In honor of those who are in pain: This is a rant.
I hate injustice. To my friends who just lost loved ones - I hurt for you. To my friend who is faced with only painful options - you deserved better. To my family - I can hardly think about the low points in the last three years without my insides clenching up so tightly I can hardly breathe, and I don't know how you're still standing. To all the people in all the world who are hurting and damaged and broken because of the bigotry, violence, and decay of this world - just thinking about your plight almost overwhelms me and my comfortable world.
I want to cry out that I would take your pain if I could - but the truth is, I'm probably just as selfish and bigoted as anyone else out there. I don't want to be saddled with pain. And so, with sympathy in my eyes and tone, I say something that I once heard I was supposed to say to the bereaved. Something safe, not too intrusive, not too platitude-like. Something like, "I don't know what to say, but I'm there for you." Something that releases me from much obligation.
And I hate that about myself. I hate how much it takes to shake me out of my common state of saying things that make it sound like I really care about the pain in the world when mostly I'm just manufacturing words. I wish I could bring healing and peace. I'm sick to death of war and wounds and dark places where no one cares enough to shine light. I try to seize on those fleeting moments in which my comfort is capsized to actually do or feel something genuine, but band-aids abound in my emotional life. I patch it up and carry on.
I am sorry. I know that's virtually meaningless to you, friend, when your world is falling down around you, but I am so sorry. I don't know that everything happens for a reason. It probably doesn't. I don't know that things will get better. Maybe they won't. I don't understand why so many terrible things happen in the world.
Why do people cling to a belief in the necessity of war? Why don't we wage peace? Why do we accept evil? Why?
There's no way to wrap this up neatly. The times when anger cracks my facade of informed skepticism scare me. They shouldn't. I should be truly angry about injustice more often. I should be saddened by other people's pain even when it's not close and personal. I wish I weren't so good at shutting myself off from the world, at hiding behind walls of academia and culture and business...
"There's really no way of knowing."
This has become my motto. It's probably the most useful phrase in life right now.
What's for dinner? Why is the Eiffel Tower shimmering so intensely? Is that a man or a woman? How do you say "Where's the toilet?" in German?
A shrug, a grin, a flippant "There's really no way of knowing," and virtually any trivial question can be avoided. Its utilitarian beauty is in the lack of personal responsibility. It's not that I don't know something when I ought to know it; this phrase absolves me of all discomfort over my confusion. Not that that's any excuse, but...
In the past three months, I've been in Italy, France, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, England, and these United States. Languages, ideas about cultural norms, and travel details swim randomly through my mind.
Grazie! De rien. Pas de problem. Ausgang? Oui. Oh! Vietato ingresso. Si. Comprendo. Prossima fermata! Merci!
How do you say...?
There's really no way of knowing.
Posted by Leila at 4/21/2011
White congealed muck had exploded everywhere. Egg, sage, pepper, salt, and water. All over my microwave. Coating the bottom, foamily sliding down my cup, chilling in little globules on the inside of the door.
I stood there, and the eloquent thoughts that went through my mind were something like this:
It was probably a bad idea, trying to poach an egg in a cup in the microwave, but I didn't know that beforehand. I suspected it, thought about googling it, but decided that some experiences just have to be had.
So I salvaged what could be salvaged, and it tasted very good.
Posted by Leila at 10/03/2010
The clearing rests in song and shade
It is a creature made
By old light held in soil and leaf
By human joy and grief
By human work
Fidelity of sight and stroke
By rain, by water on
The parent stone.
We join our work to Heaven's gift
Our hope to what is left
That fields and woods at last agree
In an economy
Of widest worth
High Heaven's Kingdom come on earth
O Dust, arise!
Wendell Berry has so beautifully expressed the sentiments that are close to my heart; I have nothing to add. This is part of his Sabbath Poem collection, published in 1982.
Posted by Leila at 7/23/2010
It's nearly 7am. Mist blankets the hills near Entebbe, fading softly into the lush green of the trees. A deep red dirt road--one of the few traces of Western civilization evident from 15000 feet up in the air--cuts through the land. The snowflake frost on the outside of my airplane window melts fast as we drop down into the warm humidity of a southern Ugandan morning. I promise myself I'll never forget this moment, this feeling, this landscape. The plane is dropping fast now, speeding over schools, houses, unfinished buildings--so many unfinished buildings. Suddenly, we're on top of Lake Victoria's cool, greenish expanse, and then we're right over the runway. I wonder briefly if it's gotten any bumpier, but before I can brace myself we're down. The engine roars as we slow and taxi to a stop. Sleepy-eyed people stand, stretch, pull out luggage, speak in Luganda to their neighbors. The loud Ohio State fan sitting next to me complains that he still has a four hour trip to Mogadishu. I shrug and say it's about the same to Mbale, and we start down the narrow strip of carpet between seats. A minute later, I'm walking through a yellow tunnel with a stairway leading to the ground. The scent of cook-fires and morning freshness greets me. Birds whose songs I haven't heard in a year are chattering all around. A cicada screams brashly in the distance. As I go down the steps, important-looking Ugandans with name badges mill around, not visibly accomplishing anything. I take a deep breath and step out onto the tarmac.
Posted by Leila at 5/21/2010
Lessons learned while packing:
-Sewing boxes shut with twine is perhaps not as effective as using tape.
-If you're going to try sewing your boxes shut, make sure you have a good thimble. Pushing a needle through cardboard without one is painful.
-The best thing about packing the last bits of miscellaneous stuff is the opportunity to use the word "miscellany."
-Shoving your hand into a trash can which contains a broken glass french press jar is a bad idea.
If you're like me, remember these things. If you aren't like me, then continue to exercise the common sense that sets you apart from me.
Posted by Leila at 5/10/2010
I've been on one continent for a year--far too long--and I can feel the restlessness rising. I can't wait for the bustle of the airport, the sinking feeling of the plane taking off, the insane heart-in-my-throat anticipation of landing with the knowledge that a joyful reunion is only a stroll through customs away. I'm impatient with mundanity, ready for an adventure, trying to avoid packing and somehow hoping that everything will jump into boxes of its own accord. I'm tired of saying goodbyes, ready to just move on, get started with something new.
I'm going home. Uganda-home. It won't be the same. I'm scared. I can't wait. Have I changed? Has it? Have they? Are the roads better? Worse? Does Daawat still have the best naan? Does it still get palak paneer and malai kafta mixed up half the time? Is MTN still the Missing Telephone Network? Will the water taste funny? Are fresh chapatis on the side of the road at 6pm as good as I remember? Will I remember to say trousers instead of pants?
And my real questions: Am I going home? Or will I find myself just as surely an mgeni among wananchi in Uganda as I am state-side?
Posted by Leila at 5/06/2010