I have been afraid before, no big idea there. When I become afraid, my mind races, my heart races, my eyes become wide open. I might scream. My adrenaline increases and I have been known to sweat. When I was young, I used to carry foreboding thoughts of driving off bridges or drowning in quick sand. Crazy thinking I called it. I would find a way to erase the visions from my eyes and carry on.
Occasionally, there were times that my fear helped me. Like the time when I was nine years old walking home from the neighborhood swimming pool with my younger sister wearing our swimsuit. A strange car pulled up just ahead of us. A man dressed in Army fatigues who I was fairly certain earlier seen at the pool watching us got out of his car. He pulled the passenger backrest forward as if making room in the back seat. I noticed him earlier because I wondered why would someone dress like that at a swimming pool?
Walking on that sidewalk dressed in flowered swimsuit and flip flops, my eyes met his and I knew in an instant something bad was about to happen, very bad. My young sister of seven years old said to me, "Why did you stop singing De De? I need your help with this next part. I can't remember all the words." My heart was racing so fast. I quickly covered myself from the waist down with my towel , even peeing myself a little. I took my sister's hand in mine. I pulled at her and told her to walk faster just as we were about to approach the stranger's direct path. It could not be avoided. Just a few blocks from home, we were about to be taken, snatched away from everything familiar. I was on the other side of terrified. All future fear I would compare to that moment at age nine.
As he approached, my sister who at the time was completely oblivious to our dire circumstances, yells, "Look De De!" Slowing down beside us was a group of my brothers' friends, older neighborhood friends who lived just across our street. One of them yelled through smiles, "Now ya'll know you ain't supposed to be out here walking alone without one of your brothers. Get in, we will give you a ride."
In 2014, I visited Morocco with my best friend of thirty years. We had almost cancelled the trip due to the Ebola scare canvasing parts of Africa. Part of the customized itinerary included a camel ride in the desert. I had ridden a camel before in Egypt. Back then it had been more of a pose just to get the picture. Now, riding a camel in Morocco sounded good on paper. I was not at first scared, I just wasn't that interested when the time came. It was the night of my birthday. No one else except our private guide spoke English, so I was pretty sure the camels did not speak English. There were two camels present along with a small statured, turban-wearing Moroccan who looked like he could care less about us, the camels, the ride. When we approached, we found the two camels tied together and squatting on all fours each with a bit like something in there mouth attached to the reigns. We were told to get on our camel's back and hold onto the saddle (a knob fixture sticking up). That was it. No other instructions. My camel, the smaller of the two was in the back.
It was approaching darkness in this desert. I whispered to our guide to please keep the ride short, really short. Sitting atop the camel my nine year old fear was bubbling up. My best friend Kim could see it in my eyes. She kept asking, are you ok? Followed by, you are fine. I was quickly becoming unfine. I kept going in order not to ruin the experience for her. Left to my own, I would have come down from that camel and said, "I am good. Let's eat." Our guide dismissed himself and left us with the non-English speaking Moroccan and his camels.
Suddenly the small statured Moroccan brings out a whip and strikes my camel on his back side. My camel clumsily rises to his feet tipping me forward while jerking his front feet, then back feet then back feet again coming to all fours. If I was not holding on tight I could have fallen on the camels neck sliding down to his face. I almost did. I started screaming, "I don't like this one bit." My hands were sweating, my heart was racing, my mind was bleeding with complete fear. Surrounded by sand dunes, impending desert black, and a Moroccan who looked at me like, "Negro Please!", I wanted down and out of there.
We rode for nearly 30 minutes. My friend Kim peed herself while watching and laughing at every moment of my terror. She kept talking to me. She kept talking to my camel. I finally yelled, "Stop talking to my camel! You are annoying him I can tell." My camel it was clear hated my guts. He hated his job too. He hated that bit in his mouth. He hated staring into the butt of the lead camel. My fear could get him hurt.
Every time the reign was pulled my camel would gag and contort throwing me around. As I held on for dear life up and down those sand dunes, sand blowing into my face, I started to understand his plight. My camel was scared too. He was smaller than the other camels. He was being jerked around. He was forced to always be last, back wind to another camel's butt.
So at the last bend, I leaned into my camel and whispered. "I am sorry Mr. Camel. Let's both not be afraid tonight. We will finish strong. No bad memories tonight!" I sat up tall and talked my camel back to basecamp. Together we arrived safe and sound. And I swear when it came time to put me down, my camel gently kneeled and allowed me to descend. I winked at him and I think he winked back. Not a word of English needed.