Wednesday, April 29, 2009

6:30am Brussels time, 11:30pm Fort Wayne time


I don’t sleep well on planes. I think everyone who designs transport is shorter than 6 feet tall. But Brussels air tries hard to make you comfortable. Good food, nice blankets. I look longingly at the curtain to first class and the extra-reclining chairs with ample leg room and rub my knees.

I’m greeted by what appears to be the African version of Total Request Live on the screens at the front of the cabin. Women from Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal sway silently back and forth to the drone of the engines and the stirring of the cabin crew. If you’ve never been to Africa, then African music videos are probably just a glimpse into the past of video editing, with producers who don’t know better than to use whatever stock transition effects are available on the software they’re using. The four-corner split and spin. The page-turn from the left. The page-turn from the right. The spinning block. But when you’ve been to Africa, you see something a bit more. You see this familiar desire to be Western while slightly resenting it at the same time. The ladies amble out of a sports car, but the man is wearing a dashiki. The dancing still holds quite a bit of booty shaking, while retaining the swaying arm movements of their days in the choirs of their youth.

It’s familiar because you see this tension on the streets every day. Love 50 Cent, resent the West’s money. Love Obama, resent the US foreign policy. Love Dolly Parton (don’t ask me, but everyone does), resent the imposition of Western cultures and values. I can’t blame them. I live in that tension every day. I’m simultaneously someone abundantly comfortable in the West and annoyed and critical of it. It’s the real tension I’m wrestling with this morning. We’re about to land in Brussels. Who am I now? On the other side of these eight months, will that tension be tilted to one side or another? I have three entries to post. Will I be upset if I can’t connect to the internet? Do I deserve it? Is all that stuff in my suitcase just relics of an extended vacation into development-land? I’m about to set foot into the land of automatic soap dispensers. Who am I?

1 comment:

Mrs. Chappy said...

Jim, It's so good to read your experience and to be able to relate. Of course, you have an extra 5 months in Africa, so I can't imagine how much more you are feeling. Thanks for writing so openly.