CSULB School of Art, Gatov Gallery East
In March of 1954, Mary had the opportunity to study abroad in Africa. Her adventure began when her parents let her leave her small town to attend college at Long Beach State College. She was one of the few girls to attend the university and the first to attend college in her family. She yearned for a cultural education about the people that America seemed to hate simply for the color of their skin. Due to her passion in Anthropology and African studies, she was invited to study abroad in Zambia, East Africa during Easter Break. To document her time there, Mary brought along a diary. The group from the university included a Professor Williams (PhD in African studies), two other female students, and three other male students. To immerse themselves in the culture, the group were taken from tribe to tribe during the day. They were to return by nightfall every day. However, the tour guides lost track of time on this particular day. Due to the danger of driving at night, they decided to stay with the Bemba tribe. What occurred on that night never left Mary.
I am unsure of the events which occurred last night.
We were set to leave the Bemba by the time the sun had reached a little past mid sky. But we lost track of time as the Chitimukulu told the story of his people. We were in a trance, unable to stop listening to their beautiful history. Professor Williams exclaimed, “Oh my!” as the Chitimukulu’s story came to an end. I looked up to see the sun setting in deep shades of reds and oranges. The tour guides quickly jumped and looked at each other in disbelief. I could tell they did not want us to stay but there was not anything to do. So, Professor Williams talked quietly with the guides and after a minute they turned to the Chitimukulu. We were to stay the night with the tribe to stay safe from the dangers of the wild.
I was afraid but I did not let anyone see. We were in the middle of East Africa with a tribe we had only just met. They were kind but we did not know them and they did not know us. We were exposed to all elements, wild and unknown. I prayed to God and asked that we lived to tell the story.
The Bemba began a fire and asked us to sit around the fire as it began to rise. It was a large fire like the ones we used to make at the beach. It seemed familiar and I began to relax. The Bemba women offered us all a drink and we looked at Professor Williams for some type of approval. He nodded his head and we drank.
This is where everything happened. This is where it all began.
I am unsure if I was hallucinating, intoxicated, or simply dreaming. The fire grew and grew. I could feel the heat dancing on my skin. Something was in my blood and I could feel it moving through my body. I felt pure happiness and ecstasy. I felt good. The fire began to change colors slow at first then fast from color to color. I saw colors in the fire I had never seen before. Shapes emerged in the sky and they danced as the Bemba danced. Around in circles around the fire. They chanted in their language. Then they screamed. People fell to the ground and arched their backs. Their bodies moved violently. Others danced around the moving bodies. Then the fire began to scream and it grew louder in my ears. I closed my eyes.
Then it all stopped. Everything went black.
I opened my eyes and it was like nothing had changed. We were back to the exact moment when the Bemba women were handing us drinks.