What am I?
As a young child growing up in Kenya, I was magnetically drawn to the rich, red soil. My love for its sandy softness was a bane to my mother who constantly had to stop me from putting it in my mouth.
Returning to the country I was born in after 20 years, I am struck once again by the beauty of the soil, so different from the stony, dark clunks of mud that I find in my garden in England.
This time round, I am taken with all that grows in this richness, how the leaves here shine with aliveness.
Under the shade of an Acacia tree by Lake Navisha, I find myself gazing at the elegant way in which the giraffe finds its way around the thorns of the Acacia to bite into those shiny leaves. It stops eating as it senses my presence and stares me in the eye. I feel seen, and see, and am left wondering what is it that we have both seen?
On the rest of my walk I come across zebras, monkeys, gazelles, impalas and marabou storks. To walk amongst wild animals is a reminder of my place in the ecosystem. I am no longer the dominant presence, but a member of all the living creatures that share this planet. Here anything can happen, for I am in the hands of nature.
Something in me relaxes, I feel at home. As a Kenyan-born Indian who now refers to herself as a British Asian, this relaxation is felt at a visceral level. I do not belong to a country, but to this land.
Later on, outside my bedroom window I watch baboons start a vicious fight over territory. While we might have taken over their forest, this is still their home. I am reminded of what it means to share this land, and of the battles that are being fought around the world in the name of belonging and identity.
For the last few months the girls who were kidnapped in Nigeria (it’s approaching a year since they went missing) and the debates that have raged around the Charlie Hebdo incident in France have been at the center of my attention. And never far from that is the fact that much of Africa is now turning into a dust bowl, which is going to have a devastating impact on all that live here, and beyond. (See: www.commondreams.org)
So as I watch the baboons fight, I can’t help thinking that I have not felt able to put a noun at the end of the two words “Je suis …” I am.
For while the debates and conversations in the fight for justice and understanding have been a big part of my life, and all are critical right now, I cannot find a way to engage with them. I have been desperate to, as Proust says, “see the same landscape with new eyes” that will help me find a course of action.
The feeling of belonging to the land brings a sense of opening to something more than my personhood. The Serbian proverb—“Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble for you are made of stars.”—accompanies me to my next outing into the wild.
Under the vast night sky, in front of a roaring fire, from the corner of my eye I see the stripes of a zebra walking towards me. Who created this beauty? I am filled with wonderment and a desire to understand how this creature came to be. In a flash, I think of the CERN hadron collider, and I am thankful to the scientists who will help us understand this question of beauty at one level; but I would not be without the artists who allow me to experience this question totally differently, the mystic who chooses to disappear into the question and become it, or the activist who will give her life to save it.
Breathing in the warm night air I feel the infinite power of this creative … hmm, I search for a word ... force? God? intelligence? Maybe the name does not matter so much as the feeling of majestic sacredness, for in this feeling I can sense how our understanding, actions and our enchantment go hand in hand and provide the possibility for a yet to be had conversation.
Here, I am humbled by the intricate simplicity of our living Universe, which is ever unfolding, limitless, contains everything and yet seems to come out of the purity of silence.
Here, I am the living Universe.
From this place I can choose to pursue that sacred mystery that exists in all our current crises and take a stand to behold the opposites while clearly knowing what I am. For in the soil of the unknown we have an opportunity to blossom as never before.
Image credit: Acacia trees on Lake Naivasha by Ministry to Kenya