Sunday, May 29, 2005

Back from Mozambique

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I’m not sure if I expected to come back from Mozambique irreparably altered. I’m not sure if I was expecting some sort of ravishing epiphany that would suddenly convert the phenomenal world into a comforting, ordered security blanket that I could carry with me and drool onto whenever the crankiness of Newton’s stupid irreducibilities grind down my nerves.

I thought it had happened, and is still happening. Now I think it’s just the Larium I’m taking to fend off malaria.

A car, moving at 35 miles per hour, does not make a soft impact into a brick wall. It crashes and the impact will whiplash your neck against your back. However, while you’re still going 35 miles per, you’re thinking, “Hey this is slow – why can’t we speed up?”

But maybe that’s just these dratted nerves chattering at me again. I’m not sure how to deal with it. Quit my job? Walk away from it all? If so, to do what? Who am I kidding. That’s not an option. I remember when I used to wonder what it would be like to be an interpreter / interrogator for the military or a translator of the Bible into the language of geographically isolated indigenous tribes. I wanted to sleep on a hammock. I wanted to travel the sky islands. I wanted to talk about life and death and the meaning of that feeling you sometimes get that feels like your chest cavity is opened up and cold, pure air washes in.

Now all I want is a power that is coercive and that rankles the nostrils with its acrylic toxicity. Maybe it would assuage this horrible anxiety.

Larium Dream #1: I’m lying on a blanket. The walls are sweating. My foot looks like a spongy, moldy orange. I wake up with tears streaming down my cheeks but no recall of crying.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Mozambique was the way you’d be walking along, and then you’d happen upon a smell. You’d have no idea what it was. The most prevalent was the one that was icky and vinegary. But, there were also the rotten banana smells. Before Mozambique, I thought of banana as being a rich, almost cakelike smell. Nope. No more. Now it seems inutterably foul. But maybe that’s just the way I’m feeling about everything these days.

It is not at all unappealing to me to think of getting a large, harsh tattoo that covers my entire wingspan – shoulder-to-shoulder. Would I imitate biker types and get something with big sharp beaks, claws, replete with blood rivulets channeling from one sinew to another? I like absurd contrasts. I like disjunctive ruptures. I like the idea of a series of Hello Kitty smiley cats plastered nicely over a network of scars (electrical cords?). I would not make much of a torturer. I don’t have the patience. I’m not adept at dehumanizing others.

And yet, in Mozambique, if I were to announce to someone that I had been a torturer (or an interrogator) in another lifetime (say, 3 years ago), they’d say, But OF COURSE. You’re just another Zim flea who will jump on the back of the fattest rat around – any old RENAMO rat backed by apartheid political evil. In fact, your pale skin and ugly ice gray eyes make you untrustworthy. Everyone in Africa suspects that whites make the best torturers. It’s easier to believe that someone is born with certain proclivities. It’s easier than accepting that monsters are made, not created.

Larium Dream #2: I’m speaking Swahili. I’m angry because I’ve forgotten how to say “you’re welcome.” I can maintain a conversation, but I can’t include any of the niceties of civilized talk because I’ve forgotten how to respond to someone who expresses thanks.

No one speaks Swahili in the Zimbabwe border area along the Beira corridor where I was. They speak Portuguese. I'm comfortable with that, although I butcher it with Spanish, and often stop trying to express myself. I simply listen. Mozambican Portuguese is easier to understand than Brazilian.

The smell of rancid bananas has returned. I'm feeling nauseous again. Ever since I returned from Mozambique, I’m wondering if I was made into a monster. (I don’t like the idea that I was born this way.) What makes me a monster? It’s not anything I have said or done. It’s how I feel. It’s all about my inner landscape. It’s a lacy frippery edged with clots and knots and a shallow, hot respiration I’d call panting if I could slow down enough to identify my own processes.

But don’t those bruises look lovely against pale, pale skin?

While in Beira (once considered the Rio de Janeiro of Africa), we decided to go to a movie. For the equivalent of 18 cents, I bought a huge bucket of caramelized popcorn and sat between an American and a Mozambican, to watch an American horror movie, Darkness Falls, subtitled in Portuguese. The sound was terrible, and it was impossible to distinguish actual words. The subtitles were good. The premise was the Tooth Fairy had gone mad and was devouring children who lost their teeth. It was a bit more complicated than that, but not much.

After an hour of watching a scary witch swoop down and snatch up all who happened to catch a glimpse of her hideous visage, one started to see the movie as an extended enactment of a deep fear of female sexuality. I wish I could be that scary to someone other than myself. I thought that perhaps I would not feel this ghastly anxiety ever again. It is the same nightmare I lived with through my 20s but more in my 30s. Life feels truly not worth living. Anxiety is ugly. Which is worse? Anxiety or malaria? I can suddenly relate to all the guys who came back from Afghanistan and promptly went psychotic. Life with Larium is not fun.

Larium Dream #3: I’m actually awake.

Is the tattoo really on me, or is it some sort of shadow in the mirror? Did I get tattoos in the shape of bruises? Why? Who would possibly want a permanent bruise? Or, for that matter, varicose veins? I had a long conversation with the proprietor of Personal Visions, a tattoo parlor, about the possibility of having a) spiderveins (varicose) tattooed onto my legs; or) fishnet hose. He recommended against it. That very afternoon in the Chicago O'Hare airport I saw a woman with an elaborate tattoo over one ankle. That was not, in itself, surprising. She was in her 50s, wearing a business suit and semi-opaque hosiery. You could see the tattoo through the hose. She was wearing LifeStride low-heeled pumps. Her hair was permed and short. She was with a guy wearing cowboy boots and a bolo tie. They were on their way to Oklahoma City. Mind-blowingly strange, wasn’t it???

The soles of my feet were still blistered from hot Mozambican rock. They have not yet fully healed. If I have leishmaniasis, how will I be able to tell? Is the anxiety due to sand fly parasites? Anti-malarial medication? Or, is something truly wrong with me? My situation? A dark paranoia is tufting along the hairs of my arms. It feels like fog.

And here I am, the anxiety not assuaged in the least, wondering if I have what it takes to continue taking Larium for its prescribed course. I’m back in the same old ugly place I inhabited for two decades. I wish I could starve myself to death, but I lack the discipline. All such goofy thinking does is make me even more ravenous.

I’m starting to think that “maturation” is nothing more than a shift in one’s chemicals.

I’m anxious – as anxious as past years – and suddenly I’m an angst-ridden teenager, trapped in a 45-year-old’s body. It’s embarrassing, or at least would be, if I weren’t having to live through this. Yuk. I wish someone would yank my feeding tube.

Kiss, kiss. Bye, bye.
It’s malaria in the blink of an eye.