A few months ago someone left a comment in one of my blog entries which has turned out to be quite true. This person, whose identity I don't recall at the moment, suggested that this Peace Corps experience would bring to the fore all kinds of emotions and mental reactions that I didn't expect. Adjusting to life in New Amsterdam has been by turns both tough and easy; sometimes the place infects me with a bombastic cheer, and other times I feel crushed by it and more isolated than I have ever been.
Tonight [this post was originally written one week ago -- BR] I had a peculiar revelation that surprised me almost so much it was like an out-of-body experience. I was busily bringing in water and filling the various receptacles around the house for use tomorrow, and as I did so the sun set and the world was overtaken by night. The stars were out in full glory and they formed a vast glitterdome overhead, and the ramshackle houses and palm trees were silhouetted in perfect blackness against this tableau. It was very beautiful. My work was over and so I came out to the front porch to look at the night. Somewhere down the road not too far away a rum shop was playing music loud enough you could easily hear it, yet the short distance and the cool night breezes did something to the acoustics of the music so that everything sounded echoey and celestial, as if being played from heaven.
As I stood there, the normal reggae fare ended and was replaced by, of all the things, Foreigner's Waiting for a Girl Like You, one of their most popular tunes in American around 1981. The first haunting chords of that song were joined by the beat and the chiming electronic notes, and the song seemed to drift through the night and the banana plants and the fireflies and the stars overhead in a way that profoundly moved me. It wasn't the fact of hearing the song -- I have it on my iPod, and probably have heard it several times even since arriving in Guyana. Instead it was some combination of the circumstances, the unexpectedness of it, and the moody atmosphere of the night. Suddenly I wasn't just standing on a porch in Guyana doing my Peace Corps stint; I wasn't just living in the here and now. I was remembering that song from when I was 10 years old, when I went to Midway elementary, and accompanying that was a slew of sense memories and sliced-up images, the way I tend to remember things from long ago. And then I became gradually aware of my life as a single stretched moment, one that has changed so drastically from one end to the next that this end is nearly incomprehensible from that end, and vice versa. How did I arrive at this moment? From that awkward, antisocial kid to this thirty-something man who is standing on a clapboard porch in South America? I have changed so much that the earlier, younger versions of myself almost seem like they must belong to someone else's life entirely. How could someone change so completely?
Is there such a thing as destiny, and if so, then was it my destiny even so far back as 1981 to live in Guyana? What awaits in the next few years, or two decades from now?
And what am I searching for? Obviously there's something missing from my life. I am perpetually in a state of motion, looking for a place where I belong and that offers me the solace of home as well as the excitement of the new and unfamiliar. Why is it that, already several years out of my twenties, I'm still wandering? Why am I homeless?
The song made me think about the people I knew when I was younger -- in elementary, junior high and high school. I wonder about their perceptions of me and what they thought I would amount to. Not much, certainly. If you knew me then, you'd understand why I say that. And then in moments like these I wonder if they could believe it if they could see me now. Out here, living in this poor, out-of-the-way Caribbean country. I get a certain rise out of that thought, like somehow I've shown them up. As though all this changing and searching and moving from place to place has all been done to prove that I also am an important person. And so as they've happily stepped into their pre-planned lives of quotidian regularity, I've gone wandering off to find experiences that will somehow outdo them. Could all this be a decades-long quest for acceptance? Could I be doing this all for them? Or is it something else, a dislocation that I somehow can never fix? A permanent homelessness and detachment?
Or am I running?
The truth is probably somewhere between all those things and none of them. I'm still learning about myself and the Peace Corps is a harsh taskmistress. And what emotions a single song, played under just the right circumstances, can unleash! This, in conjunction with the dream from last week, is serving to show me just how much of a transformative experience I'm undergoing, even as I am, as usual, blinded to it by the routines of daily life. I wonder what other revelations I can look forward to?