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Umba by Sherry Derr-Wille
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Leonore Hayes, Leo to her friends, only wants to be allowed to work on an archaeological dig, but being a woman, the headman at UMBA won’t allow her to use the skills she has to offer. When she makes a find that can change the entire project, she finds not only her reputation but also her life in danger.
David Clark wants nothing to do with archaeology. In an attempt to get away from his family, he has been volunteering at a mission in Kenya. On the eve of his going home, his parents enlist his help to validate a new discovery at a project called UMBA on the other side of Kenya from the mission. Once there, he realizes that Leo has found something that could change the archeological world as well as David forever.
UMBA DIG - KENYA – 2028
A cool predawn breeze kissed Leonore’s cheek as she prepared for her morning run. She’d been in Kenya, working on the UMBA archaeological dig, for three weeks now and wondered why she’d come to Africa in the first place.
When she received her acceptance letter on this dig she thought she could make a difference here. Instead, she found herself the only female volunteer. Dr. Conrad Kaufman had been furious when he realized Leo was short for Leonore. Although she signed her letter of applications Leonore P. Hayes, her letters of recommendation all called her Leo.
As punishment for being female, Kaufman kept her busy cleaning up when all she wanted to do was work the dig. Of all the volunteers, she found no one with her knowledge of carbon dating working here.
If it weren’t for the fact she needed this summer on UMBA for her post graduate course at Havelin in the fall, she’d chuck the whole thing and go back to the states. Surely, Dr. Grant-Clark would understand, perhaps even allow her to take this year’s course and do her field work on another dig next summer.
She shook her head to clear her mind, and started her morning run. Putting off the run any longer would make her late for breakfast.
As usual, when she ran, she saw few animals. The drought caused them to migrate to other areas in search of water. At least that’s what she’d been told by a man she met occasionally when she went running.
She enjoyed talking to the man who called himself The Nomad. Although he didn’t look like the other natives of Kenya she met, he told her he’d lived most of his life in the area. She judged him to be in his late forties, but the way he spoke reminded her of an older, wiser man. Maybe it was his golden brown skin, dark eyes and dark hair, which made her think him to be younger.
Without warning, the earth beneath her feet gave way. She grasped at the dry grass. For a moment, it stopped her sudden fall, then it too gave way and she tumbled the last few feet to the bottom.
Leo felt the air expel from her lungs from the force of the landing on the smooth stones. After taking mental inventory of her body parts, she deducted there was nothing broken. Sitting up she reached for the flashlight strapped to her waist.
The beam illuminated the cavern. She gasped in disbelief. Before her stood an altar table, with trappings much like the ones she read about. Searching her memory, the words Round Tree, in West Virginia unfurled. Afraid to touch anything she flashed the light around, allowing it to fall on stone jars and statues.
“My god,” she said aloud. “What is this place?” She heard no answers. She didn’t need answers. She knew them already. Twenty-five years ago, Round Tree had been called the find of the century. If her assumptions were correct, she, Leo Hayes, just made a find that would be every bit as important to Africa as Round Tree was to America
* * * *
New Hope Mission - Kenya – 2028
David Clark awoke in the guesthouse where he lived for the past two years. At noon, the mission’s helicopter would leave for Nairobi to take him to the airport for his flight to London. He would stay there for a week, visiting with his twin sister, Chris, and her husband, Neal, before going back to Round Tree and his parents.
He wondered how his dad would take the news about him not going back to school to get his doctorate in anthropology. Two years ago, he applied for a position with the Christian mission in Kenya. He wanted to take the two years assignment to get his head together and decide what to do with the rest of his life.
Growing up, being shuttled between Round Tree and Havelin College, threw his life into turmoil. He knew the ins and outs of archaeology, perhaps better than most people. His father, Dr. Evan Clark, would surely expect him to go back to school, get his doctorate, and then join his half brother, Brandon, at Round Tree.
His mother, Dr. Jocelyn Grant-Clark, on the other hand, would understand his decision to teach history. When he returned to the states, he planned to start sending out resumes. Some district must want someone with his background and qualifications.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. “David, are you awake?” Jeff Farnsworth, the head of the mission project, called. “You have an overseas phone call.”
David set aside his musings and pulled on a pair of khaki shorts before opening the door. “Who’d be calling me?” he asked.
“He said he’s your dad. It’s funny, I’ve only rarely heard you speak of your family.”
David didn’t comment. His stomach did cartwheels as he crossed the compound to the main house that doubled as the office. In the entire time he’d been in Africa, there had been only letters and E-mails from home, never a phone call. He wondered what it could mean. Was someone sick, or worse yet, dead?
“Dad?” David questioned, putting the receiver to his ear. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s not what you think,” his father began. “Everyone is all right. In fact, your mother and Brandon are here with me. We have you on speaker phone.”
David checked his watch. It read eight thirty, which would make it two thirty in the morning back home. “Since I’ll be home in about a week, I can’t believe this is a social call. What’s up?”
“Dad got an E-mail from Kenya today,” Brandon interjected. “It seems Dr. Conrad Kaufman has a dig out there. He claims to have found a parallel society to Round Tree.”
“A dig? Out here? I haven’t heard of any. What’s it called?”
“He referred to it as UMBA,” Evan said. “He says he’s about ten hours out of Nairobi by land. He’d been there for about a year, unearthing a small village. I told him not to do anything until we could get someone there to authenticate it.”
David’s mind spun. Instead of flying out to London tomorrow, he would be meeting either his parents or his brother at the Nairobi airport. “What time does your plane get in? I’ll change my flight and meet you.”
From the other side of the Atlantic there was a moment of silence. “Look, Dave,” Brandon finally added. “No one can get away. It’s the twenty-fifth anniversary of the findings here. We’re crazy with tourists, especially since they aired that old movie about Jaycee and Dad a couple of weeks ago.”
David knew what Brandon meant. Even in this remote part of Kenya, they had aired the movie on the International Network. He’d watched it with Jeff. Seeing it, after being away from Round Tree for so long, made him a bit homesick.
“We know you’re anxious to get home,” his mother said, speaking for the first time. “It’s a lot to ask, but we want you to check it out for us.”
David could feel adrenaline pumping through his body. He hadn’t been on a dig in two years. How would he feel about it? If his reactions were any barometer, he knew he wouldn’t be sending out applications for a teaching position when he returned home. The mere mention of the dig prompted an unexpected excitement within him.
“I’ll have to change my reservations and call Chris, but I guess I can check it out for you. Where is this place actually located?”
David wrote down the directions as his brother dictated them. From the way Brandon spoke, David knew he was tracing them out on a map of Kenya.
“How long do you think it will take you to get there?” his father asked.
“By road, about three to four days, but I think I can persuade Jeff to take me there in the helicopter. We’ll fly to Nairobi today and be there sometime tomorrow morning.”
“Good,” Evan’s voice sounded relieved. “Don’t worry about calling Chris. We’ll call her when we finish talking to you.”
“I know this isn’t want you planned to do, but we do appreciate it,” his mother said. “I’ll start looking into teaching positions for you. I’m certain I can find several openings on the Internet. When you get back, I’ll have a list ready for you.”
David nodded, as if this primitive phone was hooked to the vision phone system he knew his parents usually used. “I’ll contact you tomorrow night and let you know what I find. Since they sent you an e-mail, they must have a computer system.”
David ended the call, wondering why his family hadn’t used the e-mail to contact him. It was probably too iffy. With the preparations to leave the mission, they must have assumed he would have no time to check the computer for a message he wasn’t expecting.
He turned from the phone and saw Jeff standing behind him. “I guess I owe you an explanation.”
“You don’t owe me anything.”
“Yes, I do. I’ve been trying to put my life together and in doing so, I wasn’t completely honest with you. I knew with a common name like Clark no one would question me about my family. I tried to do the same thing my mother did twenty-five years ago. I guess we have to learn from our own mistakes.”
“What are you talking about?”
He could hardly believe Jeff hadn’t guessed his true identity. The one sided conversation he couldn’t help hearing, must have uncovered David’s deception. “Do the names Evan and Jaycee Clark mean anything to you?”
Jeff’s puzzled expression surprised David. They’d watched the movie together. Hadn’t any of it stuck with the man? How could anyone, in this day and age, not recognize the names of his parents? “What about Round Tree Dig?”
A light of recognition flashed in Jeff’s eyes. “You’re that Clark? What have you been doing here these past two years?”
“It’s a long story. If I can persuade you to take me to a dig called UMBA, I promise, I’ll tell you everything.”
After their breakfast, David tried to decide how to explain the reasons behind why he kept his background a secret from everyone at the mission. He certainly had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. So why was he apprehensive? Still lost in his thoughts, David finished his packing before saying his good-byes.
He hated leaving here. He let his mind wander to the people he met and helped. Over the past two weeks, the people in the surrounding villages had honored him. They’d even offered the daughter of one of the influential families as a bride. He remembered gracefully declining the offer. It wasn’t the first such proposal he’d received.
In another village, the girl’s father was ready to set a bride price, when he told them he owned no cattle. These beautiful people still lived by the old ways and could not comprehend a life without the wealth of cattle. It still amazed him how they were able to cling to their ancient ways while the modern world encroached upon them.
David crossed the compound, his backpack securely in place. In an attempt to travel light, he’d shipped the majority of his possessions the first of last week, leaving him with only the contents of the backpack and a small suitcase. After throwing the suitcase behind the seat, he climbed into the cockpit next to Jeff.
“Why didn’t you tell me about your parents before this?” Jeff asked, once they were airborne.
“I didn’t think you would understand.”
“What’s there to understand? Unless, of course, you’re ashamed of them.”
David realized just how foolish his reasons sounded. No matter how foolish they sounded, they were the only reasons he could find. He had no recourse but to give them to Jeff.
“All of my life everyone knew about my folks. They expected a lot of me, especially in school. When I went away to college, I decided to go where no one knew me. Beloit College, in Wisconsin, seemed as far away as I could get. Hearing you talk about Kenya, I knew I wanted to come here. It’s given me the time I needed to decide about the future.”
The words hung in the air like fog in the morning. David hardly breathed waiting for Jeff to say something, anything.
“What did you have to decide?”
“Getting my doctorate in Anthropology or teaching on the high school level.”
“Is it presumptuous of me to ask what decision you reached?”
“No. Until I got the call from my parents, I’d decided to look for a teaching position.”
“And after you talked to them?”
“I’m not so sure anymore. My dad used to say he’s like an old fire horse. All he has to do is hear about a new dig, a new find, and he wants to explore it. I guess I’m a lot like him. He only told me a little about UMBA, but I’m excited about seeing it for myself.”
“What does UMBA have to do with your dad?”
“Dr. Kaufman sent them an e-mail yesterday. He’s convinced he’s found a parallel society to Round Tree. Dad and Brandon want me to authenticate it.”
“Can you? Isn’t it almost impossible to detect a hoax?”
“It’s not as hard as you think. I grew up reading the writings and playing with the artifacts. There are certain things even our advanced technology can’t duplicate.”
“All I can say is watch out for Kaufman. If he thinks he’s found a parallel society, he won’t believe you if you don’t authenticate it.”
David looked at Jeff. He couldn’t possible know the man David would be meeting tomorrow. “Do you know him?” he finally inquired.
“Not really. I met him last year in Nairobi. I went there for a conference on antiquity. That’s what they were calling it. They were focusing on the necessity of maintaining the local customs. Kaufman used the conference as a soapbox to get more funding for UMBA. I think the government gave him some sort of a donation.”
David made no comment. He knew how important funding was to a dig. “Did he give you any idea what UMBA stands for?” he asked.
“He didn’t go into it. He was too wrapped up in what he hoped to find.”
“I can understand why. For the past twenty-five years, archaeologists all over the world have been trying to find out where the man-gods took the people when they left Round Tree. They’re all looking for the same notoriety my dad received. Everyone wants to be remembered for something.”
“I can vouch for people remembering what your folks found. I was just a kid then, but I remember the publicity it generated. As for the movie, I didn’t pay much attention to it the other night. I guess it’s because I saw it so many times when I was growing up. The thought of someone hearing voices and realizing they actually lived before fascinated me.”
David nodded. Although he accepted his mother’s reincarnation as fact, he doubted her perception he carried the spirit of Sayo. He never mentioned it outside of the family. How could he possibly be reincarnated from a long dead priest, especially one who so cruelly sacrificed prisoners and took the virginity of young women? In reality, it was something too ridiculous to be true.
The Nairobi airport came into view and with it the heliport where Jeff would land and store their craft.
Not far from the airport was the mission house where they would spend the night. The air-conditioned comforts of the house made David feel as if he were back home. In the past two years, he’d visited Nairobi and stayed at the mission house six times. He decided he would surely miss Brian and Joanne Larson as well as their hospitality. Tonight was to have been his last visit. He’d spent the last two weeks preparing to say his good-byes. Now he wondered how many more times he would visit before he left Kenya for good.
“It’s wonderful to see you again,” Joanne said, when they entered the house.
David hugged her and shook hands with Brian. Eventually I will leave Kenya. When I do, I’ll miss coming to this house and being engulfed in its loving family.
“We’ll miss you when you leave for the states tomorrow,” Brian assured David.
“David isn’t leaving tomorrow,” Jeff advised them.
Brian’s questioning expression prompted David to repeat the circumstances surrounding his father’s phone call. Again, he explained his background, including his credentials for going to UMBA to authenticate Kaufman’s find.
“I don’t envy you the task you’re about to undertake,” Brian said. “Conrad Kaufman is not an easy man.”
Throughout his narrative, David focused his gaze on the rose pattern of the worn carpeting on the living room floor. Brian’s statement caused David to meet the older man’s eyes. “I take it you know of him.”
“We met in college, twenty years ago. As I recall, he was as dedicated to anthropology as I was to theology. Your father’s find fascinated him. As more and more of the contents of the writing found at the site of Round Tree were released, he insisted a parallel society had to exist somewhere on the planet. I even did some studying and thought perhaps such a society did exist in the pyramids of Egypt. The Round Tree writings are quite similar to the hieroglyphics, if my perception is correct.”
“You are indeed correct. If Sayo had more time to study with Zandar, the man god who fathered him, I think you would have seen even more similarities.”
“The way you talk it’s as though you know this Sayo personally,” Joanne observed.
David smiled. Joanne certainly didn’t know how close she came to the truth. “Maybe I do. Not personally, of course, but I do know him through the writings. I’ve read through most of the scrolls and feel I have an insight into his character.”
“I don’t think David is interested in rehashing the issues surrounding Round Tree,” Jeff said. “What more can you tell him about Dr. Kaufman?”
“In my father’s day,” Brian began, “Conrad would have been called a male chauvinist.”
“A what?” David asked, unfamiliar with the term.
Joanne was quick to answer. “Before the turn of the century, in the seventies and eighties I think, women started to come into their own. They called their movement Women’s Lib. There were several men, so I’m told, who didn’t approve. They thought women should stay at home and have babies. The thought of them entering the work place intimidated the poor souls.”
“So,” David questioned, puzzled by Joanne’s statement, “what does this have to do with Kaufman?”
“The man has such little respect for women, he won’t even allow female volunteers on his projects,” Brian answered. “He also works very hard to inflict his opinions on everyone around him. It’s very annoying.”
David laughed. “He sounds a bit egotistical, if you ask me.”
“It’s not just women he puts down. It’s young people as well,” Joanne continued. “I’m afraid you won’t receive a warm welcome from him.”
“I agree,” Brian said. “If you declare his find a hoax, he won’t believe you. If, on the other hand, you authenticate it, he’ll order you to leave. He won’t tolerate you stealing his recognition.”
“Then he’ll have to get over it. If he has found another Round Tree, I’ll be staying. The only people who know more about these people than I do are my folks and my brother. No matter what Kaufman wants, they can’t get away from Round Tree right now. I’m going to UMBA as their representative and one way or another, he’ll have to accept it.”
Lying on one of the twin beds in the Larson’s guest bedroom, David thought about what Brian said concerning Kaufman. It would be easy to reinstate his reservations to London for tomorrow. It would be just as easy to send an e-mail to his dad and insist he and Brandon should be the ones who would meet with Kaufman.
Easy, yes, but not practical. I’m the one who is in Kenya. I’m the one who can be there tomorrow. Even without my doctorate, I’m the one who can authenticate Kaufman’s find. Like it or not, he’ll have to deal with me.
Book Publisher: Class Act Books
No. of Pages: 343
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