When I first began living with a Ugandan family, even in an urban setting, I had trouble sitting still. My body was jittery. The ninth-grade drummer in me couldn’t stop tapping on furniture to break the silence. I sat in a dark room for hours at a time, dwelling in the ambiance of human breath and no electricity. I felt relieved when a nearby cinema occasionally blared its poorly-overdubbed, loosely-translated Nigerian films.
After a few weeks, I became accustomed to the silence. I didn’t feel the need to ask a question if everybody in the room didn’t speak for twenty minutes. I sat. I thought. I waited hours for dinner to be served, not moving more than a few inches.
As the months elapsed, my body felt better. I was eating appropriate amounts of the right kinds of food at the right hours of the day. I didn’t feel rushed. I wasn’t overstimulated. My brain was moving at a humane pace. I felt whole and collected.
Returning to the US about a week before Christmas nearly gave me a heart attack. Television had a way of forcing me deep into my chair, unable to resurrect my body from the compelling trance. (I would later learn this to be an actual marketing technique known by some as “jolts.”)
Lights after sundown. Movement. Noises. I was spinning eternally, and it was so disorienting. So numbing.
A few months later, I scraped together my airfare and returned to Uganda, this time to Suzan’s village of Atura. There is no reason to pass through Atura unless you are going there. It is functionality its own.
Weeks went by, and I did little more than wake up, wait to eat, eat, talk to people around me, eat again, and sleep. I constantly forgot what day of the week it was. I didn’t know what was going on in the news.
My visa eventually ran out, and I returned to the US. I was so calm. So fully adjusted to the human experience, for the first time. I felt….right.
But America ate me alive again, just like it does to everyone else. I was writing papers until 4 AM, instead of sleeping when the sun when down. I was eating junk food because it was available and cheap. I was watching moving pictures all the time, no matter where I went. I felt like I was on speed. I became self-conscious, depressed, anxious, angry, confused, lost.
This is why mental illness is most prevalent in the United States (far above any other nation, developed or undeveloped, according to World Health Organization). The type of neoliberal capitalistic advertising we live in, which uniquely belongs to our nation, transforms our internal being. Our environment markets to our conscience, placing its stamp on our very identities. Its appeal is deeply personal, with terrifying social implications.
I really hesitate to make comments on “current events,” because I don’t enjoy accepting the pseudo-reality of mainstream news dictating what qualifies as important, but the debate around Sandy Hook is worthy of some acknowledgment (and mourning, of course).
I remember when the incident at Columbine occurred. My child mind could not fathom the reality of such violence. Despite the shock, I continued to play Duke Nukem, watch war movies, and see commercials and porn (both willingly and not). Eventually, the reports of school violence stopped loosing their allure. Rumors of bomb threats at school got us high-schoolers excited that we might get to go home early.
Even in my adult life, I thought of Uganda when I thought of guns. I thought of the untrained guards at rich folks’ houses who stay awake all night with AK-47s to defend the compound from thieves. I thought of the UPDF and LRA ransacking villages with rifles, taking whoever they desired. Guns were an abstraction to me, still.
Until handgun bullets whipped through my neighbor’s walls in Harrisburg. That’s when I realized that over 10,000 humans are shot to death each year in my country. That is much more than the few dozen killed the same way each year in other “developed” nations.
I am not playing into the argument over whether either mental health funding should be increased OR gun laws should be more strict (Statistically, one Sandy-Hook-size gun violence incident occurs daily in the US). Obviously more holistic answers are needed and more loving rebellion must take root to make it happen – the cultivation of a society and culture which affirms the human within, rather than transforming it into a consumer of greed, aggression, hate, and oversexualized emotion. We must reclaim our natural and inherent humanity from this complacent trance in which we find ourselves glued to the screen and lured into our oppressors’ image.
….not that saying “here are your dysfunctional meds and cheap weapons” makes it any easier….