May 13, 2009 / Creative Writing
I watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV late one college night when I learned …
August 8, 2005
Before we met in person, Our portrayals had already been exchanging elaborate letters. Our omniscient hostess, Media, facilitated this correspondence. “America, this is Africa; I’m sure you two have crossed paths.” Her soothing voice gently patronized, Dropping names, sharing photos as if they were reminders of common knowledge. Yes, we nod, we’ve heard of each other. A National Geographic special, a few glimpses of children with ballooning bellies, and I had thoroughly known you. And watching one more soap opera piped into your African TV set revealed to you my authentic identity. Media continued to mist our minds with assumption. Soon we could only hear what we expected to hear, filtered through those first impressions. Meanwhile rejoicing—what great friends we are! But our confident mental creations masked the truth: that when we stretched our wispy hands and brushed fingertips mid-Atlantic, our arms encircled then collapsed around an apparition. How can you embrace a picture photocopied a thousand times …haze… an image reflected back and back between two mirrors until the original is lost? But you…you’re not American! Wearing those long skirts (which I wore because I thought that’s what you wore) And you hardly do your hair Don’t even know T.D. Jakes Don’t bathe every day Not even rich No sense of style… Do you need any help, because I could easily train you how to be what you’re supposed to be. You see, I know what American is. And you, do you call yourself African? You’re watching “The Bold and the Beautiful!” No loin cloths, No head hunting, huts You iron your clothes, drink tea, hire maids. African?! Where are the lions roaming your back yard? Where are your communal meals? Your outbursts of traditional music? You don’t even dance in church Some of you speak only English You drive cars, wear wigs of long straight hair, dress in jeans, demand salads and bbq’s, brides in white feeding their husbands cake, wearing suit coats when you preach. Haven’t you seen the Discovery Channel? Someone is exporting a highly exoticized form of you. And the same is happening for me. We are what we thought the other was. Finally face to face, without Media’s smooth assistance, we find neither the image portrayed, nor the original.
Marigrace Becker grew up in Anacortes, Washington. After graduating from Seattle Pacific University in 2003 with a degree in English literature, she spent a year volunteering at a college in Zimbabwe. This experience continues to inform her writing.