Teaser 241: “One Cannot Take These People at Their Word.”
Within days of my return I was to be married, I had a new robe and turban fashioned for me by Janet, a woman whose talents were brought to use only by the garden and Kitana's able leadership, I was regularly conducting short interviews broadcast almost daily on BBC, and Al Jazeera, the international news organization begun in the Middle East, ran an interview with a confirmed spokesman tied to Islamic insurgents spread around central Africa, and considered separate from the more unpredictable group based in and around Nigeria, the one which kidnapped some 200 schoolgirls (and sold many as slaves) a few years before. This one, through its spokesman, was asked a number of questions on camera, and the interviewer had the temerity to ask what this group considered threats to its cause and casually hinted at Jardin de la Paix. The disguised spokesman responded, “There are many threats to Islam in Africa, but now that Jardin de la Paix is back under the guidance of Al-Barrak, the miller, we are convinced it has become a respectable Islamic community with true African origin.” The government in Mali was quite aware that violent actions, even the threats of such, had diminished in my absence, but this very public statement, referring to me by my new name and occupation, threw everyone in governments all over the world in disarray. Most official responses were, in summary, “one cannot take these people at their word.” I expected both the statement and the reaction to it.
Despite the advice specifically from American diplomatic channels, I managed to convince the appropriate representatives from the Mali government to ease travel restrictions to Gossi for those traveling to Gossi to visit the Garden of Peace. I didn't have to argue much. The U.S. State Department practically blew a fuse when they received a number of travel visas by renowned movie people, including the previous year's Oscar winner for best actress, all traveling shortly after this year's Oscar presentations. Many were aghast and, I'm sure, had nightmares about the disastrous headlines. Will, Ken, Drake, John, their spouses, Serena, Jennifer, Carey, our intrepid director, Gary, their spouses, two producers from My Brother's Keeper, both now separated from their previous studio employer—wonder how that happened—and a small number of crew people, all applied, and many of them appeared briefly on camera to express their dismay that the U.S. was delaying the process. I liked Will's response. “My wife and I will attend the wedding of Al-Barrak and no one is going to stop us. This is a man I have known and loved for some time now and should have been married long ago, but then he wouldn't have met Magdalena, which would be regrettable, since those two belong with each other.”
They may not have been convinced in Washington, D.C., but they were convinced in Bamako. The short appearances almost daily on BBC, much of which was never shown in America, convinced the rest of the world. The constant hustle and bustle around the garden grounds and in the village, Roland's footage of our market trips to Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako, and an on-camera interview with a village resident now living at the garden sealed it. With all the activity taking place around the grounds and the village, Seku, who could barely speak English and so spoke his native tongue to Roland's question about what it was like in Gossi before Jardin de la Paix was founded, responded, “Nothing. There was nothing here. Most traveled and were away looking for work, even something to eat. There was no activity in Gossi.” Well, that was one of the reasons why we picked the old factory site. The price was appealing, too, once the official, and very silent, arm wrestling concluded.
The Mali government offered a small military presence, led by the Colonel, an acquaintance I had grown to respect and trust. We declined, though I invited them all provided they refrained moving about with their weapons on display. The Colonel actually accepted the invitation and arrived in two military vehicles with a dozen soldiers accompanying him. They moved their weapons out of sight in respect to my offer.
I made many trips to Bamako, sometimes twice a day, as I promised I would escort each of our guests personally. Magdalena and her parents and sister were one of the first to arrive and once they were settled, Lena would accompany me on every trip. When we arrived at the airport I would always demand the printed invitations—they never existed—and upon receiving the expected negative response, I would reply, “Then we cannot escort you to the garden and we will bar your entry. This is a formal event, you understand.” I enjoyed the shock on some of the faces. I was amused. When we picked up Carey and his wife I made the effort to walk with him out of the airport so I could advise him, “And when you're standing watching the proceedings with all the others, should you expect me to remove my robe, Carey, you'll be waiting a long time, closer to the end of the universe than any time soon.” I enjoyed hearing Carey's laugh again. He has a deep, booming guffaw, when confronted with something he thinks is genuinely funny. I can tell the difference. I've heard them both.
Jennifer brought the new man in her life, another actor, though he had a great laugh, too, especially when I asked him if he had a chance to see Jennifer's special closet. He wanted to know what I meant by “special.” Jennifer immediately intervened. “I use that closet for other things now, Gregory!” Jennifer blurted her response so quickly and necessarily she forgot my name.
“First, it's Al-Barrak, you little Spanish flirt! Second, you're trying to convince me you have no penis substitutes any more? I invited Jennifer Montez to this wedding. Who are you?” That was followed by Jennifer's actor friend's great and booming laugh, especially when he noticed her face turning red, since she knew I could add other items at a moment's notice.
Esperanza arrived with Serena, who also brought Sofia, Lance and Carla. When we arrived at the garden and everyone was exiting from the vehicles and checking the grounds I loudly announced, “And if you put on that bikini thong nothing I've seen you wear, Carla, we will have you flogged.” That brought an enormous uproar from everyone and Carla's expected embarrassment. I turned to Serena and added, “This is not your private pool, my beloved!” I ignored any protests and walked toward the living facility entrance, and commanded, “Come! Getting you settled can wait. The kitchen is open so let us wash up and eat and drink to your arrival.”
- Just Desserts, Segment Twenty-Nine “Inextricably Bound” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021
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