Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What We Carry with Us When We Travel

I was able to read Black Rainbow for Dr. Ellis's Literature of the City class Sophomore year, and although it certainly had an impact on me, reading it a second time has illuminated many aspects of travel that I came across during my year abroad in Belgium, which I did not notice during my first time reading it. Thus, my experience abroad really proved valuable whilst re-exploring this novel.

Moments of homesickness while abroad certainly did occur, although I can honestly say that I have more positive memories than negative ones.  Right before Thanksgiving, I began to miss my family more than ever and it had a profound impact on the way I acted around the internationals and other Americans. I withdrew myself a bit from the world around me and began to spend more time on the phone with my family and friends.  Unfortunately, I was not mentally present for this important bonding experience with the other people in my house. However, I couldn't help it. It was incredibly difficult to be situated in a country across the ocean that did not celebrate Thanksgiving, and it was even more difficult to be without family there, at a time when family is so crucial to the experience of the holiday.  I remember calling my family in tears, explaining how much I missed them and how it was going to be so hard to make it another month without being around my home. I never thought that I would act like this while abroad, considering the fact that I love traveling and change so much, but at this moment, I could not help but cling to my roots as if they were being ripped away from me. 
I experienced similar feelings towards the end of second semester.  Around May, my companions and I grew weary of travel and began to talk about home more and more. In addition, we were being bombarded with anti- American sentiments as never before. As a sort of therapy, I began to print pictures of my family and friends to post on my wall.  I also began to speak about my hometown more, and I think that people began to grow tired of hearing about it. Oftentimes, The other Americans and I would gather in the kitchen or somebody's bedroom to discuss our homesickness and difficulties living with people of all nations that sometimes misunderstood us completely. These spontaneous discussion sessions pulled me through the tough times, and reminiscing about my hometown, family, and friends enabled me to move forward when I missed home desperately ( luckily, those moments never lasted too long).  

The truth is that no matter where I traveled last year, I took my home and memories with me. All of the internationals in my unit knew about my family and hometown, regardless of whether they wanted to hear it or not.  It is a part of who I am and that will never change, even if I am living in a completely different country. Of course I assimilated into the European lifestyle as best I could, but there were certainly times where I was truly unsuccessful at blending in there.  I think that my history was written on my face, and that it surfaced during the toughest of times.  It's strange how that happens, but it is essential to any travel experience.  We must try our best to explore new cultures to the fullest, but without a doubt, it is necessary to carry our past with us wherever we go.

In Black Rainbow, the Free Citizen consistently tries to recount his history as the Tribunal tries to keep it concealed. In the beginning of the novel, he cannot remember his history and quickly forgets anything that has happened to him, recent or not. His wife, after she is taken, is replaced, and it seems as though he never even had her in his life. As he travels from place to place in order to recover his family, he even makes love with another woman, which he probably would not have done if he had remembered his loving wife. The Tribunal completely disables his memories and history, which are completely necessary in not only travel, but life in general. 

The young kids enable him to re-evaluate the purpose of his mission, and they also aid him in remembering his past.  These kids remind him that the Tribunal is dysfunctional, and that it serves no purpose but to torture people in exchange for the illusion of freedom from one's past.  After he meets these kids and partakes in the mission to find his family, he begins to slowly unravel himself from the web of lies in which he is caught.  His gradual realizations are, in my opinion, what make the book so enthralling.  For example, as he is searching the Puzzle Palace for his family, he says, "Though the Tribunal has banned history, we are what we remember, the precious rope stretching across the abyss of all that we have forgotten" ( Wendt 178).  This realization comes as he sees his wife for the first time since she was stolen from him by the Tribunal.  This statement is so incredibly powerful, in that it encapsulates the inherent nature of human beings.  We cannot have our history taken away from us, no matter where we are at any given moment.  Our memories prevent any history from completely disappearing.  Thus, physical attributes of history may fade away, but our memories keep history alive.  
As he rekindles his relationship with his wife, he again comes to the realization that his life is not complete without his history.  He says, " It didn't matter anymore that my family had been 'created' especially by the Tribunal for my search.  They were my wife and children and our love for another had not been a fabrication" ( Wendt 192). His memories, and more importantly, truth, overpower the Tribunal's warped tactics, showing the power of memory, especially in challenging times. 

Previous to the finding of his family, The housekeeper begins to help the Free Citizen regain elements of his history, although he is still certainly jaded at this point in the novel.  As the housekeeper recounts her history, she grows nervous, as the Tribunal is watching their every move. She nervously asks, "Should I recount my history?" ( Wendt 110).  The Free Citizen replies, "Why not?" (110).  This is one of the first moments where he gets carried away and forgets the restrictive rules of the Tribunal.  They exchange stories with one another, without worrying about surveillance laws.  Stories are also essential to history, which is emphasized in many parts of the novel.  

Thus, our history and memories are invaluable in this life, especially when traveling, where one can easily lose their sense of identity.  Oddly enough, as we are thrown amongst an array of histories, we are able to find our own.  When I was abroad, I was able to recount my history and share with those around me, which I had never been able to do prior to this experience.  Without being able to remember and share this, especially when I was homesick, I would not have survived.  My time abroad was the best and most important time of my life, so I will reference it quite often.  However, the most important element of my experience was finding my own identity, which could not have occurred without my history as a frame of reference. Reading Black Rainbow post- abroad has allowed me to identify with the main character to a fuller extent, and for that, I am appreciative. It is interesting how experience shapes literature and vice versa.

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