Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Fragment 1

Rainbows crashed around us daily and then we looked up and didn't notice them anymore because they were there, had always been there, quotidian and colourful and implacable, riding, as was their wont, over the poignant and the sublime, the dusty, dusky children crying as they were held close to their mothers' backs bent low
over dry fields, sowing seeds that wouldn't grow the good life they wanted, and then, also, rising high over the hot air balloons that carried wealthy cameras far above the Serengeti, who sipped champagne, squinting to see the animated bugs below that were people distant enough to be romantic in aspect, noble savages; let's preserve their culture before they die off and we have fewer subjects for our lenses. Rainbows and albinos and Tanzania.

And we sat, and stood, and formed a long line that snaked through the terminal, our 2 large bags each tied with light blue yarn to signify that we were together, the ones beginning our long journey, and we waited as slowly the bags with blue yarn were taken away behind the counter, some of us reluctantly emptying them of their carefully considered contents when they were deemed to weigh too much, and others looking on, knowing that their lone sacks of books would not come close to pushing the limit. And who knew what of their 70kg would prove invaluable in tanzania and what would be discarded as superfluous when it was time to really live the place? But we'd talk and debate and smugly reflect on the moral superiority our preferences indicated, and we'd all be honest and right, the packing of the bags the last step on our distinct arrival at the journey. We left our bags and settled into the uncomfortable chairs of the waiting lounge, and began to know each other and the like and dislike and he was a rock climber, she a pig farmer out in the Midwest somewhere, and he would never a month in the bush. And all there for different reasons, shall I save some heathens for Jesus? Collect my one adventure before settling down to my aspirational trajectory? Find something in myself?  Whichever, not bad not great gets the job done and then you go and figure it out later and sometimes it's something worth doing and sometimes not, but he didn't worry too much; he was there, nodding his head, ready to follow the line to the grand adventure that waited an ocean and a continent away. We had tickets; we were going to fly.  And our sore arms showed us how valuable the expensive vaccinations had made us.
And the airport, our last taste of Americana, a mailbox where our stamps would hold currency, the familiar food, California pizza kitchen, second time in two days; they don't have pizza in Africa, and that's where we're going… Africa. Sometimes just saying it makes it a little more real, bursts the little insulated bubble that 40 other fresh faced American youth can create, and we sit around severally, opening travel books, their spines already well worn as they made their rounds justifying the elegance and magic of our experience to sceptical relatives and friends, nurturing our own expectations and wonder at what an amazing thing we were beginning. And already had it begun? The anticipation, and "where do you want to live" "I've been there already, and the people are beautiful and kind below skies that are blue without end." "But, I heard that some houses are built of dung, and anyways I need electricity for my laptop." Such a foreign experience, with only a glimmer of what might await, pictures in a book, sage words from previous volunteers handily transcribed in poorly photocopied induction books, and the company of so many others like us equally unsure. And much easier to imagine the safaris, the adventures, than to understand what it might mean to live with them, Tanzanians, learn their names, and problems, and ideas. The pictures are shiny, seductive and calming.
And he would mail his last letter on American soil, probably the first letter he'd actually written, and it would be to his girlfriend, the one he's chosen to leave behind even though one time emotion overcame her and she did what she vowed she wouldn't and asked him to stay. The last letter, and then on the plane, time to make new friends.
Five hours to Amsterdam, the airport shiny, cosmopolitan, with chairs too uncomfortable for sleeping; thence to Nairobi, over the Sahara, he looking out the window, the Sahara, complacent in limnal opportunities of the journey.  Twenty hours and finally, abruptly: Africa, the smell of body odour searing sensitive nostrils accustomed to the sterility of  the West, and jovial men greeting us outside the airport teasing us for our Lion King knowledge of Swahili and with the promise of a real bed in Nairobi university.
The next day's breakfast, our first taste of the institutional cafeteria style meals that would be the hallmark of organized PC events and would find us all shuffling up in line, dispersing to our tables where cliques had already begun forming. After breakfast a bus ride to Arusha, savannah as far as the eye cold see, views of Kilimanjaro, ostrich eggs for sale by the side of the road, and local music to emphasize that we were no longer in America, but that our adventure had really begun. And we were ready to assert our readiness, sniggering knowingly when a monied blond was fleeced at the first souvenir stand he encountered, smugly, too eagerly hoping/knowing we'd never let ourselves be taken either by unscrupulous traders or by the urge to so conspicuously consume as the other Americans were wont; don't forget how few embrace the noble challenge of Peace Corps. Heroes are not tempted, and would never lose in the struggle against the avaricious African peddler. But, forget schadenfreude, hustle back on the bus, Arusha awaits, and the training centre and the smells and crowds and sights of our first African city.


Post a Comment

<< Home