Standard-issue hello!, after falling off the face of the earth. I think I may have come close to actually doing that this time. Scrolling through this is like examining a profile of my brain on another planet: how did you have time to think these things? What on earth sort of motivation did you have? Do you know something I don’t?
But I’m all sorts of alive, and all sorts of on hold. I have a bunch of seedlings on my balcony that I replant each time they shrivel up in the heat after whenever I go somewhere for a while, equatorial climes be blessed/damned. I’ve planned a Thanksgiving menu and drop circumspect translations of MLK quotes whenever the Barkhane guys like to have opinions about elections1. I gave myself a good scare the other day by having no reaction to an extremely ill person. Sometimes I think about the scope of what I’m working on and my brain shrinks back from it, only able to deal in shadows; sometimes I can’t do anything but roll my eyes for days straight. The world feels like a wild Cheshire-cat ladder, with large things collapsing and small things expanding.
The things I’m shocked by continue to mimic some sort of limit towards zero, and I think a lot about that “You didn’t build that!” speech that landed POTUS in a tizzy in what seems like a century ago. I was spirited briefly back stateside earlier this month after some gonzo lung infection, and the poor friend who met me for dinner the first night in had to deal with all sorts of oh-goodness-look-at-all-these-straight-lines frantic antics (number of uber drivers terrorized: god only knows). Multiple materials used in the same building: “you didn’t build that.” Getting a database across the country without sending a USB via land rover: “you didn’t build that.” Faith that the medtech won’t cram the IV line in your artery: “you didn’t build that.” I’ve heard this wild rumor a few times about some verboten government – disclaimer, not this one! – killing a potential Ebola patient zero on the spot without further investigation, as though it were an of-course-that-happened brand of procedural, and – not for lack of trying! – I sure as hell could not build the faith that it shouldn’t be. Would that perspective could be loaned out without airfare and a solid fixer. The world, again: tenuous, at best.
And yet I’m not terribly prone to homesickness. Part of this derives from the realization that, every time I’m in a new place, I’m learning about things I’m bound to miss just as much in the future. Every time I crave Durham’s pimento cheese, I recall that the piment here is divine: strangely tangy, bursting with flavor, nearly too much even to my Rio Grande-forged palate. It’s become less about being wistful for one place or one tribe or another, and more of a quiet, conscientiously rotating panoply that I’m learning to actively suppress in favor of what could either be called “being present” or “getting shit done.” Choose-your-own-FOMO, if you will.
But I also tend to be of the mind that home is something to be forged rather than gifted by circumstance. If I’m all hung up and lonesome, it’s my own damned fault for not making the effort to instill new rituals, or to make friends – to bring a bit of what I want with me. This is admittedly more difficult in my current locale, where my spoken French is still pretty shoddy, markets are declared haram, and wandering about without a car is somehow ill-advised. I think most people here think I am a little silly, and I know I’m bound to feel desperately out-of-place among the sort who are more likely to interact with my ilk. West/Central Africa is so oddly forsaken by western NGO types, minus the French, who always seem to have a whole other thing going. I’ve been trying to conjure places that might feel more end-of-the-earth: Yemen, perhaps? Western Sahara has been suggested. Eritrea? The Wakhan Corridor, before trekking there became a thing?
My contract break hits smack in late October. This was unintentional, but it’s really the dream: cider, allspice and cloves, gourds both decorative and edible. It’s got me panged with all sorts of romantic feelings about crisp air and reading some Nabokov or something else far away while curled up by some candles while knowing that a hotline is available should either they or the blanket go awry.
And yet here I am: sitting at my desk (power status: shaky, roof status: dripping but in a nice way, jalepeño seedling status: round three, fairy lights status: still plugging from a battery, thank you very much) taking this break from spreadsheets, surrounded by a whole bunch of oddly-shaped boxes filled with alcohol-tube samples of a nearly-dead species, working on something really hard with people I care about in the middle of nowhere just before the cusp of when we think we’ll be able to pull the thing off. And I’m full of warmth for all the times I’ve done this before, and somehow terrifically impatient for all the times I’ll get to do it again, and still dreaming of driving out to peri-rural somewhere to ferry people to the polls and of butternut squash with sage and chevre and piment, and terribly grateful for what a magic breed of power it is to create the feeling of home where I’m not.
1. Because you know you want it: “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”