Letters

TO THE FOLLOWER OF CHIEKH BAMBA WHOM I MET IN DAKAR

The man’s image showed up on walls, windshields, doors, t-shirts, pendants: on any surface against which belief could be affirmed. I have set the postcard of him above my desk. The photograph is of Chiekh Amadou Bamba, a Sufi mystic, and you consider yourself his follower. “I am a Muslim only because of him,” you told me.

TO THE FOLLOWER OF CHIEKH BAMBA WHOM I MET IN DAKAR

TO THE KENYAN DOCTOR WHO SAVED ME FROM MENINGITIS

We lived in mud huts without running water or electricity, just like our host families. We bathed in water boiled for us each morning by our host families. We ate meals with, and prepared by, our host families. At this, you scowled and shook your head.

TO THE KENYAN DOCTOR WHO SAVED ME FROM MENINGITIS

TO THE ROOMFUL OF TRAVELERS WATCHING AMERICAN REALITY TV

They say that after a rain, a glassy surface of water settles over Bolivia’s salt flats, converting the land into the world’s largest mirror. I imagine the brujas, with their black braids and bowler hats, have something to do with this, holding a looking glass to the world. It takes a courage I didn’t have to gaze into it.

TO THE ROOMFUL OF TRAVELERS WATCHING AMERICAN REALITY TV

TO THE WOMAN WHO LED US INTO THE MOUTH OF THE JAGUAR

I heard your voice before I saw you. You didn’t ask me if I was OK. You just began a conversation, as if we had been talking for a long time. You took my daughter’s hand, and you told me the entrance to Ek Balam’s temple was just a few steps away.

TO THE WOMAN WHO LED US INTO THE MOUTH OF THE JAGUAR

TO THE WAITER IN BEYOGLU WHO LEFT ME A TIP

Pamuk, to his credit, understood the rarity of his good fortune and set out to do something purposeful with it. After collecting his loot, he conceived of a fictional project that actually, for once, merited the designation of “novel,” in the adjectival sense of the word, as something had never been tried before.

TO THE WAITER IN BEYOGLU WHO LEFT ME A TIP

TO THE WOMAN WHO SPARED ME AN ORANGE

Still, even as early motherhood plunged me into full-body, full-time fear, I wanted my baby to know the wild openness of travel: bus rides deep into the mountains, a tiny village down a dirt road, turkey calls, coffee and beer at shared tables with strangers.

TO THE WOMAN WHO SPARED ME AN ORANGE