A few months ago I was engaging in such intellectual activities as perusing cat videos when I discovered a quite vast selection of blog posts written by twenty-somethings that catalogued a trip to El Salvador, or Bangladesh, or Pakistan, or some other country that usually invokes a sigh of pity from white Americans, blowing so hard to create ripples in our great flag, and a hundred banners advertising fast food. What sets these vacations apart from the rest is that they are not just trips, but trips for self-discovery and oh, am I jealous. I picture myself on the back of a rickety motorcycle, riding through the dusty streets of Dubai, and slamming into some jaw-dropping realization, the content of which is still hazy, but the jaw-dropping aspect will certainly be there. Perhaps I’ll play soccer with the village children at sunset, tossing around a ball as the universe tosses me answers to every existential crisis I’ve ever had. As I scroll through my fifteenth blog post I think to myself: these are the stories I’ll carry back to my white family and recite over a fat and bloated thanksgiving dinner, these are the facebook profile pictures that will earn me hundreds of likes and eternal fulfillment, these are the tribal tattoos I’ll show off after one too many cosmos at my high school reunion
These are people’s homes; their brick and mortar homes, their cracked and crumbling homes, their green and bursting homes. Where they stumbled as mothers and daughters, had their first kiss in thick rain, went to muddy funerals, but for us- they’re pit stops on the road to self discovery, somewhere between life coaches and gluten-free diets. These lost then found stories sound familiar; trading Western fruit like poisoned blankets for tools to better ourselves. I think I’ve heard this one already in my history class.
Even armed with good intentions as I am, I worry that I am overstepping my boundaries by overstepping my borders. I am not their white knight, they don’t need a white knight, sometimes knights are brown and beige and black as night. My red mouth is not a vessel for prophecies, my blue eyes not vehicles for final judgment, my white skin not papyrus on which scripture is inscribed. Red, white, and blue should not be the only colors in a crayon box, nor western hemisphere coordinates the only points in a connect the dot drawing. Other cultures are not stepping stones on my noble ascent to nirvana, charity cases stacked to make stairs. No. When my feet travel foreign soil I will let the air swallow me whole and spit me out where it wishes. I will step lightly on this holy ground, made sacred by the loss, and love, and loneliness that every human being spills into the dirt beneath their soles. I do not need to raise my voice when there are so many things to hear.
Although I make these claims, pedestals are difficult to climb down from, much easier to fall off of. I make promises I can’t keep in the hopes that speaking them will lend weight to the words until they are heavy enough to sit solid in my hand. I can promise, though, that I will carry this poem in my pocket whenever I travel across streets or across oceans, and I can promise that I won’t write a shitty blog about it.