Sunday, January 14, 2007

Manufacture the Stars

by Holly
Philip met up with us in London for a New Year’s celebration. The night was, for me, a confluence of Ugandan life and the UK. I loved it and it made me laugh to have them both in the same place. The oddness of both get more pronounced. Classically Ugandan, Philip, we thought, would spend the day with us after we met up at King’s Cross but instead he’d found a fellow Ugandan and had other plans. He’d join us later—which he did along with three unexpected others who of course were related to or knew someone that we knew in Uganda. I love it that in Uganda everyone is welcome and invited everywhere and that plans or food or space are never limiting factors. For westerners we tend to think about the composition of a social gathering and plan it to avoid awkward combinations. That just wouldn’t happen here. We had a great evening with delicious cuisine prepared by my brother who became quite the chef since coming to the UK. We shared highlights of 2006 around the table with Tina, Travis, and friends Stephie and Tom.
Of course Philip came so late that he missed the meal but no one minded or apologized. When we told him to come for dinner he said, “Oh, I’ve learned that when you come to dinner here you’re supposed to bring your own drinks like a bottle of wine.” He told us this as if we would think that it was as socially bizarre as he did. I remember when we first got here and were surprised that no guest ever brought anything to share.

We watched the fireworks and had the count down into the New Year from Big Ben and the London Eye. It was an epoch moment to stand with two of my favorite men—my brother and my husband, to hold my sister’s hand and to share that experience with a friend from Uganda and see it through his eyes. Unlike all the Brits around us Philip couldn’t contain his awe and excitement—he cheered at the top of his lungs after each burst of fireworks. “Man has learned to manufacture the stars! God bless the world!” We all found ourselves cheering along with him and the experience was more full.
Re-entering the western world I was surprised by obvious things. First, there are a whole lot of white people. I haven’t seen so many in one place for a long time. I’ve kind of gotten used to being a minority. In England my skin didn’t feel so novel. On New Year’s Eve for a few minutes with Philip and company I was once again the token white.

In the UK there are very particular ways of doing everything--what utensils or dishes or glasses should be used in what context, and when you should or shouldn’t say certain things. It’s a little bit overwhelming when it seems like everyone already knows all the rules to the game and you’re expected to play without being privy to the instructions.

Another thing I noticed is that there is a lot of trash. Not in the street, like in Uganda—but just in general we make a lot more of it. Probably because we package everything and consume a lot. We westerners really like packages. You should note it next time you buy something—I’m sure it’s in a package—whatever it is. Many of them are so unnecessary but it makes it feel cleaner and somehow more special. With food it cuts down on preparation and clean up time a lot but it also makes the food seem further away and less real. I feel close to my food in Uganda. It’s very real and raw. All of life is real and raw and I like it like that. It makes me feel more real too.

There isn’t any dust in the UK, well maybe there is but it’s not red and it is probably from old books or dead skin cells and it isn’t from the earth. Although I enjoyed cooking in an immaculate kitchen with marble countertops and walking all day shopping on London streets without needing to wash my feet I have to say I have a new appreciation for dirt. Sometimes it gets annoying but it makes me feel closer to the earth, to my origin—not separated by layers of pavement and carpet and tile and marble. Life is dirty. Uganda gives me the freedom to acknowledge my dirt, because we’re all human beings walking down the same dusty streets together.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Holly and Ben,

It was so good to ring in 2007 with you both...those pictures just make me smile!

Come back soon!

Steffi xx