Competing urges on the road

Buzz Lightyear:

I also went into town a couple of times to use the Internet and communicate with people using Skype. To perfectly honest, I mostly went to talk with Gwladys. Remember her? The French chick? Ahhhh, how could you forget?!? One of the difficult things in life is wanting two incompatible things at the same time. Or put another way, having one thing you want makes you sacrifice the other. From the time we parted in August, our relationship has continued to develop and, dare I say, bloom. It is fair to say that barring a catastrophe, we will be together at some point and dive head first into a marvelous experiment of co-habitation. The problem is, we both want it to be now. I can’t speak for her, but my thoughts are incessantly filled with her. She has wormed inside my head and deep into my heart, and there is no simpler way to say it than that I am pretty well in love. She, on the other hand, is about to head to Morocco to look for a couple of horses so she can begin her 2000 mile solo ride through Morocco, Portugal, Spain, and France. She doesn’t know when she’ll finish, I don’t know when I’ll finish, but we both know that whenever we are done, the next exciting chapter will begin…

…I’ve just spent 20 minutes trying to write exactly why I am attracted to third world indigenous peoples or even third world people in general. I really couldn’t put it into words without sounding like an asshole so at the risk of sounding like a Joseph Conrad racist, I’ll explain some thoughts. There is something about money, and education, and advancement in general that corrupts. The first story of the Western world’s central text, the bible, is all about the purity of living in God’s garden, how knowledge corrupts that simple existence and throws us into a world of uncertainty and pain. In short, paradise lost.

Many people, including myself, have felt the wonderful simplicity of tribespeople in rural Africa. But this simplicity can be found in city people throughout the third world as well and many country folk in the first world. In my travels, I have interacted with people that range from the super rich to the super poor, and it seems to me like there is an inverse relationship to the amount of our possessions and the simplicity of our lives. It is like the more we have, the more we know, the more jaded we are. The more sarcastic we are. The more incredulous we become. Max Weber calls it being trapped inside the iron cage of reason. It has always shocked me how so many cultures do not understand sarcasm–I have drawn many empty looks in my attempts. It is because wit, sarcasm, and irony are tinged with a bit of pretentious knowledge posturing. And the poor, often uneducated, just don’t get it. Or maybe it’s something else, who knows. But let me give you an example that I often use.

When I was living in Ghana, my friend Attah, who taught me how to make African drums, came to my dorms in the city to help me finish off the last stages of the drums that I had made. I loved going to Attah’s village, Okurase, for many reason. Though most of the houses were wooden huts, and the townspeople were beyond poor, I was was treated with the kind of hospitality that rekindles one’s faith in mankind. The people were joyful, exuberantly friendly, and humbly simplistic. After we had varnished my drums, I invited him to go and eat some fufu. He suggested that we put the drums in front of the dorms to dry. I told him that the drums probably wouldn’t be there when we returned. The blank stare was his response to my sarcasm. I explained that someone would steal the drums. His eyes widened and he looked at me incredulously. “You mean people would really steal these?!?” I laughed and told him,”Attah, we’re not in Okurase. People steal stuff all the time.” He sucked air through his teeth signifying Ghanaian disapproval.

I don’t mean to say that poor people are more happy or that I want to be poor. I’m not implying that they are not jealous, hateful, envious, or any other human failing because they are. What I am saying is they are often simple, pure, and un-sullied. It is refreshing to be with these people. I don’t envy them. If I had a magic wand, like them, I would wish for more and not less. But, I repeat, it is refreshing to be with simple people again.


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