“Ariane, you are a péripatéticienne!” jokingly declared my friend Issouf. I had just declined his offer for a ride to go pick up my son Soriya at school. It was a thirty-minute walk away. “No thanks, it’s too close,” I responded. “Plus, I need to walk to think, and I need to think right now.” “Péripatéticienne?” groaned my husband, Denis, with a half-grin. “I didn’t know my wife was a lady of the night!” In fact, the etymology of the word – peripatetic in English – comes from “street walker” in ancient Greek, ergo the confusion.
In modern times péripatéticienne has become a euphemistic French term for a prostitute, but it originally came into vogue to describe the legendary Athenian philosopher Aristotle, whose greatest thoughts came to him while walking together with his student disciples.
This is the usage the erudite Issouf was referring to: since I need to walk to think, and am often with my disciple-like children in tow, I am indeed a modern-day péripatéticienne. “Aristotle of Africa,” I mused. Why not? I held my head high. While I cannot claim greatness as a philosopher, I walk to think every day, hours at a time. And I often use my walks to teach lessons to my children. “It’s scorching right now.” Issouf insisted, not fully understanding how I’d rather walk outside at noon in 40°C than ride inside an air-conditioned car. I yearned for my thinking time, and was also looking forward to greeting the friends whom I encountered on the way:
The group of old beggar-women who sit every day on the same street corner on my pathway to school. They giggle every time I try to chat with them in Hausa. (I made sure to bring extra change for them.) The house watchman who calls me “Ma chérie” when I’m alone, and “Madame” when I’m with my husband Denis. The Tuareg shopkeeper Fati. Ever since I visited her after she narrowly escaped death when a drunk driver ran into her boutique, she always gives me cookies for my children.
Excerpt from the Walkabout Chronicles, Epic Journeys by Foot, essay “Aristotle of Africa” by Ariane Alzhara Kirtley