Monday, July 17, 2006

Malaria – Part 2

I am forcing myself to get up and walk around. The worst of it has passed, and now it’s the interminable weakness I must get over. My fever has dropped to a comfortable low 37.5, and my eyes are burning less. Beside me is the half empty bottle of tonic water (long touted as a sort of urban legend cure for malaria, as it contains micro amounts of quinine; but really, the amount of stuff you have to drink before you get cured….its not reasonable) and the bottle cap. I collect bottle caps here. I don’t know why, but I’ve always liked them.
This one, this bottle cap with the micro amounts of quinine listed as ingredients, I’ve pounded flat and poked a hole in. I will wear it around my neck, as a sort of reminder and talisman against malaria. It’s a very Ghanaian thing to do, to invoke the very thing that harms you, to wear talismans; a form of “medicine” if you will. Luckily for me, its partially a joke and I’m not relying on it to cure me of any illness.

I’m ravenously hungry but I have no appetite. I put away vast quantities of liquid and am always thirsty, but food brings me no enjoyment. I think to myself “What if this were your mother’s rasam or soup, or mandarin oranges?” – my favourite foods. But in vain, I’m sure even if those things were here right now, I’d be reluctant to eat them.

My battered copy of “Farewell to Arms” , something I bought from a salvage bookseller in Madras, dated September 27th, 1955 by the previous owner is bringing me immense comfort. When I read the book in 11th grade, I thought it tremendously tedious and boring; now it is a marvellous piece of writing, and Hemingway’s brilliant style is obvious in its simplicity and omissions. I feel a little bit of Federico Enrico’s misplaced lack of purpose and stranger-in-a-strange-land feelings. But then, I definitely don’t feel his alcoholism, his badly scripted love story, or the hopelessness of war.

As for this place, I’ve been here now 42 days, 6 weeks. I have fallen utterly in love with the peculiarities and immense honest charm of this place and its people; it is a critical love, some times I just want to scream about certain things, and other times I accept them with a somewhat graceless resignation. What I haven’t encountered is that it has become somehow home; I’m always somewhat tentative to accept things wholly as a portion of myself, and this ‘thing’, this Ghanaian-ness ranks no less. Just as my fluency in the English language and Canadian customs are never to be doubted, in the same vein there is always a lack of familiarity in my brain with these things. I’d much rather eat with my hands, I’d much rather think not in English. In the same way, I have begun to understand how things work around here, and if not totally being comfortable with things, I have figured out a method of faking it well.
But to become an African? I’m told daily (especially if I do something well, or manage to hold up a simple conversation in Gonja, or eat a sizable amount of banku) “You have become a Ghanaian”. It’s a compliment of the highest order, surely. But is it true? Before I arrived here, I used to hate statements like that. ‘There is no such thing as a given mindset from a geographical or ethnocultural locus’ – truly, something such as the “Canadian” mindset or “Japanese” mindset, I argued, did not exist. But being immersed in a culture in this fashion, I have to take back my arguments. Culture provides a frame with which we view things, albeit a dynamic and everchanging frame, but it is always there. Every experience we have in our lives contributes to the uniqueness of our personal mindset, but if your experiences in certain arenas are shared in a widespread fashion with others, than surely, this also affects your group mindset – culture.
The thing is, when these patterns emerge, people are apt to stereotype, to make assumptions. I have noticed that many Ghanaians are not punctual – indeed this is echoed within the culture I have observed and the mindset towards time. But to meet a Ghanaian and assume that he/she will be late? Inaccurate in the most.
Anyway, I digress; the point I’m attempting to make is that I haven’t become a “Ghanaian”. Maybe in small and or large ways it has affected my mindset and personal culture, but it’s a case that I’m simply too old. If I came here when I was younger, before I had solidly integrated certain elements of thought into “Apoorva”, then it would be possible. Also, if I spent many, many years here, its likely I would forget those things and become more and more a “Ghanaian”. I’m in some sort of flux state, where I’m neither an outsider looking in, nor an insider looking out. I’m more of a close friend who visits. Who comes from outside, but is allowed in from time to time.
A person who uses the word ‘our’ a little too freely on both sides. A person for which the word ‘home’ does not indicate any one geographic.
I guess culture shock stems from this fact; people assume you move back from your flux state to become an ‘outsider’ in totality, the second you return. Obviously, you don’t. Things that have become familiar are absent. When I think about it this way, it becomes obvious that this sensation is in no way new to me: it is probably a description of my life. But it will be difficult when I return, I’m starting to see it now. It will be heartbreaking and horrible to walk into a room and have nobody greet you, to become anonymous again in a world of anonymous people. At the same time, the everpresent and utterly tiring unfamiliarity of culture and conduct will be removed, and I don’t have to worry that I’ve offended someone or broken some age old taboo. It will be a course that I know, that I’ve played blindfolded.

On that note, its time to bath (yes, bathroom here is a noun indicating a small tiled room with a drain in which you wash yourself, and bath indicates a verb – to wash. Not bathe – no, bath) the sweat, hallucinations and insect spray off of myself before I got watch football.


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