A ramble from Chile
You think of one million things and nothing at all
By Rouzbeh Shirazi
September 14, 1999
This started out as a letter to you, but it blew up. Inspirado por
Imagine -- or perhaps you might understand this all too well -- feeling
the entire range of human emotion in one day. You wake up sobbing, sad
for something inexplicable and incomprehensible, and with a cup of coffee
and a cigarette regain sanity long enough to eat breakfast and ride the
two buses you have to ride everday to get to school.
This is the part of the day you enjoy the most. Teenagers, businessmen,
mothers and grandparents swirl about you, and the venders spring aboard
hawking their wares, each having perfected the art of the 30-second sale.
Nailclippers, ice cream, and band-aids compete for your 100 pesos coin,
which is apparently the official price for merchandise offered in locomotion.
Most people carry on their conversations, indifferent to the mobile bazaar,
but you decided to give your coin to the blind man who loudly played the
flute in your ear for six blocks, then got off.
The city flies by you, and in that time you think of one million things
and nothing at all at the same time, and after forty-five minutes of this
sifting, you restep onto your mental tightrope, for you realize you just
passed your stop. Fumbling for you words, you are able to get off the bus
a block and a half past where you should of, but at least today you were
on the right bus.
Encouraged by your half-assed success, you put a little strut in your
walk to the campus. Here your bravery and charm emerges again, and for
a while you feel loved and important by the random few who have chosen
to accept you and wish to know you, and for a time you regain the understanding
that this has been the most incredible experience of your turbulent life.
You will talk about love, and you will hear the same stories of pain and
pleasure. And then you offer in your Farsi-accented Spanish (which is quite
popluar here) simpler versions of the same anecdotes that have made you
so popular at home, and draw laughter in yet another language.
In these moments, you feel like the perfect chameleon, the universal
human, and that maybe just maybe, this is what you have wanted and searched
desperately for all your hybrid life. Knowing you have transcended culture,
and are accepted for who you are rather than what you are, and being American,
or Iranian, or Iranian-American seem like archaic notions of autodefinition.
Your epiphanies are shorted lived. Time for class.
Your extremes subside long enough to experience the ubiquitous boredom
that a college lecture brings about, and then you step outside again. Seeing
no one familiar, you seat yourself in the center of the courtyard and begin
to feel lonely. You see other North American students walk by, chattering
about the same shit here as they do back there, and it only makes you feel
lonelier. Kids from back home offer familiarity that from time to time
one needs, but the culture of the intellectual suburban elite is exactly
what you were trying to rid yourself of by coming here. Hearing English
alternately soothes and scalds you, and after hearing about how drunk someone
was last night, you decide today you will maintain your distance from the
As you sit and attempt to read something and overhear several conversations,
a Chilean student approaches you for a cigarette and you end up with a
new friend, and in the three hours that you ended up talking to each other,
you relate everything profound and personal that has ever happened to you,
and then end up hysterical laughing because you've found explaining the
word cheesy to Chileans is one of the hardest things in the world to do
in a land where tight jeans and the Backstreet Boys reign supreme. The
two of you decide to travel somewhere this weekend, and you really don't
care where, because what just happened to you was cool as hell.
In the two months that I have been here, I have gained a new consciousness,
lost myself infinitely, and have mangled all my language abilities. I have
dreamed of Iranian food, and have spoken exactly six hours of Farsi since
I have been here, half in conversation with myself, and half in the weekly
half hour conversations I have had with my parents. My words have lost
so much power and now I speak a stark and naked style of English, a hazy
Farsi, and an emerging Spanish. And in this linguistic decay, I have found
a few drinks easily give way to mutual understanding, and that laughter
is the closest humanity will come to a universal language. People are people,
and culture is only part of the background.
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