but a hundred years went by, and even when the flowers are sleeping the rose is twice its red

I understand. That’s the trouble. I understand. I’ll understand all the time. All day and all night. Especially all night. I’ll understand. You don’t have to worry about that.

— Ernest Hemingway, Winner Take Nothing

The smell of wood smoke came through my window and this smell brought a wave of tumultuous images, brought me back to Nairobi where the air would smell of milk, fire and the stench of human bodies. The dirt streets looked all the more yellow in the sunlight, clouds of dust swirling from beneath our feet as we stepped into new places. Unobstructed by car roof or window frame we would bike through valley floors devoid of any water, part a tear in the earth, holding our heads high with the hope that such immense landscapes and foreign charms of Nature would bring us to a level of exaltation that we have not experienced yet back at home.

The best days were when it rained, when the sky was overcast, when the sky was flinty: the soil would alter its color into a deeper vermilion, the light would fall so gently everywhere and the air was scented with water and moistened dust. And as we rode, dirt trails would chase behind us, darkening our feet, and for a split second it felt as if we were immune to gravity.

I remember traveling ten hours on the local bus from Arusha to Dar es Salaam, seeing sights existing only inside dreams; outside of what I saw from this window frame, over there across the plains of the loveliest green I have not experienced in America, with no signs of settlement there, a wall of rain descended from two gray clouds, a couple of miles away from the other, which, slowly lowered itself to the earth. And after the shower ended, rainbows dispersed over the valley and its mountains, touched by sunlight and shadows.

The Maasai women were always more outgoing in Namanga, selling their beaded ornaments besides the Market, smiling at every passerby who was a stranger, strangers who had an air of wealth, and they would speak to us in Swahili placing bracelets around our wrists convincing us to buy their objects. And they wore their traditional shukas, some shukas checkered like tablecloths, they wore their colorful capes of red, blue and white, some capes covering their sleeping babies who dangled against their backs to relieve their skins from the sun, and they wore their intricately beaded necklaces which hung from their necks, they decorated the loops of their ears, wrapped in beads which played with themselves in the wind and sounded as they walked, with some wearing shoes made of car tire and others wearing sneakers.

When we were taken out into the bush, a woman who made jewelry in exchange for shillings to buy her daughters medicine, brought out her creations from the mud house in which she slept in, rolling out the rug with her two hands and carefully placing her objects for me, to pick and choose what objects I found worthy enough to place on myself. I picked up each piece of jewelry, carefully, looking at them, appreciating them, and then she placed a bib-like necklace around my neck in which she also wore, some of the little girls giggling as I walked around in it, and I bought it, placing it in a frame when I got back home, hoping the frame would seal its faint odor that still lingered, the smell of a cooking fire deep in a forest.

The village girls gathered around me, their faces excited with curiosity, holding their arms behind their backs, speaking to me in Maa. I spoke to them with my hands and the gestures of my eyes and we communicated this way, getting around the difficulty of incompatible sounds which naturally exited our mouths. Because of this they grew more confident with how they handled their bodies, comfortable enough to start touching my body, not shy by her aggressiveness. They giggled as they grabbed my arms rubbing my skin, at the same time bringing their faces closer to my body, examining my texture. The other girls explored my hair with their fingers by unraveling the bun on my head, and the youngest one of the group looked inside my ears. Their father told us this is the first time his daughters were experiencing white skin.

Mother sleeps it off and the open roses wilt enchanted by stillness

What we will have to reach, the ideal, is the recognition of woman’s sensual nature, the acceptance of its needs, the knowledge of the variety of temperaments, and the joyous attitude towards it as a part of nature, as natural as the growth of the flower, the tides, the movements of planets.

Anaïs Nin, Essay: Eroticism in Women, published 1976