Day 6: Saturday 5 March 2016
Nyota is the Swahili word for star. Yesterday, just when I thought the Masai Mara had given me all of its gifts, I saw the African night sky properly for the first time. Basecamp had been too wooded to have a clear view and the first night at Eagle View was overcast. But last night, the constellations and the Milky Way were crystal clear. Orion hung low overhead, the Pleiades glimmered like a handful of diamonds, and the Great Bear beckoned me homeward.
During the last few months of her life, Chris’s sense of self expanded, from egoic to planetary, and from planetary to cosmic. She believed, as she died, that she was returning to the cosmos, both in a literal sense as the atoms of her body disassociated and in a more mystical sense as her spirit was set free.
I sat by the side of the open fire, tilted my head back and looked through the small pair of binoculars I’d been using all week to spot game. A billion more stars flickered into life, filling the void with light. As I looked up at the cosmos of which we are formed and to which she has returned, I laughed out loud for joy.
After I placed some of Chris’s ashes under an Acacia in the Masai Mara earlier this week, I wrote a poem to say goodbye to the part of her that she expressed through her restless and adventurous travelling. I wasn’t quite sure how to share it but this seems to be the right place. There are a few references in the third stanza that might require some prior explanation.
The character Genly Ai appears in Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, a favourite science fiction novel of ours. The Hainish were an advanced interplanetary civilisation whose method of making contact with emerging cultures was to send a single unarmed envoy – the mobile – supported at a distance by one or more stabiles, who stayed on the Hainish home world.
This method, they found by experience, was much more likely to lead to a mutually respectful and productive relationship than a show of superior force, though it sometimes cost the life of the mobile. Writing this in post-colonial Africa, makes me wonder how things might have been different had European countries been as enlightened as the Hainish. But enough explanation and digression, here is the poem.
How you loved going places!
You’d circled the world many times
Long before we met.
Even when we lived together
It was hard to know where you’d be
From one day to the next.
If we’d been Hainish
I would have been the stabile
And you, a Genly Ai, the mobile one.
Now your body has come to rest,
I do for you what I think you’d want:
I spread your ashes round the globe.
I’m letting go of your mortal remains
And every time I say farewell,
I do not weep. I think of you and smile.
You have not gone, but gone before,
Finding, as you knew you would,
A whole new cosmos to explore.
[ Picture credit Renato Cerisola]