Friday, June 30, 2006

Shooting the Thorn Tree intro

Kupanda mchongoma, kushuka ngoma.
You may climb a thorn tree and be unable to come down.
– Swahili Proverb

People invariably want to talk to her about the priest. Had she met him? She was there at the same time—and they were both from Minnesota. People want the inside story: intrigue, corruption, and betrayal. A hometown martyr.

She’d never seen him. Never heard a word about him until the articles in the papers. Not really. Priests were foreign, city-dwelling creatures who lived in slums and spoke rashly against those in power. They were rarely seen in the rural areas.

She had lived for a summer at the foothills of Mount Kenya, just outside the national forest. The priest was killed in the outskirts of Nairobi, more than a hundred miles to the south. She’d passed through Nairobi briefly after her arrival and once again just before she left. She remembered tall husks of buildings, gated apartment complexes, cattle grazing in the flowerbeds of exclusive resort hotels.

It is a shock to be back. A shock to stand on grass made green and lush by a summer of gentle sun punctuated by occasional evening thunderstorms. Sunset at a different time each day. A crescent moon that lies on its side. Smooth, paved roads. Green grass. Lakes, rivers, streams. Rain.

She finds herself staring at everything, everyone. Where did all these white people come from? Their skin seems transparent, insubstantial. They squint in the light of this distant sun, complain about the humidity. They ask about her trip.

People beg for details: wild animals on safari, exotic plants, quaint tribal customs, some small thrill of danger from the African continent. They ask her about the priest. She can tell them nothing about him.

And her own story doesn’t feel like hers to tell.