Outdoors – December 2012

The rhythm of a heartbeat

By Steve Ramirez

I can see them running, just as if it were happening in the here and now. Our land rover rolled forward over the rutted track, and the children called out to us as they ran along side. “Sweets! Sweets!” they would call, hoping that the Americans had some candy to toss their way. They each wore threadbare khaki tunics and ran on black, bare feet. They were very black and only their bright eyes and smiles stood out from the blackness. No matter how dark the blackness, wherever I went in Africa, I saw sunshine in the smiles and the laughter of the children. No matter how dark the blackness, I always heard joy in the songs of the people. No matter how dark the blackness, I always felt at home.

Africa is for me, a view of our past, and our future. It is both hope and desperation. It is joy and sadness. The very best of humanity is seen, and the worst forms of cruelty lives there too. The African landscape beats to a primeval rhythm. It is the same beat that my heart makes when all is as it should be.

The most amazing thing about the children of Africa is that they are happy- truly happy. I remember them singing outside a village deep in the rainforest of the Ivory Coast. They clapped their hands swaying to the beat of the drums. In Kenya, I saw Maasai children guard their family cattle from lions, spear in hand, and courage in heart. Young warriors in waiting, they still could manage to smile brightly as we passed them by. They never failed to smile. I saw that smile in the government projects outside of Cape Town, and in the shacks that stand precariously against the Namibian wind. The smile of the children was one of the constants of Africa. Only the red soil seemed as sure to be there no matter where I went. Always, everywhere, the children smiled. They knew that they had it all; at least until some western missionary or aid worker convinced them that they were poor; then, and only then, might the smile fade away.

One of the things that African children can teach us is the power of the rhythm of the heart. The greatest moment between lovers, is when they lie closely in the stillness of midday’s rest, bodies pressed together, breathing in syncopation, their hearts beating as one. We are least alone in this lonely world when we stop listening to the outside voices and start listening to the rhythm of our own hearts.

American children, seem to have lost their ability to smile. There is no joy in them. Their heartbeats are left unattended. There are too many voices telling them that they are poor, and in this case, the voices are ultimately correct. American children have become the reflection of their parents’ joyless, methodical, passionless, lives of servitude to a system that cares not for them, and the things that are touted to free them. They aspire for more, always wanting more, and never guessing that it was someone else who told them they need more, or that in fact, they always had it all, until they lost it.

American parents would never expect them to guard the cattle from the lions. They would never allow them to run barefoot along the red dirt tracks calling out for sweets and yelling “jambo” to passers by. Instead, we work too hard, providing them a good roof and food, and a vision of hopelessness and toil while always seeking more. How sad it is that voices whisper in our ears and tell us that what we have inside us is not all we need. How sad it is that we believe those voices, that we reflect our own shortfalls by telling our children that their dreams are silly, and that more is what they need. What they need, what we all need, is to find the rhythm of our hearts and follow it.

As for me, I am done with not smiling. I really do not want more. Instead, I have plans to run along the side of the road, feeling the wind in my face, and the rhythm of my bare feet, and the rhythm of my heartbeat. Instead, I have plans to have it all, once more.


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