Living in a different country means that meeting other ex-pats often devolves into extended, philosophical dialogues. You spend a lot of time talking about life, culture, challenges, victories, and those moments when you want to punch people in the face. I’ve had these same conversations, over glorious ice cold Perła in Krakow’s Stare Miasto, among early-morning train drunks between Zelenograd and Moscow, sitting on a roof under a canopy of Haitian stars, sharing a warm Prestige. You sit with others who are outsiders, like you, and you talk, you drink, you ask questions – why do Rwandans touch their inner elbow when shaking hands? Why do Germans have insurance for everything? Do the British still care that much about speaking Queen’s English?
But travel causes you to question much about what you know or think. You spend a lot of time navel-gazing, thinking about your values and experiences, how you other life seems so far away from your current reality. You journey deeper into yourself, uncovering new tendencies, powers, or fears – which can be terrifying. I’ve learned that I will, in fact, throw a rock in the direction of a small child if that same child throws a rock at a defenseless dog (I didn’t hit him – it was more of a warning shot). I’ve realized how much baggage I carry from my other lives and how each day can be a struggle to question it.
However, philosophical musing aside, everyday life is filled with more banal inquiries. Influenced by Buzzfeed-driven listicle culture, I sample here for your reading pleasure my Saturday morning, riddled with questions.
Questions I Asked Myself (and Others) Today
1. Would I get more or less attention if I walked down the road in a full burka?
2. Why do the curtains (in my office) smell like body odor?
3. Will this electrocute me? (While attempting to plug in power strip in my classroom and the wall socket pops out of the wall in to my hand, with a few naked wires attaching it still.)
4. Can anyone name one American writer? (Spoken aloud, to my American Literature class. Answer: No.)
5. Does family planning indeed help you “avoid sex workers”? (While grading brainstorming cluster on Communication final exam)
Family planning: What? To avoid sex workers.
6. Can one have lice if one’s head does not itch? (While putting on public-domain moto helmet)
7. If I turn around, will I find a) a child, b) a woman, or c) (yikes) a man lovingly stroking my hair? (While on the bus to Kigali, with hair being anonymous fondled- a common and usually child-driven occurrence.)
8. Does everyone at the airport say, “You are going to Burkina Faso,” because, like me, they can’t remember how to pronounce “Ouagadougou”? (Beginning my 12-hour trek to West Africa for my program’s mid-year conference/pool fest).
9. What will the next week, trading East for West, entail? (We’ll see, won’t we.)
The stupid or the deep, travel begs of you a thousand questions. To Ryszard Kapuściński, it is all the journey: “travel is his vital exertion, his self-justification is the delving into, the struggle to learn—about life, the world, perhaps ultimately oneself” (p. 269).
But really, I’d like an answer to the lice question.
Kapuściński, R. (2007). Travels with Herodotus. New York: Penguin.