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).

1 comment:

Owen said...

Nice. I like the new layout! Good points on housing prices and litigiousness. Hope to see you again soon - I have a more commodious abode and an actual bed for guests!