Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Looking down at the tray table in front of me, I see the wad of neatly folded American dollars peaking out of my bra. For two and a half years I have guarded my money this way. In Guinea, Mali and Cape Verde, this improvised wallet had done good by me.
But what’s there is crisp and green now, the color of money spent in a country where currency is placed unthinkingly in wallets, where unclasp purses are swung carelessly on city streets at night, where crime happens but I do not stand out, and where abundance—so unfair among nations and so destructive to the environment—is uplifting to behold. I am going home, home to America!
Escalators, hallways, baggage carousels. Things are vast, shiny and efficient. The softly lilting Cape Verdean Creole of the other passengers mixes with the harsh Boston accent of my language spoken everywhere. English, you all speak English! I watch customs officials and janitors. “Tudo bom?” escapes every time I try to greet someone.
“Hi, how are you?” I say as the customs official takes my passport.
“Good. You?”
“I am so good!” I breathe. “I’ve been in the Peace Corps in Africa for two and a half years and I am so happy to be back in America!”
“You sound like your nose is stopped up,” he says, turning to another official with a look of “crazy”.
Don’t be too warm with strangers in America
In the baggage room, a stream of antsy passengers circulates from the carousal to the Dunkin’ Donuts. Its 10 pm. Could the Americans be hungry? Or do they eat because they can’t sit still?
I approach the check-in counter for my flight to Austin. An idle attendant directs me to a row of computers. You’re human, and unoccupied. Can’t you help me? The computers, manipulated expertly by travelers, are daunting.
“Good morning,” my machine says disarmingly. “You will need your airplane ticket, license, or passport to proceed.”
I have all of those! I am totally gonna rock this.
Grasping all three documents, I pass them under the machine’s red-lit scanner. Nothing. I flip them over, alternating circular motions with left-to-right jazz-hand movements. A few travelers glance over, but my machine relentlessly wishes me a “good morning.”
You see, I’m not from here. It’s a lie, but it doesn’t seem like it is.
We board, and Massachusetts’ deep forests, curving rivers and neat suburbs open up below us. New England---not even our nation’s greatest environmental treasure--is astoundingly vast and lush, dwarfing the images of Cape Verde’s miniature barren peaks and sandy planes that slip into my head.
But surprisingly, instead of awe, I am reminded of an essay question from US History class: How was the North’s civil war victory predestined from before the war? The North, enfeebled by its comparative agricultural weakness, was forced to develop the industry—for roads, railroads, arms—that allowed it to prevail in the war. The South, blessed with long growing seasons and abundant harvests, was never compelled to build the technology necessary for military success.
Cape Verde—barely larger than Rhode Island, with a population smaller than Albuquerque’s, whose list of natural resources is topped off with “salt and basalt rock”---is investing in renewable energies. Its government has pledged to attain 50% renewable energy by 2020. The US has not signed the Kyoto protocol. Renewable energy accounts for 6% of total US energy consumption. Has American timber, hydraulic power, oil, and arable land rendered us complacent, an ironic victim of incidental gifts, as the long summers rendered the Civil War South?


Blogger Jane said...

Please contact me when you get this, jdreidame@alltel.net. My son Hunter is a PCT and has just learned that he is assigned to Sandenia when he finishes training in late September, so I'm very anxious to know more about it. I've enjoyed reading your blog and hope your adjustment back to the USA is going well.
Take care,

5:45 PM  

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