Saturday, August 3, 2013

Moon Rocks in Africa

The radical Quaker school I attended in 1969, the Friends World Institute, occupied a former colonial hotel- "the Kaptagat Arms" in the White Highlands of Kenya, thirty-seven miles from Uganda and at an altitude of 8,000 feet. There were leopards in the forest and a man known as "the monkey demon" roaming the hills. I saw him once- all covered with animal pelts- but I can't remember much else. Kenya has the best marijuana in the world, and it was the Sixties, after all, and even though we were supposed to be saving the world- like Peace Corps volunteers- the truth is we were just so, so stoned.

One day some other students and I were loaded, as usual, and sprawled out on the lawn just being in Africa, loving Africa and the freedom and sheer glory of it all, when an old woman came down the red dusty drive. She was bent over and relied on a stick but she did, finally, come approach us. Clearly, she was upset about something but she was probably Kikuyu and none of us spoke anything more than functional Swahili so we got Kamau, our cook. Kamau was a cheerful guy who always looked happy, especially when he got to behead chickens with his panga, a short machete. Now he was especially happy to translate. This made him feel even more important.

Well, the old woman took her time. She had to sit down and catch her breath. And we all sat there, stoned out of our minds and wondering what all this was about. But at last, she was ready and she spoke to Kamau, who dutifully translated.

Is it true that people from your country have really gone to the moon?

Ah. Yes. That is true, we told her. They did do that. They went there.

She nodded but she had to think about that. Carefully. And this took time.

Her next question: Is it true that they brought back rocks from the moon?

Yes, we told her. That is also true. The people who went to the moon did bring back rocks.

She nodded and had to think about that for quite a while before she spoke again.

And is it true, she asked, that those rocks are getting bigger and bigger and there is no way to stop them from growing and, soon, they are going to come here and crush us?

Now, honestly, we hadn't heard anything like that. But, then again, we were living at 8,000 feet in Africa without newspapers or TV or even radios so we couldn't be 100% positive. Still, we didn't want to stare- our eyes were so red!- and it would have been rude to laugh, and Kamau was looking so excited- just dying to tell her that it was true and panic the poor old thing. But we ruined his fun and, finally, someone said. Oh no, we haven't heard anything like that but it's probably not true, no.

She was so relieved, she thanked us and got up and started back to her village to share the good news: the big rocks were not coming. And we just stayed on the lawn, hoping that we were right.

This is where it happened: