Two years and some some change ago, on a dark rooftop in Addis Ababa, I recall having my thousandth Ethiopian espresso with Jonathan, a friend and adventuresome soul who had come to join me for my days in the country on my slow road north to Cairo. I can’t recall much about the setting, besides that the light was a dull orange, and Jonathan had just received something called a peanut tea, that looked nothing like tea. Instead, it was a sort of peanut-coloured froth in an espresso cup. It may have been delicious. I can’t recall.
What I do remember, was the conversation that evening. Words more vivid than the light, the Ethiopian dusk, the peanut tea.
We were talking about our long friends. The ones we’ve known for many years and who – as we grow older – we are fortunate to see grow and struggle through life. The friends who seem to be perpetually in flux, railing against something, forever restless. I recall saying that it felt to me as though we were in some kind of inescapable spiral in our lives. Like a satellite that has dipped its toe into the atmosphere once, and finds its destiny sealed as its gentle, non-negotiable fall is set in motion.
And so I would say that night, over coffee and peanut tea, in a conversation I would never imagine recalling, that we are caught in something
The more we tried to move forward, the more we are drawn down towards whatever it is we are circling. Every new decision in our lives. Every change in job, in place we call home, every new and more esoteric sojourn abroad, meant a an ever slighter tightening of the spiral. One step closer to the center.
I believed it then, and I believe it now. Each step forward is also one closer.
I want to see the DRC because Uganda taught me that these places are not as I read them to be. That things are different, more detailed, less easily drawn into an essence when you try to discover stories for yourself.
I went to Uganda because my journey from South Africa to Egypt taught me that stories are a strength. They can be an engine to move a life, or the spark to start a new one.
And so on, backward into time. One giant series of cause and effect. One large chain that would have perhaps been clear to a younger me with the right eyes. But I didn’t have those eyes then, and I still don’t.
And so I would say that night, over coffee and peanut tea, in a conversation I would never imagine recalling, that we are caught in something. We are falling. We are the tighter and tighter circles towards a center we cannot see.
The end of this year will mark one tighter turn of the spiral. That I am set on returning to Uganda is something that won’t be new to regularish readers. I feel drawn.
What I’ve not spoken of, except in the private organising with those who might yet join me, is that when I finish in Gulu at the end of this journey, I’ve been looking west. To cross over, perhaps, to the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. To trek in the Mountains of the Moon, and to turn thirty somewhere in the space between. Marking one turn closer to the unknown center with a transition of my own seems somehow appropriate.