It was one of those life-defining moments - the ones that you remember vividly your whole life. There I sat, about halfway up the face of Mt. Longido in Tanzania, East Africa. Heck, I’d only been in country for about 6 hours. But, even after a full day’s flight, and a couple more hours to drive across the border from Nairobi, Kenya, our little group of missionaries were still juiced, and we had asked for permission from the village elder to climb a nearby mountain. Of course, I wasn’t as juiced as I thought I was, and so the rest of the guys had left me just below the mist line while they went on to try and summit the peak. No problem, I thought. I had a canteen of water, a box of Pop-Tarts in my pack, and a view of the majestic, snow-capped Mt. Kilimanjaro off to my left. Indeed, I was having the time of my life. I was sitting on a mountain in Africa, halfway around the world from my home, and I was watching a herd of wildebeest feeding across the plains. Was it the surreal euphoria I felt, or was it something else - like I was being watched by a presence behind me? Instinctively, I turned around, and suddenly, my circumstances changed dramatically.
Right there, a scant 20 feet away, stood a bona fide Maasai warrior. I’d seen pictures of them while preparing for this trip, but they didn’t do justice to the striking and intimidating figure before me.
He stood on one leg, the other bent to the side with foot resting on his standing knee. His posture was relaxed - sort of leaning on a spear that was a good foot higher than him, and he had to have been close to 7 feet tall. He was dressed in various shades of red wrappings, and in his left hand, he wielded some sort of short club with a narrow grip and a knobby head. Speaking of heads, his was either shaved or he was bald, but it was painted red. He wore massive amounts of beaded jewelry pierced about his ears, nose, and neck, and the expression on his face registered a “none too pleased” look.
My first thought was the front page headline in the paper that you’re reading right now… “Dumb, Out of Shape Missionary Dies On First Day.” I frantically began to sort through my options in the form of questions like, “If I throw a rock at him, would it even slow him down?” or “Am I about to end up as a human version of a shish kebab?” Realizing the futility of fight or flight strategy, I switched my tactics to diplomacy. “Jambo.” I said (the only word in Swahili that I knew). Of course, then I remembered that the Maasai have their own language, and most don’t know Swahili. I might as well have been asking him for directions to the nearest Walmart. Well, everyone likes food, I thought, and so I reached into my bag for the only negotiating tool that I possessed. “Pop-Tart?” I asked.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. You see I have lived my entire life under some sort of spell or phenomenon that can only be described as, “stuff just happens to me.”
The poet, Robert Frost, wrote; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” If I was Robert Frost, my experience would have been; “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and then I got lost, fell in a river, was attacked by a grizzly, and barely escaped the deliverance guy.” That’s because, again, stuff just happens to me. You’ve heard of Murphy’s Law which states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, haven’t you? Well, that precept was written about guys like me.
How do I get myself into these predicaments? I’m just a normal dude who puts his pants on one leg at a time. Except, for me anyway, while I’m trying to push my right leg through the left pantleg hole, I usually knock over the lampstand, and my car keys slide under the bed. Somehow, I just end up in these bizarre dilemmas. I’ll be minding my own beeswax watching a football game in the T.V. room when CRASH... An Axis buck comes through the window. Actually, he saw his reflection in the glass, and was trying to fight with himself, but to me it looked like he wanted to watch the game. He might as well have just knocked on the door, and asked me politely if he could come in and catch the game, but Axis deer are rude creatures, especially during the rutting season.
I don’t even try to get myself into these quandaries. They just happen is all, and nothing surprises me anymore. They are just part of my everyday life. Yesterday, I dropped my phone into a commode while trying to plunge it. Hope that image doesn’t ruin your breakfast, but it’s true, and just another example of Murphy’s Law in my daily existence.
Anyway, back to Africa. The good news about the pickles I get into is that they aren’t as life-threatening as they initially seem. Embarrassing? You bet, but other than my pride, no one gets hurt, and it was the same with this scenario. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at each other, the warrior simply picked up his spear, made a “hmph” sound, laughed out loud, and just walked off down the hill. See? No big deal other than getting laughed at by a foreigner from a primitive culture, but I’ve been laughed at by people all over the world, and I’m used to it. The rest of the trip was fairly normal, except that I think I have three Maasai wives, but as you know, stuff just happens to me and that story is for another day.