The Dreams of Words
I have now been here for a decade or so. And I do now look back to those days where the dream infected me. My wonderful Peace Corps teacher Thomas Joseph O’Brien did the teaching so well, and so he ushered me into the bubble of the ambition that urges you on and on and makes a fool of you and nudges you to run for your life.
In those days, the only truth that existed was that it truly is always greener on the other side of the fence. I brooded over the reality of those quarters on the other side of the waters and the waves. It looked enchanting. Or so was I told in the span of the years of that era. On TV in the cafe, I ogled at the temptations till the early hours, then trudged along the dark path to go home. The dream! O how bewildering and how amazingly tempting! But the dust under my feet was so dry, and the heat was unbearable, and the helping-hand so short.
I have been now here for a decade or so. And I do certainly look back at those beautiful moments of suffering, and I see therein an abundance of well-being. So poverty is not an abhorrently miserable thing, like it is portrayed. I do agree of course it is a despicable thing to happen to any of us. It is so beautiful to live within what one has instead of with a pumped-up disillusioning dream. The mirage of propaganda makes you think the only place one should be is inside that disillusioning dream. And so you enthuse yourself with the far-away imagined source of redemption. You feel it, you breathe it, you cherish it, you dream it. It is the only truth, the only way, the only evidence, the only path for the pursuit of happiness. The child thought of the plane, him who was raised in a region without a car, a bus, or a train, him who grew in the midst of family confusions, who was, as a consequence, allied with the falsity of a distant redeemer. In the fields, the local apples smelled unfit of the grandeur of a dreamer. The locals were ignorant and uncivilized, the land unholy and unworthy of the presence of a spirit hanging between his being and the imagined identity he would seek.
Back then, the dreamed journey seemed so sweet. The trip to the airport, the takeoff and the landing, the welcoming smiles of family and aliens, the looks of success with the silly dream. Everything in the dream was worthier, more beautiful and more deserving. Every moment was occupied with the chimera of lands so even, life so tranquil, easy pleasures, liberty so easily granted, and stress-free living. I could not have been more wrong.
Back then, I bonded with the dream. In high-school, the coincidence occurred that I be dispatched to another high-school, to live in a dormitory, to get even closer to the dream. I was told of my smartness with the language. I hardly knew what I was getting myself into. Back then, language was mere words, that meant something. But those words proved to be not mere utterances. They later on in life showed their true colors and proved themselves to be vehicles of an entire world of even deeper confusions, a whole new galaxy of star-spangled fields, planets, and meteors. What a launch into common perceptions and an entire arsenal of unseemly realizations, in which I certainly was caught unawares. Therein lies the power of the words you learned without knowing their venom back then, their benign charge at times and their malign one at others. You fall in love with them, like slipping into an algae-contaminated pond. So enmeshed into their fabric you become. You love them and they become part of you. But alas the candid loving relationship with many of them gives eventually away. The ease of use and the freedom to flirt with them turns into a rigidity unfit of a free man. The distance between you and them widens. The use becomes studied and calculated. The loving kindness transforms into a state of watched recklessness and nonchalance. The self-awareness gives in to a state of mind where your early peace with your surroundings converts into a deeper sense of alertness and caution, like a move from the naively domestic into the unforgiving wild.
It has now been a decade or so since the alienation, after a long dreamful journey with the Western word in general and the English word in particular since high-school, my American teacher, the boarding-school, the college years as a student of Western culture and Language, to which I devoted my entire being as a response to the stimulus of the dream with which I was bugged, and the maladroitly profound infatuation with the ways of the West and the dream. The dream came to me, urged me, coaxed me, cajoled me, nudged me when not attentive, and swept me off my feet. I pondered it unceasingly, and embraced it as my savior. To me that shadowy dream meant access to emancipation and delivery of the soul. It meant the journey through the very essence of freedom. It meant release from the scourge of poverty and the opportunity to seek change.
In those days, under a candlelight that many a time ate through my school notebooks in a dozing moment, for lack of electricity, I prayed the word to give in to me. Words were words. They did not fight or resist. They just sat there and allowed you to be enamored with them or to be averse to them when they fail to enter your head. Money was scarce on the eve of many a night. And so was the ability to buy candles. So at night, I walked the sides of the main street of Missour to avail myself of the streetlight, to memorize my English verbs, read a short story by Edgar Alan Poe, or a sonnet by Shakespeare. The dream put in my head partly by my dear teacher Thomas Joseph O’brien, the Peace Corps volunteer back then in Missour certainly did its work. It proved indeed to be a bug. It is something planted in your head, so that you see everything through the prism of this alien thing that has invaded your brain. People love dreams. And when they disappointedly seek something, they shake their head in despair, fling their fingers sideways, and moaningly call it a dream.
I first landed in the US in 1999. I am now half-way through 2013. But I am still an alien. It is written on my Identification cards, till further notice. In the meantime, I revert to the appeal of that origin of birth, where words were as common as people who use them. I thought of the numerous instances where the same word is approached differently. Yonder, one would say, as a matter of insult, to somebody else: “I am going to kill your mother” and nothing happens. The authorities do not get involved, nor does civil society or NGOs. The justification is that the word is as impotent as the one who utters it. Oh yes it is a truly scary and immensely powerful word. In here, words are taken very seriously. In US law, that is a threat that requires preemptive action, in the name of public safety.
Back then, I did not hear the common words of human rights, empowerment, institutions, war, conflict resolution, or religious factions. Or I might have, but their denotations were so much a fixed reality with no connotation or consequence. Words in essence are empty containers, shells if you will. They tell you nothing substantial unless you have been inside them.
The contagion of the dream manifested its intricate infrastructure of exits connected to a superhighway where every move and every step is measured, absolutely unlike the free movement through the open terrain of yore.