We are all just prisoners here of our own device
July 15, 2010, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

What can I say, wish I was there. Same sentiment, different week. The contest is running early, could be one for the books, great conditions. L.G. was setting out for it sometime today and will no doubt have so many reports on Monday. The site went down due to excess traffic. How good? That good.

Six weeks feels really long. The stretch ahead is basically saving money and planning small details. The planning is an endless pain, but so is trying to get a criminal record check from the other side of the world.

I’m really excited about… not having to wear any more poly blend work wear that years later still doesn’t feel like my own clothing… giving up my cell phone for my plastic, ghetto pay-as-you-go international model… not paying traditional rent for awhile (maybe)… not getting junk mail… not wearing shoes all the time, or wearing more of my beloved slops…

Feeling fake all the time is uncomfortable. The fact that my values, priorities and interests are mostly divergent from everyone around me has been an odd experience. It’s like being on a perpetual cultural exchange where I think, in the best moments, I’ve been fluent; in the worst I’ve been confused and disoriented. In the place I’m heading back to in less than eight weeks, I had exactly the opposite experience, and I’m eternally grateful that I arrived there when I did because sitting here I know enough to go.

I finished reading Dark Star Safari last night, which was both interesting, mostly for the snippets of history and intertextuality referencing other travel writing, and sometimes off. Some of the words the author confidently translated were incorrect; in other cases he seemed, well, sort of exactly the kind of person he frequently mocks. One thing that stuck with me is his analysis of the subsistence way of living as both resilient and cyclical.

I realized that something was different when I went to school in Africa. It’s still very hard to explain. I understood the messages of my professors educated in the system I was familiar with, without effort. In fact, I seemed to understand what was going on better than many of the people surrounding me, partly because I had been in school longer and partly because I was maybe even more attuned to that particular cultural way of knowing. Yet other professors, from foreign systems, taught classes I struggled with. The way they expressed ideas was strange – not flawed, just strange. Oddly, many years earlier, the same experience had occurred in my own country with a professor who was educated in this unfamiliar system. I had trouble getting The Message. This experience opened my mind more than, maybe, anything in the course of my entire education and I still struggle to communicate this brief glimpse into one of the many unspoken challenges of building bridges between.

On the word “expat”. Initially, sort of a glamorous idea, the way the scenery in Out of Africa will make you catch your breath even as many decades later as you avoid reflecting on the weirdness of the imported Europeans and focus, instead, on glorious Paul Newman. Expat has this Hemmingway roguishness, the kind of thing that is greatly decreased when you realize for many who had to live around him during his expat phases he was considered a belligerent alcoholic. And like finding out Hemmingway may have, in fact, been the latter meaning of the term Ugly American, coming to terms with the meaning of being an expat is a strange sort of thing.

There’s also some very good racialized writing about what the difference between an expat and an immigrant which I don’t accept absolutely but will get you thinking about how, exactly, we label foreignness.

I don’t know at what point, if ever, I’ll qualify myself as an expat. Maybe I can get away without being anything, in particular.


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