) point of view to explain why Toundi, especially, was a threat.  The fact that Toundi asked questions and was ignorant and insufficiently familiar with the ways of an ideal houseboy could just as easily council in favor of treating him as a harmless idiot, rather than a scourge to be eliminated, and Oyono doesn't help us understand why Toundi fell on the unhappy side of that choice.

Oyono leaves the reader to infer that Toundi's fate follows from his skin color: that a black servant in the colonial scheme was not permitted to sit in judgment of his overseers, and that the punishment for violation of that rule - even inadvertently - was death.  No doubt colonialism encompassed such arbitrariness and abuses, but colonialism also embodied complex dynamics.  Colonists, as much as the colonized, were humans with ambiguous, emotional, contradictory and inconsistent traits, but too often - as here and in Ngugi wa Thiongo's A Grain of Wheat - they are depicted as cardboard, two-dimensional "baddies."  The portrait is as diminishing to the colonized as it is inaccurate.  Oyono is a talented writer (in addition to being a renaissance man, an actor and a diplomat); had he devoted himself to fleshing out the complex motives at work in Houseboy, our historical record and our literature would have been much enriched.

(Image of Ferdinand Oyono from deslivres.com)

Out of [touch in] Africa

Harry_Thuku2.jpgKaren Blixen's writing has long been recognized as being significant as much for what it omitted as for the subjects on which it dwells.  But that recognition has focused largely on Blixen's coyness about her affair with Denys Finch-Hatton.  Obfuscation seems to have been the modus operandi of their relationship.  As Errol Trzebinski recounts in Silence Will Speak:

Friends who knew Tania and Denys well - few were privileged to observe their relationship closely - concluded that they fully intended to perpetuate the aura of mystique which from the start has served to swathe and protect them in an enigmatic smoke-screen.
. . . .
"Tania and Denys were both very elusive and meant to be" . . . .
p. 150 (Denys called Karen "Tania" after "Titania," the Queen of the Faeries in A Midsummer Night's Dream).

Reading Carl G. Rosberg, Jr. and John Nottingham's The Myth of "Mau Mau": Nationalism in Kenya, I realized that omission and obfuscation characterized another relationship in Blixen's life: that of her self-touted love for her "black brother." (Karen Blixen, Letters from Africa, p. 390.)

Although Blixen's tenure in Kenya, from 1914 to 1931, spans important, early expressions of black Kenyan political agitation against the British government, she doesn't count this behavior in her inventory of Native capacities.  Her blindness is significant because Blixen was not immune to politics in Kenya: she rails about political maneuvering by the settlers ("I am so angry with the English because they want to impose higher taxes on them [the Natives]," Letters from Africa, p. 240).  But while white political activity provoked her sense of noblesse oblige, black Kenyan political activity completely escapes mention in her writing.

In March 1922, for example, the British arrested Harry Thuku (pictured), an activist who wrote a letter demanding redress of grievances from the British government.  After his arrest, Kenyans calling for his release converged on the detention center in Nairobi.  The protest ended in gunfire and between 21 and 56 deaths.

Among the many remarks of note in Karen Blixen's letters from 1922 are references her troubles with Bror, to her sister's death, to resuming painting, to her love of lilies, to her hair loss, to her brother Thomas' visit, and to books she and Thomas are reading, but the most singular political event of the year finds no mention.  (Caveat: some possibility exists that mention of Harry Thuku was not a topic the editors of her letters thought worthwhile to allow to remain in the letters, but - looking at entirety of her correspondence from Africa and her concerns during her years there - the possibility seems remote.) 

Black people - her servants being the only ones she knows - do crop up in her letters from 1922:  she bemoans her cook, Isa, being poisoned by his wife, and she celebrates her servant Juma's daughter, who "sets the table and makes toast and is full of her own importance as a houseboy."  (Letters from Africa, p. 132-133).

What explains this obliviousness by a writer who, in her own estimation and that of many critics, is incisive in her observations and humane in her depictions?  Shadows on the Grass, Blixen's superfluous follow-on to Out of Africa, provides a clue.  

Two pages into Shadows on the Grass, Blixen begins rhapsodizing about the paradigm of Master and Servant: the servant "needs a master in order to be himself."  (Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass, p. 378-379.)  Her notion that blacks need a white telling them what to do in order to self-actualize is only too clear.  

The thing about servants - good servants, anyway - is that they're not disobedient.  They don't demand redress of grievances in a threatening way.  "Agitation" and "activism" are not their domain.  One the contrary, good servants have, as Karen Blixen says of black Kenyans in Out of Africa, an "immense gift for resignation" and keep "up a peculiar self-feeling in their relations to those who persecute[] them."  (Out of Africa, p. 144.) 

"Good servants" - not activists - seems to be all Karen Blixen can accept in the way of a role for black Kenyans in their relations with whites (that is, unless the black Kenyans are helpless, impoverished, ignorants in need of medical attention, in which case she is happy to help).   

In fairness, Blixen recognizes that some Africans - the Masai, for example - are warriors, not servants; but the Masai are pointedly outside the scope of white-black relations: they're isolated, on their "reserve."  And although Blixen acknowledges that Kinanjui is a Kikuyu chief - not a servant - in Kinanjui's relationship with her, his role is to provide her farm with labor: that is, servants.  When Kinanjui asks for a favor in return - to retire to her farm to die - she refuses him.  

Outside the scope of Master-Servant relations, Blixen doesn't have any capacity for interaction with black Kenyans because, ultimately, what seems to have stimulated her "love" for her "black brother" was the power she held over them.  Less educated than she wanted to be, less attractive than she'd hoped, perpetually struggling with her weight, dependent on her family for money, infected with syphilis and then abandoned by her husband, passed over for marriage by her lover, unsuccessful in her business endeavors, hopeless as a farm manager, the predominant experience of Karen Blixen's life in Kenya, as articulated in her letters, was helplessness and disempowerment.  Only in her relationship with the blacks around her was she able to fancy herself in control, although - if she recognized this fact - she wasn't able to record it in writing.  

What she does commit to paper, repeatedly, is a fixation with feudalism and the nobility of long-ago relations of power that, in the modern world, are recognized as unfair.  I don't doubt the sincerity that characterizes her status as an aristocracy groupie; but her romanticization of the past served as a convenient screen behind which to hide troubling questions about her power over the blacks on her farm.  

That Harry Thuku and black political activity don't manifest in Blixen's writing is therefore no surprise: Blixen defends herself by failing to see what she can't imagine, and her imagination was remarkably fixated by feudalism.

(Photo of Harry Thuku from Black Past)
Elspeth Huxley and Lewis S.B. Leakey were both born and raised in what is now Kenya in the early parts of the twentieth century (when the territory was British East Africa).  Both were keen observers, cogent critical thinkers, articulate voices, adventurous travelers and prolific in their works and writings.  They were also both sympathetic to black Africans and adopted balanced perspectives about colonization and its impacts on settlers and natives.

Despite these similarities, they come out on different sides of a question of pressing importance and, in light of my work at the UN Environment Programme, immediacy in my own daily life: environmental degradation.

Kenya currently is suffering a long-running and debilitating drought.  Electricity - much of which is generated by hydropower - has been rationed because the water levels are too low to produce sufficient supply.  Crops are failing, and people in Samburu are dying of starvation in the same horrifying manner (if not numbers) as their forerunners in Biafra and Ethiopia did.

In 2009, with our current knowledge of climate change, Kenya's condition looks like the effects of increasing accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere - and maybe it is.  But drought and the attendant sufferings aren't new in Kenya, and people have long cultivated knowledge about water, its sources and the impacts human activity can have on its availability.

Writing in 1963 on the cusp of Kenyan independence, in the context of the the handover from white national forest administrators to their black successors, Huxley writes:

The Masai are no respecter of forests.  Trees, to them, are enemies which rob them of potential grazing, rather than allies which anchor soil and make of it a sponge to absorb rainfall and return it in the form of springs.  The Masai drive their herds up into the glades and start fires which destroy the vegetation.

Across the Rift [Valley], on the south-western slopes of the Mau escarpment, you can count at least a dozen fires every time you fly over the mountains.  You can see blackened patches and clearings hoed for crops (a lot of these Masai have Kikuyu wives who cultivate) and the gloomy spectacle of human predators colonizing and spoiling the forests.  Already springs are dwindling and soon rivers that have always flowed the year through will be turned into seasonal streams that come down in spate in wet seasons, and dry up altogether in between.  Then what will the Masai do for water?  When their streams turn into dry, sandy river-beds they will shrug their shoulders and say shauri ya Mungu: the affair of God.  Perhaps it is, for tolerating so much human stupidity.
Elspeth Huxley, Forks and Hope: An African Notebook, p. 20

The argument that water shortage in Kenya had a human - and specifically "native" - cause was not original in Huxley's day.  Almost thirty years earlier, in 1936 - and about sixty years before the term "climate change" had entered our daily discourse - Lewis Leakey debunked the "blame the natives" theory of water shortage in Kenya:

The soil erosion which is taking place so alarmingly in some parts of the country, and the destruction of so much forest by fires, are both commonly attributed to the natives and their carelessness.  I believe,  however, that the more important factor governing both these troubles is a purely climactic one, although it is probably true that excessive grazing by goats and sheep, and carelessness with fire in forest areas, is hastening the process of nature.

If dessication really goes on for the next two or three hundred years at the rate at which it has been at work in the past few hundred, it will not only be the European community in Kenya that will suffer but also the natives, and as they have less money at their disposal for water boring and for water conservation, the latter will probably suffer the worst.
Lewis S.B. Leakey, Kenya: Contrasts and Problems, p. 169

With the scientist's perspective of drought patterns over hundreds of years, Leakey was able to identify Kenya - as early as 1936 and perhaps earlier - as being in a pattern of "dessication" caused by "climactic" factors.  Leakey understood that the drying up had started centuries earlier; and, moreover, that this latest phase was not the first in a series of swings between lushland and desert that Kenya had experienced over millennia.

Certainly, greenhouse gas emissions may be responsible for a speeding-up of this dessication process; what Leakey thought might happen in two or three hundred years might be occurring in sixty to one hundred.  Still, the comparison between Leakey and Huxley is significant: even the sharpest eye is apt to misconstrue what it sees without the scope of other disciplines and perhaps hundreds of years.

On the other hand, consider the perspective of Stephen Dobyns in his poem, "Where We Are (after Bede)."  Dobyns doesn't have (so far as I'm aware) any exposure to Kenya, let alone opportunities for close analysis of its people, soil layers or climactic patterns.  Nonetheless, from his perch of severe distance (nay, ignorance), he sums up climate change in Kenya (and worldwide) better than either Leakey or Huxley could:

This is where we are in history - to think
the table will remain full; to think the forest will
remain where we have pushed it; to think our bubble of
good fortune will save us from the night - a bird flies in
from the dark, flits across a lighted hall and disappears.   

Safari metabolism

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Giraffe2.jpgTo research my fourth novel, I have been spending time on safari in Kenya's Great Rift Valley, where I can experience environmental conditions that approach those that prevailed in British East Africa of World War I.  I frequently stay in a small, thatched-roof, canvas-walled cottage on the banks of the Malewa River, where shy water buck, demure bush buck, aggressive buffalo and plucky warthog cross, from which zebra and impala drink, around which monkeys scamper, and out of which hippopotamus surface like submarines.

Sitting on the raised veranda of the cottage, I've learned much:
  • Animals, contrary to the notion I had - derived from high school reading about mythical Native Americans moving soundlessly through the forest - can make a lot of awkward crashing noise as they move through scrub and in their interactions with rivers.
  • On the other hand, I am continually amazed at how animals can be grazing or passing virtually next to me, and I wouldn't have noticed them had I not serendipitously turned my head or looked up from my book.
  • Animals are surprisingly often equally oblivious of my presence.  Don't they smell me?  Hear me creaking in my chair or walking in my cottage?  Apparently, they're used to a fair amount of awkward crashing noise and, as for smelling me, either they've all got sinus infections or the smell doesn't carry like I'd thought it would.
That said, I have noticed a marked increase in my "animal sighting quotient" since I've startedHippo2.jpg coming on safari regularly.  Over time, I've learned to spy dik-dik "hiding" in plain sight by standing motionless; to distinguish the loping gait of the jackal threading through dense bush; to recognize the difference between the sound of wind rustling trees and animals snapping branches.

Some of this increased sensitivity is the result of greater exposure; but some of it is attributable to a slowing down - of my movements, of my gaze, of my breathing.  When I go on safari, I find I'm downshifting gears biologically as much as mentally: I'm relaxing my city metabolism as much as letting go of my urban worries.

So I felt a frisson of recognition finding two descriptions of this phenomenon by women more experienced in it than I.  Here's Elspeth Huxley on the "Dr. Doo-little" personality:  

The senior warden of the Tsavo National Park, David Sheldrick, and his wife, share their house at Voi with a great many animals and birds.  Both Sheldricks belong to that small company born with an instinctive understanding of their fellow creatures and with the patience which goes with these queer, unsought talents.  Such individuals are gentle, quiet in motion, slow spoken, unassuming, in a sense absorbent; they have a tranquil, indrawn quality.  People who are taught, jerky, spark-like and aggressive seldom draw from an animal the trust and feeling of security it needs.
Elspeth Huxley, Forks and Hope: An African Notebook, p. 135.

Now Karen Blixen, on the adjustment necessary to appreciate wilderness:

Out in the wilds I had learned to beware of abrupt movements.  The creatures with which you are dealing there are shy and watchful, they have a talent for evading you when you least expect it.  No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal.  The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it.
Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa, p. 15.

To be honest, "slow spoken, unassuming . . . . tranquil [and ]indrawn" and having an "aptitude [for] stillness" aren't accurate descriptions of me yet.  But in the pleasure I experience from the emphatically non-urban thrills of the bush, I recognize in me "the ache for slow beauty/to save you from your quick, quick life," and I hope this means, as Kapka Kassabova promises in her poem "The Door," that I've reached age enough to have stopped "knocking on a door without a house."  The fourth book will tell.
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