Ashaki quickly became an invaluable member of the team in our little one-room schoolhouse. Her naturally joyful nature and quick sense of humor offset my more melancholy tendencies. Although, I have to say that being in Africa, doing this new work, was slowly transforming my disposition into a more upbeat one. I had always thought I naturally tended towards negativity. But, maybe I was wrong about that. Maybe I just needed to be around different kinds of people, in a different kind of environment, in order for my optimistic side to surface. In any case, working alongside George and Ashaki -- teaching our enthusiastic young students -- brought a lightness to my heart and my outward manner that was new to me.
And this woman was so lovely, just being in her presence made me happy. It was a new thing, too, being around a beautiful woman and not trying to get her into the sack with me. As I said before, George had warned me sternly to "keep it zipped." And that admonition applied to my relationship with Ashaki, as well as to all the other women among whom I was now living. For even though Ashaki was my peer -- as a fellow teacher -- she was also a member of the country and culture in which I was a guest. If she were to be caught in my bed, well... The ramifications would not be very pleasant, for either of us. Her culture, after all, was fairly traditional. A local woman sleeping with a visiting American guy would have been unfairly and negatively labeled. And the visiting American guy would no longer be very welcome. The thought of being unwelcome in my new home was incentive enough for me to behave myself. I loved this place, these people. Having to leave them -- especially in disgrace -- would have broken my heart more than anything had broken it before. Also, the thought of having Ashaki be treated with even a tiny bit of scorn by anybody was unbearable to me. This woman was so kind, so gracious, so vibrant. If her reputation were to be tarnished because of me... That was unthinkable.
You may be wondering how this woman who became mine was able to become a university graduate, being that she was from the place in which I was now teaching. A place in which virtually nobody had any type of formal education. When she was a small child, her parents noticed that she was incredibly gifted. She was eager and able to learn to read the few books that were in her family home. She loved working arithmetic problems, and would beg the adults around her to indulge her in this pleasure. So her parents, wanting what all parents want -- the best for their child -- made a great personal sacrifice and sent their daughter to a relative's home in England, as soon as she was old enough to make such a journey. In England, Ashaki received a fine education. And, thankfully, she was able to return home for many vacations. Thus, she retained a strong identity as a member of her own country and culture -- an identity which led her to want to return to her homeland permanently when she completed her formal education. Yes, Ashaki had no desire to ever leave the home of her childhood again. She had a great love for her people and culture. She still does. She always will.
So I found myself, for the first time in many years, becoming an actual friend to a woman I could not bed. We spent a lot of time together, making excuses to stay in our little schoolhouse far later each day than what was actually necessary to prepare our lessons. But, we were also careful to avoid causing any kind of gossip or "eyebrow raising" amongst the people. Although, I'm sure many of them knew something was up. As long as I behaved honorably, though, people were tolerant of my friendship with this "sister" of theirs. And so we grew closer -- Ashaki and I.
To be continued...