Disbelief of Wonder
“You want to hear something funny?” the young cook Cisco asked me in his native-Botswanan accent, as he prepped up a beef stew for dinner in our safari camp in Kasane, a town just outside the Chobe National Park in northern Botswana. “I hear there is a man from America who plays the piano, but he is blind.” He chuckled as if it were some silly urban myth that all the kids in his hometown of Maun were told. Maun is a small town in the middle of the Kalahari Desert, so it was more like a desert mirage.
“Oh, you mean Stevie Wonder?” I told him.
“Yes, I think that is him,” he answered. “He is a comedian?”
“No, he’s a musician.”
“And he is blind?”
“Yes,” I told him. “You haven’t heard of Stevie Wonder?” Evidently the world-famous Stevie Wonder wasn’t known in the remote villages of Africa.
“If he is blind, then how can he see the keys of the piano?”
“I don’t know. He just listens to the notes and feels his way around.”
“Oh, so the music sounds bad and all mixed up?”
“No, he’s really good. He plays a lot of songs. Haven’t you heard of Ebony and Ivory?” It would have been the perfect Ebony and Ivory moment between the two of us, talking together in perfect harmony, if not for my tan Filipino-American skin. It was more like Ebony and Coffee With Milk, Two Sugars.
“That is a song he plays?”
“He plays it and sings along.”
“No, you are joking,” he said, chuckling in doubt. His bright ivory smile glimmered between his dark ebony lips.
“No, he really does. He plays the piano and sways his head while he sings,” I explained as I did Mr. Wonder’s signature motions. “Sometimes he even plays the harmonica.” My Stevie Wonder mimic was more like the slithering of the indigenous spitting cobra and it made Cisco really start to laugh.
“You are a fool!” He went off to tend to the campfire in disbelief.
“No, I’m not joking!” He thought I was trying to pull a fast one on him, or just perpetuating the bucolic myth. So I had to do what America has done in the past: call in the British Army for backup – a fellow traveler in our safari group from London who had served in Her Majesty’s Royal Troops.
“Bob, you know who Stevie Wonder is, right? Cisco here doesn’t believe me that he’s blind and can play the piano.”
“Ah yes, Stevie Wonder,” Private Bob said in his prim and proper British accent. “He’s a black American musician who is blind and plays the piano. He’s quite famous really.” The same information coming out of a respectable British soldier was enough to convince the deluded Botswanan.
“I will have to tell my friends that it is true then. There is a man in America who is blind and can play the piano.”
“Actually, there’s another. Have you heard of Ray Charles?”
Cisco burst into laughter. “Ha ha! Oh, now I know you are just fooling me!” He shook his head and laughed and went away to make dinner. Oh, if only Stevie Wonder could have seen the smile on his face.