By the mirrors of Babylon…
Like anybody who has lived here for more than 9 months-straight would tell you, living in America isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. No sir! It isn’t like in the movies at all. The only exception is when they decide to make a movie of your neighbourhood! Then, i.e. when bringing Hollywood to Mohammed becomes necessary for Mohammed can’t afford to live and work in SoCal, you’d be found right smack in the middle – with familiar places and memories that scratch at your heart like a dying pet [ideally a bird with an actual “tiFir”]. And that feeling, that recognition, the pang in the stomach [like a hungry fetus kicking in the womb] is the one “novelty” that never fades.
It’s like a prolonged seduction.. an extended foreplay. It starts on day one, or the 16 hrs before it, when your plane makes a stop in Rome to refuel. You look out the window, and you see [like in a dream – nay a movie] Engineers running about, under the pouring rain, in a yellow & orange reflective safety vest. White men with shaggy hair and some kind of hard-hat – stuff you didn’t know existed outside the silver screen.
Then you feel it when you land at Dulles International airport, cold and distant like a dream. A strange thrill courses in your veins while you walk down the ladder, into the bus, past a lot of terminals, past stairs and side-ways into a hallway before officially, and finally, landing on American soil. A look out the window, the first glimpse into the new world, reveals [airport] workers – black, wide and curly-haired – mulling about. But these aren’t the kinds of black people you are used to. Not the skinny brown men and women with small legs you would recognize anywhere, standing in line with you. These are creamy-color skinned black people of the movies. Black people who remind you of Shaft [in Africa], dark shades of glasses and the word “beQa.. neegro newu yemimeslewu, betam yamral”. Black people with broad shoulders and an attitude! [Avoid making eye-contact lest the animal perceived you as a threat!]
Then you walk out into the cold again. The [airport] shuttle driver is old and, despite your almost ‘tirs melkem’ing on the way up, doesn’t seem to find you inferior. He is friendly and seems happy to take you where you want – for free. You and your host are his only passengers. And he is well advanced in age. Also it’s a cold morning. You feel like apologizing. [You feel like apologizing for everything those first weeks, grateful to have been let in]. But you haven’t found your voice, or courage, yet. He asks where you came from – your host answers. He goes on and on, about the weather, the streets, the somminkorother in a cheerful voice. Then parks the shuttle outside Best Western and wishes you well-stay.
Then [comes] the flight of stairs you climb up, dragging your luggage with you – no Valet in attendance [No thanks to you “Downton Abbey”]. Then the room. Then the pizza delivery, with the Asian guy you coy from and tip generously. Then the life.
You get used to the accents, the suspiciously cheap food – and how it’s ok to throw what you can’t eat [and that plastic bags are like pain, or East Indians, there is simply an endless supply of them without half the demand]. You get to tell apart tans from skin colors. And genuine smiles, which – in America – is no smile at all, from the overly-friendly ones of those fearful to anger you [and bring down a wrath of 400 years on their head]. You even get used to the sinking feeling at recognizing that you and da chunky-monkey brother at the airport aren’t really that different to the white-eye. You get used to the disillusionment. Then the anger. Then the feeling of uselessness [which, coupled with self-doubt and anxiety, robs you of the ability to speak your mind without the fear of not making much sense or being mocked by your audience. To watching your readership drop down to precious hand-ful while you struggle to come up with bright ideas and write them the way you used to]. To knowing that you probably will never belong [or become a writer. Or amount to anything more than what your mother amounted to. To knowing how you were just a big fish in a small pond back home, a used-to-be big fish stuck in a much bigger pond with much bigger – meaner – fishes]. And, finally, to being ok with that. You will get used to it all.
What you don’t get used to is the getting excited when you catch a glimpse of your neighbourhood, places you know and recognize, on tv, movies or magazine. That’s when you get transffered into the silver screen; whence you “cross over” into the other side of the tv; whence your life in America becomes exactly like in the movies. So you will want to jump up, shout, wave your hands in the air – so the camera won’t miss you, so it won’t pass by you, just sweep over you, and say “heyyyyy… that’s me!”. [My store.. my cafe.. my hood]. My home.
It feels that you have, finally, managed to belong.
Or something like that.
Entry filed under: Latest Posts.