Thoughts come to mind last night and this morning, on books, reading, writing.
Read recently that in ancient times almost all reading was done aloud. I think it was probably done more slowly too. It was a group activity, communal. Non-isolating. Nice. I imagine that the reading part of things felt group-ey and cozy, and then, afterward, the individual’s thought processes, going on alone and in privacy in the person’s head, the cogitations ABOUT what had been read, felt complementary and a fruitful offshoot from the communal reading experience. Verbal processors would also have felt free to discuss together with others the readings that had taken place, even down to quoting and dissecting exact phrases and words.
Looking at the timeline in the front of my Bible this morning I see that papyrus to make paper and ink for writing were discovered by the Egyptians as long ago as 2500 B.C. The first libraries then appeared! I love a good library. Have one on my Kindle, these days…
Six years old, my whole remembered world France and Sakbayeme, makabo soup with liquid Maggi sprinkled on top for dinner, hot boiled eggs in Mom’s 50s’style, individualized breakfast egg cups (it was 1963), and climbing in the guava trees with my African playmates.
We’d stepped off the airplane in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and been driven home to Grandma’s house, where we would live for the first few weeks of my parents’ first home assignment, from Africa.
Got out of the car, Grandma walks down the porch steps and out over the grass, past the hollyhocks (hock dollies to my blonde baby sister, later) approaches and gives me a hug! Her long, thin, shiny, pure bluish-white hair is pulled up on top of her head in a puffed-out tiny knot, 20’s suffragette-style. She has a crisp, ironed cotton button-down dress. She smells like fresh laundry.
There’s a pretty mama cat on the broken porch step with two half-grown kittens nearby, strolling and watching ; my sister and I rush up to them and start talking to and petting; Dad cautions us to be careful, they might bite, he says.
We all move slowly up to the porch, little by little, Mom and Dad and Grandma talking the whole way and us three little kids darting excitedly around, touching things, but staying close. In through the creaky old screen door, the small country kitchen with even smaller scullery, from almost a hundred years ago even at that time, beckons. Mom is lingering a minute on the porch, exclaiming over the fragrance and looks of the blossom-laden lilac bushes; Dad is wrestling our suitcases in to the house. Grandma is giving me another hug, and exclaiming over what she is calling my “beautiful ‘shiny copper penney’ HAIR.” I am feeling so loved, so content, and so excited about our new home with my GRANDMA.
It was a long school vacation time. Our next-door-neighbor family was going away to the seashore for two weeks of yearly holiday. The mom came up to me and asked me if I would like to earn a little pocket money daily feeding and also daily walking, on the end of his chain, their pet “baby” gorilla.
I happily said “yes” and received my instructions for my new responsibilities with conscientious attention. The particular “baby” gorilla in question was much loved by all the kids and teenagers, lived in a large chicken-wire cage/home in the neighbor family’s back yard, and had a general reputation for being tame. I was a fanatical animal lover, had several pets of my own, though none as exotic as a gorilla, and I thought I already had a great relationship with this tame gorilla.
Well! From the very first morning, the gorilla, who had been quietly growing from babyhood, and now was eight months old, (I wonder how old that would equivocate in people years?) demonstrated a HUGE mind of his own and, instead of walking pleasantly around the grassy yards on the end of his long metal chain, would PLANT himself in the grass and start getting mad at me, working himself up into a rage, then CHARGING me down the length of the chain, wrapping himself around my bony bare shins, and biting on my legs!
Maybe he was missing his family? Probably. Not that used to me, I guess. A few mornings of that and, I’m afraid poor Baby Gorilla didn’t get taken out each day for the rest of the two weeks! He got fed super well though.
The Prayer of the Tortoise
by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold
translated from French to English by Rumer Godden
Un peu de patience,
A little patience,
I am coming.
One must take nature as she is!
It was not I who made her!
I do not mean to criticize
this house on my back —
it has its points—
but You must admit, Lord,
it is heavy to carry!
let us hope that this double enclosure,
my shell and my heart,
will never be quite shut to You.
“For Our Children” by Amy Carmichael
Father, hear us, we are praying,
Hear the words our hearts are saying;
We are praying for our children.
Keep them from the powers of evil,
From the secret, hidden peril;
Father, hear us for our children.
From the whirlpool that would suck them,
From the treacherous quicksand, pluck them;
Father, hear us for our children.
From the worldling’s hollow gladness,
From the sting of faithless sadness,
Father, Father, keep our children.
Through life’s troubles waters steer them;
Through life’s bitter battle cheer them;
Father, Father, be Thou near them.
Read the language of our longing,
Read the wordless pleadings thronging,
Holy Father, for our children.
So, there we were in the Douala airport restaurant, stretched out on the floor, dozing off. I sat up, bleary-eyed, when a foreign-looking man, speaking English, approached us! M., the 17-year-old of our threesome was with him – I think he’d been walking around the airport. It was about ten thirty p.m.
The english-speaking man ushered us outside to a waiting vehicle; his wife, a smiling white face in the darkness, was there with him. The vehicle had a.c. and was large and newish – it smelled good! This couple were the Williams, an A.G. outreach family our parents had made a contact with on our behalf!
At their house, a night watchman let us in the gates and this friendly couple followed us in to the house – (more air conditioning!) – we felt revived more every second. Mrs. Williams offered us food but we were too tired to eat. They gave medication to J. Mrs. Williams made me follow her upstairs and led me into a comfortable bedroom, showing me, down the narrow passageway, a gleaming pastel bathroom on the right. Straight ahead in the end wall of the hall, to the left of the shining bathroom she reached out and opened a louvre door, revealing a linen closet and telling me to help myself to towels. I’d never seen anything like those towels – fluffy, bright, soft, new – American! Stacked in pastel towers and smelling of fabric softener and sunshine.
The next day they gave us bacon and eggs for breakfast and took us back to the airport, where we flew to Yaounde and hugged our families; J. was home at that point and continued on malaria meds, recovering fully, later. M. and I together with our families had another three-hour car journey, from Yaounde to Ebolowa, but that felt like nothing after what we’d already been through and because we were with our siblings and parents! Arriving home the following day we began long summer vacation in earnest!
I want to finish the account of the trip from school in Congo home to Cameroun that June. We were a fifteen-year-old, a sixteen-year-old, and a seventeen-year-old, all foreigners. The one who got sick later on turned out to have suffered a bad malaria attack. His fever spiked so high, within short hours that afternoon of the trip, that we, the other two, actually feared he was going to lapse unconscious on us in the Douala airport or in the rattletrap taxi. He had a splitting headache, he quickly became dehydrated and his teeth chattered audibly as his whole body shook and shivered.
There was no telephone, there was no ambulance and we had no acquaintances in that city.
J.’s other schoolmate, the 17-year-old boy, and I found an obscure telegraph office in a back corner of that rickety airport and, scraping together cash from our wallets, we sent off a typed telegram on a paper-thin pink form saying, “J super sick stop Williams not home stop please advise stop.”
We decided to have the 17-year-old use some more of our pooled, limited cash to take another taxi ride back to the Williams’ house and see if they’d gotten home, which he did, but after another hour he returned. No such luck.
We sat at the chipped formica restaurant table upstair. I went to the restaurant counter and asked to borrow a bar towel. I went to the smelly dark bathroom and soaked the towel in the slow drip of water from the sink faucet, wrung it out, and returned and draped it over the face of J., to try to help lower his fever.
Then an announcement came over the crackling loudspeaker, in French, of course, and it said that our eight o clock p.m. flight to Yaounde was CANCELED, without explanation, and there were no more flights until the next day!
J. was in terrible shape, trembling and hot as a furnace. He’d been that way for many hours. I tried to get ice, from the bar, but they kept telling me they didn’t have any.
We prepared to stretch out in the corner on the restaurant floor to spend the night. Between the three of us we did not have enough money left to take another taxi into the city, let alone book in a hotel. I remember being incredibly tired, incredibly hot and sweaty, and the none-too-clean tile of the restaurant floor feeling cool under the side of my face!
“We will get to Douala in about 30 minutes or less – already I can feel my ears popping as we lose altitude. It seems incredible how fast and far we get to travel now. Our worlds, which we get so tied up and involved in – are so trivial, so inconsequent – compared to what God must be. And we limit Him in our lives so much, thereby missing out on peace and joy. God is so huge and beautiful – I guess we can’t even imagine Him and that’s why it’s so hard to believe in Him for me. I feel like I can never be really SURE of something I can’t see or feel; touch, I mean. Yet, if I COULD, then He wouldn’t be God anymore.
About 3:15 p.m. Douala, Cameroun airport.
Well. Here we sit, the three of us, waiting, waiting, waiting. For 8 p.m. to arrive. I HATE this sitting. If there was just something to do, it wouldn’t be half as bad! There is nothing, so, I am writing this even though I don’t especially feel like it right now.
We went to find the Williams family, in downtown Douala, as our parents had suggested we do, to help while away the time of our waiting for our connecting flight tonight to Yaounde. But the Williams were not home so we just came back to the airport. We have been taking taxis.
Just now after a drop of sweat literally FELL off my forehead on to the notebook paper on which I’m writing this, puddling the ink from my pen, I glanced up and over to the next chipped and faded formica-topped restaurant table where the boys are sitting with cokes in front of them, and saw that J.’s face is fluorescent RED and streaming with far more sweat than mine is. Uh Oh. What’s wrong?
His eyes catch mine.
I say, “What’s wrong, J.?”
Mumbling softly, and lowering his tow-headed long locks with that strong cow-lick in the middle-top of his forehead to table level, he closes his eyes and moans, “I’m SICK! I’m going to DIE!” His heavy black glasses with the thick lenses tumble sideways on his face, then off, onto the faded and greasy dark red formica of the table.
Feeling a hard knot of fear start to clench in my stomach, I rise from my chair and walk a few steps over to him. I hesitantly place my hand on his forehead -it feels as hot as an oven pre-heated to 400 degrees for the past 60 minutes! I look over to G., the eleventh grader. “What do you think we should do? He’s burning up with fever!”