Saturday, May 21, 2011

Surreal

surreal: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; unbelievable, fantastic


Having rather successfully produced chicken tikka masala last night, I tackled kelewele earlier this evening with slightly less success, but satisfactory considering the first appearance of either plantains or fresh ginger root in this household (discounting a failed attempt at platanos fritos for a grade school report on Chile). Afterwards, flipping through a photo album from the past year, I landed on this, from a visit to a girls' school in Krobo, in Ghana's Eastern Region:


I don't know what it was about that picture; there were many others before and after it that could've done the same trick, inspired the same dumbfounded pause, the same question. Was I really there, observing that scene before me, less than a year ago? Me, who is now back in the small town of North East, PA, heavily dominated by the white conservative Christian middle class, a large majority of whom rarely leave the state, let alone the country...?


Similar thoughts had arisen last weekend following a visit to the Ghana Cafe in DC, where I made use of my limited knowledge of Twi to say "thank you" before we left - my other phrases being "please," "you're welcome," "I'm coming," "I'm going," "I'll be right back," and "I can do it myself" (the last learned with Sister Akua in mind, the Agyares' house help I'd have rather seen resting than cleaning up after someone notably less than half her age). Then, I'd told my dinner companion stories from Ghana as I explained the dishes in front of us, but my time there felt as far away as Africa itself. 


Back in North East, the same goes for the friends I last saw in DC: a Cuban/Salvadorian munching on unripened mango and hot sauce as we watched a French rom-com, or the two Kurds who habitually held a sugar cube between their teeth while drinking Persian tea rather than mixing it in beforehand, one in the midst of sharing stories from his recent trip to visit family in northern Iraq.


Such surrealism, interestingly, seems a possible factor in virtually any experience, be it past, present, or future. For instance, listening to the comments and conversations of family members occasionally seems more of a sociological field observation than my own reality, and that sense of the surreal kicks up a notch as I explain my plans for Denmark, followed by a week in Berlin, Prague, and Munich. The same goes for drafting a proposal for a Fulbright grant to do research in India.


Just 23 days left until I board a plane to Copenhagen (but who's counting), and still it seems more surreal than anything else. ...Not too surprising, I suppose, considering the realization that didn't really hit until I was somewhere over the Atlantic last May: I'm going to Africa... Africa? ...Africa. I'm going to Africa. Hard to believe for a girl from Mayberry, newly in possession of a passport (and the first in the family crazy enough to do so).


I wonder, is that surrealism something that's always there, or does it fade over time? Can one become a bit desensitized to the crossing of cultures and borders? ...honestly, I hope not. Seems to be one of those sensations that keeps you awake and on your toes, reminds you why you do what you do, what you love about it, the necessity of keeping your eyes open and active. An odd sort of feeling, but perhaps a necessary and worthwhile reminder...

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