Back Home Again

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Early morning, near Keekorok, close to the Tanzanian border

Home is where the heart is. I am back in Kenya for a third time, reflecting as much a decision of the heart as anything the head had to say about it.

I still wear the beaded bracelet that was forced over a large hand onto my wrist sixteen months ago, a physical and sometimes irritating reminder of a promise I made to myself on that first trip to return.

It was early in the morning, sunrise on the Mara, and the feeling I had at sunset the night before (on my 36 hour safari) returned with astonishing power. I looked across the landscape and said to myself, I will be back. Not knowing how or when, there was as much certainty in that feeling as the sun’s trajectory into the morning sky, silhouetting the unique trees of the savannah.

The prairie soulscape of Canada for me had become forever intertwined with its African companion.

As I write this, watching a herd of elephants cross the horizon on a hill and the monkeys playing in the hammock near by, it is just as natural as seeing cats and dogs.

After the hustle of Nairobi’s traffic, the casual intensity of the distant thunderstorm out here, marked by birdcalls I don’t recognize, takes me to another time and place.

With all the complexities of the human psyche, perhaps there is some lingering genetic recall of the place from which all humanity emerged. Yet the sense of one’s African home rediscovered is clichéd, especially for the pasty Europeans whose ancestors ripped native African people out of their homes and cultures for centuries.

And of course the Africa I experience here is almost as manicured as the setting at the United Nations campus in Nairobi (UNON), not reflecting the struggle for survival that is played out across the hillscapes of Maasai-land. Yet even in safari parks and tourist lodges, the underlying primal logic breaks through.

Looking at the tourists that stroll by, shaped from worlds away, I walk instead with the local people, different to casual glance but not in the spirit beneath, though mine is as awkward and hesitant as the Maasai and Swahili words I attempt.

Even the triple handshake seems more familiar now, a rhythm of introduction that brings a complexity of touch and turns strangers into people with possibilities for a relationship. Not everyone wants or accepts that extra maneuver, but some do – and culture and difference are instantly woven into a common humanity.

It is a visit tinged with regret, however, for I only wish I had found her sooner. Africa is a mistress lodged in the moment, whatever ancient past or anxious future. Her passion and vulnerability are expressed by the dynamics of life, woven together into what is, captured in an instant that transcends the crude measures humans make of the passage of time.

As I turn the bracelet on my wrist again, at the risk of defying again whatever gods have something to say about my future, I will be back.

All Our Relations

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At UNEP’s Gigiri compound in Nairobi, the monkeys could join you for tea.

It is a reminder that however important our negotiations about the environment might seem, we step outside the conference room into a world full of creatures with lives of their own.

The wildlife on the grounds of Gigiri, its perpetually tended plants and trees, are sometimes jarring examples of our ineffectual efforts to structure and control the world around us.

It is a troubling reality that today all ecology is social ecology.  There is no ecosystem on Earth that is outside the direct and substantial influence of human activity.

That our recent influence has often been harmful is equally troubling.  We need to better understand our interactions with living systems more complex and subtle – and vastly more powerful – than we tend to realize.

Every day – whether we realize it or not – we are surrounded by both peril and delight as we dance with the life inside us and around us.

And, sometimes, the monkeys will join us for tea.

Written for the blog on the United Nations Environment Assembly website (for UNEA 1), Nairobi, Kenya (June 24, 2014)