Wednesday morning, I woke up and looked out my window, searching for signs of a changed world. It was gray and dreary; I still had to take the subway to Kendall for my game theory class, and people still shot nasty looks if you happened to get in the way. Not much had changed, in other words.
Since I was a very young child, I felt at odds with the world around me. I always wanted to travel abroad. It was a generalized feeling of restlessness beyond explanation or reason. Maybe there was a part of me that hoped I’d find a homecoming somewhere far away, where my true tribe lived.
Yesterday was the day all the Beijing taxi drivers started wearing uniforms. Yellow, collared shirts, blue cargo pants with silver zippers, yellow and blue-striped ties. My driver, Mr. Gao, was very proud of his new uniform, but confessed he couldn’t keep his tie on the whole day, what with the 90-degree heat. He designated his left-hand pocket for the big bills (100s, 50s), right-hand pocket for the small change.
The Olympics only days away, Mr. Gao seemed especially happy to be chatting up a “foreign friend”–a chance to brush up on some of his English phrases (“Hello ladee, please sit. You want go weir?”) and hone some of the finer points of international diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. He asked me whether it was better to make the “OK” sign with his left hand or his right hand, and whether there might be some cultures where the “OK” sign might offend. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the OK sign was just a tad retro, but I did advise him it might not be the best idea to call his clients “beautiful ladies” and “handsome men.” (Gallantry doesn’t always translate well.)
On July 11, after two-and-a half months of roaming around
Africa for the third time, I flew (via Lilongwe, Addis Ababa and Khartoum) from Lusaka to
Cairo. 48 hours later I was on my way to JFK (via Rome and Milan). I spent 18 hours in the Tri-state Area. Then I was off to
Seattle to meet my favorite boy for the first time. At 6am on July 21st, I flew to San Francisco for
24 hours and caught a showing of Batman: The Dark Knight,
my third film in a real movie theatre in two years. Last night (twelve
days after taking off from Lusaka, plus or minus whatever
happens when you cross the international date line), I arrived in
I miss this blog more than you can imagine, but regular internet
access can be hard to come by when you’re an international jet-setter
without the international jet-setter’s company
Blackberry with international data roaming.
So in lieu of blogging, I’ve been doing it the old-fashioned way:
That’s six kilos of people, places and thought. I never realized how much
cheaper and portable (and lighter!) thought has become since the internet happened.
Needless to say, I’ll be spending the next year working on making some
of this digital before I plot my next escape.
Arrived in Beijing last night, jetlagged. Woke up at about 3:30am. Took this photo at 6:30, about an hour and a half after dawn. (Read Ernest Hemingway while flying over Siberia, and strange things begin to happen to the number of clauses you’ll allow in a sentence.)
Beijing, morning, July 24, 2008
As the sun rises, the gray just gets brighter. It may be out later, as
it was when I arrived around sunset yesterday, a round and a sort of
desaturated yellow-orange, but with no power to change the permanent gray of the sky.
A bit belated, but here is a collection of personal anecdotes about being in Kenya when Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee for next President of the United States. Written for EbonyJet.
36 Hours in Obamaland
When you’re a citizen of the world’s only superpower, and you travel
abroad, you become a symbol of all kinds of things that probably have
nothing to do with you–wealth, power, Hollywood fairy tales, and, most
recently, the unmitigated hubris of cowboy-kings. Being American in
2005 was to invite a million questions and reproaches and lectures. It
was to have blood on your hands. So for a long time, I’d hold my
passport eagle side down while waiting on the customs line, not wanting
to invite that conversation.
But now it’s 2008. Goodbye to all that?
Just as a P.S., Africabeat recently got a shout out on Katine Chronicles, a Guardian blog (along with several of my favorite African/Africanist bloggers; I’m tickled to be in such good company). Katy Taylor says Africabeat is: “Passionate but not too opinionated, this is an energetic and well-informed blog.” Thanks for the kudos, Katy, but I often think I am too opinionated. Or at least I’ve put my foot in my mouth on more than a few occasions.
Shawel Hailu stands in front of Laphto, a new multi-purpose entertainment
center which will feature luxury apartments, an art gallery, bowling
alley, pool hall, arcade, night club, cafe, fusion restaurant,
shopping, swimming pool, health club, running track, movie theatre (for
indy/art house films), VIP center, rentable shopping/office space, Wifi
hotspots, a Montessori school and, eventually, a world-class pediatrics
hospital. He’s part of the wave of returned Diaspora Ethiopians driving the current building boom.
His materials? Sourced from China, of course, via Guangzhou. The foreman on his work site are also Chinese.
The (now former) Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, Lin Lin, sits with Mr. Wen, the head of CRBC in Ethiopia at opening of a new road linking a Chinese glass factory to a main thoroughfare. CRBC, a state-owned Chinese roads and bridge construction company, has broke ground on dozens of new roads in Addis Ababa since it launched its first Ethiopian project in 1998 known simply as “the ring road,” a name and a concept which ought to make residents of Beijing smile. The mayor of Addis Ababa and the head of the Addis Ababa Roads Authority also officiated. The mayor thanked the Chinese and compared Ethiopia to the US and China saying, “if there are no roads, there is no development.” The Chinese officials praised the EPRDF for their wisdom and for bringing development to the Ethiopian people. (No comment.)