When everyone froze in fear after the Paris attacks, I went to Paris. A paragraph took me there. In some magazine, when asked about fear, a young Parisian claimed that for her, and her peers, they have more joy and passion in Paris every single day than fear, that negativity would only haunt their souls, for which they had no taste. Life was their poison.
I feel that way for Africa, to which I return as a drug. No amount of childish politics, flailing stupidity in Government, pestilent press or churlish gossip will tarnish my view – being wary is as anywhere, but the place I feel most alive.
A friend sent me this picture of Elpis. I have called her Elpis – in Ancient Greek Mythology, the personification and spirit of Hope. Embodiment of Everyman. And there are many like her – ordinary, yet extraordinary too. Waking to the sun, toiling for food and water, shelter and protection, yet social and giving, prone to spontaneous fun, to unuttered thoughts and ultimately to nurturing those around her. Respectful of her environment, leading when need be, quiet in repose of nature. Elpis is a humble creature, yet each marking on her body is unique, and hers alone. Even if no-one ever notices.
Wealth and status mean little in the greater scheme of things. Fear lurks, as it always does, but does not paralyse her. Not living, not feeling, not engaging does. Africa never slips to grey, but lives by vivid colour, black and white, hight and depth, but never grey and static. Not even the rain knows how to be grey, or the sunset, the waves, the boulders or the vine. No stream, cane, bird or flower seller or fisherman settles for grey. No street child, teacher, Eland or Elephant knows how to settle for grey. They may look grey but never, never do grey for the rhythm of dust, of danger of dance is too deeply ingrained in life for them.
There must be millions of pictures of Elpis and others from Africa scattered throughout the world. People still come to touch, taste, photograph and wonder at the vibrant nature of Africa. Once tasted, the drug, like mine is ever fixed. They return, to ponder as to what it is about this place that grips the soul so steadfastly. What beats the blood so passionately, here, in this place, that makes it restless, dangerous, exciting, wild and beautiful all at the same time?
It is my Elpis. My lady that is all, but no-one else. Part of a group but always different. Her stripes have been earned, her strips are her make up, her make up is her identity, her identity is her place, and her place is where nothing is as it seems, but in that, in this gripping, seductive, charming and undefinable place … there is always the spirit of hope. No grey but technicolour. And that is the drug, the Absinthe of Africa that has me spellbound for more.
God painted her body and put her in the perfect place. Even her beautiful behind.
All pictures credit to Karin Braby.