Yesterday I made my spicy bean stew for hungry guests who all sat around with mugs of tea and brandished large soup spoons, chatting and laughing while the small dogs screamed with rage to find themselves shut out of the kitchen and toddlers crawled under the kitchen table to play hide-and-seek between adults’ legs. The spicy black bean stew was a meatless version of feijoda, that rich but indigestible Brazilian kind of cassoulet filled with salted prok bely, cured pork, sides of green bacon and whole chorizo sausages, but meat now is too costly (the farmers will slaughter at the end of winter) and fortunately the beans and brown rice was substantial enough to be filling and everyone had several helpings.
Sobering up is not really about us. It gives us the opportunity to be useful to others which may not have much to do with sitting around measuring spiritual progress or the lack of spiritual progress, but means that somebody somewhere feels fed or helped or encouraged. I’ve never liked the distinction made between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ because we need both ways of engaging with reality. Thoughtless activity is as pointless as endless navel-gazing when there are still suffering alcoholics all around who need to hear our experience, strength and hope. Or just people who like a bowl of soup and the conviviality that goes with eating soup at the kitchen table.
From an artucle on one of my favourite authors, Henning Mankell:
Because doing is what really matters. That’s why Mankell was on board the Sophia, part of the convoy of Gaza-bound aid boats stormed by Israeli commandos last May; nine activists were killed. But he prefers, he says, to call himself an intellectual, not an activist, because “an intellectual’s job is to take responsibility, and actions prove the word”. He’s quite prepared to go on a new flotilla: “You have to act, not just by writing, but by standing up and doing. For me, you cannot call yourself an intellectual if all you use your intellectual gifts for is to find excuses not to do anything. Which, sadly, is what I think a lot of intellectuals do
And then towards evening it rained and the small dogs tore around the garden and dashed in black with mud. The bathroom ceiling leaked a little and gutters choked up woth summer leaves and overflowed down the walls. The winter rains out here don’t usually arrive until after Easter. I came into the bedroom to close windows and smelled the pungent rusty iron smell of wet plectranthus outside the bedrooms window.
The scent of Africa here in the mountains has to be the smell of dust and grasses and wild herbs after rain, a pungent bitter smell you find nowhere else in the world. Nothing floral or aromatic, just this bitter pungent smell that roots me to the ground and reminds me of the windy plains of Kenya and dry riverbeds in Zimbabwe and swampy mangroves in Angola. It is so good to be alive and stand at an open window breathing in the smell of the earth after rain.