Losing the American Tourist
We as Americans we come to foreign lands in search of something,
something like our own heartbeat, something slippery and indefinable, but with presence, tinged with a certain energy.
For any wanderer, traveling is the high, but everyone wants to belong somewhere–to feel a place, in a slow turning, become home.
We want something of the land and in that way, we are selfish. We might come to give, but we come to stake out our destiny, like that beautifully cheesy Tom Cruise in Far and Away, we come to lay claim.
Ours is a history of dominance. Always the explorer, the colonizer in our blood and it is hard to run away from.
We come with our ideas and plans, our visions and ideals, and without meaning to, we impose them.
We think we know the way and we think we know how to do it better and more efficiently then the next person.
I am just as guilty of this and that is why I can write about it.
Not all of it is bad. The world always needs new eyes to see ancient problems.
And we bring a passion and a wide-eyed enthusiasm that even the seasoned cynic needs a glimpse of.
But still, what is that part of us that feels that maybe the Africans are doing it wrong and we can do it better. Granted, desperation cripples people. It stagnates and it stilts. Depleted and dependent, yes sometimes they need a helping hand.
But how to get over ourselves?
I passed a birthday with six skinny kids playing spoons. And I felt sorry for myself a lot of the day which was pretty stupid considering I said I came here to help. At a certain point in the night I realized that while my ideal birthday might not be spending it with people all under the age of 13, I think it really made their day. We danced around to African drums until the neighbors complained. Not to mention they got cake. It’s all about the cake.
I am 2 months into my journey and the middle is always the hardest and as my friend Hope once said, I am punching my way through.
Because here the reason I started seems romantic and completely out of reach, and the ending feeling of accomplishment seems laughable. If I make it that far. I think this is what runners in a marathon must feel. The excitement of the race is over and end seems too many blistering miles to push heel to toe. Is it worth it?
Why the hell did I want to run a marathon for in the first place when it’s really hard.
I’ll never underestimate again what missionaries give up for a calling.
As idyllic as it can sound, missionaries give up a lot in missing those birthdays, those weddings, those trips to the beach with friends.
And yet, like in this book I am reading about one woman’s journey through Italy, Indonesia, and India:
“This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude.” Eat, Pray, Love
I think I can do those three things. Especially the eating part.
Last night I felt that kind of loneliness that makes you feel like a grade-school kid stuck home-sick at camp. I tried to pray but mostly was just getting snot everywhere.
And I felt like I heard God say, “I’m here too,” but it sounded mostly like my own voice somewhere in my heart, only more kind and more wise.
I don’t want to be an American tourist anymore.
I’m starting to feel less like one. Starting to feel like I’m walking the street with the confidence of someone who knows her way around, not like a target for the nearest pick-pocket.
Starting to feel like I’m learning the people and what they want, and less like I just care about doing my own thing.
I go to Gulu, up north, tomorrow. I go to learn, and to touch, to taste, and to pray, and to live with these people I came here for. Mostly I just want to hang out with some orphans and formerly abducted girls and just love ‘em. Who knows about the rest. My friend Tom laughs at me because every time he asks me what I’m going to do I just say “I don’t know. We’ll see.” He laughs and says, “Classic Sarita.” Thus, my life. And it’s ok.
If you pray-whether on your knees, with rosary beads, in your car with the music going, or more like an echo of a voice inside yourself rising up, then say a little one for me.