Gifts of “unknowing”

Gifts of “unknowing”

We are well into what is called the “short rains” now, and it has been raining steadily since about 2 o’clock this morning. What this means is that I was once again blessed with the opportunity to take my morning exercise under a cloudy, cool sky with the fresh smell of rain and earth all around me, and with footsteps cushioned by a bed of softened leaves and purple blossoms from the trees that line the streets. The world never seems quite as beautiful to me as it does just after or during the rain.

And so, I am also starting my day with fond reflections of how my 35th birthday in Tanzania unfolded for me yesterday. After breakfast, Nami, Eli and I headed to an area just on the outskirts of Moshi, called Pasua. There, amazingly, you can access the Rau Rainforest by passing through surreal and peaceful stretches of “rice paddies” carefully grown and harvested by local farmers. I’ve never witnessed the type of labour or even the physical reality of this kind of farming, and was surprised to discover what a sensual experience it proved to be…

Vast expanses of green and earth and water… Tall, delicate stalks of the rice plants… Determined, brown, lean bodies of men and women, barefoot and knee-deep in the water, toiling at their tasks… Caravans of women with huge, bundles of dried stalk held atop their heads, traversing carefully across the muddy bridges that offer the only passage through the paddies… Endless bird songs and insect calls… Deep, throaty and relentless frog choirs. All of this, of course, was only further magnified by our eventual arrival at the mouth of the Rau Rainforest itself (where trails are designed for the worker, not the tourist)!

The rainforest provided us with a gentle hike through its bounty of tropical foliage, green Acacia trees and exotic collection of butterflies, birds, dragonflies and monkeys. Among several different types of monkey, I was lucky to spot the “White and Black Colobus”… a large monkey with dramatic, black and white fur and a long white tail. These monkeys are loud and inquisitive and move with speed and heaviness through the treetops – branches bending precariously under each monkey’s weight.

The forest also contained a tree called “Milicia excelsia”, notable for its size and age. At just about 185 years of age, the tree is the largest in the entire Rau forest, standing approximately 51 meters in height. The tree’s trunk, 3 meters in diameter, stretches for a full 30 meters before the first branch is extended! It is certainly a beautiful and majestic offering… and it actually carries a bit of a fabled, legendary status among the locals. There is a story often told about this tree, that when it was young and already statuesque and imposing, a group of people cut it down. When the group returned the next day however, to collect the wood, they found the tree intact, standing and growing as though it had never been interrupted…

I walked mostly in silence and observation, sometimes stopping to take a picture of a flower or a tree. I tried to move and breath slowly, in appreciation of the rainforest, and in appreciation of the fact that, in life, we simply never know what is being held “in store”. That is, as I wondered briefly where my feet would be treading on the day I turn 36, I smiled at the thought that when I turned 34 last year, I would have never anticipated that today would find me in a rainforest in Tanzania, East Africa!

And so, it seems to me that these gifts of “unknowing” are priceless, and serve as constant fuel… to hope, to dream, to try, to try again.


[This is an excerpt from a journal I kept while working in Tanzania years ago. I lived and worked in a small town at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro called Moshi. This specific journal entry was written on November 23, 2005.]

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