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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

America the Beautiful and Strange

Rowan with Buzz Lightyear and Woody

We’ve been back in Tanzania for exactly a month now. The cooler “winter” weather and the quiet emptiness of Dar (everyone seems to be on home leave) has allowed me the time to re-enter into our lives smoothly while still having plenty of time to reflect on our five weeks in America.

Allow me to share some of my reflections.

If you are going to have a big accident, it is better to do it in NY than Dar es Salaam

The day after we arrived Jaden rode a bicycle into a stone wall – splitting open a big chunk of his face and requiring a frantic, bloody run to the emergency room, which was overflowing with Swine flu cases. Luckily my mother remembered that there was a paediatric urgent care centre the next town over and not only did Jaden get seen immediately, but they called in a tall, dark and handsome plastic surgeon to sew him up (who was a bit of an arrogant schmuk, but clearly good at his job). Medical service like this made me swoon (in a good way). But of course I am one of the lucky people with health insurance – so I’m not taking it for granted that this is typical American care. But boy did it make me glad I was there.

Overall, I was a calmer, less frantic Hally

Unlike past visits which were punctuated by a frenzy of shopping for the things we don’t have here in Dar, I barely hit the stores this time around. To some extent, this is because we seem to have more and more of the luxuries of home available to us here (for the good or the bad – I’m not quite sure; but when you are in need of El Paso enchilada sauce it is nice to be able to buy the can rather than figure out how to improvise). But also I think that I’ve reached a level of acceptance and comfort with what we don’t have, and frankly none of it is so important that I have to schlep extra suitcases back to Dar. I didn’t even make it to the supermarket until the last week (thank you mom for taking such good care of us). Other than some semi-sweet Nestle's morsels, my bags were free from last minute supermarket shopping items. I didn’t even bring back bagels this time!

I suppose you could argue that I replaced these trinket items with the puppy I brought back to Dar – and you may be right. Once we picked up the puppy, who had time to shop and pack?

I can’t help but feel – it is nicer to be back in America with Obama as President

This time I didn’t have to spend a lot of time discussing Bush. That was a huge relief, because other than hating him personally and politically I often found myself in the unenviable position of having to defend many aspects of his health foreign assistance, which really sucked (although is obviously it is also a good thing). I can’t help but notice that all my friends and family were somehow less angry with the state of America, recession and all, although I’m sure this means that someone else’s friends and family are mighty pissed right now – which sits just fine by me. It’s their turn. Meanwhile, I am happy to report that it DOES make a huge difference to be an American abroad in the era of Barrack Very-Sane Obama – and an even bigger difference to feel proud about coming home to a country that makes sense to me again.

Disney World really is the happiest place on earth!

The very surprising highlight of our family trip home was the six days the kids and I spent with my brother and parents at Disney World. I’ve NEVER desired to go there, but my mother insisted and so off we went. It was unfortunately too hot – more than 110 degrees (Orlando was having a heat wave) – so we spent as much time by the hotel pool as we did in the parks. Despite my scepticism we had a lovely time. The kids got high off of dinner with Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother (and the mice). The cheesiness of the presentations and rides in the country pavilions at Epcot tickled me pink, and made me hope that some of the people “ooohing and ahhhing” at the Mexican pavilion’s diorama boat ride through a “typical Mexican town” actually make it there someday to see the real thing. And I was truly impressed by the parade and the sound and light show, and how well everything was run.

Seriously… thousands of people in the park and there wasn’t a single untidy bathroom stall!? The place was built 40 years ago but looks like it was put up yesterday. Oh, if only the folks at Disney would take on running a country (which they totally could) like say, Tanzania? I can only dream… (Yes, yes, I’m sure it would actually be more of a nightmare, but at least I’d have electricity and running water 24/7.)

Americans are extremely nice but also very lazy – even by my standards

I just have to state it for the record here. Americans really are just the nicest people in the world – and I say this with some credible experiences behind me. Everywhere I went people were lovely. The customer service agent might be stupid, but she was still lovely to talk with. At Disney, even when visitors were sweating their faces off, and the lines were long, long, long, people were just so nice, nice, nice.

(The fact that people actually waited calmly on lines was exciting enough for me to want to just go ahead and wait on one for fun.)

I never heard people exchange an angry word, or saw someone cut in line or push themselves to the front. It was all orderly, sweet and lovely… like the whole country was actually composed of Cinderellas and Prince Charmings. It was, in fact, very charming.

At first I thought that one of the reasons everything was so calm and orderly in the parks was because there were so many people with disabilities around. I was proud of Disney for their very pro-active handicap accessibility policies and that clearly they must have done outreach to people with disabilities because gosh there were soooo many people in wheelchairs all around. But when I sat down and took a good look at all these people in wheelchairs I discovered that the vast majority of people were actually able-bodied but just didn’t want to have to walk or stand in lines. It was clear that families were renting a wheelchair at the park entrance and then sharing it among themselves, so some of them actually got to sit and others push and then change places. It was a bit of a mind fuck for me – especially since my natural inclination leans towards laziness. But this was extreme.

And yes, America really does seems to be the fattest place on earth

For good or for bad, I’m used to being the fattest person in the room – both in Tanzania and in New York or DC. But if you figure the rest of the country into the equation I am downright average-sized, which even for me (someone who proudly believes in fat acceptance) a bit of a shocking thing.

You knew this already, but as a country we are really really really geography deficient

I’ve written about this already. And like I said, you already knew it anyway.

Hey can you find Tanzania on a map (or at least come close)?

It was great to be back home in America

There is nothing like the ease with which you slip back into your cultural homeland. Within a few days my hint of a New York accent came back. The salads and the Thai food were wonderful. The energy of New York, and even Baltimore, put a spring in my step. And I marvelled at all the wonderful innovations that have become commonplace in the past three years (especially the IPhone) that haven’t yet really made their way to Tanzania. (I thought I was cool now that I have a BlackBerry Pearl.) The kids pigged out on the Good Humour Man – every day – turning their faces the florescent colours of elaborate icicle pops. And being in the bosom of friends and family – people who have known me forever – felt great. I was happy to be there and felt engaged and at ease.

It is great to be back home in Tanzania

‘Nuff said.


Blogger suburban dyke said...

Most excellent assessment! I will be posting a Disney-related post or two in the future!

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed this trip. We did also. Next year in Jerusalem!

3:35 PM  
Blogger Mothering Mini said...

Well if you can enjoy Disney, perhaps I can too! :)

8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi. im new in tz, and am looking for the queer community (if there is one) any way i can get some assisatnce from you? it seems to be a very straight world out here. i know this is a long shot, but im grasping at straws :) email me back if you can do anyting to guide me.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh oops. you can reach me at rahelkochamma@yahoo.comd

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