Kara Blackmore (Uganda/UK/USA)

One person can be a catalyst to change your life. As cliché as it sounds it can happen. Some people go on missions to exotic places aiming to find gurus who will do just that; others are invaded when we least expect it. We might not recognize the moment when lives cross and prepare to tilt the other’s axis. I do.

At a braai on a bank of the Nile I chatted to Hendri. He was a South African by birth and accent, not too dissimilar to the rotation of river guides I‘d met previous. I’m sure I was just the same, another NGO worker getting a notch on my career belt before moving up the ladder. We could have exchanged superficial conversation and departed with a meaningless ‘see you around town’-we didn’t.

Congo was the trigger. When I mentioned the ‘c-word’ there was a shift, a common ground. As it turned out he had recently spent six months there and I was deep in the trenches of 19th century explorer manuscripts. Explorer meet historian! What would have been usual chitchat had suddenly transformed into a more meaningful conversation than we had shared with anyone in a while; or so it seemed.  Starved for mental food we continued, rarely slipping into the comforts of rehearsed questions.

The hunger for conversation brewed. Our nomadic lifestyles were suited to the infrequent meetings. Coffee, books, quotes, spiritual banter and laughter punctuated the excessively long encounters. It was on one occasion in Kampala that he asked me to work with him on his book. This humble request has suddenly exploded. I thought we had a great deal, I didn’t think I was going to be working without him on the project, never mind picking out quotes from the text for his memorial service.

As I sit watching whales from his family’s holiday home I feel a sense of purpose. Life now is no more than a selfless act of editing. It offers me a chance to embody someone else’s perspective. Maybe I’ll even learn something?

On that Ugandan night in 2010 –  breathing in cool charcoal scented air and comparing Tim Butcher’s Blood River (2009) with Stanley’s Through the Dark Continent (1878) – my imagination could not have conjured my editorial scenario.

The book is titled, ‘The Best Day Ever: and other ways to make life harder’. The text is partly about expedition antics coupled with his spiritual wanderings, but it’s mostly a coming of age story about a South African boy who spends his life searching for something heightened. My role is to give a historical, political, and anthropological flavor to frame his seemingly ludicrous dances with life and death.

The wisdom crystalizes to know that whenever you meet a stranger, let your mind wonder if they will be a fulcrum point on which you will balance a chapter of living.  When you give someone a hug goodbye, let your hearts have a silent conversation that will linger beyond your mortality. If you hear a loved one laugh, record it so you can listen later. And always remember that sometimes it’s not useful to ask why, rather ride on shooting stars of the unknown

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