Hope everyone has been having a great weekend so far! I’m going to open up next week with a pre-episode run-down of The Voice‘s first battle rounds where I was an epic fail in the prediction department. Enough of my pain for now… let’s end the weekend with a book excerpt by John Kenworthy who is currently on a blog tour:
[John Kenworthy is author of the chilling new novel “The Missionary and the Brute”, a thriller set in Tanzania, East Africa. In this excerpt, the Missionary Jadwin Ross is picked up at the airport by his colleague Reverend Kweka and two young assistants. He has lost his bags, but has retained his energy and enthusiasm. Kenworthy’s previous books have included “The Hand Behind the Mouse: an intimate biography of Ub Iwerks” and “Bungee Jumping & Cocoons”.]
The ride through the deep black landscape of Tanzania at night was long and uneventful. Jadwin sat in the front of the Land Rover with Reverend Kweka driving while Musa and Immorata climbed into the back like the veritable children that they were. Musa leaned between the seats excitedly hanging on every word, wanting to be part of the conversation. Ross smiled at him gently from the passenger seat on the left.
For the Missionary, it always took a little getting used to – the steering wheel on the right, driving on the left – thing. It was unnerving. He felt from the left hand passenger seat as if he was out of place somehow. An anachronism. Perhaps he was.
It also took him a bit to remember just how oppressive was the darkness. Tanzania – unlike any other country through which he traveled – had little or no street lighting at all. All of the illumination came from the cars themselves – the lines of Land Rovers and Dalla-Dalla buses (so-called because it cost only one ‘dalla’ to ride them) speeding along the Arusha Road from the airport westward to the game parks.
He was thankful – and quite mindful – that the Arusha Road was paved. It was often billed as the only paved road in Tanzania and to be honest, he had no evidence whatever to contradict that claim. It was paved and it was smooth with only the occasional check point-speed bumps to slow the traffic.
Kweka talked incessantly. He was a preacher after all. His voice was soft and soothing and Jadwin responded to his comments and stories with a series of grunts and affirmations, but his mind was already kilometers ahead.
“The others will be happy to see you, Mr. Jadwin Ross.”
“Others? They are here then?” For some reason Jadwin was thinking that he would be meeting the rest of his traveling party later in the week, but then he remembered that yes, of course, they would be at the Guest House already. They simply had some different agendas and schedules than his for parts of the week ahead. They would all start together in Kintori and then each would go work on their individual mission projects according to their abilities before reuniting later.
Ross would stay close to Kintori during the week where he would help lead a group that was building a school there. He enjoyed the building projects. Something tangible, something real in that. It meant something. It was a connection between people. Permanence. Purpose. It was a legacy left behind.
Reverend Kweka was continuing to talk. He was running through the list of who was waiting at the Guest House.
“Mr. Davison, he is here.” Reverend Kweka stated proudly. Davison, Ross knew, was a rich jeweler from Milwaukee and an impressive figure no doubt to the Tanzanians. Austere, dignified, professional.
Charles Davison was almost sickly pale with a shock of white hair swooping down over his brow that Ross imagined would stand in distinct contrast and be of intense amusement to that of the dark coloring of the Africans. When they met months before for the debriefing, Ross teased him that he was a poster child for sunblock. Yes, the Africans would find him humorous. When Ross would travel amongst the children of Tanzania, they would frequently take his hands and attempt to rub off his whiteness. Everywhere he went, the children called out “Mzungu! Mzungu!” That, he knew, meant, ‘white person’.
At first he was offended by that, but he grew not to mind it so much. It was simply direct and descriptive. An old person in Africa was called Mzee – or ‘old man’. It was no sign of disrespect at all, simply calling it as it was. In America, it would be perceived as incredibly politically incorrect to call some one ‘fat man’ or ‘old woman’ but because there was no value or judgment ascribed to it in Tanzania, it was accepted. Yes, he was old, white, and chubby. Bring it on!
Once while sitting in an outdoor cantina sipping chai, he saw an old Masai gentleman walking slowly by using a long stick for a cane. He was dressed in full red tribal cloth and had huge, flopping, distended ear-lobes which had been ritualistically opened over the course of years and years. They were now simply long dangling loops and truly quite stunning in their way.
The guide who was with Ross at the time saw the old man and called gaily to him, “Masikio! Njoo! Masikio!”
Ross laughed out loud. The old man was called “Ears!” Well, of course he was. He thought that it was quite funny then, and he thought it quite funny now just thinking of it. Ears. Imagine.
Yes, the Africans would find great pleasure in Davison’s whiteness.
The Missionary had seen Davison’s pasty – though kindly – face presented on Milwaukee billboards many times over the years and had heard his cheesy but unquestionably memorable radio ads far too often. He was a mover and a shaker in the world of business and well-respected by all.
Davison, he knew, had been blessed in his life with great wealth, grand second generation affluence, and frankly it had all seemed to have come a little too easily to him. A bit too tidy. Somehow that easy money had left the jeweler feeling empty. Bereft of real purpose – of meaning.
Somehow all his billboards and ads, all his cars and boats, and even his grand, famous mansion on the upper north shore of Lake Michigan was not enough to fulfill him. He was left wanting. To Davison’s credit, he felt that there must be something more to life than the redoubtable act of repeatedly accumulating wealth – no matter how good he was at doing just that.
He hoped that Africa would fill that void for him. In that regard, his interest in the mission aspect was very much real, but just as real – and much more practiced, indoctrinated to his very soul – was his reported side interest in Tanzanite – the famous, and famously expensive indigenous gemstone of Tanzania.
As much as he proclaimed to aspire to grand motivations – benevolent intents – preconditioned routines and repetition rendered him helpless to resist when shiny rocks doth call.
“And Mrs. Starr with her daughter.” Kweka continued oblivious to the Missionary’s internal dialogue.
Mrs. Starr had no such conflicting routines or aspirations – as persisted within the jeweler – to do battle over her soul. In fact, Ross thought that she had so little of substance beyond the surface of what could be seen, that a battle over her soul would have consisted of a thumb wrestling match. Three out of four. Winner take all.
“Her daughter is Raven.” Musa chimed in cheerfully, proud that he could contribute to the conversation.
“Yes, her daughter – with the… the…” Kweka did not know the words to describe her particular physical attribute.
“Hair?” Ross was thinking of the burgundy Mohawk hair-style she wore the last time he had seen her.
“No.” Kweka said trying to find the right word. “Immorata, what is it on her face?”
“Tattoo, father?” Immorata said helpfully. “The word I think, Mr. Ross, is tattoo?”
“She has a tattoo on her face?” Ross cringed.
“Yes.” Kweka said, happy the word had been found. “She has the inks on her face.”
“Yikes!” The Missionary just shook his head. Poor kid. She was kind of a mess. A fragile mess to be sure, but a mess nonetheless. She seemed nice enough – but lonely and starving of attention (good or bad.) Raven considered herself an outcast. Ross knew this because she quite frequently proclaimed this to whomever was in earshot. To the Missionary, she seemed to try her very best to maintain that outsider status through her actions and appearance. It was an awkward self-perpetuating, self-referencing, ultimately self-defeating cycle.
She felt inferior and alienated and then said and things to make herself seem even more inferior and alienated. The truth is, Ross felt, what she really wanted was acceptance into a group that would have her. The Goths would have her. She claimed to want to rebel, but she did so by adopting a very rigid dress and style that was conformist to her peer group in every way.
When she was with adults, which was often it seemed, she complained bitterly that people stared at her and made her feel different. She seemed totally unawares that perhaps it had something to do with all her piercings, black clothes, and burgundy Mohawk – not to mention the tattoo that she apparently now wore upon her face.
“Is it big?” Ross asked, genuinely sympathetic.
“It is not small.” Kweka said. This time there was no laugh, no sense of irony in his voice. “I do not understand why she would do this. Why she would destroy God’s beautiful vision.”
“Father?” Immorata questioned from the back seat. She rambled off a quiet question in her tribal language. For most Tanzanians, there were three languages. English for academics and business. Swahili for most daily activities. And a tribal – or pagan – language based on their unique cultural heritage. If people did not want an American – an Mzungu – to listen in on their conversation, they would turn to Swahili. Around the Missionary, they backed it off yet again to their tribal language.
Kweka shrugged his shoulders to Immorata’s question. “Perhaps.” He said in English. He turned to Ross, realizing the rudeness of his daughter speaking thus. “This girl says that Mrs. Starr’s daughter is like some of the peoples of this Africa who do things like this.”
“Yes, but not just them. Some other tribes also. They ink the faces, cut the skin…”
“Stretch the earlobes…” He was thinking of Masikio, of ‘Ears.’
“Yes, like that.” Kweka’s humor returned quickly. “But Mrs. Starr’s daughter…”
“Raven.” Musa leaped in.
“Raven, yes, she is not Masai.”
“No, she is most definitely not Masai.” Ross chuckled. He changed the subject back. “What about the friend of Mrs. Starr…”
“Leah.” Musa interjected again quickly feeling very much more important for his rapid-fire memory skill. “Yes, she is here from America.”
“All the way from America?” Ross teased.
Kweka shot his son a paternal look that seemed to say, ‘you fool, of course they are all from America.’ Musa sat back in the seat momentarily chagrined.
Leah Burkhardt-Todd had come from another north shore family of wealth. She came not for the mission so much but rather for the adventure of it all. She came to provide companionship for her friend, Mrs. Starr certainly, but even beyond that she was there to have an experience.
Jadwin Ross instinctively felt he could give her that. And more. He felt he knew her kind to the bottom of his being. Growing up, his mother was one of those women. Immaculately yet simply dressed. A string of pearls worn to the store to get groceries. She didn’t so much worry about money as much as simply use it to buy her things that gave her pleasure. The world revolved around women such as this. Ross had been a satellite long enough to recognize all the signs.
And he was comfortable with that.
He also knew that women like that had little use for men such as him unless there was baggage to be stowed. Well, that was not exactly fair. He didn’t know that for sure about Leah, and it probably wasn’t even true. It was a characterization that he placed upon her to keep himself from being attracted to her. Truly she had done nothing to earn that designation by her actions.
Truth be told, he found her to be quite lively and adventurous and simply loving of life. And gracious.
And yes, very very attractive.
“And Mr. Kamicki is there as well.” Kweka continued.
“Ah, he is.” Jadwin knew Kamicki well. Alex Kamicki was a Tanzanian engineer – educated at the university in Tumaini in Civil Engineering. Ross hired him each year to serve as de facto architect, designer, procurer, general contractor and foreman. He was never disappointed. Alex Kamicki never failed to come through with shining colors.
Like Kweka, Kamicki often punctuated his conversation with great peals of laughter that at times seemed slightly out of place for the context. Unlike Kweka, Kamicki was a professional. A learned man with a degree.
The only problem with Kamicki was the black suit he wore each day. At one time it was probably a very nice suit, but the daily wear had taken its toll. It was still visually decent. And it did look professional.
But it smelled of high heaven.
That was one of the things about Tanzanian life that was most disturbing to American visitors, the body odor of some of its people. It was stifling. Good lord, stifling! Alex Kamicki was a lovely man and all that, and Ross certainly considered him a good friend in Africa, but my gosh to endure a bear hug by this friendly soul was akin to traversing the inner circles of Dante’s inferno. It was literally eye-watering. He tried to shake the mental thought from his head.
“Kamicki is gone home.” Musa said from the back seat grateful for a chance to interject new information.
“He is?” Kweka asked.
“Yes, he is to have sleep in his house tonight.”
“Well, Kamicki was there before.” Kweka corrected himself. “He has gone home to sleep.” Sometimes the natural impulse to translate resulted in the good Reverend translating English into English, but the intent was there.
“What about the Johnsons?” Ross asked thinking of the remaining two travelers.
“Oh, yes.” Kweka chuckled. “I have forgotten the Johnsons!”
The Missionary could forgive Kweka that. The Johnsons were somewhat forgettable indeed. In fact, whenever he thought of them – which admittedly was not often – he always thought of them as one entity. The married Johnsons. As if that was their name.
The married Johnsons were retired school teachers who had the unfortunate habit of dressing – and looking – alike. Same stocky body build. Same gray-speckled hair. Same eyeglasses even.
They were nice enough people and truthfully were on their own journey and Ross would certainly welcome having couples like that along any time. They brought monotony with them. But that was not always unwelcome in Africa.
Driving through the Tanzanian countryside at night was often a startling realization of the depths of the desolation and isolation therein. Without the grand vistas of the landscape to inspire and distract, it was only that which could be seen with a pair of dusty headlamps that emerged. Time and again, Ross was amazed to see the blackness of the night broken up by bright red swatches of color denoting the traditional tribal wear of a Masai. The Masai, unlike many Africans, were one of the very few tribes that had yet to fully embrace western ways. They clung to their nomadic life and to their distinctive clothing and style.
Typically a Masai warrior would wear three individual cloths. One draped over each shoulder and a third as a bit of a shawl over the top. The favorite color was red, which was a bit of a cultural curiosity to Ross as he had spoken to Masai shamans before and been told that the Masai worshiped a dual-faced deity. Just as Christians worshiped a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the Masai worshiped a dual (diune?) god.
One facet of this god was black and represented good. The other was red and came to earth as a destroyer – like Shiva for the Hindus the Missionary had been told. Odd that the men would embrace this destroyer aspect by wearing red. Or perhaps not so odd considering the brutal nature of their desperate lives. It was as if the primal, beastly side of their being was celebrated in their dress. Ross supposed he could understand that.
Sometimes it was not Masai adults he saw alongside the road, but very young children – three or maybe four years old at that – trudging alongside also with no apparent adult in sight. They – like the adults – brandished sticks to herd small groups of cattle or goats upon their way through the long grassy ditches. The dust from the streams of tourist buses must have been horrid, but they seemed unawares.
They simply persevered onwards. Fleeting glimpses of red along the Arusha Road.
As Kweka’s Land Rover neared the very outskirts of the village of Kintori, they spotted a young girl – maybe six years old – skipping gleefully through the ditch in the inky darkness. She had no livestock to herd before her. No parent to move her along or keep her from harm. No Masai colorings. No stick. She was simply a child adrift in the night and seemingly quite happy and unconcerned with that. Ross recognized her immediately.
“Is that?” He asked.
Reverend Kweka nodded enthusiastically – happy his friend had made the connection. “Yes! It is her!”
“Godsend? It is Godsend?” Ross loved the quaint names of the African Christians. So earnest and sincere in their love for God. In Godsend’s case, it was almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. She was so named and so acted in honor of that name. She waved with a huge radiant smile at the Land Rover.
“Yes, she is Godsend! Look, she is laughing at you because you have no bags!” This was a Kweka joke and he thought it wildly hilarious. So much so that he nearly swerved the Land Rover off the road running over the little sprite who continued skipping and giggling as they passed.
She remained undaunted.
The Missionary leaned out the window looking back at her. He watched her tiny lyrical form disappear into clouds of dust and night with the grace of a ballerina.
Oh, how he loved this Africa.