AMSTERDAM TO NAIROBI, BLOW-BY-BLOW
While talking to one of my rowmates (sure that’s a word) on the plane, a middle-aged man who I believe is Indian by heritage but Kenyan by birth and Canadian by residence—a ethnic/national/pollitical—I looked up at the monitor that shows a little plane heading southward from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Nairobi, Kenya, and saw that we were just a nudge into Africa…in a few hours the sun will be rising in Nairobi as my plane lands. Hopefully I will not still be awake! I have not slept in about 19 hours so I fear that I am developing a dastardly inability to sleep. Hopefully, some relaxing this afternoon at the beach resort in Bububu (accent on the middle “bu”—yes, it is in fact the funnest word ever) as well as a big fish and pilau dinner with a few beers will send me to a restful night before too late. Ah and then the day after I will see my Kaka Ally!
Rowmate and I actually had quite the pleasant coversation. He was impressed by my love for Stoney Tanga Wizi and East African beer (which, thankfully for my wallet, forever ruined my taste for expensive delicate Belgian ales like Blue Moon and the such, as it is essentially a liquid version of my favorite food: bread). We talked about his daughters, one of whom is studying to be a nurse—he had a sweetly great empathy for how hard she works and even wrote a paper for her this semester because he could sense she was getting overwhelmed—at a college, rather than university (I guess in Canada a college degree is similar to an Associate’s whereas a university degree is similar to a Bachelor’s—do I have that right, Angelina?) Which led us to discuss the rapid standardization of higher education—that is, whereas our grandparents could create a middle-class lifestyle on a middle school or high school education,
WHOA just accidentally/luckily discovered the classic rock channel on the plane radio and am currently listening to… FREE BIRD. The part where it speeds up and he’s all like “why don’t you fly, free bird?” Yeah. I am on fire.
I am actually a bit anxious about hanging out in Dar Es Salaam. My Swahili, as I attempt to review it in the privacy of my own mind, is straight up corroded. I recall perfectly all the numbers and verb conjugations but HELLO, nouns and verbs are kind of important. It’s like I have plenty of salt and pepper but no (fake) meat and potatoes This is not really a problem, per se—I am feeling confident in my ability to get around and do stuff. I just don’t want to embarrass myself in front of my buddies. And, truth be told, I am nervous about seeing the buddies as well—my correspondence as been slipshod, and at this point we have been apart about three times as long as we had a chance to hang out. Plus, my jetlag was not so bad going west to east as east to west last time but I am generally susceptible to crankiness anyway.
[Further exploration of previously unknown plane radio channels has revealed Belle and Sebastian to be on the Easy Listening channel. Which makes a literal kind of sense but the connotations discomfit me. If David Bowie and Brian Eno and Tom Waits weren’t also on this Easy Listening playlist (and, say, Yani or Bolton were),that would just be real fucked up, huh? And now Indigo Girls are playing “Closer to Fine” and the harmonic divergence on the title hook fills me with warmth.
Read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row today. Antonia had lent me its sequel Sweet Thursday last summer of which I read twenty pages before losing it under my brother’s bed, so it seemed ideal to pick up a super lightweight copy at the airport bookstore for $6. I was tempted to get Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (I think I am remembering that title correctly) because I have never read him but he is supposed to be sheer genius and I think out in the forest I will have the proper mental space and time for a literary challenge. ANYWAY: Steinbeck. Gorgeous. The only thing of his that I’d read before was Grapes of Wrath and that was for a high school English class; as I recall, our interaction was a strange mix of extensive analysis during class and a fair amount of skimming on my own time—and as far as I can tell, that novel was a completely different kind of endeavor for Steinbeck than was Cannery. Which was delightful and absorbing in that he didn’t dig too deep so much as he covered a lot of ground. At times I felt annoyed and let down by his treatment of female characters but he is of that macho/bohemian twist generation of writers. Overall, though, marvelous: within the first few pages a town shot up and throughout the “slim volume” it and its inhabitants flourished through rough spots and high points and poetical (rather than philosophical) musing. I cannot wait to dive back in to Sweet Thursday—nor for the re-readings of Cannery I am sure to partake of this summer, as books will be much scarcer than leisure time made for exhaustion-friendly activities like reading.
LUCKILY I just switched the radio back to the Country & Western station in time for Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman”: featuring the hook, “Here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country: lemme get a big hell yeah from the redneck girls like me.” It seems like I’m poking fun but I actually think it’s a great song. There’s a bit about buying lingerie at Walmart for half the price and still looking just as sexy—a warm, witty, earnest assertion of confidence on behalf of lower/lower-middle class yet mainstream women and a nice slap at the elitism of those who profess radical politics, which has never made sense to me except in the context of the greater truth that no one is perfect and rarely even halfway there.
I unplugged the airplane radio and am listening to my boyfriend David’s band The Deep and Holy Sea on my iTunes. Shamefully enough, we sort of indirectly fight about his music sometimes because I can’t get over my jealousy that he has this beautiful means of expression that fits so perfectly with his abilities and passions and friends (whereas I am too lazy and lame and a classic case of not taking my own advice to buckle down and write something worthwhile and the only thing I would change about my essential, born-with-it self is that I wish I had the potential to sing loveliness rather than crappiness). WOW it is weird to admit this gross envy to people other than David. Anyway, listening to his beautiful songs is making me miss him in a way that is good but indulgent and I therefore probably shouldn’t torture myself too often.
According to the monitor, we are almost perfectly halfway between Khartoum and the Darfur Mountains right now. Another one of shameful secrets is my complete non-participation in acting against the genocide in Sudan and the war in Iraq. I can’t even claim to be even reasonably informed on either situation; reading “This Modern World” a few times a month does not really cut it. Yet another instance of gaping hollows beneath my façade of education.
It’s 3:30 am, East Africa time, and you know what we passengers were wishing? That they would just turn on the damn cabin lights and pass out some hot towels to commence our second in-flight meal ALREADY COME ON PEOPLE. Awesome. I know they promised us a continental breakfast (mmm we all know how delicious they generally turn out to be), but I’d say that very few passengers give a rat’s ass. This is an early wakeup call even by Tanzanian standards (where I’d say somewhere between 5 and 6:30 is normal; sleeping until 7:30 or 8 is considered somewhat extravagant and staying in bed past 9 is pretty much unheard of).
I keep panicking about the adequacy of the gear that I packed (especially my sandally sneaker things that I brought instead of proper hiking shoes, because my right ankle still worries me). My general tactic is to remind myself of a woman I saw on some kind of news magazine TV special who lives on a hill of a central African country (I forget which—maybe the DRC?) where she carries serious loads (e.g. 100 pounds of beans) on her back up and down rocky dirt paths traversing big jungly hills with nothing but cheap plastic flip flops that she generally removes because she is more surefooted without them. For pittance, without her now deceased husband to help raise their several children, and guinea pigs running around to be sold as meat. There are also shots of men sitting on huge rock piles handcrafting gravel…that often goes unsold so that they often go unpaid.
See, your life is awesome, right? [link to wealth site]
Ha! maybe this is why I don’t get invited to parties very often anymore.
Hopefully I will grow into my dark repetitive thought and then my delayed adolescence (and with it my arch nemesis, adult acne) will finally conclude—you know, maybe before I’m TWENTY-FIVE. (Not that 25 is old, but I think it is too old to indulge in self-righteousness and miscellaneous brattiness.)
PS: 90ish minutes until we land in Nairobi, and of course I’m just getting tired as it’s coming up on 10 pm EST. That is depressing on a few different levels. Quick nap for me, and maybe when I wake up I’ll have feeling in my long-suffering tailbone region again? One must have hopes and dreams.
Of course I am a total brat: “Oh wah, I’m flying to Africa, my bum hurts from sitting on it too long, wah wah.”