Wednesday, February 2, 2011

African feet!

I have African feet.  Tough, tanned and dirty African feet.  Partners in adventure, love, disappointment but mostly joy.  As children, the dust clung to them, till our nanny washed them or the rain splattered them.  They were warmed by talc-like, dry earth, begrimed by rich mud, and African dirt provided the nutrients we thought we needed to grow.  Whenever a relative turned up they'd say, "You've grown so much, you must have been standing in manure!"

My feet loved hot earth.  I was surprised myself, at the heat they could handle. We had soles as thick as rhino hide.  When I was about 11 years old, my brother, sister and I were playing in the front yard, on our side of a thick, scallop-shaped, white block wall.  A neighbor boy, Andre, poked his head over the top and said he wanted to play.  We didn't like him.  At this point, in our vacillating love/hate sibling relationship, we were on a high.  My brother thought "the boy" was being a little pushy and  needed to be taught a lesson.  
"Sure, come over!" Jan said.
Andre slipped through the gate and was promptly chased into a patch of Duiweldoorings (Dicerocaryum zanguebarium).  These marble sized, Devil's Thorns are not kind to bare feet.  The little things always grow with their spines up, and if we tossed them on the sidewalk, they always landed spine-side up. The little lance-like thorns could've pierced the soles of combat boots. You can imagine his howls, standing, barefoot, on the creeping carpet of little trumpet-shaped pink and mauve flowers, angelically babysitting their awful, spikey offspring.  Getting out of the patch was almost worse than getting into it.  Placing all your weight on one of the painful feet, you leapt to safety, far from the patch, knowing you would land on the recently lifted foot, probably still studded with thorns.  After that excruciating pain, something in those little spines made your feet itch for hours!
Well I felt TERRIBLE!  I am not sure "apology" was a word we understood but we were eager to be forgiven and move on.  We ended up spending the rest of the day in the branches of the fig trees, eating golden, globular fruit and swimming in our newly erected swimming pool, watching poor Andre reach down frequently to scratch his itching, burning soles.
African Feet!  I think running around barefoot allowed us to feel Africa's heartbeat. Her immutable throbbing, deep in the earth, filled us with her penetrating comfort and sense of sanctuary.  Even if you leave Africa, her imprint is eternal and rooted, you will always long to remove your shoes, close your eyes and travel there, even if just for a moment.




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