Amadou Ka has prepared many things for the visit of his friend Sarah and her three-year-old son Adam. On the first day he serves them poulet yassa with chanterelles they pick themselves in the woods near his apartment. Adam fills his pockets with acorns, bits of Spanish moss, maple leaves. Then there are outings to the library, the Redwood forest, and the famous “marsh,” which combines wetlands reclamation, sewage treatment, and wildlife protection.
Miraculously, Amadou is safely –as safely as possible in the job market of 2012—ensconced in a tenure track position as professor of Francophone studies in a state university here. It is a relief after all the years since he left his home in Mali, to be able to send money home as promised, although there is never enough to meet the needs of his extended family. Amadou couldn’t tell Sarah why he’ll never have his own family here, how it could never square with his ties to his village, the annual outlay for one family here being enough to bring his whole village through a bad millet harvest or a season of drought.
Most of all, Amadou misses the children of his family. It causes him great distress to miss the childhoods of his nieces and nephews at home, where his sisters and brothers are living traditional lives, while their brother pursues the solitary existence of an outsider, an exotic other, teaching American students, hungry for Africa, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Amadou assauges this exquisite ache of homesickness by delighting in his friends’ children. And this is why Sarah and Adam have come to visit over winter break. Amadou was their neighbor while he finished his Ph.D. at a midwestern university. He was moral support while Sarah divorced Adams’ father. Since the age of two, Adam has been certain that he loves Amadou Ka better than anyone next to his mother. He asks about Amadou every day.
As luck would have it, on the third day of the visit, Adam begins vomiting. Amoudou insists on caring for Adam himself. When the little chest heaves, Amadou holds Adam’s head and speaks soothingly, wiping his face with a cool cloth afterward and returning him to his bed. When the pilot light goes out in the gas heater, he builds a fire in the fireplace and makes a nest for Adam there until the gas man can come. While Adam sleeps, Amadou tells Sarah how high infant mortality is in West Africa, how many children die of malaria before they reach five years, how hard it is for him to believe that an illness like this flu isn’t life-threatening for a child here.
In Sarah’s experience no man-- no father, no uncle, no grandfather--has shown a child this level of tender affection. A tornado of emotion boils in her breast, shakes her calm, collides with the wall built after the divorce. Watching Adam, she and Amadou often exchange smiles of enjoyment, but neither of them can find their way to further closeness.
After two days, they are able to take Adam to the beach and spend the day letting his view of the world guide their actions. It is a good place to be, just sitting and watching the waves. Although Adam is again eating and drinking, his energy isn’t back to normal. Amadou entertains him with impersonations of African animals. Sarah snaps a picture of Amadou scooping up ants from the sand with the long tongue of an anteater, then looking around him, making sure no one else is competing for his food. This backward glance elicits peals of laughter from Adam and his mother.
On day seven, Sarah and Adam board the bus again to take them home. As they see Amadou’s strong face receding in the distance, they both weep inconsolably. Back at work, Sarah’s friends ask her what she did in California. Did she visit wineries and practice her surfing? “We sat on the beach,” Sarah laughs, “but otherwise didn’t do much.”
winery, the ___heaved and s/he had to . . .. practice, pilot, pocket, a sudden illness, mushroom in sentence 2, canvas.