In 2002 I studied abroad in Mali, West Africa. Mali is decidedly fourth world to Bangladesh's 3rd world status. To help me process my reverse culture shock and to share my experience, I wrote and performed a series of monologues that chronicled my voyage from conception to return. (And because Lawrence is that cool, one very generous theatre professor helped me with my project and I even earned credit for it!) Below is a monologue from that performance that touched on the same theme: Stuff.
The night I left the whole neighborhood came to see me off. Little Awa kept crying my name as we drove away: Masaran, Masaran, Masaran. Kind of like the game we played where we would chase each other calling out each other’s name. But this time, I wasn’t calling back. I held my tears back the entire ride to the airport, holding my mother and my host sister’s hands. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a hard time leaving…
Coming home. Wow. Now there’s a process. Flight cancellations and all the usual holiday airport fun. Didn’t bother me though. I was in no hurry. I was still in Malian existence. I left at night, December 30th and got back mid-day January 1st. I can’t imagine that I smelled so good that point, although I had tried to take a bucket bath in the airport restroom sink. I’m sure it helped… a little. (okay well, at least I thought I was cleaner.) When I got home I wanted to beeline strait to my beloved shower and it’s legendary hot water. Mom however, wanted to stop by the grocery store because “there was no food in the house”
That statement froze me solid. No food in the house. No food. None. Was this possible? I had just come from a house where food purchased was consumed daily and afterwards there truly was no food. I remember waking up hungry in the night and just laying there because midnight snacks was a revolution that hadn’t hit Bamako. How could there ever be no food in my American home. The entirety of the United States has more food than its gluttonous population could ever consume, try as we might. When I arrived home I found the fridge and pantry overflowing with good things to eat. Apparently Mom’s definition of “no food” that night was no lettuce, for which she was in the mood.
Funny how so many familiar objects were new again. It’s quite a visual shock to move from no trinkets to countertops overflowing with picture frames and candles and statues galore. I have so much stuff! I couldn’t believe it. All this STUFF for just one person. Who gave me the right to hoard all this STUFF? The next day my brother called and asked me if I wanted to go to the mall. I said, ‘Are you crazy? I have the mall in my closet! Who could possibly want to buy more stuff?’ I was disgusted with myself. I went from 2 pair of pants, a skirt and 6 T-shirts for 4 months to the Mall of America in my closet. I emptied out my drawers onto my bed and I tried on ever article of clothing. I must be crazy to need all this. I tried it on, and looked in the mirror and thought about when I’d wear it, how often, if it were worthy of occupying space in my dresser. I wanted to throw it all out. But after I tried it all on, and threw it about my room, I folded it all back up and put it back into its well-known places. My society required the owning of STUFF. To always have something appropriate to wear, to be chic, stylish, trendy.
To free myself from STUFF, I walk my dog around the block I stare up at the massive brick constructions with solid doors forever closed to strangers. What would happen if I just walked up, ringed the doorbell and said hi and did that everyday until I knew the entire neighborhood? Those Big Doors are foreboding in comparison to open courtyards filled with laughter.