Friday, March 27, 2009

Glimpses of a 'National Geographic' life

At certain moments in my life, I see the world clearly for a split moment. I see all of the beautiful people, blessings, and joys crisply and clearly as if I am staring into a wonderful movie, as if I am detached for that moment to truly see, to wonder at the beautiful spectacle that is life. In those moments, I think to myself, this is not just a story I am watching on a screen; this is my life. I realize the hilarity and that fate alone could have brought me to such a place in my life.

One of these moments happened while I was in Tanga at a wedding. I was completely surrounded by women, full of joy, dancing in a large circle with children. We danced outside of the groom’s house under a tent. As we moved slowly in a circle around the traditional band, our feet kicking up the hot sand-dirt, I smiled at the huge group of onlookers and did a slight head bow to signify my happiness at seeing them, my gratefulness to share some time in their beautiful smiles and warm, wordless welcomes. The colors of the women’s congas were vibrant contrasts to the sandy floors and colorless exteriors of the homes. The congas were draped over the heads of the older women. The material fell delicately and honestly around their foreheads and wrists, as only material truly lived and loved in can do. A man in the middle of the band, the center of our dancing formation, loudly sang in a chant-like way words I will never know, meanings I could never guess. I was wearing my only dress that I had bought from the market in Morogoro. I wrapped the other part of the material around my recently shaved head, partially protecting my innocent skin from the rapturous of the sun, but mostly trying to respect the beliefs of the beautiful women, men and children around me.

At this instant as I tried to find a rhythm in my dance that was similar to the music, although I believe that I will never be able to hear the rhythm correctly and act appropriately, I looked around seeing my life as a national geographic picture. I could see the vibrantly, life-like photographs that the article would have. I envisioned the quotes, the story line, the descriptions of the band’s beat, the lyrical language that would be necessarily to come anywhere close to the real experience. I was in awe.

I realized right then how hilarious I was, the experience was. Whitney, a little girl who grew up a few hours from Mexico in the heart of Tex-Mex saying “Ay Ay Ay” and waking up to mariachi bands, a little girl who’s favorite thing in the world was to go see her grandparents and jump on the trampoline with water and, more importantly, her cousins, who loved to play in the mud and drag thrown away christmas trees to her backyard with her brother and sisters to create a giant tepee (aka a hole to China to the neighbors, but don’t tell them that it wasn’t real). Here that girl was in Africa, in Tanzania, in Tanga, right off the Indian Ocean, dancing with women I could not understand, at a wedding for a groom and bride I didn’t know. But here I was. How did I get here? How did that little “Ay Ay Ay” saying, trampoline jumping, Christmas tree dragging hellion come to Africa, to this very spot, at this very moment to be sharing this experience with these people.

No words could suffice, no words could convey my awe at the moment, but no words were needed- I could only convey my awe through gestures, smiles and holding hands. I could never say it better. When people ask me about my trip, there is simply nothing I can say. I always feel like my answers to these questions are so ridiculous and inept. How could I sum up something that was never verbal, but a life experience of color, short shared moments with people whose stories I will never know, but who I experienced life with dancing around a band at a wedding, in Tanga, in Tanzania, in Africa?

More importantly, this moment causes me to pause and reflect and wonder what moments I am missing in my daily, ‘normal’ life. What moments with my loved ones have I missed the importance of? These beautiful moments of raw honesty and joy don’t just happen in Africa; they happen in living rooms in Texas, in parks in Virginia, in streets of Calcutta, in gas stations in Alabama. They happen in my day-to-day life, in the boring, in the mundane, when everything seems perfectly normal and to be the same old thing, there is a little miracle.

I wonder: why have I not realized this before? Me. I am not able to see the beautiful, life defining moments in my own life. Traveling has awakened my senses to see more clearly the gorgeous, little miracles at home. I want to recognize the ‘national geographic’ moments in my each day: when I am sitting around the table on a Tuesday night eating with my family, my mother laughing so hard she is crying, my littlest sister recalling some hilarious story of the day about a boy being cute until he opened his mouth, my brother patting his newly filled stomach and talking about running and lifting, and the ever complaint of how he can’t build muscles like other boys; the evenings spent sitting in the grass with friends discussing our newly built college lives, dropping tea all over the new concrete and eating dark chocolate for comfort; sitting in classrooms discussing ideas, dreams and hopes of the future with teachers and friends: long, life-drawing emails from people I love detailing their defining moments in the last weeks.

These are the times, the seemingly uneventful moments, which are the miracles that define my life. I am starting to realize that maybe ‘normal’ isn’t so normal; maybe ‘everyday occurrences’ are more than just everyday occurrences. I just needed a little African push to see the beauty in my own life, the little miracles.

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