My older dogs, ages eleven and eighteen, have begun waking me up in the wee hours of the morning to go outside. It is only with this new and recent habit of finding myself awake and already called out from my warm bed so much earlier than I would have preferred that I realize the ideas swirling from my dream state, itching my finger tips. Although I love writing in the evenings, I am beginning to think I should write in the mornings when I’ve only to put it all on paper. How grateful I am that most nights I go to bed feeling frazzled and during my dreams I am somehow, miraculously knit back together.
It’s the second day after the New Year. Following a respiratory infection a month ago, I went to the Urgent Care Center yesterday for my wheezy and persistent cough; I was diagnosed with something akin to asthma, an overly reactive inflammation of my bronchial tubes. “Do you have allergies?” the doctor asked.
So perhaps that is why I woke up this morning thinking about dust. My visit to the Serengeti a few months ago was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was the amount and consistency of dust. It was dry season; the dust was light as a feather. It coated the surface of my photographic lens and sifted into the corners of my camera bag. As our Land Cruiser flew over the rough terrain of the Serengeti, we were masked men with mouths and noses covered by scarves and bandanas. After days spent exploring the savannahs, in the evenings kind black men hauled buckets of steaming water to the back of our tents, raised the bucket overhead by pulley to create a small degree of water pressure onto the water hose and shower head. This was the best and shortest shower in the world. With the grit rinsed from my body, I felt renewed and excited, ready to go back, back into the dust.
This same dust still coats the tennis shoes and sandals I brought home and am hesitant to wash them. Just the other day, I pushed them again to the back of the laundry. It is irrational, I know, but I find myself thinking, “If I wash the shoes, might I wash away Africa?”
Until this morning as I plodded to the back door in my dream state, I had also not made the mental connection with the dust I remember from my childhood home on Goat Pasture Road. Our road was unpaved; its gravel and red clay soil provided a surface better than Africa but far worse that I am accustomed to travelling today. For most of my childhood, we did not have air conditioning so that in the summer’s, we left the windows open, often with a fan inserted into the open window to circulate the air. On Saturday’s, along with cleaning the bathrooms, my other job was to dust the furniture. I could never get rid of that dust. It resettled immediately on the surfaces seconds after I wiped it away.
I think of this new day. This new year. Begin again. Funny how our journeys in life take us forward but they also take us back. A new year inspires resolutions, the naming of behaviors we hope to improve upon and to influence our year. these are often based on our bad behaviors the previous year. A trip may start with packing a suitcase or getting on a plane. All of these are journeys of one sort or another; journeys start in our head with a story. I am not sure if journeys ever really end. Journeys change us, less into something new but more into better versions of what we already are.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” These words with which we will leave this world are not from the Bible but rather from the 1500’s Book of Common Prayer. Still, who can doubt it is not biblically inspired? I wonder where does the dust come from? Are we not all the same? Are all places not the same?
I imagine during the rainy season, another remarkable thing in Africa might be the mud. The say the roads completely wash away. But the Africa of mud is not the Africa I know. That must be someone else’s story; I only know it through the dust.