Monday, July 12, 2010


When I was a kid I used to like reading science fiction novels about space-travel. Little communities would climb into a ship and fly for years and end up on an entirely different planet, disconnected – deep into the Wild West(ern sky). The night of my birthday (Saturday), I was looking up at the planets from a horse field next to the Pennsylvania woods. Venus, Mars, and Saturn were all visible – Venus was even visible at dusk, shining small and bright and white through the pink gloaming. It was the same sky – it’s always the same sky – there is only one sky – but the planets were in entirely different places than when I would look up at them in Goma. Like as if I were elsewhere in the universe.

The cultural norms here are different from the norms in Goma. Instead of wearing bright colored cloths people wear costumes of khaki pants and polo shirts. Out at dinner, I have to think and think to remember which angle to rest my salad fork at on my plate so that the servers don’t grab it out from under me, imagining I’m finished. People can talk for hours about the genealogy tests they had done on their dogs, and “Oh,” I say in response. The shadows of chandeliers and fir trees on white-painted walls are gorgeous like carved wooden masks. There are deep woods and moss-covered felled and fallen logs and slippery rocks in trickling streams and trees taller than me twenty times over. There are blasts which are fireworks, not gun shots, and there are gun shots which are people shooting clay pigeons, not aiming at each other. When people ask me about Eastern Congo while I am sitting beneath a chandelier that is reflecting rainbows on intricately pattered wallpaper, and when I respond in a voice tinny to my own ears, it seems to me that I am making up stories, that I am lying – that these two worlds do no overlap, they cannot co-exist – that I never have been anywhere but here.

Space-travelers in the novels I used to read would fly for hours or years to get to their new planets, dependent on the universe created by their author. Me? I was up and down in the sky for 36 hours to get here. Miles above human habitation, I wasn’t quite closer to space than to terra firma, but I was still pretty high. I landed in an entirely different place, where people look different, talk different, dress different, and care about different things. I remind myself of those astronauts in those paperback books. I like imagining that this is a different planet entirely.

It’s not, though, a different planet entirely. On our one singular earth, everything is interconnected. The fiscal and structural architecture of our global society is one formation, and the life that I live here does impact the lives that people live there.


jen said...

thanks for the reminder. i wrote a blog in response to the feelings this post gave me.

Rachel said...

thanks, jen! :)