Back in Quebec City, on Labour Day, with an event to cover in three hours and a production meeting tomorrow at 8:30 for a — *gulp* — TV show.
Africa was a film that kept playing, an unbroken loop, nonstop, in show after show, but nobody around me cared what was happening in my cinema.
People were talking instead about who had taken whose place in Koszalin, arguing about some television program…or giving each other merry advice about how you can travel to Bulgaria for a holiday inexpensively and actually make money as well. I didn’t know the man who had gone to Koszalin, I hadn’t seen that television program and I had never been in Bulgaria.
(Kapuscinski, The Soccer War)
Did he ever know what he was talking about.
Welcome back to the world of subway trains and movie theatres, of dozens od restaurant choices and multi-page restaurant menus bursting with subtle spices and nuanced flavours and tapas-sized portions of gratuitously rare delicacies for $17.99. Of people who discuss twists and turns in the latest season of “Game of Thrones” as if talking about affairs of state. Of people who address you as “Miss World-Traveller” with simpering condescension, and then show complete disinterest– or bewilderment– with regards to what you’ve seen or done.
“Do you even speak English anymore?”
“Do people live in houses there?”
“Do people go to the movies?”
“Is there a war?”
“Are there tribes there?”
“Isn’t it dangerous?”
The confusion is compounded when my mother’s neighbours clamour to meet her daughter, the war correspondent– she had gotten “Addis Ababa” confused with “Afghanistan” and told them I was spending my vacation in the latter.”
But my doctor’s comment took the cake. I had never seen this particular doctor before– she’d inherited my file– but I had been to this clinic. The last time had been for a bunch of shots and travel advice, and consequently the previous doctor, a nice older Indian gentleman, had written something about Burundi. The new doctor turned to my file, turned to me and said, ‘So, how was Bermuda?'”
“Wha– oh, you mean Burundi?”
“Yeah, Burundi, sorry. Now where is that exactly?”
“In East Africa. You know the Congo, the really big country in the middle? Yeah, near there, to the east.”
“Oh, and is it, like, developed or underdeveloped?”
You’d think someone with a medical degree would be a bit more nuanced. I counted to five mentally and said, “What do you mean by that?”
“You know, modernized?”
“Um, kind of. Now what were we talking about, about labwork?”
Other people asked if I had gone there to teach English, or French, or radio reporting. When I said no, the Burundians had been the ones doing the teaching, that sometimes stopped the conversation short. At the risk of sounding like someone having a self-pity party, it’s annoying having your work so often misunderstood.
I won’t deny that it was nice having a long hot shower, hitting up bookstores–and even the Free Book Exchange, there’s so much printed matter flapping around that they give it away free!, being spoiled by my parents, going for drinks with old friends and Korean food (my favourite!) with my mother. But I missed my Burundian friends– bubbly Emilie, sardonic Paul, sweet old Terence and Daniel– and I longed to see the Laval group, especially the half dozen or so who went to Africa. We might not all agree with each other on everything, but in a way, at least, we share this.