Is that a humming sound?
Hum becomes buzz. An insect passes by, unhurried. Buzz fades into hum again – and the insect vanishes.
A bird on creaking wings utters a plaintive call as it crosses the glinting river and heads for the horizon.
Leaves rustle, clutched in the trunk of a feeding elephant, arriving, unheard, on tiptoe.
His tummy will gurgle in a minute. The fruits are good, this time of year.
A muffled cough betrays the presence of a lion, somewhere, sheltering from the tropical sun in the shade of a scrubby tree.
No traffic, no shouting.
No hustle, no bustle.
No jet trails in the sky.
To foreign ears it’s quiet, but this humming, rustling, coughing, creaking, plaintively calling continent sings its perennial song, whether they hear it or not.
A long, lazy river winds its stately way through a broad valley bordered by distant escarpments.
It’s the dry season. Sandy banks stretch for miles where once a formidable torrent crashed towards the Zambezi.
Today the air has a smell that’s dry. A rusty, dusty, tired smell, as the day declines. But here in the southern hemisphere, despite the heat, it’s winter and another scent curls its way over everything.
The scent of Africa.
The scent that greets me as I step, weary from the ten-hour flight, onto the old grey tarmac of the airport.
The scent that slips through the vents with the seeping orange dust as we drive the Great East Road.
The scent that whisks me back here on an instant when I open my conker-brown polished wood pot. It was meant as a present, but I kept it. Africa is in there, if I need her.
And so to late afternoon. The shutter drops on daylight and evening steals the night.
Above us, only sky. But no, not only sky. The stars. Oh, my, the stars.
Shooting to earth, racing to extinction. Glorious for one pinprick in the endless fabric of time.
I’m easing myself back in, gradually.
Therapy by word-stealth.
All too soon will come the vaccinations and visas, insurance and boarding passes, the petty annoyances of travel that will make me forget why I’m going.
But I’m going.
And so I ask, does Africa, immense, unfathomable Africa, know a song of me?
I’ve never had a farm in Africa, at the foot of any hills.
I’ve never seen the sweat on the faces of coffee pickers and I don’t see ploughs, not where I go.
But I’ve seen the tall giraffe.
I’ve seen the new moon, lying on her back.
I’ve seen the air quiver, but not with a colour that I have had on.
No children, to the best of my knowledge, have invented a game in which my name appears and my shadow will not be cast on any gravel drive when the moon is full.
I have seen the giant eagle owl, in the valley of the Luangwa, but it won’t be looking out for me.
No, if she doesn’t know a song of Karen Blixen, Africa surely doesn’t know one of me.
“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air quiver over the plain with a colour that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?”
Karen Blixen writing under the pen name Isak Dinesen.
[My apologies if this infringes any copyright, I don’t think it does.]