Our vehicle had broken down and we were camped on the side of a remote road in northern Mocambique. A road very far from home in Johannesburg, South Africa where the pace is set by fast and furious highways and ever screeching cell phones.
There, way up in the Niassa Province, it felt as if time beat softly like a distant drum. Indeed, we had been there waiting for others from our group for some days when an old man walked by. The man had been collecting fire-wood in the bush and was surprised to see this trio of whiteys just hanging out in what for us was the middle of nowhere, but clearly for him was a regular route. We greeted him but we could not understand each others words. He settled down a few meters from us -- rather as one might settle down to observe a group of monkeys in a zoo. We were not bothered by this having traveled frequently into deepest darkest southern Africa and often been a source of entertainment for the locals. So we continued as we were -- which was a spirited discourse over a few beers - and the afternoon stretched on in a long band of sun light.
Well then the connection started to happen. I could feel the presence of the man. His stillness and openness. The light streaming through the thick canopy of the bush felt divine. I reached for my camera and then I hesitated. The man continued to watch. It felt rude to suddenly starting pointing a camera and shooting pictures. As I moved over to him he stood up and we stood together in each others presence. I handed him the camera and showed him how to look through it. He spied me through the lens. I showed him the button that would set off the shutter. And finally he took a photograph of me.
And so it was that on a fine hot afternoon some time in July 1998 on a bush track near the small town of Mecula some photographs were taken. Time slowed down even further so that it shimmered in one elastic dreamlike heartbeat. I took a photograph of him. I was deeply aware of where I was. It seemed that the green of the jungle pulsed with hyper real colour and the sand on the road sunk further into its cold white softness. He took another photograph of me.
He and I squatted at the side of the road and looked into the others eyes -- and yes, there was a leveling of the waters between us. There was no gender, no age, no colour, no nationality. We were simply present and deeply engaged on the level of soul.
When the man finally continued on his way through the shadows in the long evening light, I felt as if he were part of myself quietly about to vanish around the corner.
Later, I walked a way up the road in his footsteps still buzzing with the connection.
But the story does not end here. The man returned. He had changed from his shorts into maybe his smartest clothes. He had come with a child and he also carried a hen which he presented to me as a gift. I have to breathe deeply through my feelings when I remember this.
Imagine how many people are sitting in four lanes of three kilometers of bumper to bumper traffic backed up on Jo’burg’s M1 South where I sit alone in my car. It's not really a memory, the meeting on a road near Mecula, it’s more like a presence that is with me right now.