So, after some months in our Canadian home, we’re back in Africa. The commute over the Atlantic was non-eventful with the exception of two notes.
One is the passing of Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and so-called “poet-laureate of medicine,” a man rich in words and spirit, both. I saw the report on the BBC somewhere between London and Entebbe.
Sacks’ work with catatonic patients as later shown worldwide in the movie, “Awakenings,” that movie with Robin Williams, another soul so very influential in my own life, is one in particular that I’ve identified with because of my boyhood experience in a family business with characters not all that different, souls struggling in a different sort of way, a way I can never forget.
The second note is about a passport incident at the airport in Entebbe that I will have to share at another time, an incident involving, yet again, the truth that if you want to stay out of jail while in a foreign country, it’s always prudent to keep your mouth shut at certain times in front of certain uniforms.
My Bride, by the way, owes me, as they say, big-time.
This, because I have come over the ocean by myself with the three kids in tow, all of them, as best as I can tell, still hanging around as if they’re waiting for direction or food or something from me.
Yes, I have an entire new respect for single fatherhood (and those less than perfect dads), in addition to some vague memories of other times of Single Daddin’ It, if not all the more wonder about That Other Dad.
This, because Jean has an important function to attend back home in Ontario; there needs to be someone representing the Froese Clan, and the kids, our kids, the kids looking up at me with their forlorn eyes, couldn’t miss any more of their school start here in Uganda.
(Of course My Bride’s payment to me will be given in full measure, shaken down and running over at an opportune time of my choosing.)
Even in her absence, Jean is never that far away. After the thrilling commute, during this morning’s parents’ coffee at the kids’ international school here in Kampala, a coffee time that is always full of great wisdom and insight, she was called a “rock star.”
Which I suppose makes me a roadie.
The rock star introduction was made this morning by an American friend, noting to some other American parents, parents new to this school, because of My Bride’s Order of Canada accolades in Ottawa earlier this summer.
(He’s a friend who realizes that there are, in fact, too many Americans at this international school even if there are far more Africans and Indians and Europeans of one sort or another.)
I then shared a bit about just what it is that we, this long-time Canadian family in Uganda, is doing here for this, now, our 11th year.
And then I noted that my son, on this, his first day back at school, got his own introduction this morning by a friend of his who called him “the funniest kid in Year 6.”
So I’m either a roadie or the Dad of the Funniest Kid in Year 6.
But, seriously, when your three kids pile into your bedroom and take it over commando-style for the night, you know you’d better be alert.
So it was last night through the sleeping hours, when there were two on the floor and one at my side to make sure I didn’t escape out the window (not very likely, as our windows in our Ugandan home have burglar proofing for these sorts of reasons.)
This, after the biggest hail storm I’ve ever seen in our time here in Africa.
The big fearless dog, looked out, walked out, and then back under cover, not knowing what to make of it all.
To calm him, my son, the funny one (and he’s a good boy, too) gave him a toy bone brought all the way from Canada.
Which brings us to the cats. Sure, they were happy to see us, like usual, after such an absence. But just like Dad was kept prisoner in his own room overnight for his own good, some of the cats were locked into the front porch for a span.
This, except for this one, the larger-than-life cat who, if I didn’t know better, is the real boss of this family. The kids were giddy with delight when they thought they spotted this old warrior and playboy tomcat lurking at a distance verifying that he, in fact, is still alive.
And finally, speaking of cats, there was a piece in the Spectator recently about cats, but not just about cats, but about spirits like That Very Great Cat, that Grand Lion that lurks in places that only He knows best.
If you somehow missed it, here it is, or see below.
Of lions, children and innocence of lives given
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 29, 2015)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦If you were a lion you’d have little in common with any little girl, unless it’s the summer of 2015 when you could both die horrible deaths on the other side of the ocean and people on this side would know.
If your name was Cecil, they’d know, anyway, how you, a protected lion, were hunted and butchered in the savannah of Zimbabwe by an American dentist who had nothing better to do.
Now you’ll know about the little girl.
Her name was Baraah Fakierah. She was as ordinary and remarkable as any little girl, ten years old, big brown eyes, a beautiful smile, this spirited girl living in Sana’a, Yemen.
Then the bomb. It plowed through her home. Her father died trying to protect Baraah from the fire. And a crowd-funding campaign got her to Amman, Jordan for emergency care for severe burns. Still, the girl died. She was, as the say, collateral damage.
“She suffered terribly,” Walid al-Saqaf, her uncle, told me. Walid, a name you might recall from this space, was my newspaper colleague while we worked together in Sana’a for some years after 9-11.
We talked recently about it all: Baraah’s death, the broken dream of Yemen’s unification, the so-called Arab Spring and the regional stakes – Iran on one side of Yemen’s civil war, Saudi Arabia on the other – Yemen’s southerly waters so vital for moving oil to the outside world.
We spoke about how in today’s Yemen you’ll need a bag of gold to get a cup of water, never mind a cup of fuel. Then more on the horrible face of war. Walid owned that Sana’a house bombed with Baraah and her father inside.
Now in Sweden as a professor of media research, he’s creating the Baraah Foundation. It’s to help war children, to help them get life-saving medical care away from the fighting.
The UN estimates a billion children live in or near conflict zones, many of them burned and maimed and shot dead because this is modern war where civilians, mostly women and children, are killed far more than soldiers.
It’s another reminder, if anyone needs it, that evil does have its day in the sun, the sort of evil that kills lions and little girls indiscriminately. Even so, these lion-like spirits remain.
One is from the world of literature. His name is Aslan. He’s C.S. Lewis’ Great Golden Lion of Narnia, that good but dangerous lion (is any lion not dangerous?), a lion not beheaded and skinned like Cecil, but muzzled and shaved and mocked by his enemies – “Why, he’s just a cat!”
Then that awfully great lion death when that witch plunged her long knife into his golden lion heart. The story’s children watched in horror. You can imagine the tears. Just like you might imagine that, despite evil’s successes, this is not the end of the story.
It never is. Not in literature. Not in life. Not even in war. Not given enough time.
In Narnia, where the animals and children work together remarkably well, it was magic, a deep magic from before time and before death, that would unravel the darkness. It’s what Tolkien later called “eucastrophe,” catastrophe reversed, unimaginable good coming from unimaginable pain, especially in the mystery of an innocent life given.
Of course, you’re no lion. You’re not that dangerous. (Yet you are.) You’re not as rare and beautiful and majestic as a lion. (Yet you are.) No, you’re no Cecil, never mind any Aslan, any more than I am. (Unless you have a problematic Messiah complex.)
You’re just who you are, like me, a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, in the thick of it, up to our necks, just trying to find home, sensing in our best moments what Baraah now must see clearly, that eternity is written on our hearts.
Eternity on the hearts of lions and children. And the money. Cecil’s death has raised about $800,000 for the Oxford team that had studied him. This too is how this old world works. I mean, give the lions what belong to the lions. And give the children of war what they need too.
To learn more, go to “Support the Baraah Foundation” on YouTube.