THE CRUCIFIXION: Words from Mozambique
“Africa has many problems,” he told me, “but forgetting is not one of them.”
During the second to last week I worked in Zimbabwe the price of bread tripled overnight. There were strikes and riots in the cities. Mugabe was condemned by the West. The West was condemned by Mugabe. In the bush, the earth cracked in the dry air as the sun continued to beam down, day after rainless day.
The Baobab trees were unmoved.
Mozambique had finally gotten hold of me and I headed across the border. There was little there but dust. One-legged land mine victims begged on the side of the road alongside children, mumbling the only English word they knew: “please.” There were no buses, so I had to hitchhike. I climbed into the back of a flatbed truck and rode from the mountains of Manicaland down into the coastal plains. Ragged men from this land—“the poorest nation on Earth”—smiled and shared their fruit when I told them I was an American.
The Africa I sought is perhaps the most terrifying place imaginable the modern human. It represents a past that is neither Edenic nor savage. The elusive moment of creation never happened. We were always being created, and still are. But it was in those rolling savannahs and among the great predators that we emerged. Our minds developed to find new ways to capture our prey and elude our predators; our legs grew long and straight to walk long distances across those plains. The grasses and the cats and the herds of Africa gave birth to us. Indeed, they are not much different from us at all. It is insufficient to say we came from mere dust, just as it is insufficient to say we were created by the gods from above.
The dust itself is divine.
On my final night in Mozambique, I left the bar late at night to find that a storm had come in from the sea, the first rain I had seen in months. My flimsy little tent had filled with water. I took what I could salvage out of the tent and went to the only sheltered place still open, the bathroom next to the bar.
And finally, in a dark bathroom, in the poorest country on Earth, it happened. I remembered, at that moment, through the rain dripping through the leaky ceiling, blended with my own tears, telling my own, unborn child: “You are from Africa.”
And after 60,000 years of gestation, I gave birth to a story, my story. For the first time, I began to write for no other reason than the joy of feeling I must.
Mozambique was a magical and desperate place in 1998. Decades of civil war–fighting that was largely fomented by the South African and American meddling due to their distrust of its African, socialist leadership–had left it with little infrastructure. The “rebels” had little in the way of ideology; they’d simply been hired to destroy. What was left behind was a strange world: beautiful old colonial buildings with squatters living in them and fruit trees growing on the roof; streets without names; beautiful and immaculate beaches strewn with shipwrecks.
For me, this journey to Mozambique was something like a rite of passage. Like so many young people in the modern world, I’d had little to acknowledge my passage from childhood into adulthood. I came to Mozambique because it was as far from the world I’d known as I could get. Indeed, this was the only way to find myself. And to find my voice.
And so, I began to tell the story that would become my first novel, The Crucifixion.