It wasn’t long into my trip to Uganda that I learned the myth of the Inyathi. The power, the brute force, all legendary. As with most stories of the wild, one never knows what is more lore than legit. More fantasy that fact. If seeing is believing, then I had to see for myself. That’s what the trip meant. I wasn’t a hunter, at all. Still ain’t. If I’m being honest. I’m always honest. Did you know that ‘ain’t’ was actually the official contraction for ‘am not”‘? Somehow it got twisted into a slang usage with all the other pronouns, and over time people have come to say it isn’t proper. Funny how that works. Though this story is less about evolutions in linguistics and more about my trip to the wilderness, where many a white person, like myself, has gone seeking adventure, the sort of privilege that only comfort can buy. Hey you, yeah, your real life is my thrill seeking. And in some really strange turn of fate, your livelihood actually depends on people like me spending money to “find myself” or search deep into the jungle, symbolic of my own introspection. So profound.
That’s how I found myself on a ferry across Lake Victoria. Headed with our guide to Lake Mburo – park? reserve? Still not quite sure. I just know it had that m-b combination that I never know how to say. Is the ‘m’ silent? I could always google that, maybe. If I cared. I don’t really care. I just wanted to see the creature they call “Black Death.” The curled horns. The stubbornness. I can remember our guide slapping my shoulder, you know with the back of his hand, that sort of familiarity. He smiled, reflecting the light of ten thousand suns and said, and I’ll never forget the tone, the ominous tone, when he said, “You shoot at Inyathi. You don’t miss.” Pause. “And if you miss?” He could read the bewilderment on my face. “You pray.” I’m not religious. “Yet.”
We shared our boat ride with local merchants. Bananas hanging off the sides of bicycles. A boy yelled out, he had raw meat for sale, goat I was told. I was informed that goat is the most consumed meat around the world. Which I found ironic, considering they’re the animal that consumes the most. My city actually considered passing an ordinance to let goats graze along the side of the road. Apparently they eat weeds. Love them. We hate them. Poor goats, I thought. As the meat bounced in the rhythm of the current below us.
We reached the shore and climbed into the jeep waiting for us. It would be another three and a half hours to reach our destination. Time to think. Reflect. That soul-searching and whatnot. I was happy to see a road ahead of us. Unpaved, yes. Uneven in parts. But a road nonetheless. The wind danced through the leaves of the acacia trees lining the way. A ballet that I thought must have influenced Tchaikovsky. Could he have been a big game hunter? Traveling from Russia to the Savanna, searching for his own soul and finding Swan Lake? Perhaps. Or maybe I’m crazy. What did I know.
The jeep came to a stop. Silence. We sat for a minute or two. Our guide informed us that the hunt, which we were scheduled for 5 days, would begin in the morning. The sun had descended beneath the treeline, and we set up camp for the evening. Our itinerary said hunting would begin at dawn. Good food – or what I thought was as good as we could hope for – and rest, to that same “good enough” standard, were necessary for the long day ahead. A hunt that could take hours, entire days, on foot. Our night was serenaded by the animals into whose home we appeared. Interlopers. They carried on. Singing, running, chasing, like no one was watching. I didn’t dare watch. I lay still. My telltale heart surely giving me away to whatever predator owned the night. The smell of my blood, iron, must have been like incense to their olfactories. What did I know.
Our guide shook me awake. Already. Coffee. Biscotti. They called it http://wdgcincy.com/our-philosophy rusk, I swear it was biscotti. Whatever. We ate. Grabbed our day packs and found the head of the walking path. Every time I’m on a trail, hiking at Griffith Park or maybe some other mountain thing, this hunt, I always think about buy finasteride in south africa The Things They Carried. I’m Tim O’Brien. Who is Kiowa? Cross? What are we carrying? Here. Out here, but in here as well. I thought of my own mind. Where the loves and the burdens are carried. Where this whole need to find some meaning to life began in the first place. What I carry. This rifle and this driving need.
“You got to see this kid. Maybe do a story on him? Anyway, come up for the dual next week. You’ll see how we put on a show.” I had just started writing about wrestling and putting together stories about wrestlers, teams, competitions. I guess I wasn’t yet considered a quote-unquote media member, but I had plans, a vision. I brought a certain creativity, respect, to my approach. Covering a sport whose athletes dedicate so much. Yet, I saw it covered by people who treat it as a sort of afterthought. I was happy that early on, I was reaching some folks, getting attention. Gotta start somewhere. And as I prepared for my first trip up to the Central Valley, that vision was becoming more and more real.
The drive was about four hours through the middle of the state. Time that I enjoy. To reflect. You see, I had become quite the self-reflector. The Introspector. A superhero. I laugh at myself as much as anything. Could you imagine, a hero whose power were introspection. No. I doubt you could imagine it. I barely can and I made him up. What did I know.
I knew nothing about Selma, the high school, the town, the little barren trees that seemed to line every street. They looked something out of maybe every horror movie set in Anywoods, USA. I learned they were grape trees, vines, whatever. They grow in rows and when they’re cut, as they were, they take the shape of victims. Arms out here, legs over there. Bark, is it bark, I’m still not sure exactly, I’m not a botanist over here, I just barely became The Introspector. I can only describe them, and even then I probably fall short. So if it’s bark, great and if it’s technically something else, great. Either way, it’s knotted and dark brown and twisted and sort of shadowy. And just off-putting.
As I pulled into the school lot, the line to purchase tickets had already formed outside the gym. This was the first event I was covering for the season, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect once I got inside. I knew this school was known for its large crowds, and deservedly so. They’re one of the best wrestling programs in the country. They have half a town behind them. They have experience putting on a show. As the last of the crowd filed in, the lights dimmed and the PA guy asked for everyone’s attention.
The dual would start at a hundred and sixty pounds. I learned through the introductions that the wrestler I was there to see, specifically, would competing at a hundred and thirteen. That put his match about halfway through the dual. With the center-mat handshakes done, it was showtime.
The one hundred sixty pounder for the host school reported first. He ran to the mat awaiting his opponent. There was no opponent. Win by forfeit. Next up was a hundred and seventy. The one sixty from the visitors bumped up and we had our first match of the night.
As they met in the middle of the gym, the spotlight, all eyes, focused. On them. The one in orange and black looked bigger. Stockier. A fan from the school tapped me and explained that’s Jace Luchau and asked if I had seen him before. I hadn’t. At least in person. I remembered that name from a couple years ago, I think I was watching a Greco tournament or something. I hadn’t really kept up with him. I also knew his name was on national rankings lists so I figured he had to be good. The fan continued to say, his opponents should know, if you shoot on Jace, don’t miss.
My attention back to the mat, I saw him, Jace, take a hard jab step, faking a shot, tapping the other kid’s head, and gathering himself as he circled around. His breathing audible. At least to me, I don’t know if anyone else could hear him. While his attention was focused on his opponent. I saw it. I blinked. Still there. The brush, the foliage, against my face. Sweat collecting where my hat rested on my forehead. The cool water rushing from my canteen to my lips. Almost sweet. I side-stepped, ever so delicately. Right over left. Rifle in both hands. The guide snapped his fingers in quick succession, getting my attention, motioned for me to stop. He gestured toward the distance, which I took to mean a buffalo was close by. Turned out, that’s exactly what it meant. A stocky, beast of an animal. Still. Less than a hundred feet away. He lifted his head and I swear I could have touched the horns. Magnificence. In the flesh. I didn’t think he would charge at us. What did I know.
The clock ticked down in the third period, with Jace trailing by two points. Needing to pick up a takedown to send the match to sudden victory, he seemed to remember who he was. Lowering his head, horns and all, he charged. It was over. This I knew. Collision. And his opponent stood no chance. Two points for the takedown. Clock ran out and the tie score meant extra wrestling. Rules state there’s a one minute period, decided by the first takedown. This period would be decided by the same charging bull. The same stampede. Jace, the winner.
Excitement of the dual clung in the air, maybe like a trapeze artist. Yeah, I would say like that. Of course, I had to speak to him. A great match. But even more, the intensity, the impact, rushing me back to the trip where I found myself. Indeed, The Introspector. There was a local news outlet there, reporter, cameraman, looked like they were interviewing him live. Decided I could wait. There would be other days, events. The season was maybe half over and of course the state tournament in late February. I’d be there. He’d be there. He carried a state number one ranking, after all.
In fact, it wouldn’t be until after the state finals that I finally caught up with him. Inyathi. Coming off a third place finish, I wanted to know more about what motivates him and, of course, what’s next for the Selma bull.
“I’m most proud of how far I’ve come.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I wasn’t always good. I couldn’t win tournaments. I wasn’t talked about. Sometime in high school, it just clicked, but before that, I don’t think anyone would have guessed I’d be at something like Who’s Number One, for example.”
“So what do you credit for the turnaround?”
“Just the support of my team, my family. I mean Selma is a big family and everyone is there for you. Of course my practice partner, Julian [Beltran]. He really sharpens me every day at practice. I don’t know, I guess I just started to win a little and I liked it and wanted to do more of it, so I put my focus on training, getting better, learning from matches and enjoying the whole process.”
“So you made a little news after the state tournament this season, writing a letter to CIF that got a lot of attention in the wrestling community, can you touch on that a little?”
“I just heard from people in attendance some of the issues they had, and I know that a lot of my fellow wrestlers felt the same way. Maybe hearing directly from one of us would reach them, or make them think differently. Someone had to say something, and why not me? I don’t know if anything will change because of it but we’re always coached to leave everything we have on the mat. Life is the same way, leave everything you have out there and there’s no regrets.”
“Well, I know you got a lot of people’s attention. I wouldn’t have believed a high school student wrote that, to be honest.”
“So what’s next?”
“Well, nationals. I love freestyle wrestling, there’s fewer restrictions like what you can do. So that’ll be fun to get some freestyle competition in. Fresno State in the Fall.”
“What was it about FSU that you knew that’s where you wanted to spend the next four years?”
“Well, for one, it’s the home team. Everyone that has supported me through these years can continue to do so. Some of my brothers from Selma are going there as well, and it’ll be fun to continue competing together. Plus, they’re attracting so many other kids from the valley, that will give us a chance to rep the whole area together. Guys like [Matt] Olguin. I’m excited to work with him every day, make each other better.”
“And for those reading who may want to catch a Jace Luchau match, this Spring or next season in Fresno, how would you describe your style on the mat?”
“Well, I’m strong, so I can defend against shots, but then I push straight forward, relentless. I like to be explosive. Ultimately, I’m going to try to wear you down.”
“So how did you get your nickname, Cute Face, especially considering the style you just described is anything but cute?”
“Oh man, that was just coming up with an Instagram name and a friend of mine said it has to rhyme and threw that out there, Jace Cute Face. And it stuck.”
“And you had it printed on your singlet in Bakersfield.”
“Which I have to say, you definitely have the best singlet game I’ve seen. Anything planned for the upcoming competitions?”
“Not yet. But I’ll definitely come with something new, you can bet on that.”
He gave one last shoutout to his team, the Selma community, and was off to another practice. I sat just kind of staring at this cup of coffee. Steam rising. Twisting like the branches of pruned grape trees. Against my face like acacia leaves. Life is a metaphor for life. I laughed to myself, at myself. I do that quite a bit. A wrestling match and a hunt. A wrestler. Inyathi. Finding what I was never looking for. What did I know.