I am sipping "Smart Roast" coffee out of a styrofoam Holiday Inn cup. It is cold because of what must be a massive central air conditioning system in this large and immaculate, but totally common, American hotel near Portland, Oregon.
That's right ladies and gentlemen, I am in the United States of America. A friend of mine is getting married, and to surprise him, his fiance flew me to the US. It was amazing to see the look on my friend's face when he realized who the stranger standing in front of him actually was!
Several days ago, I went to Yosemite National Park. It is a truly incredible place. When you drop into Yosemite valley, the scenery wraps around you like some giant fake screen. The valley is quite developed as far as tourist infrastructure goes. We were there on a day when the park service was testing a handheld PDA/GPS device that talked to you and played videos as you walked toward a waterfall. It was actually a nice experience and didn't really detract from the scenery. We were interviewed about our thoughts afterward by some Australians who said, "how did you get on then?" Luckily, I am used to strange forms of English and understood the question. Maybe other 'Mericans had problems. Visiting such a well-run, highly visited jewel of a park like Yosemite is a huge contrast to the park where I work in Madagascar.
For the first few days, riding in cars was a little scary. There are a lot of them, and they are all fast. Grocery stores are a little overwhelming too. There is so much stimulus. I start to panic when I think about the differences between Malagasy stores and American stores (where there is SO MUCH on display). If I think about the system that exists to support our form of commerce, I begin to feel a sense of awe and terror. Everything here seems so developed and new and fantastic. I only wish the masses could be in a position to realize how truly amazing our country is - how we've manifested our destiny. And then, if the masses could understand the underlying negatives that go along with all the positives of our way of life as well.
I sat down in my seat on a plane in NYC, next to a well-healed woman in her mid forties. She began to complain about the leg room in the plane.
"On Jet Blue, all the seats have plenty of room. I mean, look at this!"
A stewardess walked by. The woman thrust out a stack of magazines.
"Can you take this from me? They're in my way. I already don't have enough room and you stuff these pockets with all this crap."
The stewardess was swallowed in a sea of people busy arranging their things for the cross-country flight. (My third flight after 16 hours in a plane).
"I'll come back, I'm busy," said the stewardess, stating the obvious.
"Well, I'll just put these here." Said my new neighbor, dropping the magazines in the aisle.
The stewardess whipped around.
"Oh that's great, just put them where everyone can trip over them," she said and picked up the stack, and moved toward the front of the plane.
The woman looked at me.
"Can you believe these people? On Jet Blue, they treat you so well."
My first thought was, what is Jet Blue? But I said,"Have you ever been to Africa?"
The woman said no.
"I live there right now. Anytime I want to travel over land I have to take a taxi brousse. A brousse is usually a 25-30 year old small French truck which is crammed with 30 smelly people - children, chickens, huge sacks of rice, luggage. And the roads! Don't get me started about that! I'm just glad to have my own seat."
The woman looked at her knees and was silent for a moment.
"I guess you feel differently when you get out and travel the world."
It's hard not to preach to people now. We ended up being good seat neighbors. And the stewardess won my new friend over by giving her two free small bottles of vodka. They were laughing and smiling at each other by the end of the flight.
I hope that everybody is well. I'll write more soon.