Sometimes the flashbacks are so powerful, they’re disorienting.
Walking through the woodsy and windy trails near my apartment in Rock Creek Park and the moldy smell of the water takes me back to Lodi Garden in Delhi, the only quiet place in the entire city. I remember acres and acres of grass with ruins and a quiet stream and wealthy mothers and fathers sipping bottled water as their children play cricket and soccer. I remember thinking it was Delhi’s Central Park. I went to read and watch. I befriended an Algerian Ambassador, and I remember I fell in love with the silence
For a moment, this memory blinded me, and I didn’t know where I was.
Is this a sign of insanity?
Maybe Nostalgia: A sentimental longing for the past.
Nostalgia for a place that was challenging, where I had to think daily about where I fit in to society. Nostalgia for a place where every day I learned something new that blew my mind and met someone new who made the challenges and frustration worthwhile.
October 4 will mark 5 months of living in Washington. Time really does fly. This date is significant because the only city I have lived in for 5 months or more in one consecutive period in the last few years was Cape Town. And while I like knowing that my time here isn’t limited so I can take my time to do the things I want to do, it’s a bit scary to be sedentary. I have no clue as to when I’ll pick up a backpack and head out again. And with $60 in my checking account it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon.
But sometimes I think living in America is so simple, so formulaic, that it’s hard to find the uniqueness and challenges and chaos that make me fall in love (and sometimes curse) the foreign country I might be living in. When I returned from India, a friend told me to try to view the US like I would abroad. That way, I was told, there will always be an adventure. I haven’t been perfect at it, but recently I’ve been exposed to worlds in my own city I knew, and still know, very little about.
Last week I participated in a project called the Race Monologues, a project somewhat modeled after the Vagina Monologues where people were interviewed about their experiences with racism and race in America. The monologue I performed was a white, academic woman’s story. She said:
“Blacks and whites in America are living completely different world experiences. And when we talk about race in America, we are talking about blackness.”
I read this and thought, I guess it’s easy to say living in America isn’t challenging when your world experience is one of face-value acceptance.
Example: My roommate is teaching Geometry through Teach for America in an inner-city DC high school. The only white people in the building are teachers. Every day she comes home with stories about her students and her school that are mind boggling: this is the first year her school had walls; her students passed Algebra One and cannot tell her which number is bigger: 3.0 or 3.01. Even her students’ names are foreign to me: Le-A is pronounced “le-dash-a.”
Talk about different world experiences.
This weekend I saw the film, Providence Affect, which is about an inner-city Chicago high school called Providence St. Elm where 100% of their students, for 30 years in a row, attend college, and a significant number are admitted to tier one universities. Even my public school, in a very strong school district in California, cannot boast a record like this. It’s a film that I encourage all of you to see, because it talks about a world where very few of us have ever seen, even though it’s only miles away. Education has been dubbed the new Civil Rights Movement, and it’s no question why: people wonder why America is falling behind, but every day 6,000 American high school students drop out.
One day I will leave DC for a new city. Maybe I’ll go abroad, maybe I’ll go back west, I don’t know. And I wonder, what will I be nostalgic for? Sometimes I feel I know Cape Town and Delhi better than I know DC. In those places, my American identity allowed me to bridge boundaries and be exposed to communities across the spectrum. But here, everyone I know received a college education and comes from similar family backgrounds. Most of my friends, and readers, are white. My corners of DC have become simple and formulaic, but there is a world out there, only a few minutes from my apartment, that I know nothing about. And in order to really get to know this city, perhaps its’ time I start learning about it.
I don’t want my nostalgia and flashbacks for DC to be only of happy hours in Dupont. I want to understand this city and all it has to offer. My feet are a-achin’ to move, and I feel a new adventure on the way.