The Death Card by Helene Munson (2019)
The death card appeared again and again. The Tarot spreads were inauspicious. But I was determined to go on my epic African adventure, overland from Nairobi to Cape Town. Months of planning and saving had gone into it. I had found a Maasai village homestay, paid a deposit for a room at a family home at the foot of Kilimanjaro and had looked into South African shark diving. Mutheu expected me at her place in Nairobi.
After a 24-hour flight, well-worn tourist attractions awaited me, the ‘Out of Africa’ Karen Blixen house, the Giraffe center, the Elephant orphanage… making me eager to move on to the Masai Mara wildlife reserve. My last Nairobi stop was the Kenyatta market to have several Kampa women, known for their exquisite basket weaving braid my hair. Joking about me being their only Mzungo client. It was a moment of inattention that brought me down onto the cracked, dream-devouring pavement. The pain was excruciating! A visit to Nairobi hospital revealed a broken ankle. An air cast and crutches were prescribed.
Unwilling to abandon a once in a lifetime, African journey I was determined to persevere. Plan B meant cancelling the walking Safari and taking a flight to Zanzibar, Tanzania instead. A patient, young man took me around historic Stone Town on his Boda motorcycle. The attempt to see the inside of the slave market museum failed miserably. In the sweltering heat, crawling on crutches, my arm muscles gave out. It was all frustratingly near but unobtainably far. Torn between an incapacitated reality and a yearning to push on, I accepted utter defeat. Being passed from wheelchair to wheelchair in airports, another day and a half brought me back home. Touching down at JFK the breaking news awaited me:
‘21 dead and many wounded in Nairobi terror attack.’
Note: This story won the third prize at the: Hummingbird Emerging Writer Contest 2, February 2019
‘We must remember where we are from to know who we are, to understand where we are going’ is Helene’s guide in writing. Her mainly creative, non-fiction work focuses on her two passions: travel and ancestry research. She records journeys that explore cultural identities and remote places in the over 70 countries she has visited. She grew up in Germany, Brazil and Liberia and lived for 6 years in the UK to obtain degrees from London and Oxford Universities. Helene came to the US in 1982.
You can find more of Helene’s stories on Medium or follow her blog.