Saturday, September 3, 2011

Re-Entry: Day 11

Well, I apologize profusely for my lack of entries for both the remaining week of my time in the Congo and since I've been back. For anyone who was actually still following this, it must feel like I sort of left you hanging... The long and short of it was that I was really overwhelmed between traveling and being back in the United States. I was so surprised (despite the fact that Bob and Taylor prepped me for this) how difficult it was to come back "home". Having now met several people who've traveled in Congo, I can say with certainty that everyone's "re-entry" process is different.

For me, when I got home, I had a really hard time with food. This appears to be a relatively frequent response after coming back to a country of excess after being in a country like the Congo with such lack. But I really could not eat for the first few days I returned, because I would open the pantry and feel so perplexed and overwhelmed by the vast amount of food in our house, that I simply could not make a decision about WHAT to eat. When you go to a country like the Congo, the "food and water politics" is in every bite you consume and it becomes a part of you. This made it intensely difficult for me to transition back to "American" food. Especially because food and water was so deeply and inextricably linked to women's issues while I was there, and I would often spend entire days working with the women just to prepare the food, which, as I previously alluded to, is just so much work. This is an issue that affects women all across the economic strata of the country, because even well-educated women spent so many hours every day working in the kitchen. So it was appropriate that I did it too, and even now, with everything that I did and saw, some of the most intimate, touching, and true moments happened when I was sitting in the "kitchen" over a charcoal burner. And when I came home, it was as if this labor of love had transformed my relationship to food, such that I no longer understood how to be in relation to food.

It transformed my relationship to American culture as a whole, and indeed, so many parts of "home" now feel very "foreign" to me. I have found it immensely hard to explain to others what it "was like" to be in the Congo, because it's so unlike any other place in the world you will ever visit. It is even quite different from many other parts of Africa, it seems. For me, in a way that I cannot yet (and maybe never will) articulate, it was like traveling to a different reality... An excellent metaphor given to me by a friend recently was that I did not merely walk through the doors of perception-- i took the doors completely off their hinges. My perception of the world is now forever altered, and I don't feel I have the option to "close" those doors again, because where there were once doors, there are now only doorways.

I imagine that the thoughts and perceptions will continue to shift and rearrange and reveal new images to me each day--and hopefully, i will be able to share those as they come up. But for now, I will "leave it", as they say, at that...

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