Tuesday, August 20, 2013

July 21: Dar Es Salaam to Iringa, Part 1.

(As written in my journal that day; grammar and minor edits only. Italicized portions are additions written after the trip.)

6 AM. Alarm. I've decided this morning that every single thing that happens is part of my spiritual journey - even feeling rundown, like I do, and having flare-ups of some of my normal digestive and skin issues. All I want is to feel 100% healthy, but I don't. I admit to myself and Meggie that I'm in a vulnerable state. I feel fragile, whether I like it or not - so I think of Pema and decide to make a choice: to start where I am, here and now.

Breakfast at 7. I'm anxious about the seating arrangements for the car ride. It turns out we are too many for just one van, so the family is put in a Jeep and the rest of us are in the Global Volunteers van - and we each get a window, no one is relegated to a middle seat! Sweet, self-centered, Western relief. It won't be 10 hours of misery on tap.

If I were Peggy on Mad Men, I'd be writing a commercial for Bonine by the day's end, as I journal this. It IS as advertised! Non-drowsy and not a moment of car sickness all day. And this was a test of all possible car sickness causes - no AC, windows open with hot and dusty air blowing in, ripe with smells and endless cooking fires, swaying and swerving of a many-passenger van, inconsistent road quality and unskilled drivers in a developing country, plus driving on the left! I felt I could almost read; that's how powerful the Bonine was. But poor Meggie, who felt much more rundown than I did this morning, pale and sweaty and nearly threw up her breakfast at one point this morning before piling in the car, took her first Dramamine instead - and promptly slept for almost 4 hours. It knocked her out and she missed the few hours of tin-roof slums as we crawled out of Dar.

We drove first to pick up the solar water heater repairman (whose task in the village we're all very interested in, needless to say, as we are on tenterhooks to know what our living situation will be!), who will join us for the long drive - but he's not there (and really - how did we not expect that?). So we arrange to meet him by the side of the road at some place that Mohammed, Global Volunteers driver and employee, know about and then we drive to the airport.

Leslie, one of the women from Denver, still does not have her luggage. She has handled it with so much grace - an inspiring grace. Meggie and I told her we'd be in tears without our luggage but Leslie, probably around 60, is all calmness and resignation. After all, what else CAN she be? I get a sense she's lost more than her luggage before and while she is not happy, and jokes about how tired of her red plaid shirt we'll all be in another two weeks, she amazingly does not take it out on anyone. As Nick Hornby would write, now that's character.

We bump along, driving alongside the dala-dala public buses, fully and unsafely crammed with people, and I remember Edward saying last night that one's name, in his world, morphs over time into "Father (or Mother) Of". So in our group, Joe would be Papakathy, as she is his firstborn. I laugh out loud when he says it and try to hide it. Would I be nameless? And also because as the "simple forest people" my father is fond of calling the Scandinavian side of our ancestry, we are known by our father's name, not our child's (we're the sons of Anders, the Anderssons, and we're the sons of Lars, the Larssons)*. I don't want to belabor the point but how incredible is this difference? As a society, do we owe our fathers or do we serve our children?

More hot, dusty, windy, smelly slum. They get worse - packed tighter, faces more somber. As first I am intensely curious and almost want to stop to watch the activity in one place for a full cycle - open fires, cooking, laundry, babies. Then, as the kilometers pass, I become overwhelmingly weary. Weary for the women whose work looks boring, repetitive, full of drudgery. How dirty to cook over an open fire. How hard to control the heat. And how to keep caring about the baby getting dust in his eyes or in the spittled corners of his mouth? The bags of charcoal for sale by the side of the road are enormous - and how long do they last when you're cooking nearly all day? Life must be an endless stretch of predictability - or is that just my own fear?

Before seeing this poverty with my own eyes, I thought feeling small and helpless and powerless to fix/change/help/cure such problems (which I absolutely feel) would send me home wanting to turn in and BE small - to take good care of my small world and house, and maybe even want to have children and just stay home with them. To be mistress of one small domain as a reaction to the global scale of suffering that I can't impact.

But watching the endless basics of cook, clean up, cook, clean up, stoke the fire, change the baby, cook, clean up, sleep, do it again - I feel the opposite. Let's be realistic here - these women are going to live and die in this life and they're not going to get educated and discover themselves, change their community, and become self-actualized. This is their actual. And it's all it will be. So my intense interior reaction, as I sit calmly and appear unmoved in my seat, is that when I get home, I can't pull back into the small world of my self and family. I think, holy fuck. I owe the world. I owe it the biggest presence I can give - I owe the extension of my energy and skill to as many people as I can possibly reach.

And in this moment, that means not having to save the world - not having to be Lincoln or Marie Curie or MLK, as it feels at home. Back there, it's an overwhelming shame and guilt that I didn't become a lawyer and fix all of immigration law, both U.S. and global. Or that I didn't become a professor of feminist studies whose fine work resulted in universal day care, two years PTO to share when new babies arrive, and a fundamental shift that perfects male-female understanding and balance in the home and on the job. Oh? I'm sorry? Too high a bar, you say? Then you must not be a perfectionist, or you must not have the Baron for a father, or you must not have grandiose mental tendencies. I know that all sounds crazy - but the mind is a bit crazy, no? It looks crazy all written out, but it feels perfectly normal on the filmstrip inside my head.

That's not what is happening right now, though. Instead I am thinking that any reach is good reach - any reach is still more than the reach these women can have - and what if they want to have more, how awful,  but can't? So I owe it - but not resentfully or as a burden. I owe it to be in balance with the world, like Edward and I laughed about last night.

The slums thin out, we pass the main public bus transfer station - waiting areas labeled "Dar" or "Upcountry" - and I think for the hundredth time of my brother and his fiancee. They wouldn't be in a private van! They'd be on that public bus. It's hard to admit to myself that that isn't for me. Could I do it? Sure. But I'm not willing to. And that's what is hard to admit; I don't, some of the time. But I have to be OK with that because I'm here, living the choice and plans I made - so! Ha! I better be OK with it! I laugh as I write this.

After a while, the slums don't shock me anymore. The thing that takes my breath away is - Masai! Real Masai - in flip flops! Carrying a stick, herding cows. Later - more Masai! This time on a bicycle... and using a cell phone. Ahhh. It's too much.

Skinny cows everywhere, swinging their giant, hungry heads and their clear eyes are peeled for anything to eat.

* I know that I would be Andersdotter or Nilsdotter, not Andersson or Nilsson. But the Ellis Island employees made -son much more popular than -dotter, so I use it incorrectly to make the point simple.

1 comment:

  1. jet lag, the food, the smells, lost lugagge...I am awed by your & Meggie's courage & character , only just begun...have to read it all again to take it in, comments may follow, after this reader's culture shock