Monday, August 13, 2012

Coming Home

A paradox that has much exercised mathematicians is that of the Einsteinian space traveller. Having journeyed at great speed for several months around the universe, he returns to earth to find that whole decades have passed. The anthropological traveller is in the reverse position. He goes away for what seems an inordinately long period to other worlds, ponders cosmic problems, ages greatly. When he returns, only a few months have elapsed ... only his closest friends have noticed he has been away at all.
It is positively insulting how well the world functions without one. While the traveller has been away questioning his most basic assumptions life has continued sweetly unruffled. Friends continue to collect matching French saucepans.

From The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes from a Mud Hut by Nigel Barley

I'm feeling so liminal. After leaving our town of Mtwara, there was a week of being in transit; then a week on the Queen Mary 2 passenger ship; then a week in a small town in New Jersey; and as of this writing the start of a week in Los Angeles.

There was something about arriving in this sprawling metropolis that finally set in a feeling of being overwhelmed by the differences in coming home. Driving along Century Boulevard felt like landing on another planet. It was like being a space traveler looking out the windows of a spaceship on to a strange landscape.

Earlier today I walked into a Ralph's supermarket. It's nothing particularly unusual for the U.S. But it's a massively large store. I tried to imagine what it would be like for a Tanzanian to see this. The incredible material abundance, aisle after aisle of foodstuffs, housewares, dog food (!). The shock of how expensive things are as he mentally calculates from dollars into shillings.

Of course, it's all terribly familiar to me too. It's a relief to be back in the English-speaking world, to be able to understand what people are saying to me and to each other. It's a joy not having to struggle to express the simplest things. How easy it is to take language for granted when it is one that is native to you.

Life has indeed continued as usual. The people I know have, for the most part, kept on much as they did when we left. I, on the other hand, am in the midst of passing from one world back to another. I've been through this before. But this time I've been away for three years. -Earl

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Board the Queen Mary 2

I loved crossing the Atlantic Ocean on this beautifully built passenger ship, coming home using a means of travel that feels timeless. Luckily, the seas were calm all the way across. It was wonderful to be on the water and to be outside on deck even though the North Atlantic chill made it hard to stay out for long.

I had expected to experience some serious reverse culture shock on board. But it didn't happen. I had not left Tanzania for more than three years but there was a part of me that never lost connection with the U.S. thanks mostly to the Internet. The shipboard environment had an immediate familiarity to it.

Like most passengers I right off got into overeating at the endless endless endless buffet of food. Besides stuffing my face (after five days of which my gut started to rebel), I spent time studying software materials and Swahili, reading a novel, attending a few talks and performances, and napping a lot.

I spent time gazing at the ocean, physically and emotionally leaving behind the places, the people, and the home that my life had encompassed.

A couple of weeks ago I was enjoying chipsi mayai at a totally dumpy eatery on a side street in Dar es Salaam. Our last night on the ship I had a club sandwich in our stateroom, compliments of room service on the Queen Mary 2 luxury liner. -Earl

[ Diane looking at the Statue of Liberty as we arrive home ]