Monday, January 20, 2014

Finding the Way Out of Bagamoyo

You've heard the stories. Cruel slavers in bygone years trek into the African interior and capture men, women and children to sell on the slave market. Then, for weeks upon end, they march their captives to the African coast and force them to board ships bound for the New World.

During those long marches from remote villages, newly acquired slaves were made to carry their captor's heavy loads. Historians report that, at the end of an excruciating day, as evening approached, slavers sometimes shouted to their captives in Swahili, "Bwaga mizigo," which means, "Put down your burdens." Only then could they rest.

When the slaves finally reached the coast, they laid down those burdens for the last time. There they boarded ships that took them away from their loved ones and their homeland forever. Some called that place "Bagamoyo," from the words "bwaga" (put down) and "moyo" (heart). Bagamoyo translates to "Put down your heart." In hopelessness and despair, they put down their hearts and left them on the African continent.

Bagamoyo. I've been there. Haven't you? We've been to our own personal places of despair. Imprisoned by fear and worry and doubts. Trapped by grief. Or betrayed by our own bodies – left to languish in illness and pain. We know how it feels to give up. We know how it feels to desperately wonder if we can go on, or even should go on.

And more than once I've been tempted to lay down my heart and leave it behind. Haven't you? I think we've all been to our own Bagamoyos, those places of deep despair.

But here is the hope. If life teaches me anything, it teaches me that my personal Bagamoyo may be a way-point, but I shouldn't make it a destination. We will each find ourselves there from time to time, but it is not a place to remain permanently. Life cautions that I should never lay my heart down in despair never to pick it up again. There is usually a way through our personal Bagamoyo.

Author and playwright Jean Kerr put it like this. She said, "Hope is the feeling you have, that the feeling you have, isn't permanent." Hope does not deny the terrible place in which I may find myself. Oh, that's real enough. But it reminds me that Bagamoyo is only a temporary place. It may seem like a place I'll never leave, but I will. And sometimes it's just enough to know that.

So I've learned to believe in tomorrow. When I believe in tomorrow I can pick up my heart today. When I believe in tomorrow, I can find my way out of Bagamoyo.

And when I do, I'll find my way to life.

-- Steve Goodier