Teaser 211: When A Life Becomes One of Intense Examination

I drove the rental back to the airport late Sunday night, caught the red-eye to Miami in plenty of time, endured the flights and innumerable stops, the resulting waits in discomforting airports and landed in Bamako after dark. For my own peace of mind I was gratefully greeted by all the principals and the questions seemed endless, until one by one they all gauged I was simply not in the appropriate mood. I only confided to Monsieur Farabé quietly, singularly, perhaps because he simply was the most worldly of them all, had lived and worked at length beyond the borders of his home land and would more than any other understand the barrage to which I had been subjected in the previous twenty-four hours. Please grant me one short night's rest. Please.

I was awake before I heard any stirring but I would not rise until I was certain someone else in the house was also awake and active. When I heard the stirring required I rose, selected appropriate wear and dressed, packed all else except my teeth cleaning items, stepped into the Farabé's living room and greeted Monsieur Farabé. His smile was both genuine and sympathetic. “You do look far more refreshed and energized than last night, Gregory.”

“I'm ready to move on this, Monsieur Farabé, as is everyone else.”

“We have only been preparing, Gregory. For the next steps we have all been patiently awaiting your arrival. You may claim this is no longer your dream but none of us have had any desire to start without you.”

Monsieur Farabé stood at the center of the living room calmly, leaning on or against nothing, his arms at full rest at his sides. “I am certain your advice on the matter was heeded.” When his welcoming smile broke out across his face again, I moved close to him, opened my arms as he opened his and we hugged each other hard. “How is it you have grown to be such a good friend, one who knows how to proceed with me in every step, Monsieur?”

Monsieur Farabé chuckled briefly. When we both leaned back he focused on my eyes. “Perhaps we are like-minded, Monsieur Hess, that the only difference is the unknown depth of your humor, but we do think alike.”

“Will you be coming with us to the Garden today?”

“I wouldn't miss it. I must witness the unveiling of your surprise, what you have hidden under 'reserved.'”

“Good. There has always been one face I have wanted to see when I do unveil it. I have a very good idea how Kitana's face will appear, your beautiful wife's, too, but you? I'm not so sure, although of one thing I am certain. Whatever your appearance, it will please me.”

“You're that certain?” Monsieur Farabé inquired, finishing with a short laugh.

“With Nassira as my co-conspirator? Yes.”

We gathered near a military installation since it was the largest area to meet on the way to Gossi and we would be escorted by two vehicles from the military, two from the national government, along with eight of our own. It was a large convoy, far more than my comfort, but I kept my feelings to myself. We started on the long journey early morning and we would arrive with plenty of daylight remaining. The journey provided no incidents, except an occasional obstacle of livestock and such meandering across or near the highway, nothing of substance. We arrived at Jardin de la Paix midday.

Nassira was bubbly with excitement to reveal her architectural drawings and, flatteringly, with my arrival. Since my attendance would now be of long duration, we could start planning and constructing and Nassira would be the center of attention. We rode out together but in true conspiratorial fashion we spoke not a word of what we both knew would take place soon.

We piled out of the vehicles, and I went through all the motions of greeting and acknowledging this dignitary and that one. Once I was formally introduced to the commander in charge of the military presence, meant only to be temporary, I asked him to keep his contingent in a stand-down mode, casual, leisurely. He asked me what I meant. “What I mean is I would like to see your men walk about comfortably, their weapons held casually, often sitting down among themselves or locals and chatting and laughing. In short I will be abhorred to look around and consider I am in the midst of an armed contingent on high alert. That is the wrong signal to send.” Some of the government representatives huddled with the military and Monsieur Farabé and discussed what seemed to me to be hours. It wasn't so—though it appeared to be far too long to set an agenda—yet once the huddle was complete, the troops did exactly as I had asked and meandered around congenially. Good. Let's get on with this.

Kitana was almost as excited as Nassira, but only because Nassira is so naturally enthusiastic in everything she performs or in which she's involved. Still, at various times I was compelled to take Kitana's hands in mine and ask her, “You're not excited, are you, Kitana?” She would focus on me in a disapproving manner and chide me for my lack of enthusiasm. “Oh, I am sufficiently excited and enthused, but we have a great deal of work ahead of us and we will need sharp and level minds to deal with it all, my dear, and since yours is one of the sharpest and most level I know, I intend to keep you in that state.”

I remembered the size of the site. It's why I wanted it. I totaled it up. A hundred acres is roughly equivalent to seventy-five football fields. It looked huge now, since there were three generators, several water tanks, construction material in several piles, the portable water filtration systems—which would remain in use until we built our own—many tents, and all this barely seemed to take up any room. I looked at the enormous expanse and thought, this can be a very large farm for crops. We may be able to feed ourselves and then some.

Nassira could barely contain herself. Having endured the unpacking and site gazing, the official huddling and agreements, everyone catching their collective breaths, once it was all complete, she was ready to unveil her portion. “Are we not ready yet, Gregory? I have a lot to cover.”

“Yes, Nassira, yes, we're ready. Monsieur Farabé! Let us gather everyone necessary and review Nassira's construction plans so we can begin laying and staking out the property.” To her great relief it took but a few minutes and twenty or so were gathered around a makeshift picnic table where Nassira sat with her large portfolio of drawings. I had my drawings and we began with the electrical facility along the western border of the site, so there was some viewing of the site and pointing and such, the living quarters and kitchen facility, with laundry and two floors below ground level to accommodate food storage since my contention was doing it so would allow us to store food in a more controlled manner than near or above ground level. Since the temperature could reach at or above one hundred degrees Fahrenheit food storage in such condition invited rapid deterioration. Two floors below ground level should, theoretically, achieve a mean temperature somewhere around sixty degrees Fahrenheit with no humidity and no light except that provided through electric methods. We had discussed it earlier and all agreed. We would need a bulldozer for excavation but our efforts to secure heavy equipment like a bulldozer would take time. We wouldn't need it for this facility soon. We needed it more for digging up the planting area. We anticipated our living quarters consisting of tents for months. We were a tent city and all planning to stay expected it.

We had a satellite transmitter and networking equipment, which was already tested, set up and in use for the students. Our permanent computer facility would not be complete until the electrical facility was ready. Our water treatment facilities were discussed and all agreed on their proximity to the living quarters. They would be next. The water towers were to be constructed and set in place. We had potentially more coming. We considered an area to dig a shallow pond, or more aptly a collection area for excess water, especially during the few times we would receive rain. We would need a bulldozer for it, too. We contended which way to level the planting area, north to south or south to north. It was evenly divided. I wanted north to south so all the planting area would be in view of the living quarters but it required more pipe from the water treatment facilities. We agreed to decide later. We didn't have to decide where to place the weaving station or the clay firing plant, since both would be relatively small in relation to the entire site, so we skipped both for now.

After two hours of sociable wrangling, what was left was the reserved area, since we agreed the medical facility would exist outside the site, east and away from the highway. The medical facility would be built in close coordination with the medical professionals, the government, aid organizations and community members, since the facility was meant to serve the entire community, and I had considered it necessary to have outside help with it. “Since it is meant to benefit everyone, it means everyone should have a stake in it and not only consultation, but everyone should have a responsibility to help build it. This allows it to remain a viable and useful facility, because everyone will want to ensure their separate investment in it does not go to waste.” This was my contention from day one when we met first with aid organizations, then with government people. No serious objection was ever raised.

“What about the reserved area, Gregory?” Kitana finally asked with great exasperation.

“Hmmm,” I said thoughtfully, turning to Nassira. “Nassira?”

“I thought you would never ask, Gregory!” Nassira remarked with equal exasperation. Immediately she flipped her portfolio to the next page, and smiled widely. She pointed to the south-east corner, where the reserved area had been set. “Over here, we will construct our prayer facility, our mosque.” I wasn't watching the site or the drawings. I was glancing around at all the individuals: Alfred, Bernard, all the Farabés, Francois and Malika, Mamadou, all the government officials, the military leaders, to all I glanced calmly, serenely, feeling a surge of emotion and my eyes watered slightly. My smile of contentment would not quit. When I focused on Kitana her smile was pure radiance.

While Nassira explained the building itself, Kitana interrupted, “Since I have met you, Gregory, I still cannot decide whether you came to me from Allah or the devil. Because I am confident I can dispatch the devil wherever I encounter him, and you are still here, I am beginning to think you must be from Allah.”

A large laughter ensued and my eyes watered even more. “I have reserved a special place for you in my heart, Kitana, and from it I was compelled to reserve a special place for all of you. I needed Nassira to help deliver it but I have always wanted this place, this Garden, to be special, one of refuge and peace, for all times, for all beings. This is my way of planting the seed, from which may grow incalculable abundance. It's still only a dream but with all your help we can make it real, something special which will make your heart soar as mine already is.”

- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-SixAn African Experiment Begins” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

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