It was when Keffa, the bearded pilot, landed the small plane in Selous Game Reserve that it dawned on me that I wasn’t home, asleep in my bed. We were on a flight from Dar es Salaam to explore the game reserve and River Rufiji. Our trip sponsors had promised that we were in for the experience of a lifetime. They however hadn’t mentioned, and no one else knew, that Keffa and his co-pilot had their girlfriends on the short flight.
This mattered because the pilots landed the plane so smoothly that I didn’t even stir from my nap. I had told myself that when we started landing, my body would wake me up. I however hadn’t accounted for the romance at the cockpit and that this wasn’t about me. Although I had noticed the two gorgeous Tanzanian women as we boarded the plane in Dar, I hadn’t thought much of it. I prefer to travel when I’m tired because trips tend to get monotonous after a while.
Why did the fact that I thought I was home during the flight bother me so much? Why do we even travel, if what we are truly seeking is home?
The only permanent book on my desk is Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, a small book that chronicles some of Marco Polo’s journeys and his account of them to the Great Kublai Khan. It is fictionalised, but if you have ever watched the series Marco Polo, this book is for you. It is the first place I ever saw cities described as living, breathing organisms. In it I read about fates and how Marco Polo looks at a man in a new city and thinks that if he (Marco) had made a different decision at some point earlier in his life, he could have been that man.
Such things bother me a lot. Why do I feel the desire to travel to new places, meet new people and experience new things? The destination never really matters. Nor do the specifics of where and for how long.
During my last trip, I learnt about the destination and activities after I was picked up in Muthaiga on a cold August morning. We were going rafting, I was told, much to my amazement. I ended up drinking half of Tana River before I even understood the mechanics of rafting, and had to suffer a diabolical staff member who sent me back halfway on the zipline just when I finally had the opposite platform in my grasp. He had mentioned earlier that only skinny people could be sent back, because bigger people get stuck in the middle and the staff might have to cut the zipline to save them. He wasn’t joking, I think.
In the time I interacted with him, I was never sure when he was joking. This is after spending quite a bit of time with him, including on a misguided beer run to Sagana town where I sat on the pillion of his motorbike as he raced down the highway. We chased down a matatu and had so much fun I wasn’t sure we would make it back alive. I had watched him watch over us while on a kayak for five hours and row the small thing into a raging waterfall twice, like it was nothing. He told me at some point that it was his father who first showed him how to bend water to his will, and that it pays his bills now is incidental to him. For him, water is life itself. It is what writing is to me, and car engines are to my mechanic.
Do you ever get that feeling? That what is new to you is to someone else home?
Among my people, there’s a saying that one needs to travel to confirm that his mother’s cooking is not the best. It’s a loaded proverb that’s not just about food. It’s about life. It’s about walking back into your house after a trip and realizing that you actually haven’t been living. Or that you have.
I think we travel to find home, and home is not a physical place. It’s a decision. An idea. A feeling. Sometimes, like for Keffa and his co-pilot, it’s a human being.