Entranced enthusiastic

I guess it’s like Christmas morning or the building crescendo of strands of the best music or walking outside into the embrace of a perfect day or maybe like a reunion with the person you love best. That feeling always lives curled up in the crevices of the heart, ready to leap up at the right moment. It’s there even when it has dissipated, so that when you imagine it you feel its echoes there in the place where joy is kept. It’s a fullness that demands outward focus, that pours its energy and life into finding the wonder in the world and magnifying it.

And though it’s a state that denies the entrance of fearful apprehension, it’s the most vulnerable moment in the world – a profound openness that risks everything. It’s not safe.

But it’s good.

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There’s a tiny colonialist inside me.

I have no right to write about Africa, for her children

have done so with a poignancy I couldn’t begin to touch

(even if my skin were brown and I knew the secrets of perfect ugali).

But from my beginnings as a tiny, naked-footed, white kid, I hoped,

always hoped to be adopted by this land

whose beauty and diversity have been exploited and cast aside like

so many whores in a brothel (if you’ll forgive the rough image for rough actions).

Creativity stuffed into tourist shops, languages reluctantly accepting new words

(I heard tell that people gamble in English).

If I thought I could right any of these wrongs, I would, but

I have no right to be paternalistic, not even any

right to write about Africa.

 

Compassion means “to suffer with,” I remind myself as I watch

the mango trees and mountains and huts and travesties

of NGOs and development work carry on from the window of car as I ride

along the swath of red dirt that reads like a wound

through and upon the surface of this place I’ve dared to call my home.

 

Kipling, believe me when I tell you that the White Man’s Burden is that of a folly so great that its seduction lives in the hearts of even the most well-meaning among us.

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Rei, Roy, and the Cappuccino Misadventure

It was 2008, a Sunday night, early rainy season. I’m sure about the rainy season part.

I was sitting on the floor playing guitar as Natalie bounced around around like a nervous grasshopper. My house was full of people eating and drinking coffee and playing music, just like most every Sunday night.

At about 8 o’clock, Natalie darted over to me, almost bowling me over as she skidded recklessly across the carpet. She plopped down and whispered something in my ear. I glanced at her and nodded slowly. I said something, and she squeaked with excitement. It was time for our weekly cappuccino date.

A moment later, we skipped out into the cool, fresh air and swung up into the absurdly high seats of my family’s large white van (affectionately nicknamed Moby). With all the confidence of the few months I’d been driving a stick shift, I maneuvered deftly in reverse around the cars in our driveway.

We successfully cleared the L-shaped driveway, and I was starting to feel pretty good about my sweet driving skills when I realized that we were quite stuck in the ankle-deep mud outside our gate. Shifting into first just resulted in a dramatic mud-flinging affair, courtesy of spinning tires. Yes, definitely rainy season. We swallowed our pride, and with some help from our smirking fathers, were soon on our way.

Mount Elgon Hotel was less than a kilometre away. We arrived, parked poorly, and walked in with all our teenage mzungu suaveness. At the bar, we ordered cappuccinos with the air of people who knew their coffee. That’s how I remember it, anyway.

The bartender completely ignored us. Unaffected, we tried again in English and then in Swahili. Finally, the bartender glanced up at us. “Sorry please, but the cappuccino machine is even broken and the man who can fix it has gone to Kampala until tomorrow.”

Lesser expatriate teens might have been deterred, but this was not our first mechanical difficulty. We mustered our dignity and primly seated ourselves in the chairs by the window. I pulled out the thermos of piping hot, freshly French-pressed coffee that we’d had the foresight to bring from home. Natalie pulled out a thermos of steamed milk, and we enjoyed our cafés au lait in peace for some few minutes.

There’s no good transition sentence to use in beginning to talk about the Indian men who now enter the story, because their entrance was abrupt and unexpected. They stood uncomfortably close to us, asked if they could buy us drinks and what our phone numbers were and what we were doing in Uganda. They told us that they could take us to their hotel rooms and give us everything we ever wanted. We answered evasively as it became clearer that the men were several beers the drunker of sober.

After a few minutes of this, Natalie subtly picked up the thermoses. I grabbed my purse and car keys. We stood up in tandem and started walking toward the door. I looked back and saw the men walking after us. We walked faster and faster, finally breaking into a run as we hit the parking lot. The men were just coming out the front door as I reached Moby. With one smooth motion, I jabbed the car key into the passenger-side keyhole and unlocked the door. I dived across the seat. Natalie was close behind me. As soon as we were both in, I started the car and roared out of the parking lot. We took a back way home. When we were sure that we weren’t being followed, we collapsed into helpless giggles.

When we got back to my house, the Sunday night party was winding down. We sauntered in without a bit of sheepishness. “How were your cappuccinos?” my mom asked. “Machine was broken,” I said, “but we had fun anyway. Nothing too exciting.”

Some stories must wait five years to be told. Sorry, Mom.

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Two middle-aged balding men sit in the corner, hunched over mugs of what they’re content to pretend is something manly. I wonder, is this where they meant to be when they were young with heads full of ideas and ambition and hair? They sit gathering dust and pollen and vitamin D in prematurely humid April air, like men, like what they need to be, like people who can accomplish things, but here we are in Arkansas and their hair is gone and their drinks are cold and maybe the fire in their chests was always all for naught.

(What I’m most afraid of is that I’ll grow cold and bored and lose my wanderlust and wonderlust, that I’ll never be able to reclaim the dreams I tenderly nursed when I was young and they were impossible)

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1:23

Shuddering toss-back hours-old Americano
Quad shot cause that’s how we do
Like to prove that caffeine can’t touch me
Red eyes droopy head dead brain
Green microwave clock blink blink 1:20 21 22
Writing editing studying jittery faltering
I wish I could pass my own test

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Nostalgia

The word nostalgia was coined in 1668 by Johannes Hofer, originally meaning “severe homesickness” and considered to be a disease. It comes from Greek algos “pain, grief, distress” and nostos “homecoming.”

Everywhere I go, I carry the world that I saw as I wandered and wondered through life, gallivanting and meandering by turns. Invisible friends line my neural pathways. They smirk at forgotten jokes and seem at once more and less real than the people I see every day. Invisible mountains form the backdrop of this muddy scene full of goats and chickens and venders selling chapatis on the side of the road. I can almost smell the coffee brewing and hear the music being played and imagine the people draped everywhere across furniture engrossed in conversation or play or rest.

I’m not a sentimental person, but nostalgia is killer.

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Carpet

Neither natural nor notable in sounds made but
Rather padded feet proceed silently in hallways that
Allow no hint of outside air chirping crickets croaking
Encroaching frogs or owls until their neglected bedtime
But here we are cocooned by walls and floors and atmospheres of carpet that hold the dust of years and fears and cover the hardness of a reality that’s more concrete cold than hardwood expensive.

This is the bad metaphor inspired by the deadened plush undertones of the word carpet and by the unfortunate childhood association of stifling confinement with carpeted floors –

But I guess all I’m really saying is that I want to hear the steps I take and I love houses that let in the sounds of the world and –

To cover all those up feels like a profound cheapening of the value of the cold concrete floors that welcome the whole of a hot tired body and –

Dunk! Into the cold clear realities that blessedly strip away the fuzz of propaganda and ornately carpeted half-truth.

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