[left: “Sony Store” of Kisumu, Kenya. Not exactly the Metreon.]
Imagine this: plugging in your laptop at London Heathrow airport (i.e. the upscale mall that also has international flights) while facing HMV and Dixon’s electronics shops, and finding your keyboard filled with dead insect carcasses that you have to clear out before typing. After a shady-scammy taxi ride in a stolen vehicle and a driver without a license (arranged by the FACES staff!), a nauseating small plane flight from Kisumu, a 4 hour layover in Nairobi, and a 9 hour flight from Nairobi to London, I arrived in the opposite place: a completely engineered, artificial land. Looking out of the window, even the trees and grass and flowers are completely engineered and unnatural.
Imagine this: Just one week ago I was in the back of a truck (posing as a matatu) with a Kenyan woman next to me. She was wearing a ratty t-shirt proclaiming some little league team, and a kanga as her skirt. She was clutching a live chicken by its feet in one hand, a baby in the other arm, and a large sack of vegetables were at her feet. She has been carryng it on her head earlier, since her hands were full. She stared at me the whole trip. Now, on the plane from London to San Francisco, I am next to a white woman who is wearing a fleece top, velour bottoms, typing an email into her blackberry, and frantically chewing gum. Her well-dressed obese husband next to her is reading some glossy European business magazine. Side by side, these experiences seem absurd in comparison. But they are both integral parts of my life experience. How do I bridge them?
It’s different from the feeling you have when you are on vacation in a remote place and then travel back to modern, hyper developed life. Because when you are on vacation, you already have a mental separation in your head with these two places. But when you live and work in a community not as a tourist but as a honorary member of the community, you feel the shock more deeply. How I can navigate these worlds without artificially compartmentalizing them remains a challenge. The Buddhist principle of compassion for all helps me approach it, though this too is challenging to do fully.