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An African Odyssey

Rhona Lewis

Shaina Davis had never seen or smelled heat before. Fortified against the sun in a felt hat, a long-sleeved blouse, and a billowing skirt, she sat stiffly on the tiny mule and wondered how she had agreed to leave the damp comforts of London to follow Shalom into the heart of Africa. The heat, a quivering mass, rippled just beyond the nose of the first mule in their convoy. A dry, peppery smell, a combination of the red dust that coated everything and the hot, still air, tickled her nose.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Kikuyu porters, balancing bundles on their heads, were singing rhythmically. They swayed and stamped, their feet sending up tiny red clouds. Shaina’s hazel eyes widened as the branch of a thorn tree clawed at a bundle. It slipped precariously. Two steps back dislodged the thorns and the porter was on his way once again. A damask tablecloth, pristine white, peeked out of a large tear.

The track narrowed and Yossi, who had been riding alongside his father, dropped behind. Following the beat of the porters, he bounced up and down in his saddle with such unbridled energy that Shaina was sure that any moment he would vault off the mule. The bones of his thin shoulders pressed against the light material of his jacket. Shaina swept her hand over her moist forehead. Her fingers were long and tapered, more at home running over the keys of a piano than grasping leather reins. Yossi was growing up and she had no idea how to contain him.

The tawny grass and yellow thorn trees gave way to bushes and vines, thick as a man’s wrist. They were moving higher now, into the farming land. Suddenly they emerged from the trees and Shaina saw the Silvers’ homestead. An attempt at a lawn straggled in front of three largish rondavels, round thatch-topped huts frighteningly similar to those that the Kikuyu themselves lived in.

Rabbi Silver emerged and directed the porters to rest before continuing north to some barely marked plot that was to be the Davises’ home. He greeted Shalom, then showed Yossi how to tighten the girth of his mule. Mrs. Silver hurried out of the central rondavel and Shaina was drawn into a hug that smelled faintly of rosewater and strongly of garlic.

“How absolutely wonderful to finally have neighbors,” Mrs. Silver sang in a soft voice. Her complexion, still milky white despite ten years in Kenya, was the perfect setting for her merry blue eyes. “We’ve been waiting for this, haven’t we, Rabbi Silver? Finally, another Yid for to learn with.” She laughed. A sound as light as water flowing over a shallow river bed. Shaina had the feeling that Mrs. Silver often laughed. “But of course, you must be famished. Come inside.”

Inside, Shaina almost gasped. A beaten earthen floor was covered with scattered reed mats. Two armchairs, upholstered in forest green and golden brocade, stood in front of a table perched on orange crates. Was this what she could expect her home for the next five years to look like?

 

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