Déjà vu…

It’s estimated that about two-thirds of us will experience déjà vu at some point in our lives. It literally means already seen. We catch ourselves “remembering” something we actually haven’t seen or experienced before. We have the feeling of being familiar with a scene or a situation. There seem to be many types of these experiences and as many explanations – ranging from memory malfunctions and neurological aberrations in the brain to the more mystical ones. Whatever it actually is, one thing is certain: these are fairly common experiences among us earthlings. As far as I know, I’ve only experienced it once. But it was a strong experience, or rather a string of experiences in the cause of two days. They were quite interesting (to me, that is). And I can still recall them now, over twenty years later.

It was early in the morning, the sun was just rising over the small, sparsely wooded natural garden in front of our little lodge in Masvingo, Zimbabwe. I got up, made some coffee and then opened the door to sit and enjoy my coffee sitting at the doorsteps. The cool, moist air was filled with a faint, barely discernible scent of smoke from wood fire. And I felt I was at home! Everything seemed familiar, the garden, the surroundings, the scent in the air. But it couldn’t be further from the reality as we had just arrived there late the previous night from Europe through Harare – for the first time. It was a very pleasant experience, nothing dramatic about it, I just sat there sipping my coffee and thoroughly enjoyed the calm familiarity of it all. Until I had to leave for my meetings – I was there for work.

Later that same afternoon, after coming back from my meetings, we walked over to the Great Zimbabwe Ruins that were close by. Wanted to see the ancient stone city, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, believed to have been built between the 11th and the 14th century. The ruins of this ancient city that could have accommodated as many as 18,000 people at the time, were (and still are) very impressive. Zillions of stones built into outer walls, towers and inside structures, without the help of mortar.  Walking inside, I was overcome with the same strong sense of familiarity. I was fascinated! I walked and walked among the ruins, examined the construction and the arrangement of the structures. I was not feeling like I usually did (and still do) at historic sites – curious to learn about the times gone by. What I felt now was a remarkable awareness of how this city had been. Knowing that the weekend was coming and we’d fly to Victoria Falls in the morning, I found it difficult to leave. I ended up staying long after my family had returned to the lodge, until the site was closing at sunset.

Over the weekend I was “off” and we spent the two days at the majestic falls, world’s largest water falls and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. After settling into our rooms at the historic hotel, we spent the afternoon walking the small paths in the forest opposite the falls. The thunder was deafening and the water vapor made us soaking wet. But it was an absolutely wonderful experience.

In the evening, there was an offering of after-dinner entertainment at a small arena in the woods behind the hotel gardens. A group of dancers in traditional masks and outfits performed old, customary dances describing life’s various stages. As soon as they started to perform, the sense of knowing and deep familiarity appeared again. I had seen traditional dances, costumes and masks on many occasions in other African countries before, and since, without ever experiencing this particular sense of déjà vu. Again it was a very  peaceful and enjoyable feeling. It didn’t leave me for a long time, and I can still recall it vividly.

And that’s been it. Ever since, I have not met my déjà vu again. How I could experience the extreme and warm familiarity in these for me, then, completely new environments is still a small mystery for me. Wherever they came from, these events now form a part of my real memories, on the more affable end of the spectrum. If anything, these little encounters with déjà vu have deepened my affinity to Africa.