On a secluded beach in Mozambique, I tried to three, maybe four dimensionally wrap my mind around the beauty of this humbling Indian Oceanscape. My thoughts could only reach 5/6 of the way. I smelled beauty in the breezes, I felt beauty in the sand at my feet, I saw beauty in the colors, I tasted beauty in the air, and I heard beauty in the waves; but there was a sixth sense that was responsible for the whole of what I was feeling being greater than the sum of its parts.
This sixth sense—ignorance—was as easy to identify as the other five of bliss. To even see in color or feel down to my toes, I had to argue with a loud mob of knowledgeability to back off for just five minutes. I thought it would be too hard to revel in the beach’s prettiness while keeping lit memories of the country and continent’s ugliest sceneries, so I pretended to be in the dark. I performed the “Do I know you?” piece with all the characters that have starred in the major and minor epiphanies that I have been granted since landing here in July.
Some of these insightful installments had occurred as recently as on the journey to our small beach bungalows on the coast of central nowhere. On our first stop in Johannesburg we visited Soweto, the largest township in South Africa. In some of Soweto’s townships, having a job as taxi driver, for which the minimum and usual wage is R945 per month ($109), means you can strike a tally on the lucky side. In the capital city of Maputo, thousands of Mozambicans over 7 or 8 miles of public beach covered all evidence of sand with their towels, soccer balls, coolers, and plenty of friends and family. Because this was an essentially random sample of the city’s population, I had to believe that 21% of the people enjoying the first warm Sunday of spring were living with HIV/AIDS, which hit harder than a sandy soccer ball to the face. I began to feel van sick on the rough road that took us from Maputo to the beaches of Ponta Mamoli. It was not so much motion sickness as it was the ill feeling elicited by passing a woman carrying gallons of water on her head in a van with empty seats and room for water.
Forbes doesn’t publish a list of the world’s 10 poorest people; it would be a waste of glossy paper. I think it would be pretty easy to make a lifestyle out of ignorance, the way one can out of watching TV. But in either case the only brink I would live on would be the non-thrilling edge of commercial interruption. I would be calloused from so tightly holding out hope that an ad does not break through when I am senselessly deep in a show to devastate me with the reminder that Jack Bauer is just a design or that I am not Jim Halpert or, in the other instance, that one night the Save the Children commercials—that I pretend not to pretend not to hear—do not finally break me. Then, the only way I could get to the peace I’d be dying to have is if I ran all the way back to the yellow wood where the roads diverged and picked again.
When the sky is cloudy like a head full of guilt, even the most royally blue ocean turns a stone-broke tinge of grey right in front of your eyes. Rather than making the wager that guilt and forged ignorance will not catch up to me and unpleasantly spoil the pleasure of unspoiled beaches, I want to put my money somewhere else. Here I have seen the nature of our world can bring me to stagger, in either direction. Sometimes it even feels like I could fall over. On the beach in Mozambique, the crutch that kept me standing, and off the ground where I would have liked to take a life-long breather, was my knowledge of the trouble in the countries that made up the vast African yard behind me.
Yet the extraordinary sights of the beach and its surroundings can, I realized, function the same. Whether it is throughout the marathon of hopelessness that guides my way back to Cape Town, or during my conversations with the people I hear out but cannot now lend a hand because both my left and my right are tied up behind my back with loans of my own, or against the stuff I am bound to see working in the non-profit industry (within which I have been assured I will become jaded by the two spared veterans who taught my class on the delicate discipline last semester), it will be especially meaningful to have a reminder of the good that is abundant and free and bright and beachy.