17 November 2013

17: immigrant

The primary book about the experience of growing up in one culture when your parents are from another talks about how your experience in each place differs depending on whether you look like you match the people around you and whether you feel like you match the people around you.

When I was growing up, I looked like a foreigner in Liberia, and I felt like a foreigner. I was comfortable in my life, but it was very clear that I had a different life than the kids around me: I went to a mission school. I had my own bike. My mom read me North American books. 

Back in the States, even when I first moved to Gone West - honestly, probably even when I moved to Universe City - I felt like a hidden immigrant. I looked like the majority of people around me, but I was different on the inside. I had all these experiences bottled up inside me. I felt like it should have been obvious just to look at me that I had lived these other lives: climbing mountains to visit goat stables in Kibuye Province, riding dalla dallas in Arusha, hanging signs in markets across Monrovia, drinking too-sweet tea under trees in a Tiny Little Town in South Sudan.

Those memories were all there, bubbling up inside me, all the time, but no one could tell by looking at me. It felt very strange to have all of that pass unseen as I drank coffee and bought groceries and ate sweet potato fries. Much of the time, I wasn't even sure how I was supposed to act.

All of those memories are much further away now. Sometimes even I forget that I lived them. Sometimes even I forget that there is more to me than a drone on the bus going to another day of work. I don't have to think about how to interact with the cashier anymore, or what to say when  I meet people.

I miss that feeling that anything could happen at any time. The world feels much more limited now, and I chafe at its smallness, but I can't find a way to escape, because I can't go back to that transient lifestyle of the international ex-patriot. Not alone, I can't, and I can't find someone to go with me.

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