Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Expulsion from Eden

So much has been written about the African safari, so many seductive images have been created, that it is impossible to put aside all expectations and preconceptions when one prepares to travel there.  Yet once our small plane lands on a simple gravel airstrip, the actual experience is overwhelming, almost religious.

Imagine a green, gently undulating plain, stretching in all directions as far as eyes can see. On the plain, there are innumerable groups of animals, big and small, standing still or moving gracefully. The notion of Paradise comes to mind, once and again. There is violence there, but all hunting and eating of flesh happens in such dignified, purposeful way that there is nothing gruesome or troubling about it. The beauty of our old good planet Earth – an old clichéd sentiment, perhaps – suddenly acquires a new and very exact meaning.

On the way back I made a mistake to stop in Nairobi, for a brief tour. This concrete metropolis, a 1970-s modernist nightmare, is a home to Kibera, one of the Africa’s largest slums. All ills of a 3-million-large city are in evidence: traffic, pollution, crime, and above all, an overwhelming ugliness. Stuck in endless traffic on the way to the airport, I imagined the site of Nairobi only one hundred years ago (the city is barely 100-years-old). This place probably looked much like the green plains of Africa that I have just visited.

What are we doing to our Earth?