Tuesday, October 28, 2014
"Out of Africa" (viii) -- Me and cousin Henk
Maybe it really happened, but I think it's just a Dutch-American urban legend. Cousin Henk comes to America, flies from Amsterdam to NYC, and calls cousin Jake, who's out in his wood shop in Newkirk--that's Newkirk, Iowa. "I'm here," Henk says, "'ven can you come pick me up?"
Or this one. Henk and Neltje are here at Henk's, their first visit to America. They dine on huge Iowa chops then sit back, their coffee, with cream, set out before them on the table. Henk says he was hoping that during this trip they could see some sights--"Tomorrow maybe, Niagara Falls, and Thursday I 'vas t'inking maybe da' Grand Canyon."
Paris is only a few hours drive from Friesland, after all.
Just call me cousin Henk. I was flabbergasted at the sheer immensity of the African continent. I'm not sure how far we traveled in the weeks I was there, but the total had to be substantial, miles and miles of countryside that, for all practical purposes, didn't change much at all. We ambled around three countries in west Africa, in very limited regions of each, but tallied hundreds and hundreds of miles--four flights one day, three another.
Get this--the country of Mali, a place I'd rarely heard of before we left, is twice as big as Texas. Folks in Dallas/Ft. Worth may resent my saying that openly, but you can't dispute plain fact so let me say it again: the landlocked nation of Mali, west Africa, is actually twice as big as Texas.
Mali. Don't know where it is? Look here. It's in western Africa, just east of Mauritania. What?--never heard of Mauritania? Idiot. Okay, Mali's in yellow, see it?--just below Algeria. Now you got it. That place is--I'll say it again--twice the size of Texas.
Okay, much of it is desert, but so is west Texas, right? I'll give you the fact that El Paso isn't in the middle of the Sahara, but neither of them is exactly Edenic.
I couldn't help wonder--and still can't-- why I was so dumbfounded by the endless length and breadth of the African continent. I'd been to South Africa previously, traveled around that huge country, in fact, through hills and valleys and mountains, coastal regions and open plains, all of that beauty one huge continent away. But look at South Africa way down there, little more than a hefty plug on the bottom end of a massive continent.
Africa--the continent--is the size of the U.S. and China and India and most of Europe all together. Look at that map at the top of the page. Africa is the leviathan.
Maybe you're not surprised, but I was, and I'll admit it.
Why? Consider for a moment my oversized, factory-equipped ego--we consider ourselves first because we're, well, exceptional--you know, "American Exceptionalism." It's not just tough for Texans to tolerate things even bigger than they are; we're all Lone Star folks really.
We're the city on a hill, God's all-time favorite. If we were to draw up a map of the world, it would look something like that goofy cartoon the New Yorker once featured, the Big Apple, at least in the minds of its residents, taking up half the continent, the rest of it basically pastureland, here and there maybe a memorable hill.
I watched Noah on the plane to Africa and enjoyed it greatly. But what rattled around in my mind as those strange stone people staggered, Transformer-like, through the land was a review I read, something written by a evangelical Christian who wondered what it is that makes Christians believe we own the story. Millions of people from other cultures and faith traditions include the Genesis story as theirs too, not to mention millions more who claim the flood.
My shock at the immensity of the continent was created, in part, by my home-grown ego, a species of pride I would have certainly told you I didn't have when I left.
But I do.