Beyond the scope of love, I realized this week why I like to stay in touch with old friends. Because they have witnessed the many versions of You and remain curious about who You are today. (See an earlier version of me at left, on the shores of Lake Malawi.)
This all dawned on me earlier this week after visiting with my old friend, Marie-Josee. (Skype, I love you!) Next week, it will be 15 years since we first met in Kenya. She was a 19-year-old, easily-bored girl who hailed from Montreal and thrived on risky adventure. I was 29 and had become too settled for my own comfort - a nice boyfriend, a great apartment and a swanky job as a food writer. Staring down the barrel of the big 3-0, I set out for the world and all its physical discomforts.
Once in Kenya, I met up with my overland crew and quickly realized I was the sole American. We gathered in a circle at that first campsite, Hell's Gate, alongside Lake Naivashu. Our roughly seasoned leader, Kevin, was giving instructions about Something Important. Unfortunately, his Kiwi accent was so thick, I couldn't understand one word he said. Something like, "Right, then. Grab ya mate, hack a sack and find some deht (dirt). She'll be royt (right)!"
All I could think was, "Uh-oh."
Next thing I know, people started pairing up, grabbing bright green canvas bags and wandering off. I didn't know what was going on. Eventually, I stood alone, save for one young girl who spoke to me in a heavy French accent: "Well, I don't know what he said but whatever it is, it's me and you." And just like that, MJ and I became tent-mates for the next three months.
Now, these were not the fancy REI tents that we all have today. These were very basic canvas tents made in the 60s, purchased from the German army who was probably going to through them out anyway. In real estate terms, they were 'cozy' and 'quaint.'
Sharing such a small space with another person under extreme conditions ... well, you get to know a person. (Not to mention the fact that your tentmate is also your cooking partner.) MJ and I came to lovingly refer to our home as, The Green Triangle. Just like any roomies, we laughed, we argued, we shared secrets and got used to one another's sleep talk. (Marie's was mostly in French, although one night she burst out in English: "My God, it's only a gun!")
The following year, MJ came to visit me at my wee beach apartment in California and we celebrated her 20th birthday. We have since kept in loose touch through letters and, eventually, email. I came close to flying to Montreal one weekend for her going away party a couple of years ago, but the planets did not align.
(MJ & I, with our porters, on the Zaire-Ugandan border, getting ready to track mountain gorillas. From our smiles, I can see that we have no clue how physically demanding it was going to be.)
Seeing her lovely face (see above for her classic 'I-am-bored' look) again and hearing that charming accent, it all came rushing back. Because MJ speaks something like five languages, her English phrasing is pretty hilarious. Some of my favorite excerpts from letters and conversations:
"You know how it is, sometimes life is black and other times it is pink. And other times, it is just nice having a husband with a house in the south of France."
Re: her divorce. "And dat was awful. Like washing machine stuck on spin."
"And den I left. I went to live somewhere hot."
My favorite, which came from out of nowhere: "And do you know what else I like about me?"
MJ is less impetuous now, more focused in her life and goals. She is working on her PhD in cultural linguistic history, or some such thing. She has lived in nearly every country in Europe but now has two rooms in Italy - one in the South and one in the North. "One for study, one for living," - typical MJ logic.
As our visit came to a close, I was unabashed in my affection. "I love you madly," I told her, and she squealed and laughed. She returned the love and we swore to visit again soon. And maybe ... just maybe ... someday... we would travel together again, perhaps with a bigger tent.