Part 02, Chapters 21-32
Part 2, Chapter 21
“I sometimes wonder if that is what Krishna meant –
Among other things – or one way of putting the same thing:
That the future is a faded song, a Royal Rose or a lavender spray
Of wistful regret for those who are not yet here to regret….”
–T. S. Eliot
Bill Hellstrom was the Peace Corps director for Tanganyika. He and his wife Jane were an intelligent couple; they were idealistic intellectuals in their early thirties. Bill had left his law practice in New York in order to spend two years in the Peace Corps in East Africa. They welcomed Jack and David and the others from Dodoma with an attitude not often found in the world, except among Americans, the genuine smiles and laughter of people who are happy and successful in life and who love to share what they are with everyone they know.
If they had been for example, French or German, or perhaps like the British as they are in Europe, the Hellstroms might have seen themselves as occupying the top of a bureaucratic pyramid with a duty to keep as much distance as possible between themselves and those at lower levels of the hierarchy. They might have also seen their main job as one of control, not encouragement or empowerment.
But then, no other country would have started the Peace Corps, or found so many idealistic young citizens willing to join it.
What astonished David was that the Hellstroms had managed to recreate, there in the tropics, a home that was American to the last detail, even to the daily edition of The New York Times they had flown in to Dar.
After the relatively rough and ready British colonial outpost that was Jack and David’s apartment in Dodoma, the Hellstroms’ home seemed to exist in some parallel universe. Jack and David felt they’d been welcomed into a place of very great comfort — although to Bill and Jane, after living in New York, their house must have seemed like a kind of frontier settlement.
For Jack and David, though, it was a delight to be among people who were happy and at ease, in a place were everything was orderly and familiar, where everything – and David couldn’t help thinking this once again – made sense. The Hellstroms were still another reason for David’s happiness in Africa. With them he not only again had that feeling he’d often had — that he fitted in somewhere, at last, as he never had in America itself — but — and he couldn’t seem to say this to himself often enough — the fact that everything around him was so wonderfully reasonable and clear, in a way he had never known before — except in Africa — was practically overwhelming.
Again he told himself, there was none of the confusion and ambiguity he’d always felt surrounded with when he was with his mother and stepfather, whose behavior — it has to be said — would have been psychologically very confusing for any normal person who was young, innocent, and very naive.
Perhaps it should be remembered that David’s stepfather had a brother who was a chronic schizophrenic. The confusing and ambiguous conduct, actions, and talk that are so typical of families with schizoid offspring had been operating on David too. To make things worse, David’s mother did have exactly the right personality for reinforcing her husband’s schizogenic behavior patterns.
During that year in Africa, though, and especially during the Christmas holidays, David was free of all that. And it was blissful for him.
He was freer, even, than he understood, for he was still not completely aware just how morbid his parents’ thinking and behavior really were. At that point, he knew only that his mother and stepfather made him exceedingly uncomfortable, and that now all that sense of discomfort was gone. He found himself in a bright, sunny world, where people were happy and treated him as an adult, and where he felt they recognized what he had so far achieved in life.
On that second day in Dar, Jack and he decided to visit some people David had met on his last trip to Dar, people Adam Roth had met before going to Rhodesia, the family of an ordinary laborer who lived in the African section of the city.
Somehow Jack and David found their way through the maze of hot, dusty streets and were welcomed with much courtesy and ceremony in a simple African home. Their host, Mustafa, was a huge, well-built African, who worked on the docks and who treated them with more friendliness than David had ever known in his own country — or thought he could ever have dreamed of knowing. They all spent the afternoon together, in the shade in front of their host’s small mud-brick house. They ate and talked with anyone who happened to come by, passing the afternoon in what for David was a sea of friendship, greater than anything he’d ever known before.
Of course, later what would pain him about the memory of that afternoon was not that he’d known something that it was impossible for him to repeat, but rather the realization of how utterly self-centered he was. Like many Western adolescents, David seemed to assume that Mustafa was quite happy to entertain him and a friend for an entire afternoon, simply for the pleasure of their company. It never even occurred to him to do anything in return. David never even went back to see Mustafa again in order to thank him or to indicate that he valued his friendship and wanted it to continue. Without giving a second thought to what he was doing, David practically regarded Mustafa as one more element in the East African landscape, something that had been provided for his amusement and enjoyment.
Later in life he would feel only embarrassment when he remembered that attitude, and the happiness of that day would forever be clouded by the memory of his adolescent selfishness.
On that day itself, though, there were no clouds over his happiness, although he should have been aware of one far away on the horizon, “no bigger than a man’s hand.”
On that afternoon, surrounded by friends and companions and filled with everything he had already experienced in Africa, all he did was look around in the golden afternoon and think once more, “I have never been so happy, and I think I could never possibly be happier than this. Whatever happens to me, and no matter what I have to go through in life, I will never forget this happiness. Nothing will ever destroy it. Nothing can ever be so terrible or cause me so much suffering that I will ever forget what I have felt in this place, now, at this time. I will always have this.”
Of course he rather stupidly didn’t understand even the simple, fundamental truth that there is not any kind of happiness in this life that ever lasts. Even the memory of it doesn’t really last, no matter how intense it’s been. The only thing that does last — if we are wise enough to possess it — is the perception that this happiness is a faded image of the happiness that some people are crazy enough to believe perhaps could be ours in a world, a dimension, a universe other than this one. Such people could be very happy in their craziness, for this perception, this promise, this certainty, can itself be a source of happiness, something that can never be taken away from them.
Otherwise, the only thing that lasts is the memory of a happiness that once existed and exists no more. Such a memory is perhaps worse than no memory at all.
A memory of lost happiness may lead to what David would later experience, when he tried to recreate a condition of happiness that is impossible to recreate. Under those circumstances, he would think somewhat bitterly, it may be better never to have been happy at all, rather than to have known happiness once and then to feel it has been lost.
However, there were also times when David thought that perhaps some of the crazy people might be right. There might in fact always be time to learn what happiness really is, and to seize it.
Part 2, Chapter 22
“The serious problems in life are never fully solved. If ever they should appear to be so it is a sure sign that something has been lost. The meaning and purpose of a problem seem to lie not in its solution but in our working at it incessantly. This alone preserves us from stultification and petrifaction.”
–C. G. Jung
David was not able to hold on to his limited idea of happiness in Africa, of course, even in the months that followed that Christmas in Dar. This always happens, though, with happiness we pursue for its own sake, and for ourselves alone.
In David’s case there was still another reason the happiness quickly disappeared: he had still not detached himself from his mother and stepfather to the degree he thought he had.
He still had not learned, for example, that it was useless to ask them for anything, for if he did, they would only turn his request into a weapon to be used against him, to be used to manipulate him, and, if necessary, to punish him for not doing what they wanted.
He had begun to learn that at Harvard, and the lesson was reinforced in Africa, when he made the mistake of asking a favor of his mother and stepfather in a letter.
Later, he swore he would never do that again, swore he would never ask anyone for a favor ever again, and although it was some time before he was really able to keep that promise to himself, it was a promise he was in general able to keep for the rest of his life.
The favor he asked his parents for was this: during his first year at Harvard he had taken a freshman seminar without academic credit, a seminar on the origins of war. He was interested in the topic and at the time he had no interest in receiving a grade for it, because he would have had to pay an additional fee. Even while he was still in Cambridge, he knew that if he asked his parents to pay the fee, there would be endless negotiations, endless attempts on their part to extract something from him in return.
When he was in Africa, though, he learned in a letter from Harvard that if he had taken that course for credit, the grade would have been enough to put him on the honors’ list for the freshman year.
It had been a great disappointment to him not to be on the honors’ list, because he had always received superior grades before he went to Harvard, and now for the first time in his life he felt ashamed of his grades, because they were not the highest.
Since his grades were really his only source of self-esteem, he felt worthless and inadequate because he was not on the honors’ list. He felt he was inferior to his friends and roommates at Harvard — most of whom made the list.
When he thought about being at Harvard again, he was consumed in advance with a sense of inferiority. Because he wasn’t on the honors’ list, he felt there was something wrong with him, something he should be ashamed of, something that would make him unworthy to be with friends, something that would almost make him want to withdraw from them and lick his wounds like a hunted animal.
Of course anyone reading this will want to laugh at him, laugh at his pride. Perhaps it should be remembered, though, that in an adolescent, a certain amount of that kind of pride may not be unusual. It may in a way even be understandable.
At any rate, because of these feelings, David wanted to be on the honors’ list more than anything, and when he realized that by paying three hundred dollars by a certain date, he could be on that list, he was happy and excited, and he thought that surely his mother and stepfather would be happy and excited as well and would do everything they could to help. After all, hadn’t his mother repeatedly told him that she had divorced his father and remarried, simply because she wanted to “help” him? There would certainly be no reason at all why she wouldn’t help him now.
He was wrong.
His mother refused to pay.
His stepfather refused to pay.
They would not even loan him the money.
Three hundred dollars was not a great deal of money for his parents, but it was a very large sum for him in those days, and he could not save that much by the time the application for the grade was due.
It would be impossible to be on the honors’ list.
He accepted that as he would accept such things again and again in his life, stoically, cutting off any emotions of sorrow or anger, at least in his conscious mind.
He knew nothing would change his parents’ decision in this matter, because nothing ever had before in similar situations, so he went back to focusing his attention once more on his work. He told himself he would forget the incident.
He remembered it for the rest of his life.
He returned to Dodoma after that Christmas holiday, hitchhiking back on British Boxing Day with Jack and Julian, because they all had to be back at work right after the holidays. The only problem was that there was no traffic, and it took them more than twenty-four hours to travel less than three hundred miles
They slept on the shoulder of the road, covering themselves as best they could with their jackets to avoid the mosquitoes and listening to the hyenas howling not far away. This too, though, was an adventure for David, a way of proving himself, as all young men must, and something he looked forward to being able to tell others one day.
Back in Dodoma, the land and everything he had to do there exercised their old appeal at first. The rainy season had arrived in full force now, and his work had become a new kind of adventure. Travel from Dodoma to some of the outlying villages was much more difficult than before. At times it was impossible. In one area he and his small staff had to visit, extensive flooding had occurred, and when they attempted to reach their destination one evening in a heavy downpour, the water was so deep it almost covered the Landrover’s wheels.
The road had disappeared underwater, and the only way Shabani could keep from driving off the edge was to have Simon, David’s cook, and Mazengo, the clerk, walk in front of the vehicle and use long sticks to feel for the edges of the road.
Spending days and evenings like that wasn’t difficult for David, though. In a way, it was quite easy, because it gave him a sense of accomplishment, a sense that he had overcome great difficulties in order to achieve a goal that was important to him.
People today laugh at that kind of thing, but for the young man — or boy — that David was, it was very significant part of his life. Experiences like that, in fact, became the chief source of his enjoyment of life in Africa, almost the main purpose of his existence.
Unfortunately for David, when that year in Africa came to an end, and he could no longer have such experiences, the whole purpose of his existence would seem to come to an end as well.
Perhaps it was fortunate, though, that he didn’t know how quickly he was approaching that very point in his life — when he would have to return to the United States and question the whole meaning of his existence as he had never done before.
After the start of the New Year, the need for the famine relief work began to diminish in the weeks and months that followed. The crops that the local people had planted during the rainy season matured and were harvested, and they could supply themselves with food.
He began more and more to have a sense of an ending. Even the activities that used to occupy his free time no longer seemed to bring him much pleasure. Reading at home on a long Sunday afternoon or hiking up into the hills behind the European quarter — either alone or with Jack — all of the things he used to like to do began to seem boring and aimless somehow. As the weeks passed, he became increasingly miserable and depressed.
After a time he again asked the Provincial Commissioner — as he had done before — if there might be some other place in the country where he could work and be useful. Harris told David that it would probably be possible for him to be posted somewhere else from May until June or July, when he planned to go back to the United States, but it would take a few weeks to make the necessary arrangements.
As soon as there was a possibility that change would occur in his life, though, he began to feel intensely happy, though of course the deeper causes of unhappiness remained within him. Those he hadn’t dealt with. He didn’t know how.
From time to time those causes would continue to surface, and he could not deal with them very well. David could deal only with externals then, or with whatever was on the surface.
In later life, from the vantage point of years he would criticize the boy he was then, perhaps too much. He even sometimes blamed the boy for not doing more to deal with all the internal aspects of his misery. David the man should probably not have been too hard on David the boy, though, for the boy was in many ways still very like a child. It is perhaps too much to expect that such a child will be able to manipulate and redefine the subtler aspects of his internal reality.
For the rest of his life, though, David would blame himself and think that in the end there was more he could have done to correct all that was wrong in his life. The enormous regret, though, was somewhat alleviated by the hope that there might be something in his life that would lead people to prevent such unhappiness in the lives of their children, or in the lives of any other human beings.
That hope often made him intensely happy, and then he would think that at least that might be the purpose and meaning of his existence, in case nothing else ever was.
Part 2, Chapter 23
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby—
About a week after David spoke with the Provincial Commissioner about working in some other part of the country, he received a call from Harrison’s secretary. The Provincial Commissioner wanted to see him that afternoon.
Depression and a feeling of being very tired had set in again. He walked slowly over to the Provincial Offices, and as he approached the stolid building that had actually been built by the Germans as a fort before the First World War, he looked up at its thick, massively fortified walls. He was struck by the contrast between the mindset that had created this monolith, which was to be a defense against every threat, and his own mindset, which saw Africa as bright, free, almost infinite, and endlessly welcoming.
Whatever the reality of Africa might be, somehow the perception of this contrast gave him hope, lightened the weight of depression, reminded him that no matter what he might feel at times, there would always exist — somewhere — a better, finer world, and he believed he would always be able to gain access to that world. The storm in his mind abated, and he saw that no matter how real and unchangeable his sadness and pain might seem to him, they were after all impermanent feelings, and not a little ridiculous.
A few moments later he was in Harrison’s office. The Provincial Commissioner greeted David in his usual friendly, fatherly way and asked him to sit down. “You know, we’ll be sorry to lose you around here,” he began, “but I’ve just had word from Dar that there are a couple of places where you could be very useful, if you still want to work elsewhere.”
David tried to be as adult as possible, to speak to Harrison as subordinate to superior. “Thank you, very much. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent here, and I hope my work’s been useful, but the famine really is ending, and there isn’t really very much I can do around here anymore.”
Harrison smiled. “Well, that’s true, but there’s still plenty to be done in this country, and there are two places where you could make quite a difference. They need somebody in the south, for example, on the Ruvuma, where there’s been a lot of flooding. You’d be helping to distribute clothing and supplies. It wouldn’t be too different, perhaps, from what you’ve been doing here.”
David asked him where the second place was.
He glanced up at a map that was on the wall next to him, where the picture of the Queen had been a few months before. “The other place is near Bukoba, between Lake Victoria and the border with Burundi. It’s actually only a few miles from Burundi. You’d be working in a refugee camp for Africans who’ve fled the tribal fighting that’s been going on in Rwanda. I suppose you’d be helping out with the distribution of food and clothing. The work there would also be similar to everything here, except that the environment would be completely different. People in refugee camps are not like people living in their own villages.”
David asked him if he could have a few days to decide where he wanted to work, although he already thought he’d choose the refugee camp near Burundi. He went back to doing what little famine relief work was left, and then a couple of days later he told the Provincial Commissioner he’d decided on the refugee camp. There was no need to wait. He was needed at the camp right away, so almost immediately he began to pack up his things in all the suitcases and cartons he could find, while Simon took care of packing the kitchen and household items.
It had been less than a year since he’d arrived in Dodoma, but during that time much had changed. The thin veneer of European culture that had been present nearly everywhere in the town had almost completely disappeared. There were no longer crowds of English children playing on the school grounds. English housewives no longer shopped and browsed in the little Indian stores on the town’s main street. The English administrators and police officials, even some of the missionaries, had nearly all gone. A small wave of western civilization had washed over everything in Dodoma for a time, and then quickly receded.
Now David was leaving as well. He would no longer feel the dry heat of the equatorial sun that burned the plateau. He would never again feel the warm rain on his face there in December. No more villagers would ever rush to greet him with their laughter and their smiles as he drove into their settlements. The little house he’d lived in would be empty for a time, and then its red tiled roof would shelter someone else’s hopes and dreams and occasional sadness.
If Tanganyika had changed, so had he. He thought he’d acquired more self-confidence than he needed, and he felt at home in Africa. He’d become independent, able to rely on himself.
All of these qualities presented more of a danger to his survival than he could imagine then, however. He still did not realize that his mother and stepfather would feel they had to do everything possible to crush these new aspects of his personality.
Simon and David left Dodoma for the last time early one morning just before sunrise. It was April, the rains had ended, and the cool, dry season was approaching. It was quite chilly before dawn. They were driven to the station where they would board the train for Mwanza. There was already light in the east, and the familiar shapes and figures moved in the semi-darkness, Africans on their way to work or simply moving a herd of cattle or goats from one place to another.
The rich, pungent smell of Africa was in the air — the African earth and the plants and the still-blossoming trees — all the scents that seemed at once so exotic and so familiar to him, to anyone, perhaps, because they are perhaps for our species the scents of home.
David was glad to be leaving, in a way, because it meant starting a new adventure. When he closed the door of that little house in Dodoma for the last time, though, he still couldn’t quite understand that he was leaving behind a part of his life that he would never forget, a part that he would long for more and more as the years went by, a part he would spend a large portion of his life trying to return to, one way or another.
Part 2, Chapter 24
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change….
–Gerard Manley Hopkins
The train pulled away from the station slowly, heading toward the Northwest across Tanganyika. Everything new about the journey and the land and anticipation of the future kept David’s mind occupied. Otherwise, he would have been blinded by sadness: sadness at leaving Dodoma, sadness at leaving the people he knew there — especially Jack — sadness at leaving behind the places in the bush that he’d become as familiar with as if they were home to him. He was probably also sad because somehow he may have sensed that one of the most important years of his life was ending.
The farther he moved away from Dodoma, though, the more he felt a the excitement of seeing a part of the country that was wholly strange to him, and the more he forgot his sadness, at least for the moment. He watched the landscape becoming green, and richer, as the train moved along on its journey toward Mwanza and Lake Victoria. Even the sky seemed to be filled with a different kind of color.
When he arrived at Mwanza, he boarded a comfortable — almost luxurious — ferry for the trip across the lake to Bukoba. He met a young, educated African with whom he carried on a long conversation in Swahili. He had become so fluent in the language that he surprised even himself with what he could say. The words seemed to pour out of him. He spoke about everything: himself, his life, the future; about Africa and the United States; about all of the hopes and expectations everyone his age seemed to have at that time, in those few bright years of the century, years without wars, assassinations, or upheavals.
One thing he did not speak of that day was of course what was of immense importance to him and what no one speaks of anymore: what some men call God. It has always seemed strange to him that we may discuss other things with passionate intensity: art, literature, film, politics, theories about the origin and purpose of the universe, about the whole range of things the human mind and imagination can conceive.
God, he thought to himself, most human beings never speak of, no more than they would speak of elves and fairies. God is an embarrassment in our sophisticated culture. God is too primitive an idea. The idea that there could be a God arouses too many other ideas in our minds that we would really rather not think about — ideas like death and the meaning of life, ideas like good and evil. And all of these ideas were things that David thought a great deal about, for better or worse.
God, he knew, must keep hidden. But he told himself that perhaps, in a way, it’s just as well that people do that. God is, he’d learned from the nuns in childhood, a hidden God, a God of paradox, a God who seems to make himself known in obscurity, a God men sometimes find by running away from him, a God who speaks to human beings obliquely and through indirection.
Or at least, he believed, this is true for the age that he happened to be living in, true for those who think they have no need of God or his tiresome rules. To those individuals — and naturally there were times when David admitted he had to include himself in that category — God speaks in the occasional fleeting moment between distractions, or sometimes even through their distractions.
If some ever do speak of God, he reflected, they speak of him in a similar way: indirectly, fleetingly, at those brief times when our distractions have broken down. Sometimes he felt that there might be, gathering around the edges of our world, another world and another age when nearly everyone recognizes that human beings cannot live without some kind of God, an age when those alive will speak of God in such natural idioms, and with such profound understanding that they will be astonished at the impoverished spirit of our time.
That’s what David thought anyway.
Part 2, Chapter 25
“’Dost thou know nothing at all about whaling, I dare say – eh?’
‘Nothing, Sir; but I have no doubt I shall soon learn.’”
After David and Simon arrived in Bukoba, Simon waited at the dock with the boxes of household articles, while David left his things at the hotel and reported to the Provincial Office. He’d been told to see Donald Welles, who would give him the details of his new assignment.
It was late in the afternoon when arrived at Welles’ office. David found him to be a surprisingly young man, the first thought he had was how fine it was that Welles had become a Provincial Commissioner at such a young age. Then David realized that Welles, like all other colonial administrators, was not beginning his career, but ending it, in the new climate of independence.
He was an enthusiastic man, full of energy that was quite different from the calm and composure that Harrison had always displayed, and yet he too seemed competent and intelligent. He asked David a few questions about his work in Dodoma, and David told him everything he wanted to know, in great detail. They spoke for several hours, first at Welles’ office, then at his home, and then over dinner at the local railway hotel restaurant, which in the colonial period was always the best restaurant in every town served by the railroad. David told him about the work he’d done in Dodoma, and Welles seemed enormously interested. And because David was so young and so insecure, it made him feel good to speak with someone who appeared eager to hear about what he’d done and what he’d achieved.
Welles was very vague, however, about exactly what kind of work David would be expected to do at the refugee camp he’d been assigned to. If David had been older, this vagueness would have perhaps started alarm bells ringing, but he was still a very inexperienced young man, and he could not believe that anyone — except for his unhappy mother and stepfather — would ever knowingly put him in a position where he could come to any harm.
When they finished talking, Welles told David to bring his things round to the Provincial Office at eight o’clock the next morning. A Landrover and driver would be ready to take him to the refugee camp at Rulenge, two hundred miles to the West.
He hadn’t expected the journey to take very long. He’d somehow assumed that the road would be like the one between Dodoma and Dar es Salaam, unpaved but broad, well-maintained, and very fast. Six hours after leaving Bukoba, though, they’d covered only about a hundred miles on the dirt track through the bush that served as a road.
It was already dark when the Landrover finally arrived at the Catholic mission located about a mile from the refugee camp. David had been told to spend the night there, so he rang the bell and helped Simon unload his things from the vehicle. Almost at the instant they finished, the driver of the Landrover slammed all the doors shut, started his engine, and drove off at breakneck speed. Any feeling of apprehension this might have caused him — any sense of being abandoned in a dark wasteland at the ends of the earth — was dulled by exhaustion and hunger. It was also nearly erased by the twelve hours of being thrown around inside a Landrover traveling on what was not so much a road as a long strip of potholes running through the bush.
Standing in front of the main door of the mission, David closed his eyes for a moment.
“Dear God, I can’t think about all that now,” he kept repeating to himself as he waited for someone to answer the bell.
He rang again.
And finally the door was opened by a friendly, middle-aged priest with what seemed to David to be exceedingly intelligent eyes. He introduced himself as Father Gregory, and when David had explained who he was and what he’d come for, the priest took him inside, gave him something to eat, and showed him to a guestroom. It was small and austere, but bright and very clean and very different from everything outside. At that moment, tired as he was, David almost felt as though he had accidentally stepped into another dimension, some opening in everyday reality that gave onto a half-forgotten anteroom of another world.
Father Gregory smiled. “If you need light later,” he said, “there’s a small lantern there on the table. I’m afraid our generator shuts down at nine-thirty every evening.”
The next morning he woke up feeling full of energy; the worries and pain of the evening before seemed to have completely disappeared. He had breakfast with the priests and the brother at the mission, and then Father Gregory drove him down to the camp in one of the battered mission Landrovers. They followed a winding, muddy road into a large valley where there were perhaps seven or eight hundred small, round thatched-roof houses. They were clustered around three large rectangular buildings, also covered with thatch. It was in front of one of these larger structures that they pulled to a stop.
As David got out of the Landrover, a dark, wiry Englishman stepped through a doorway and walked toward them. He had a cigarette in a long holder in one hand and was immaculately dressed in the standard colonial officer’s uniform for the tropics: white shirt and shorts, and long white knee socks.
“Good morning, I’m Grant Johnson, the camp commandant,” he said with a broad smile.
David was momentarily startled by the title, but he went ahead and introduced himself. Father Gregory chatted with Johnson for a few minutes, and then went back to the mission. Then David and Johnson went inside one of the thatched buildings — which David saw was the temporary home for him and his wife Ann and their two children.
Johnson sat down, fitted another cigarette into the holder and lit it. “Nasty things, aren’t they?” he said. “But I can’t give them up.” He motioned David to a seat.
Ann gave him an impatient glance as she cleared away the breakfast dishes.
“Well, what did they tell you in Bukoba?” Johnson asked David, settling back into his canvas chair and smiling again.
“Not very much. I talked with Donald Welles and told him what I’d done in Dodoma. When I asked him what I’d be doing here, though, he was a little vague.”
Johnson looked away for a moment, still smiling, his chin resting in his right hand. He seemed to be thinking about something that pleased him, then he turned and looked directly at David. “I see. Well, I can tell you quite clearly what you’ll be doing here. I don’t know why Donald had to be so mysterious.” He paused, as if for effect. “Ann and I will be leaving here tomorrow, and you’ll be in charge of the camp — and the fifteen hundred refugees in it.” He looked David straight in the eyes, smiling pleasantly.
For a moment David thought he couldn’t move, couldn’t even speak. The first thing that occurred to him was that he’d never heard anything so preposterous in his life, although he didn’t say that. He had enough presence of mind to think that Johnson might feel insulted.
Johnson continued to look at him, smiling. “Do you think that’ll be a problem?” he asked.
David stared at him for what seemed to David to be a very long time. Into his head came the vision of the Landrover turning around the night before and heading straight back to Bukoba. It was a twelve-hour trip. Suppose David wanted to leave: how could he possibly get away? No, he’d have to stay, he thought, somewhat stupefied.
“Problem?” he said to Grant. “No, no problem.” Anyway, he thought to himself, rather idiotically perhaps, if you think I’m capable of running this camp, then I guess I must be.
And that ended the discussion, as far as David was concerned.
Part 2, Chapter 26
“He had never once disobeyed or allowed turbulent companions to seduce him from his habit of quiet obedience: and, even when he doubted some statement of a master, he had never presumed to doubt openly.”
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
At that point in his life David often did things because other people — older people — thought he was capable of doing them, no matter how much he might doubt that he really had the abilities they attributed to him.
He had such a strong belief in the insight and wisdom of older people that he would attempt to do anything they asked. He would go blindly ahead, simply assuming that they knew him better than he knew himself. After all, he thought, they were older and wiser than he was. If one of them thought that he could, for example, manage a refugee camp of fifteen hundred people, then surely he must be able to do just that.
This kind of naiveté in a young man may have a certain charm, but it definitely has at least one serious drawback. In David’s case, as long as people demanded more of him than he demanded of himself, their expectations led him to achieve things he would have thought exceeded his abilities. However, when they demanded less of him, or when they told him that the things he was doing were not as significant as he imagined, or when they said he was attempting things that were beyond him, things he should forget about, he believed them then as well. He simply accepted whatever anyone said about him.
And with really incredible stupidity — it would seem to him later in life — as a very young man, David trusted what he thought of as other people’s more mature insight, intelligence, and honesty.
He would later become aware, of course, that hardly anyone has these qualities quite to the degree that he’d imagined when he was young.
Part 2, Chapter 27
“He assumed, then, the demeanor of one who knows that he is doomed alone to unwritten responsibilities…There was a singular absence of heroic poses.”
The Red Badge of Courage
Although David responded quite calmly to Johnson that day when he was asked if there was any problem with the idea of his taking over complete responsibility for the camp, he was so shocked that in some ways he was not really aware of what he was saying.
It was as though David simply sat there, staring at Johnson like one of those cows you see sometimes walking across a road in the bush in Africa. When they hear a vehicle bearing down on them, they stop in the middle of the road, turn their heads, and, absolutely motionless, stare wide-eyed at the car or truck roaring toward them at fifty or sixty miles an hour. Just about the time you think they’re never going to figure out what they have to do, they react and go lurching off the road to safety.
The next thing that happened in the conversation that day was that Johnson told him cheerfully, “You and I can spend the rest of the day going over the details of camp management, discussing the important people you’ll be dealing with in the camp. Then we can talk about the way the government wants to resettle these people so they can start growing their own food.”
Resettle them? Grow their own food? David thought to himself. He almost wanted to shout the words out. You mean I’m not only supposed to look after these people here in the middle of nowhere, he thought to himself, I’m also supposed to resettle them so they can grow their own food?
How in God’s name would he do that?
By the time he recovered from Johnson’s little surprises, all David could do was just sit there and hope he looked as if he were listening seriously, as if there were no doubt in his mind at all that he could run the camp as competently as Johnson had.
He actually amazed himself by the way he could somehow sit there and quite calmly take notes on all of the little routine tasks that he was supposed to see were carried out in the camp after Johnson’s departure.
Part 2, Chapter 28
“There was a touch of insanity in the proceeding, a sense of lugubrious drollery….”
Heart of Darkness
After Johnson left that afternoon, David became very much aware that in a camp with fifteen hundred African refugees, he was one of only three “Europeans.” The other two were an English social worker named Rachel and an American nurse named Susan. The thatched house the women called their home was not far from David’s own.
The only other Europeans in the area were the priests and the brother at the mission a mile away. There was no telephone – or any other type of communications equipment – within a thirty mile radius of the camp. There was no way of contacting any police outpost in an emergency except by sending a written message.
The nearest such outpost was at the district office, normally about an hour away by Landrover. However, this was the rainy season, and there was no way of driving a Landrover across the river that ran between the refugee camp and the district office. If David wanted to visit the police or the district office, he had to send them a message a day or two in advance and hope they could send the Landrover to meet him on the other side of the river.
David realized that if there was any real emergency in the camp, he was on his own. However, it never really occurred to him that there could ever be a serious problem, one requiring the intervention of armed police. He had no weapon of his own and he would no more have thought of asking for one than he would have thought of asking for a nuclear warhead.
In what more mature people will recognize as a sort of adolescent stupidity, David felt that familiar sense of adventure in a situation that should perhaps have been at least somewhat alarming to him. There was, for example, a group of refugees who were determined to return to their homes in Rwanda at any cost, even by force if necessary. Johnson had told him about this group but said they presented no real problem as yet, because they possessed no weapons. (The part of that sentence that David actually heard ended with the words “no real problem.”) Johnson had added philosophically that the existence of this element, this group, among the refugees was after all not very surprising, since the thing that was always uppermost in the minds of refugees everywhere was a return to their own country.
As it happened, the leader of this militant group was also the African that Johnson had used — or perhaps manipulated — in the day to day running of the camp, although in such situations it can sometimes be unclear who is using or manipulating whom.
This leader’s name was Kambanda, and he was by far the most influential African among the refugees, all of whom were Watusi. Kambanda always appeared extremely serious, grave, some might say even threatening. In the months that David knew him, David never once saw him smile.
Kambanda was very tall, above average in a group whose members are always tall, and he moved with a kind of majestic grace. Johnson had been able to establish a relationship with him that was really a miniature version of the British colonial system of indirect rule, that famous method of control in which indigenous leaders were used by the British to govern indigenous peoples, while the British were free to act more or less behind the scenes.
While listening to Johnson on the day he arrived, David hadn’t been too concerned about the situation in the camp mainly because he’d begun to expect he could simply to take over the system Johnson had created and run the camp the way he had. As things turned out, however, Kambanda had other ideas.
He was not only the African leader through whom Johnson ran the camp, he was, as Johnson had said, also the leader of those refugees who wanted to use force of arms to return to Rwanda. Kambanda was not about to follow David’s orders the way he’d had to follow Johnson’s. Kambanda had waited a long time to be rid of Johnson, and now that he was gone, Kambanda was certainly not going to yield any authority to a twenty-one-year old American white boy, who looked and behaved as though he were even younger.
As far as David was concerned, though, in all his stubbornness and arrogance and insecurity, the government had appointed him camp commandant — and this was David’s formal title — and given him the job of resettling refugees on their own land outside the camp, where they were to grow their own food. David had accepted that responsibility and he knew only that he was supposed to fulfill it, no matter how young and insecure and unsure of himself he might feel. Whatever Kambanda might think was for David irrelevant, if it didn’t conform to the responsibilities David been given. That was all he knew, all he could see.
And so David told Kambanda to do certain things in the camp that were part of his job, and David expected — in all his simplicity — that Kambanda would just do them. David would ask him to call the refugees together for a meeting, for example, and David expected them to be there.
Others can be shocked or even somewhat horrified at this, or they can even laugh at David, because by the standards of a later time, David’s thinking and behavior were strict and unyielding, even rather authoritarian. Obviously, though, standards are always changing. David was acting according to the standards of the world he was in. They were the only standards he knew then.
Naturally, Kambanda was not going to accept those standards, although he never openly defied them. At first, he simply ignored almost everything David asked him to do. And if David questioned him about some meeting that no one had attended, or some little directive of that had not been carried out, Kambanda was always extremely pleasant, and always ready with very plausible explanations, which David always believed.
Until he couldn’t believe them any longer.
Part 2, Chapter 29
“Nothing will come of nothing.”
One day, after David had been in the camp for a week or so, he asked Kambanda to call all of the men together so that he could explain a new system of food distribution. He wanted to tell them that the Tanzanian government would not always be able to provide them with food. They would have to start growing their own. During the coming months, their food ration would gradually be reduced, although they would have enough time to cultivate their own land and provide themselves with food. This was a message they would not have wanted to hear, and Kambanda did not want them to hear it. The dream of returning to Rwanda had to be kept alive.
David was innocently unaware of that, however, and he spent several hours working on a speech in Swahili, intending to use it to explain the new plan to the refugees.
As the time for the meeting approached, David became tense and a little nervous at the prospect of once more getting up in front of several hundred people and giving a speech in a foreign language. As far as he was concerned, though, it had to be done.
Just before the meeting was due to start, he walked over to the large open space that lay between his quarters and the central part of the camp, space that had been designated as the area where the meeting would be held.
Not a soul was there.
He was not very surprised, because Kambanda had so often not cooperated in the past and in fact had indicated he didn’t really intend to cooperate with David this time either.
As he stood there in the open, empty place, David could feel something like waves of anger forming in his mind, and he thought to himself that it was time that Kambanda and he reached an understanding about who exactly was supposed to be in charge of the camp. If Kambanda didn’t want to work with him, that could be a problem, but David didn’t think it was a problem he couldn’t solve. After everything he’d done and experienced in Dodoma, he thought there was in fact no problem he couldn’t solve. He was confident, in fact, that he could do almost anything, because he’d changed so much from the shy, self-conscious adolescent, constantly haunted by feelings of insecurity, who’d arrived at Harvard almost two years before. And he was so certain that that change would be permanent.
More than that – perhaps even worse than that – he continued to think that all his strength and ability belonged to him, originated in him, and resulted from his own efforts. Years later he would realize that this was part of the mythos of our age. For anyone to attribute his own strength or intelligence or ability to anything or anyone outside himself – “or to God,” he told himself – was as embarrassing as announcing a belief in Santa Claus. David wouldn’t have wanted to express such an idea to anyone. Of course, in the abstract, when he thought about religion, he admitted that he really did believe that everything men are comes ultimately from God, but that was only in the abstract. That idea was somehow in a separate compartment, cut off from his everyday world, the world of “reality.”
Much later in life, though, back at Harvard and beyond, “reality” would take on a different meaning. He would occasionally remember, somewhat bitterly, what he once heard someone say: reality is the last thing we need to concern ourselves with, for it is, tediously enough, always present, while more beautiful and necessary things demand our attention and care.
One aspect of “reality,” though, that David later told himself he should have been more dissatisfied with, in Africa and elsewhere, was the idea that he could depend on himself alone, and that he had no need of anyone else, and only the most abstract need of God.
He could develop that kind of thinking only after becoming aware of his own weakness.
That, however, would take a long time, because he was, as he himself might have been the first to admit, very stubborn. He clung stubbornly, for many years, to what he eventually considered the illusion of his own strength, until he was too exhausted to cling to it any longer.
It came to seem that it can sometimes be easy for men to support themselves, even for quite a long time, on nothingness.
Part 2, Chapter 30
“…Among so many signs of power and rule
Conferred upon us, and dominion given….”
On that day he called a meeting and no one appeared, David’s first reaction was one of very great anger.
He had to do something, almost anything, he thought, to correct a situation he found intolerable. And he had to do it right away.
If he hadn’t been so young and so insecure, his reaction might have been more measured, but he was arrogant and proud, in an almost Teutonic way. He felt that not only his authority had been challenged, but the reasonable, hierarchical order of things itself. He felt that that authority and that order had to be maintained at all costs.
He’d been patient with Kambanda, he told himself. He wasn’t being dramatic, but in a situation where other people’s lives were involved, there was a limit to patience.
When he went to the meeting place that day and found almost no one there, he turned to one of the refugees and asked to be taken to Kambanda’s hut. David found him outside, talking to some of the refugees. When Kambanda heard David approaching, he turned and stared at him with what David interpreted as an expression of mild contempt on the thin, gaunt face. David returned that look and for the first time realized what a powerful figure Kambanda was: tall and lean, with slow, carefully controlled movements, and eyes that seemed to look at everyone in the way a man would examine an insect.
When David spoke, he tried very hard not to show his sense of insecurity and fear. He wanted to convey a sense of determination, eveb though even knew he might be sounding like nothing more than a desperate adolescent.
“You remember I asked you to have the men come together for a meeting at eleven o’clock?” David said in Swahili. He could feel his eyes becoming moist. He even felt he was trembling, out of suppressed feelings of anger and fear, maybe even out of homesickness for his friends and for everything he’d had in Dodoma. Still, he managed to continue in a level tone, “Well, no one’s there.”
Kambanda only looked at him with something like laughter dancing behind his eyes. He gave David a hard, polite, little smile. “You know how Africans are,” he answered, not trying very hard to hide his sarcasm. “They’re never on time. They don’t know what clocks are. But if you wait for another hour or so, I’m sure they’ll show up.”
David had already heard that kind of thing from Kambanda before, and often: next time, Kambanda would do it next time; the refugees would be there next time.
David was determined not to listen to that kind of promise anymore. He and Kambanda had reached a point of no return, it seemed to him, a decisive moment in their little game, and he told himself that he was the one who would win. As far as he was concerned, there wasn’t going to be a next time. There was only now. No matter how inadequate he might feel, it was he who had been given the responsibility for the camp, and he was not going to allow Kambanda to take that responsibility away from him. In David’s rigid and rather narrow view of things, it was a question of obedience to authority, and a question of power. Unfortunately, he was still so immature that those were the only terms he could think in. He would force Kambanda into calling that meeting. He would make the man obey him in the same way he’d obeyed Grant Johnson.
The need to resort to that kind of thinking probably shows only how far David was out of his depth. A more secure and experienced young man would have handled the situation differently, more effectively. The problem of course was that there were no longer very many secure and experienced Europeans or Americans working in East Africa. They’d practically all returned home when Tanganyika became independent. Even the government was, in its own way, so desperate that that was the reason David happened to be there in the first place.
He had no time to consider any of these things, though, on that day, there in front of Kambanda’s hut.
After Kambanda had told him to wait just a little longer for people to show up for the meeting, David stared up at this tall, stern Watusi who seemed to be towering over him. Then he said simply, “I want to talk to you. I want you to come to my office now.”
Without waiting for Kambanda to answer, David turned and walked away. He didn’t even look back to see if Kambanda was following him. He don’t know what he would have done if Kambanda had simply ignored him. He was to angry to think about such things.
Kambanda did follow him, though. Maybe Kambanda thought David was more desperate than he seemed, and Kambanda wanted to find out what David would do. Maybe the old habit of feeling he had to obey a “European” was too strong even for him, and he gave in to it. Or perhaps, like the leader of any group, Kambanda had his rivals, and he was afraid David would dismiss him and try to put one of the other leading refugees in his place.
Whatever the reason, Kambanda walked behind David to the little room that served as an office, attached to one end of the thatched structure that was his house.
David sat down on one side of his desk, and Kambanda on the other. David looked him straight in the eyes, not caring anymore if his own eyes showed he was afraid, angry, or simply about to break down and cry. At that point he really cared about nothing but doing what he thought he was supposed to do. He gripped the arms of his chair and said to Kambanda in voice that sounded oddly tense and husky to him, “Kambanda, I only want to tell you that I don’t know why those people haven’t shown up for the meeting, but I think it’s because you’ve done nothing to call them together.”
Kambanda looked straight back at him, and as the dark eyes held the younger man in his stare, all David could think of was that now he understood what it meant when someone’s eyes seemed to be burning with hatred and anger. For an instant, his eyes did seem to be on fire, to be glowing like two smoldering coals, and when he finally spoke, he spoke softly, evenly, with no emotion in his voice. “And I only want to tell you that you can have your little meeting if you want to. The men will be there in half an hour. But I’m leaving here and going to the district commissioner. I’m going to tell him that I’m resigning my position.”
Before David had time to take this in and feel any sense of victory, Kambanda continued, slowly, with emphasis, still looking hard at him, “And I’m also going to tell him I won’t be responsible for any outbreaks of violence that may take place in the camp.”
Instantly, it seemed that movies began running in David’s mind, the movies of Europeans who’d been slaughtered a few years before in Kenya during the “emergency,” or killed in the Congo just after independence. He thought to himself, “Okay, I’ll deal with that later. First, the meeting with the refugees, afterwards the problem of violence.”
So without even a blink to break the eye contact, he shot back at Kambanda just as softly, just as evenly as the man had spoken to him, “Fine. That’s up to you. That’s your decision.”
Kambanda got up and left.
Part 2, Chapter 31
„Sie, meine Herren, geht es nichts an, ob wir hier richtig gehandelt haben, ob wir die richtigen Personen getroffen haben“.
Aus einer Rede vor Generalstaatsanwälten und Oberstaatsanwalten Preußens, 12. Juli 1934
“Whether we have acted rightly, or whether we’ve got the right people – none of that is any concern of yours, gentlemen.”
From a speech to the Chief Public Prosecutors and Senior Public Prosecutors of Prussia, 12 July 1934
David was frightened. He would have admitted it to anyone. He was so frightened that he could not allow himself even to think about his situation. His mind seemed to disconnect itself from some emotional center. His fear existed as something isolated, something that had no relation to the rest of his consciousness. It was as though it were an object that was simply there to be observed, an object that had no bearing at all on anything he might think or feel.
As though he were simply following a set of programmed instructions, he continued with his usual routine of the day, the one he would have carried on with even if he’d never spoken to Kambanda. He carefully filled out the regular weekly report that was to be transmitted from the district office to provincial headquarters in Bukoba. Half an hour later, he went to the open area in the camp where large meetings were held, and he found that about eight hundred men had suddenly materialized and assembled, sitting patiently on the ground, waiting for him to speak to them.
Standing on a table and looking out over the heads of the refugees, he felt a surge of confidence. Surely these people would never do him any harm, he thought. He spoke slowly and carefully about their future, and listened as the interpreter translated from Swahili to Kinyarwanda. And as he listened, even the incomprehensible translation seemed to give him a certain energy and courage. It was almost as though his words and his voice, echoed in the translation, became a means of ridding himself of the dark, cold emptiness of fear that he felt was about to uncoil itself in his mind again, spreading its chill poison.
When the meeting was over, though, the fear came back.
Alone in his house of thatch and sticks, he felt vulnerable to immense danger. The fear began to redouble its strength, and nothing he did now could dislodge it from his thinking or cut off its effects. For the first time, he realized how much better and safer he would have felt with a gun, a weapon of some kind. He had nothing he could use to defend himself with. If anyone wanted to kill him in the night, he thought, it could be done quite easily.
He could have gone to stay at the mission, but he had the idea that somehow that was a cowardly thing to do. Or it may have been that at some level of consciousness he believed that in the end there was perhaps no real danger. Some part of his mind may have been courageous enough — or foolish enough — to think that there was really nothing to fear.
He went to talk to Susan, the American nurse; he wanted to tell her what was happening. As he slowly walked up the path to her quarters, the warm sun of late afternoon, the clear sky, and the lush, peaceful background of Africa reaching out and away in all directions seemed to make his fears unrealistic.
Susan was only around thirty, but she seemed to him, at twenty-one, to be the embodiment of a Jewish woman’s worldly wisdom. She looked up from the dress she was sewing and smiled as he entered the hut.
He sat down and immediately made up his mind not to let the environment or her calm and pleasant mood lull him into a false sense of safety. “Look,” he said. “There’s a problem. Kambanda and I have had an argument. He says he’s going to the district office and resigning as leader of the refugees.”
She laughed. “Is that all? You look so upset.”
He wondered how he could make her really understand what he was feeling. “No, there’s more. He says that after he leaves here he’s not going to be responsible for any outbreaks of violence that occur in the camp.” He waited for a reaction, but she said nothing. “So I just came here to tell you,” he went on, “that maybe you and Rachel” — the other European woman working in the camp — “should go and spend the night at the mission.”
She smiled gravely and looked back down at her sewing. “Oh, I really don’t think that’s necessary. I’ll stay here, and I think Rachel will too.”
“But it could be dangerous.”
“No, it won’t.”
“How can you be so sure?”
She looked up and gently smiled at him, almost as though she were a mother speaking to a child who still had to learn the facts of life.
“Kambanda won’t do anything, believe me. He may be angry, and he may have threatened you, but he’s not going to harm anybody here.”
“But how can you know that?”
“Because Rachel will talk to him.”
“Rachel? What has Rachel got to do with this?”
“Didn’t Grant Johnson explain all that to you?” She laughed again. “Well, maybe not. I suppose he thought it was something that concerned only the two of them.
She gave him a calm, indulgent look. “Rachel is Kambanda’s mistress – and has been for several months now. You know, he hardly ever stays in that hut he has in the camp. He spends almost every night here in her house.” There was an almost imperceptible alteration in her smile as she looked down at her work again.
All he could do was stare at her. Outside, the trees were swaying in the wind. In that innocent time, and at his age, a mistress, especially one involved in an interracial affair, was almost as shocking as being threatened with an “outbreak of violence.”
“Rachel will talk to Kambanda,” Susan went on. “She won’t let him do anything. She and Kambanda have planned a lot of things for themselves and for the refugees in the camp. She wants to be there when he leads these people back to their homes. Believe me, she won’t let dreams like that be destroyed — those plans she’s been making for months.”
As he walked back to his hut, he wanted to believe her, but he still thought to himself, “I saw the look in Kambanda’s eyes when we were talking. Susan didn’t.” And all that night he lay awake and uneasy on the narrow camp bed with the mosquito netting stretched above on its low frame. He kept thinking over and over to himself, like a kind of long, childish mantra: “If I can just get through this night, if I lie here and am very careful, everything will be all right. If I stay awake and will it, nothing will happen.”
And nothing did. The next day, Rachel and Kambanda disappeared together, and Susan told him they had gone off to look at some land that was being considered for a refugee resettlement scheme. A month later, when they returned, Kambanda actually came to him and offered an apology. David accepted it, of course, but years later he was ashamed not to be able to remember if he’d apologized in return.
After that, as long as David was there, Kambanda never spent much time in the camp.
Part 2, Chapter 32
“Ukienda pote pote,
utaona watu wote,
wakivuta siku zote,
sigara za kweli!”
“Everywhere you go —
any time, you know —
everyone is smo-
a real cigarette!”
–Swahili advertising jingle, East Africa, c.1962.
David didn’t stay in the camp for very long. After two months, at the beginning of June, he left. In the end, it was probably Kambanda who won the struggle between them: not only did he apologize — which is perhaps always a kind of victory for the person who apologizes — but he also outlasted David in the camp.
After David left, though, he never heard any more about Kambanda. Only many years later did the tragedy of Rwanda and Burundi become of much interest to the outside world, but by that time Kambanda — even if he were still alive — would probably have been too old to be taking a very active part in politics. Anyway, whatever Kambanda won, David would in later life think it was in the end Kambanda who deserved to win. He was, after all, only trying to secure a place in the world not simply for himself, but for his own people, and that place was in Africa, in his land, not David’s.
Although David thought he was very different when he left Africa from what he’d been when he arrived, there was one element in his character that certainly had not changed. He was still an innocent in every sense of the term.
He left Africa without much sadness or many regrets — all that would come later — and without even suspecting the nightmare that was waiting for him in his mother and stepfather’s house.
He thought he’d achieved an unshakable self-confidence, something that no one could destroy. He looked forward to returning home and going back to Harvard in September. After all, that would give him a chance to exercise the new feelings of strength and maturity in which he felt so secure.
Poor lost boy, he had no way of knowing how fragile those feelings in fact were.
He returned to America by way of South Africa and Europe. He flew from Bukoba to Nairobi and took a flight to Johannesburg, where he visited a Harvard classmate who was staying with friends and working with an anti-apartheid group.
Much of the time during that trip he was alone, suffering from a kind of reverse culture shock. In Johannesburg, away from Tanganyika, he almost immediately began to feel isolated, afraid to go out into the large city that surrounded him. He felt in some ways almost like a fearful, disoriented visitor from a much simpler planet might have felt, a visitor dropped suddenly into one of the twentieth century urban sprawls that seemed to David to disfigure world in many ways.
With his tendency to withdraw, he perceived Johannesburg — and not only Johannesburg, but eventually the entire world he was returning to — as a huge and confusing place, even an evil place, where at times vast avenues of corruption seemed to extend in all directions, dark streets full of mysterious places where people did things that he could not comprehend and that he thought he didn’t want to know about.
After the safe and simple world of the bush in East Africa, Johannesburg and the cities of Europe and America were bewildering and frightening places.
In the bush he’d been able to dominate the little world he knew. Now suddenly in what seemed to be the chaos of urban life he felt overwhelmed and on the verge of being crushed by things he simply didn’t understand.
In the South African towns and cities — and later in those of his own country — where neat suburbs were intersected by four-lane highways and provided with tidy little airports, he was the kind of sleek, well-fed people that he for some reason recoiled from and did not want to become.
Of course he ought to have been able to consider that world and those people in the context of a higher reality. He ought somehow to have been able to include them in those elements of belief he thought were so much a part of his thinking. If he could have done that, it would have been impossible for him to fear them or dislike them the way he did. He hadn’t really arrived at that level of belief, though, and it would be many years before he realized such belief or such an attitude was even possible.
As he flew from Johannesburg, though, back to Nairobi, then to Rome and on to the United States, he was still convinced that, in spite of everything, what was waiting for him at home was so very different from — and so much better than — anything he’d ever known before. He looked forward to a new life in America and at Harvard with all the eagerness a young man can have.
If he’d known what was really waiting for him, though, his attitude toward the future would have been somewhat different. He might in fact have been driven to despair.