Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Alone Time? You Mean You’re Sick or Something? Take an Advil, It’ll Go Away.

Alex told me the other day that English is the only language he’s heard of with a word for “privacy.”  Other languages have adopted the concept since (in Russia they pronounce the new word “privacy”), but no culture has used the idea frequently enough before American influence to merit its addition to the lexicon. This would suggest to me that it had been assumed throughout history that you relied pretty heavily on family and friends to avoid famine, cold, and giant cave bears, until a bunch of existentially-prone folks emptied out a huge continent by means of infected blankets, steely muskets, and shady contracts, and decided that surviving on one’s own was way cooler and harder core than “relying” on “other people” (whatever pansy crap THAT phrase means), and in that process the lonely new term was born.
            Judging by the ridiculous quantities of barbed-wire fencing and wrought-iron spear tips that ornaments hilltop homes here, I would imagine that some Kampalitans© have become acquainted with the word; however, based on the complete lack of spatial boundaries I’ve encountered otherwise, I’d say those numbers are pretty low.  Indeed, I rarely see people here walking alone, and never sitting or working or playing or doing much of anything else alone, unless they are talking alone and then they are probably crazy and thus outside the purview of mainstream Ugandan society.  Children run in packs along the street, women always have a friend or smaller offshoot-pack of children around when they’re at home during the day, storekeepers work in pods of at least 3 or 12.  People hold your hand for sometimes like three-and-a-half minutes after a handshake ends, and sometimes just grab your hand to lead you somewhere like it’s a date.  It is assumed that you greet everyone in a room when you walk in, and if you act like you’re moving too fast to stop and say “hi” because you’re American and don’t know these rules and anyways really do need to go talk to Samuel because he said it was important, people will act all indignant and totally make fun of you until you get it right.  Not that I’ve experienced that firsthand or anything.  Just, like, hypothetically or whatever.  It was probably Alex.  He would totally do that type of thing.
Anyways, after I got scolded for not saying hi to everyone (shoot, I mean, after Alex got scolded), I made the mistake of telling Walter, one of the Father’s doormen, that I was going to go on a walk alone to clear my head.  He gave me a quizzical look, and I wondered if perhaps he thought this was dangerous?  No no, he said, not dangerous during the day, not at all.  Okay then, good doorman, did you not understand something?  No, I understood, Walter says—which I believe because Walter spends his whole day reading English newspapers from front to back—I did, he says, but I just don’t understand what you mean by needing to go walk alone.  Isn’t Alex your friend?  No no, I say, Alex is my best friend, but he would impede my thought process—sometimes I need to walk alone, you know, independence and freedom and ‘MURICA and all that.  Walter just shook his head and gave me That look, the look that Angela gave me when I shouted hello to her just outside the door to morning mass, the look that says “Lord, Americans really ARE as weird as they look on Jersey Shore...”
I have found in my life that time alone fulfills a function that nothing else will.  The clarity of thought I get in a place without any other human input, the ability to let my mind flit and twist and suckle on sweet flowery neural nectars; I have tried at times but never been able to replicate this comfortably with other folks around (perhaps because they’re unnerved by the whole neural-nectar suckling bit…).  Now, obviously, there are incredibly wonderful and important things to do around others, and the most fulfilling parts of my life have almost exclusively been with fellow humans—not to mention the fact that it is very hard to make the world significantly better alone—but I really do think it’s important to take some small private time most days to settle all of the input a social city life provides.
I seem to be alone in these sentiments here (sorry); especially at the Father’s home we are constantly swarmed—though kids everywhere are staunch opponents of strange grown-up concepts like “stop bothering me”—to the point where I’ve been scheming how to scale the barbed wire and come in a less obvious way.  I won’t, because the festering tears in my flesh would be in themselves pretty obvious and anyways I kinda like the rock-starrish entrance the crowd accords me, but it can still be difficult to deal with sometimes, especially after the maddening rush of the city outside.
To paraphrase Douglass Wood, I think this shall be a good experience, if I survive it.  I would like to build the ability to trust more of one’s thoughts and feelings to others, and the ability to free your mind even in a crowd; I think these things are important if I want to be a good man moving into adulthood.  It would also be a shame to live in this beautiful country without attempting to honor its culture through such simple participation.  Again, it will be hard for me; I’ve never really lived this way before.  Maybe, if you have a little extra energy, you could keep your fingers crossed for me, please?  Even as I type this post stray soccer balls threaten to knock out even my barest socializing abilities, those being primarily manifested through laptop and noggin.  Though it would be easier to always be around other people in a head-trauma coma, I guess… 
I hope everyone reading this is doing well, and I hope for vicariousness’ sake you’re doing it in a calm, quiet, otherwise uninhabited nook of the Private World.

1 comment:

  1. One word: Norwegians. If they don't have a word for privacy, it's because they assume that is the normal state, and only aberrations need be verbalized. Maybe you will have to build yourself a pepper room in Uganda to honor your Scandavian DNA...