All paintings by Annelisa Leinbach
mangrove trees umbrella my canoe along the canal as if they want to safeguard me from the end of a world.
the ocean then receives me with the measured excitement of a lover that promised never to sleep with you again but still looks at your body the way they did when you danced on them and your name parted their teeth like jail bars and set itself free.
the ocean says though I have not found the answer, life is still mathematics. Not the Primary Maths kind that has a one digit concrete answer. The Calculus for Engineering kind where the answer is a story made up of many different components, and where things could happen in the middle of a problem to disrupt its established pattern and change the result.
in front of a hotel whose owner died and whose dirty corridors are eager to broadcast its new orphanhood, two birds play with the water at the shores, running towards it, begging it for attention and then running back in giddy panic when the water comes for it.
the ocean tells me I am not god (news to me). That I do not have the ability to understand all the whys now, or ever.
in Midas creek, nature looks at me with pity and some scorn, looks itself in the mirror of the water, roots fingering their way naked into the surface. Nature pleads with me to look at its perfection in being itself and acknowledge the misery of my dishonesty.
there are crabs that sting and those that don’t. You just know. Sometimes I should let my feelings lead me, the ocean says, even if my thoughts are not yet intelligent enough to validate them.
i walk too far into the ocean because I want to see the island a bit off the shore. I don’t know the ocean enough to be so far out here, unaware when it becomes hungry or when it is so full it vomits- both of them a death for me.
it took my feelings making a fist, hitting my mind on the nose, digging their fingers into my mind’s neck, raising it, throwing it onto the ground, sitting on its waist, straddling it a little to a Kranium song and then throwing blow after blow, for me to learn some difficult situations are for being let go. Not for me and my thoughts to solve in secret and draw a permanent smile on the face of my feelings, using lipstick with the expertise of a green and yellow gecko bride on a hot rock preparing for her wedding.
Fear nibbles on my life nonstop then spits it. I throw the leftovers onto the water and plead with the ocean to just let them float. By the time the ocean turns around to look at me and lifts its finger in hesitation, I am miles high and my life cannot follow me even if the ocean were to rise up in a wave to find me.
ambako hatuna maji, hatuna bahari, hatuna ziwa, hata mito hatuijui; basi kujua kuelea hakuwezekani, ila, I suppose, kwa juhudi zako mwenyewe. You- you took a hammer, grabbed my doubled over mind, pushed it back onto the ground, lay it in a T like Jesus on a cross, and drove a nail through each of its knuckles, one after the other. my feelings stood over my hyperventilating thoughts, looked at me and asked what it was going to take for me to choose them over my mind. I answered alright to a question we all knew but could not articulate. My thoughts collapse. I sleep.
the ocean looked me in the face and smiled the sort of embarrassed smile of a parent who has watched a child insist on touching something hot. It said everything was over now, asked had I eaten yet? Gave me glass after glass of honey ginger lemon tea for a cold made worse by the saltiness it was guilty of injecting into the air. When I was little my brother would sit me on a star. The cold floor would lick my thighs. My right eye would look at my brother with love but my left eye maintained a rebellious obsession with only the world on the left. The ocean said I should not let the eye of my mind fixate on the old thoughts or feelings, because it will make everyone cry, and because, you won’t believe it, the taste of my tears might be growing on me. It said all that was only necessary to deliver me to this decision, like the whale did Jonah to Nineveh.
in stone town
Somehow my thoughts managed to soften the thunder of a Blinky possessed by the ocean, telling me everybody is just winging it. The ocean said that I should banish the belief that I was any good at, let alone obliged, to make sure everyone felt well.
At night when men breathed poison into everything beautiful the ocean remained breathtaking, lulling me to a sleep I thought impossible. A man raised his spread out hands and walked into the water like he had learned, after many years, how to be worthy of haggling with the ocean about his fate.
In the daytime the ocean licked my cold sores and they stung and then dried. It then held my hand as I swam, eager to show me why I shall never stop returning. Together we trailed a boat for a mile. I stared at the ocean floor as if it could end. Down there, all the brightest colours in the world were holding a dance party. Yellow asked a box-shaped fish to dance and upon kissing it, left only its head green. Blue, red and purple fought over the skin of 7 fish that stuck their heads together and moved always in the shape of one combined star. Orange washed over a shoal of finger-sized fish and baptised them each into little sunrays. Green flirted with the shrubs which all the animals raced through as they played hide and seek with the colours, giggling.
Every time I found the most beautiful spot, I tightened my grip on the ocean’s hands, begged it to let me remain stagnant there forever. But the ocean would drift me away. The sadness at this goodbye would fast be replaced with an excitement when I found, impossibly, another most beautiful spot. The ocean would look at me, say had it not told me so?
The ocean told me:
do not be convinced that you must be a fisherman and your brain the son of a god.
we are. as bell hooks says. co-creators of our reality.
a brain is a difficult thing to commandeer
you have to wake up in the middle of the night, take your brain off, put it in a nylon bag, deliver it to Mr. Nutella’s stand at Forodhani, place his knives on the grill, pluck the brain stem off your brain like one does legs off a prawn, peel its skin off, shoo the wrestling cats circling you, place the dismantled brain on the chopping board, and then
put it all back together
Every time you do so too slowly the timer goes off and you have a brain half formed and you have to salute to it and wait another dark night to start your coup over again
The ocean told me if i let it, it can show me how to be whole in ways my mind is not able to fathom. Maybe whole is a family of dolphins jumping out of the water and back and out again and back, the colour orange against my skin, wrestling a little girl who is yelling отпустить, for a gasping red starfish which smiled at me on the ocean floor, the orange of the sun, an island around which all the colours of the world come to breed before returning to the depths of the ocean to finish their lives, the pinch of my waistbeads and laughter that makes me want to love aloud.
ambako asiyefunzwa na mamaye hufunzwa na ulimwengu. everything fell apart again. I did not have the energy to grab the steering wheel and swerve, and veer and ensure everything is back on track. And that, i suppose, is a lesson learned.
This piece came to life through a collaboration between Annelisa Leinbach and me. Check out more of her incredible work here: http://www.annelisaleinbach.com/
autobiography of a lesson learned, everywhere is the last travel story in a series called places. Check out other pieces in the series here: https://okasungorasaidwithswag.wordpress.com/places/