One of the very odd things about my being here has far less to do with here as it does with being. I didn’t think much about it before I left, but a necessary identity shift occurred the moment I said my farewells at the Birmingham airport.
Having lived almost all of my natural life (I can’t say much about my unnatural life) in the ‘Ham, I’ve had over twenty years to develop who I am – at least in the sense of what other people expect of me. But here, no one knows a thing about the last 23 years of my life. No one knows my weaknesses. No one knows what I like to do in my spare time. And no one knows a thing about what makes me tick. And as such, no one really knows what to expect of me – or from me. At least, they didn’t when I arrived – now that I’ve spent a good deal of time with a few of them, things do begin to reveal themselves bit by bit.
“But isn’t the beginning of something new always like that?” you may rightly ask. Well, it depends. For me, I’ve never been anywhere that required this level of “starting from scratch.” I went to college in my hometown, so whenever I wished I could always slide back into the crowd of folks who already knew me. Even when I went to London for a semester, a few of the folks there were already good friends of mine. Here, the closest people to me are the ones I spent two weeks of training with in Texas just a month ago. And only one of them came the same time I did. It’s very different when your closest confidants are people you’ve only known for less than a month…
It also raises a lot of questions for me about personality and identity and whatnot that I’m still working out: Is there such a thing as my “true identity,” or is identity just a matter of where we are and who we’re with? Back home I was always the social organizer, but so far here I’m just plugging in to things that are already established (even the pancake party was someone else’s idea) – is that a good thing? Or should I jump right in and take charge? Will I act differently knowing that I’m only here for two years? Or will it just be a matter of time before the Alan you know is walking the streets of Ukarumpa?
Will all these things change me for the better or for the worse? I suppose that’s really the pressing question. “Changes somehow frighten me,” sang good John Denver, “still I have to smile…” And of course some things won’t change at all. I’ll still love to read and write and drink tea on a cold morning (though it’s Papua New Guinean tea instead of Earl Grey), and I’m sure I won’t stop laughing and enjoying life.
But (for me at least) it’s too late at night now to try and think too deeply on the matter. If I do, I’ll wake up in the morning with my notepad full of scribbled nonsense (the type of thing I later turn into a surrealist poem – that, at the very least, I will spare you).