Friday, February 02, 2007

Leaving Tanzania

This is going to be more personal than I usually get on this blog. But Sunday Scribbling’s theme for the week is “Goodbyes”, plus I’ve been asked, as part of my performance at the IFCC, to talk about what it was like to leave Tanzania. So I’ll kill two birds with one stone.


By the time we left Tanzania, I had lived there more than half my life. Picture me at seventeen, a girl-child poised between a country foreign but familiar and a land native and strange. Tanzania was my beloved foster-home, but I was a cuckoo’s chick in her nest: the plumage I’d borne for ten years was wearing out and would soon burn away, like phoenix feathers. America, land of my birth, was mostly grey memories; my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins were loved but strange, terrain briefly visited every couple of years.

That was twenty-six years ago.

Was I sad to be leaving home or happy to be going home? I can’t tell you now. It’s not that I don’t remember; it’s that I don’t trust all the selves I’ve lived since then not to intervene. These older “me”s, or younger “me”s, impose their own interpretations on memory. I couldn’t have known, standing on the dock by the freighter that was to take us away, that I would come to hate the consumerism of American culture or that I would learn to love the diversity of a city like Portland. Yet those emotions run backwards through memory and stain the remembered scenes of departure.

My life turns on that departure point like a door on a hinge. Yet there have been so many hinges in my life; going to college, meeting my husband, getting religion— leaving Tanzania is not the only, not the first, perhaps not even the most important. In the end it’s not the hinge that matters, but what the door leads to.

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