Start with what you know
We’re sitting at a rooftop bar in Dar es Salaam overlooking the night-lit harbour. The foyer downstairs smells of clammy, sweet perfume, just like the bronze-crusted hotels in my childhood did. Colonial gold bangles jangle and slow music plays. Upstairs, two nothing-special drinks cost more than the six-plate meal George and I would share later, in a much rougher part of town.
We’re on a middle date. The kind where we are already impressed by the other but still trying to be impressive. Our banter is easy, and wit flows quick and fast. We get philosophical and then intellectual and, just before we get to important things, we go back to the surface and talk about must-see movies, favourite travel adventures—this last week together is one of mine, but I don’t say so—and careers.
George’s job involves a near constant stream of interviewing potential candidates to join the social development organisation he works for in rural Tanzania and Kenya. We’re discussing the art of being interviewed and how important asking the right questions is. Together we formulate a particularly good one that tests our imaginary candidate’s power of reasoning:
“How would you go about determining how many metric tons of cargo are at sea at any one time?”
An impossible-to-know answer.
After a lot of mental jousting and arousing, George wins the battle for best response:
“I’d start with what I know. I know that there is one harbour and nine smaller ports in Tanzania and that it’s coast is about 800km long.” I know none of these things, but smile broadly. “I also know… only because I needed to find this out for work recently… that Africa has 26,000km of coastline.” His British self-deprecation floods the conversation. “Let’s say that the smaller ports make up the traffic of three main ones. That’s the equivalent of four harbours in total. Multiply that by eight hundred kilometres of coast in Tanzania, into twenty-six thousand kilometres to find out the estimated number of harbours in all of Africa…”
A short silence.
“One hundred and thirty harbours,” I say, perhaps a bit too eagerly.
Now it’s George who’s impressed. “Yes, one hundred and thirty probable harbours in Africa.”
He then builds part-assumption, part real-knowledge into the rest of his mock-response to show how, despite the answer probably being wholly incorrect, the number is less important than the path taken to get there.
My wise-head and won-heart dance a tango together.
Start with what you know.
I know I want to know more. Not only about this gold-and-silver-find of a person sitting across from me on this humid African evening but about the entire world and how we all fit into its mega-ton plan. I know I’ve always been curious. Not only about the physical but about the stuff we cannot see. About spirit and soul and all of the ways these can be discovered, nurtured and grown. About all of the energy adventures and meditative meanderings that would get me to the base camps of Serenity and Awakedness. About spiritual meaning. And living. Is organised religion right, after all? Or are there other ways to find grace and salvation?
I want to start that deeper adventure of discovery. And I’m ready to start now.
The last twelve months have been anything but serene. All but soulful. Five months ago, I got divorced from a man and a future I thought were both perfect. I thought I’d done it perfectly too. But then those warm thoughts got dismantled in a gradual and then suddenly-final awakening that we were not the person the other thought they had married. We were not the other’s other.
Wounds licked, papers signed and a surprisingly young judge who looked down from her bench with what seemed like genuine empathy to declare that my marriage was dissolved, and I am single again.
My heart starting to become unencumbered.
To get fully resolved, I set out on my new path; solo and searching and spiritually minded. A search for what I find and define as truly meaningful. A quest to me for me by me. Purpose. Or that’s what it was meant to be until George brought me a bunch of plastic flowers at a desert festival and started an unexpected romantic detour with his dancing eyes and body full of joy.
Soul seeking interrupted. Or just rerouted?
It’s later on that same night in Dar. George and I are eating a cheerfully cheap yet magnificent Indian meal in a large, brightly-lit courtyard of plastic garden furniture and red-and-white table cloths. It feels like an echo-y open-air arena that only locals know about. I can still feel the afternoon’s heat around us. Men in white vests laze about on the perimeters, probably not even patrons but here because it is somewhere. Kids, dusty from the day’s play, chase each other in a distant corner. A Bollywood musical plays on a wall behind me, accompanying our courses. There is no need for pretension here. Just excellent food served on home plates without garnish or fanfare. Each bite lights up the inside of my stomach. This is really good, we both agree. Really good.
Now it’s after midnight. We’re walking along long-shadowed streets in a broken part of the city. There is a melancholic beauty in the messiness and something about its history that I feel like I can touch. Colourful tuk-tuks line the road, parked for the night. Storefronts are dark and only every third street light or so is on. Plaster and bricks crumble down walls below neon lights that once, maybe earlier tonight, excitedly proclaimed what was within. Everything is silent, except my beating heart as I brush my hand past his while we stroll together through the sticky, sleeping streets. It’s illegal to be gay in Tanzania, and so we don’t show our affection. Swallowing it, even in our last few moments together.
We get to the corner where my driver is waiting to take me to the airport for my pre-dawn flight. All of a sudden, the heavenly meal turns into heavy mud in my stomach. My mouth goes dry, which is the one thing that didn’t happen when, earlier, I’d rehearsed the resolve I’d show in this very moment. We are saying good-bye to our time together and hello to an unknown future.
We agree to stay lovers, even if it is from a distance; to keep up our early morning and late-at-night chats; and to make sure that our next travel adventure intersects somewhere exotic and fun.
“What are you going to do now?” my handsome beau asks.
“I think I’ll try finding my soul,” I reply, as I get into the car and close the door.