Thursday, October 22, 2015

Travel. Modesty

The internet alleges that  Gustave Flaubert once said, “travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” Wise words but they have never been true for me. Well, not until this time.

Before this time, travel did quite the opposite of modesty to me. It made me an insufferable party guest. My party trick is to load every minute with travel ‘advice’ for whoever I am talking to. “I am gonna say Kasese is my favourite town, but Kapchorwa is certainly worth seeing too. The mountainous backdrops of both are breathtaking yet quite different. Or you could go for broke and do a foreign trip. I totally recommend Ethiopia. It is kind of expensive but if you do go; do be a cliche and see the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. They are totally worth it.”  I do my best to slyly let on how much of the world and country I have seen. I manage to both awe and annoy my company; which really is the point of party conversation.

Until now, the only reason I ever travelled anywhere was to add yet another bragging mark to my passport. It may be the best reason for travel, by the way. The whole ‘travel to find modesty’ thing isn’t looking good on me right now.

The first step to finding modesty in travel is; being thrust into the hustle and bustle of a place, away from the safe net of the delightfully servitude driven world of conferences and tourism.
“Go to north-eastern Queens and find interview subjects for that story due tomorrow. Yes, Google maps is not kidding you, that is two hours on the underground train. Don’t forget, it’s the A train for 30 minutes, switch to the F at 42nd street, calmly endure underground claustrophobia for another 55 minutes. Take the bus to 159 on Union Turnpike.
You will get there another two hours late because: you closed your eyes to deal with claustrophobia; then dozed off; missed the train switch at 42nd; eventually got onto the F train but later discovered it was moving back into town not towards Queens, etc. As you u-turn back into town having achieved nothing because you missed all your appointments, a little voice will whisper to you, “you really are not quite as clever as you have been billed all your life.” Modesty.

The second route to modesty is watching just how well the wheels back home continue to run despite your absence. Once, I was diagnosed with malaria +4. In the subsequent hazy hour as  I lay hooked to two IV lines, convulsing like a leaf in the wind, I become obsessed with the most natural of concerns: my daughter’s life after I died. Well, I know now what it would be like: pretty much the same as it is with me alive. Especially after the first few weeks, she will be fine. Anyone of the people who love either her or I will step in on any number of occasions; birthday parties, school mornings, Sunday outings. It will all be okay. I am not her alpha or omega. Modesty. A feel good kind.

The third way to finding modesty is trying to teach your 30+ head new tricks while also trying to figure out the train system of a new place you allegedly are part of. Someone once told me that I have a brain the size of Africa. Of course, I believed her because she was Brit and had that clever English accent that allegedly brought all things brainy to the continent of Africa. Okay, I believed her because I really did miss the modesty gene. Well, don’t worry. I am growing one. Yesterday, having watched about two hours of YouTube tutorials, in addition to the nine lecture room hours prior, I managed to import a file into one of these new fangled computer programs that software developers use. My professors require that I learn a thing called Python. It is not the snake but is just as scary. It is not Nicki Minaj’s derriere but is just as scary. I really don’t have a mind the size of Africa. I knew that when I did a little dance to celebrate importing a file. The bright side to finding out you are no genius is that it liberates you from wanting to apologise for lame references to snakes and Ms Minaj’s derriere in your writing. Back to the point...

The thing that is really most screwing me with modesty is anonymity. Nothing crushes an ego like the anonymity of being one of more than 8,000,000 random people. Having been fed on the social media rants of Africans who came to the US before me, I was sure I was going to be endlessly bombarded with solicitations for tales about my exotic continent, inane negative coverage of Africa in the press, non-nuanced charges about Uganda’s LGBTI rights record. I even looked forward to the tiny adventure that the police would stop and frisk me just because I am black. I have found that people are simply too busy to give a damn. In my head, I might be an exotic person on a wonderful adventure but I get the sneaky suspicious that to them, I am just another person trying to buy milk at the store. Really, people give like zero fucks about the details of me. Occasionally, the odd Indian immigrant has remarked, “Idi Amin expelled Indians from Uganda,” but no other significantly annoying mentions have shown up. I could complain that with, "Americans just aren't interested in the world beyond their borders" but that would be rich coming from me since I fall asleep (with disinterest) whenever I try to read the non-international version of the New York Times. Still, I was made to believe there were 8,000,000 people here eager to fetishise me in some way. Why isn't anyone trying? Now what am I to do with all these ‘stop stereotyping me’ educational tirades bottled up inside me?

Nobody invited me to Ug Blog Week, which just goes to show how poor you people’s taste in blogging is. But, not being invited never stopped me from showing up. Nor tardiness. So, UgBlog Week #1. In your face.