to save the world or to sit in a quiet room alone?
Solution to mental and physical exhaustion, encroaching frustrated-depression, and general sublimated angsty rage: sit in your peaceful, quiet, airy aerie for four days, eat soup and drink hot beverages. Abject sloth saves the day!
Well, not entirely abject sloth. I cleaned the whole apartment very extensively on my first day back. It took a while and was very aerobic and whatnot; I kept thinking of all the conversations I have with Lankans about why I’m not married and why I’m not planning to get married soon. The amount of pleasure I take in housework would certainly give them something to wag in my face on the subject. And really, who doesn’t enjoy the smell of wet clean laundry on the line and a nice orderly home? (I know, I’m digging myself deeper into this particular hole.)
I feel better, though. Somewhat. I still feel disconnected, in limbo: not involved in my research (and unable to reconnect with it right now) and yet unable to contribute to the rebuilding effort—which is where my mind and heart are occupied. My emotional involvement in this is surprisingly deep even though I haven’t been living or working much in the affected areas. Perhaps this event has wrenched me so much because, as Fareed Zakaria argued in his column the week after the tsunami, natural disaster is so massively more disastrous in the third world, where the absence of coherent power structures and general impoverishment of leadership makes it difficult even to deploy huge amounts of resources.
Knowing this country I am sure that in ten years there will still be people living in ‘temporary’ shelters and politicians squabbling over which MP gets to cut the ribbons at the new apartment housing project, which is destined to become a slum anyway, because it’s been planned according to all kinds of cockamamie wrong ideas about how people live in this culture. That’s what really gets me: the people in power are so out of touch with the lives of their constituents, and yet they try to propagandize everything the government does. It makes the Bush Administration look sophisticated: at least they know what Americans want to hear and how to motivate them.
At the risk of making an impolitic comparison: I feel more sad and more frustrated than after September 11. Perhaps with that my attention and energy went directly towards the horrible political aftermath, Iraq Afghanistan and so on down the primrose path. Here my knowledge of the lamentable political history and the real poverty of the people makes it that much harder to feel hopeful. At least with September 11 I had a sense that there were knowledgeable professionals and good intentions hard at work on the two sites and with the survivors and the victims’ families. Of course the tsunamis are magnitudes bigger, in terms of lives and costs and geographical spread, than any other disaster I can think of.
I just don’t want to think about it.
My aunt Steph, who was visiting at the time, wrote a terrific letter/article about her experience here and later reflections on in, in which she noted that we are always living with the knowledge of terrible things happening all around us. It just happens that this one socked me in the gut more than anything ever has before. My earlier sense of ‘my life will never be the same again’ has somewhat faded but not disappeared; what I want is to be around others who are feeling the same things I am. At least half of my desire to work on relief stems from the need to be around other people who are dealing with this same trauma. Ah well.
All this tension manifests in odd oblique ways. I’ve been sleeping really actively; having incredible intense dreams. (All the time, but even more so now.) I have almost no appetite and have to remind myself to eat. If I eat more than a small meal I feel sick to my stomach. I have perfected my FreeCell and Hearts strategies but when I try to sit and read—currently Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar—I get jumpy. Incidentally that book is pretty great. Superficially it’s totally about how straight white men are horrible and historically have ruined everything good about black/African woman-positive culture. But as a polemic it’s fun and well written and has some really clever and funny bits. I’m surprised that it hasn’t been made into a movie, it’s so dripping with charm.
Am beginning to see that it might be a good idea to stay in Kandy and work part-time with one of the projects in the East. That way I can stick with some of my routines and familiar world, and start going back to research. I don’t know if it would be fulltime here though. I don’t think I’m good at doing two things at one time, but maybe now is the time to learn. Besides Ross will be here in a few weeks and then I’ll be all distracted again. A plateful, to be sure.
My year in Sri Lanka was supposed to be all about simplifying, living peacefully and quietly, having time for myself… damn! Real life!