Of Swimming Elephants & Downward Dogs – Part 1

First my body broke.

The trip had started off magically with elephants swimming in the lake. Not waddling or doing that thing us girls do, politely bobbing, heads afloat to keep our hair dry. No. These elephants were submerged, frolicking, clambering on top of one another and then sploshing back into the water. Hell, they were practically doing breast stroke. I could hear Richard Attenborough’s commentary skipping the surface of the lake. A whimsical, cheeky scene in the way only Mother Nature can get away with. Something I have always wanted to see.

‘Now I can die a happy woman’, I tossed my head in abandon and declared with sufficient drama for the moment.

Famous last words.

Do not utter words like this so recklessly, my friends. As I learned, the Universe has its ears constantly pricked.

Things proceeded swiftly downhill from there.

Fast forward through African book cover worthy sunset to the night game drive. That is when things started going terribly wrong. The 1940’s Land Rover we were in started smoking; not innocuous wimpy wisps of light smoke. No. Thick, black ominous clouds of smoke, followed by sparks and flames…I swear!

The driver yelled that the car was about to catch fire.

Images of 90’s action movies with cars bursting spontaneously into a bright orange blaze rushed through my mind, and I did what any normal human being would do.

I jumped! Out of the window.

I hear you ask, but Aleya, why didn’t you calmly open the door and step out?

I DON’T KNOW! At the time, it seemed to be most sensible thing to do. Suffice to say, I am not the chick you want making decisions when shit hits the fan.

As I jumped out the window, my trousers got caught on the door handle, and my body was suspended upside down, hanging by my trousers, before I slithered to the ground.

Remember. The car is still catching fire!

So I crawled on the ground as far as I could, before realising my knee cap had done a disappearing act. It was no longer where it used to be. It was now poking out several inches to the left of where it normally sits.

Lying on the ground, covered in Masaai blankets, I stared up at the stars twinkling over a Laikipia night and tried not to cry as I waited for the ranger to come back from the camp with two things; a doctor and whiskey. Not necessarily in order. If ever one needs amber fortification, a wayward kneecap and an orchestra of beasts roaring a few hundred metres away will be that time.

Having dislocated my knee, and torn both ligaments on either side, I spent the next month hobbling around, with a full leg cast, which when I finally removed had left my left leg shrivelled up, half the size of my right. Attractive eh?

I then spent the next several months teaching my knee how to bend again. Nestled in that sweaty plaster of paris cocoon, it had clean forgotten. At first I cajoled it, gently, lovingly, sympathetically, after all 30 odd years of bending to the whims of me and my nonsense, it was bound to crack. It deserved a rest. Then I got irritated. The purpose of a knee is to bend. Did it not understand that? The simplest of things were the most awkward. Sitting at a table, having to stretch my leg out in front, wondering if I should explain to my dining partner that really I was not playing footsie with them, promise. Or not being able to sit on the ground at mosque, experiencing the withering looks of the ‘senior citizens’ at taking up a valuable chair – the ‘senior citizens’ are fiercely possessive over their chairs, and nasty feuds arise out of chair stealing.

I am not a patient person. I got fed up of all the coaxing, and left my knee alone. It would come around. When it was ready to bend it would. Like a child who makes a fuss about eating. They will eat when they are hungry. Terrible analogy. You can guess how that turned out for me?  The pain never really went away, and but eventually my knee was able to bend to a functional level.

Then my heart broke.

Our ‘I do’ turned into an ‘I don’t think so anymore’.

I had always found the best way to take care of an aching heart is to distract it with an aching body. The best way to silence a brain that won’t shut up, is to overpower it by pushing your body till its screams drown out your inner monologue. Even if that lasts just a few hours.

So I hit the gym. But my body wouldn’t do the things it used to do. My knee had reared its ugly un-cooperative head, and I left feeling utterly betrayed by my own body.

Then I met a woman. Dreadlocked Irene, with a smile full of white teeth. She came around to our house early morning, literally bounding into the house, with more cheer and energy than is sensible at that time of day. I am generally suspicious of anyone who is in that good of a mood at 6:00am. And as the sun rose, and the birds made a ruckus, I did my very first Downward Dog.

To be continued…

A hint of what is to come:  ‘Because before a man takes up yoga, something has to break.’ http://www.gq-magazine.co.uk/comment/articles/2013-03/08/tony-parsons-recommends-yoga-for-men

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