22 September 2013

This one is a bit histrionic

It was little more than a month ago that I was kvetching about not having a Person and how nobody understand my Africa woes and they just want to talk about real life, etcetera, etcetera. And then Colorado started drowning and some crazy shot up DC and my normalcy, my rocks slipped away. I am, in retrospect, an idiot. A self-absorbed ninny (yes, I still know that I’m writing a personal blog, which is probably the high-water mark of self-absorption). I have a Person. I have many Persons. And I love talking to them about real life. That’s what I want. I want to call home and talk about shoes and pumpkin spice lattes and the absurd profiles on on-line dating sites and GoT and the Broncos and dog antics. I want to hear about apple picking or mountain climbing or happy hour shenanigans. I don’t want to call home and hear death tolls or numbers of displaced and missing or evacuation orders. Because that’s what makes being here bearable. It is how I can keep a safe distance from the suffering and not be consumed by it – knowing that there is somewhere that, in my memory, tastes like cinnamon and joy and that the only sorrows that invade it are the standard ones. There is no horror there.

When there is, and I’m worried about my Persons beyond whether they’ve managed to find a job or love or perfect that red wine cupcake recipe (not that these are any less real than other worries, they’re just ones I can relate to and allow in my cinnamon-scented world) it feels like my tether is fraying. When there is such profound suffering in both of my realities, I lose track of my anchor (this raises a whole other question, of course, about those who don’t have an anchor to begin with and who have no horizon beyond their suffering. For whom ‘real life’, as I so flippantly refer to it, does not exist. And it’s a question that I look forward to exploring someday, when I feel grounded enough to approach it. Today, however, is not that day. On an unrelated note, I’m really into ship metaphors today). So forget it – talk to me about Pepco and your horrible boss and your cold, please., and I will never bemoan it again.

I had thought it had reached a low point during the summer, what with the enormous wildfire that tore through the same part of the state where I grew up. And that was bad, certainly, the knowledge that some of my childhood was burning away. The fire was tragic and weirdly located, to be sure, but wildfires are a fact of life in Colorado and you learn to accept them. Floods, though? We don’t have floods. This is not a Colorado concern, except in the most vague way, like how you might absently worry about a blizzard in Texas or the Second Coming . So this has gone beyond your standard natural disaster horror and passed into some kind of surreality. This would be how I felt if someone told me that Germany just declared war on France. Or, better, Canada on the US. It’s so far outside the realm of what I had accepted as possible that it’s still a little difficult to believe. The photos I’m seeing look more like the flooding in Dungu (a territory northwest of Bunia where flooding last November displaced more than 8,000. It’s started early this year, already destroying the homes of several hundred) that we’re actively working to halt. The bridges that are being washed away are more basic hwew, sure, and the water has crocodiles, but a flood-ravaged house is still a flood-ravaged house. And we have fewer deaths. I can’t deal with cataloguing photos of IDPs, knowing that there are some in Colorado. I’ve begun having a recurring nightmare about my family having to evacuate and leaving my dog behind. And I’m not even on Larium anymore!

As for DC…nothing about that is surreal, I’m deeply saddened to say. Another mass shooting, another day in America. I’m almost numb to it. Would it not have taken place in my second home, I’m not convinced that I would have noticed beyond a prayer for the departed and a faintly shaken fist in the general direction of the NRA. At this point, is it even worth ranting about gun violence or the need for gun control? I think I’ll let the gun-deaths tracker at Slate speak for me. Right now, a battle is raging less than 20km from where I sit. It’s displaced 100,000 people. It has killed about 50. The international community has responded with medical supplies, food, trained counselors, human rights activists….I could go on. Meanwhile, the CDC estimates that more than 20,000 people have been killed by small arms in the US in some eight months, and all we can both to respond with is some failed legislation (and in the odd chance that it is successful, a recall. Damnit again, Colorado) and suggestions to put more guns in schools. This last shooting happened in DC! Do you have any idea how many cops there are in DC? More guns are not the answer. That’s like suggesting what Lyons needs right now is more water.

Upon reflection, this is a stunningly selfish post - just as selfish as the Person post, in fact. I have a lot of growing to do. I mean – just look at the news this week, and you’ll find terrorist attacks in Kenya, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, state-sponsored violence in Egypt and Syria, mudslides in Mexico, typhoons menacing Hong Kong… There have been a plethora of crises, man-made and natural. I doubt many people emerged with their tethers unscathed, if indeed they remained intact at all. Right now, though, it’s hard to muster anything but a sense of exhaustion. I’m exhausted by the violence and the suffering suffusing every corner of this blasted world, no matter how safe it seems. My memory might hold some things sacred, but the real world doesn’t smell like cinnamon and never has. It smells like scorched earth and tears.

On a related but lighter note, a number of friends and family have contacted me to ensure I was okay, in light of the attack in Nairobi. Not to underplay the severity of the situation still unfolding in Kenya, which is horrific, nor the concern of my friends, which is both well-meant and deeply touching. But, man, are Americans bad at geography.