from a snowy walk in the Rattlesnake, Missoula, Montana

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Silence is deafening

  I was watching a TED talk the other day by novelist Abha Aawesar, a New Yorker recounting the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. She talked about her daily journey hauling water up 7 flights of stairs while holding a flashlight between her teeth because of the power outages, the stores being out of bread, water and other necessities, the struggles of getting a shower and charging electronics. To paraphrase, she says the self as we knew it—was no more. She referring to the ever connected age of technology we live in. I instantly started reflecting my little journey I have be on during the past 20 something months. 

When I was in the process of packing up my piles of clothes and shoes, consolidating the things that “I can’t live without” into two 50 pound suitcases for my 27 month Peace Corps service several realizations dawned on me. I was having anxiety induced meltdowns over which pair of my beloved shoes I should bring or which shirts I wanted to bring with me—even though it was a shirt from the back of my closet I hadn't worn in months. These silly material things were making me cry, snap at my mother who was trying to help me pack and make me question can I do this? This being the Peace Corps. The thought of giving away (or packing away) these silly things that had brought me so much fleeting joy was bring me to tears. 

After taking time to stop packing and reflect on what is important, I decided that I needed to make some changes. I needed to simplify my life. Hitting up the shoe closet at Van Maur brought me great joy or buying a fancy cheese and new kitchen gadget at the grocery store and making a fabulous dish for my friends brought me great joy. Thats not to say that I didn’t find immense joy and satisfaction from my job….but that wasn't enough. You can’t physically carry with you a clients success. You physically carry with you your new Italian leather boots. 

I in the effort to simplify my life, I decided that I wanted to be internet free for the duration of my service—good bye email, Facebook and google. This also meant parting with my smartphone…My loved ones were not as thrilled with this idea. I decided to keep internet and my smartphone, but consciously work on limiting my access to it (via self control).  

Dawesar says our life story needs two dimensions of time—direct experience/ immersive experience (the moment) and our life span—the narration. She claims that our self and our lives stories are being changed in our ever technological world. We are living longer, that dimension of time is lengthening, but our immersive experiences are shrinking. 

As I arrived at my site and was unpacking my belongings. A sudden realization dawned on me. It was quiet. My house was quiet and I was alone with my thoughts. It was scary. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. A restless feeling started to spread over me—what am I supposed to do when I am done unpacking? The house that I live in doesn’t have electricity. My phone and computer only has so much battery life…I can’t have the constant noise in the background that I unknowingly had become accustom to. No amount of preparing could help me deal with the flow of emotions that was washing over me. 
Technology perpetuates the idea that those who have it—so must  everyone else. Imagine, going to a friends house and if their is a lull in conversation not being able to check your phone or surf the web to fill the silence. Or being on a bus, not wanting to strike up a conversation with strangers so you turn to your Huffington Post app. Technology perpetrated every aspect of my life, so many of which I was blissfully unaware of until I was sitting in a house that was growing quickly darker and my phones battery was dead. 

I was suddenly faced with my own revelation. Myself, as I knew it was no more. I was suddenly being forced to live in the moment, live with my thoughts, live with deafening silence, live away from a screen. As my time in Lehututu draws to a close, I am faced with many decisions about my future. How do I live in both worlds? Being truly present in the moment whether in Botswana or in America. 

Dawesars’ Grandmother taught her that things happen in the time we take, it can’t be fought. Reflecting on that unspeakably true statement, I have grown more in the ebb and flow of life and time in the Kgalagadi more than I have in my time in America. Or Is should say, I have grown in a different way than in America. Technology threatens the present. But we have the choice. We can regain our “self” the moments that make our life story. Moments that combine the past, present and future. Every cold winters night that I make myself cocoa I am instantly transported back to my Grandparents kitchen with my PaPa as he looks at me with a twinkle in his eye saying “making cocoa is very scientific.” I can’t help but make it the exact same way as he taught me and wishing he was there to eat marshmallows with me while waiting for it to heat up. I am not sure if I would have the same experience making cocoa in my American kitchen because I wouldn’t have embraced the silence and my thoughts. I wouldn’t be able to experience those memories completely.