Open. That is the question. And I didn’t think I’d have this life question thrust in front of me with such force while on this trip. I first noticed a part of this as yet unformed question knocking around my head on our trip up the Niger River. It was in Timbuktu, however, when it came out of the shadow and into deep relief.
Timbuktu is a tourist town at a level that even I, (and I grew up in Florida for crying out loud!), found hard to believe. There is little left of Timbuktu’s past usefulness and importance except as a way to show people what was. At its best, it could be a living museum, but it is far from that now. The economy of this little town depends entirely on outside money. During the festival, you couldn’t walk 5 steps before being surrounded by hucksters wanting to sell you something. Some of these little entrepreneurs were as young as 7 or 8 years old. Though humbling to see an 8 year old speak fairly fluently in 6 languages, it was still a heart wrenching to see the less-abled among them beg for a living. At times I had 15 to 20 children crowded around me with the older teens pushing their way in. And it wasn’t just in the streets of Timbuktu, but also along the roads in the rural areas and in the markets at most of the villages and towns in Mali.
What do you do? Do you ignore them and walk past, or do you engage them. To walk past means shutting down to an internal world that causes you to miss the life and the love going on around you. To engage means that the 4 or 5 little entrepreneurs turns into a crowd of 15 or 20 in an instant and the level of complexity and chaos grows exponentially (welcome to Africa;-). As I thought about this dilemma, I realized it’s a bit like any relationship isn’t it? To be open to the day and to not miss out on the life of your partner, children, family, and friends seems to be where life exists at its fullest. So …. I opened up to all my little friends. And OMG what a circus it has been. But such a fun time too. Once they realize that I am not going to give them anything but my time and a smile (and photos and laughter and the millet cakes (more on that later) and chasing them around …) they drop the asking and engage fully from a curious and playful part of themselves. That’s true for the big kids around here too (i.e. the ones my age;-)