18 September 2008

That Kind of Guy?

I had a hectic three week visit to the U.S. in August., my first trip home in three years. I got to see my parents and sister and also caught up with lots of friends. While en route through London I even saw some South African friends I hadn't seen since 1991.

Given that the flight was on a stingy American carrier, I had to plan ahead. “Economy Plus” (I found no lower seating class) passengers could purchase cans of beer and so forth for $6. Having learnt my lesson on an Italian holiday (when I had to surrender toiletries), I presented the security screener with a sandwich bag of toothpaste and 5 cl bottles of vodka. Then all I had to do was furtively open them on the plane (it's even illegal to drink your duty free on the flight) and request extra orange juice.

After a few fun days in DC that included meeting beautiful babies (a demographic I greatly miss from my days in The Gambia) and a board games reunion (including stalwarts Illuminati and Citadels, and new games PowerGrid, Bohnanza and Puerto Rico) I took some Chinatown buses to Philadelphia and NYC. Like Gambian gelegeles, these buses seemed to stop anywhere to pick up and drop off passengers, who were usually standing under trees (in industrial/commercial parks, though). In NYC I had a mini-Gambian reunion and in Haji and Mai's new neighbourhood I got to speak Wolof, drink wonjo (sorrel leaf) and bui (baobab) juice and eat benichin rice with oil running down to my elbow!

In Pittsburgh I visited the Mattress Factory, which had a lot of interesting exhibits including some fun confusing dark spaces with visual tricks. Also while in the Northside my hope of one day owning a home was restored (my friend has a nice little $40,000 rowhouse) and I confounded a waitress by asking if the orange juice was “bottomless” (and was surprised to learn that they did indeed have “free refills”).

America remains as safety and litigation conscious as ever. In Pittsburgh a sign warned against leaving corn husks on the ground lest someone slip on them. In Tacoma, WA, I was admonished to point my lightly carbonated juice bottle “away from face and people, especially when opening.” It made me nostalgic for days of children climbing 50 feet with a machete to collect coconuts, riding bareback while balancing scythes on their heads, and having adults shout at them “Dinaa la door benga buga dee!” (I will beat you until you want to die.)

Back in DC I took in Treasures 2008 at the National Museum of African Art, with most of the ivory figures from the Congo basin and Nigeria. I also visited the decidedly more crowded exhibit of Afghan art at the National Gallery. Perhaps more people would've been at Treasures if we'd intervened in or bombed parties to the conflict in DRC (5.4 million dead over the past decade).

Seattle - Tacoma

Here we enjoyed some nice hot weather and geared up for friend Sean's (nee Xiao) wedding, which was of a decidedly relaxed nature. To wit:

“What if we don't get the dress for the second flower girl?”

“Oh, we'll just tell her she's not in the wedding.” (The dress arrived on time.)

I also had a rude reintroduction to driving (by proxy – the DC DMV wouldn't renew my license). We stayed at a hotel further from town, only to spend the savings on petrol, while missing at least half the turns and on-ramps we should have taken. This theme reached its nadir when we made an interminably slow 5 hour journey to Vancouver (again, traffic and routes colluded against us), spent 1½ hours there (it's pretty), and drove back. It was my highest ratio of journey time to destination stay since my star-crossed boat ride to Timbuktu. At least the en route dim sum and tea beat seven days of rice & fish and river water.

I was reunited with Fatou Jallow in Tacoma, which is not highly regarded in Seattle. We visited the “bridge of glass” (actually a bridge with some glass features above it), the Park Way (one of two Tacoma bars on Esquire's list of America's top 50 bars) and met with a bumper sticker saying “I pray. Get use [sic] to it.”

In Fatou's cute little African coffee table book of I came across a woefully mis-captioned picture:

“Senegalese street vendors sell fruit in front of striking ocher-painted buildings.”

At most these men were holding down the fort while the female vendor was off attending to another task. They are probably just chewing the fat.

In Seattle we went on an interesting tour of the underground – I had not realised that the city was built on top of old structures and streets that were not sufficiently above the flood/tide plane/plain. I also led Vic and Adam on what Adam described as a “rattan death march”, as is my wont when visiting new cities.

The wedding was a nice outdoor affair, although outboard motors obscured the vows. The ring bearer was a little discombobulated, the legacy perhaps of being lifted through a chandelier by his new uncle (though X had the scar to show for it).

I've forgotten the lovely couple's song, but the DJ made some curious selections during the sit-down portion of the reception. These included “White Flag” (about unrequited love) and “Hotel California” (as one of our friends at the high school table noted, “You can check in any time you like, but you can never leave.”). We had a fun time dancing (aside from Xiao's dad, Ning's mum and a random couple we were the only ones on the floor) until I had to catch my flight east to begin my journey back to Edinburgh.