My overgrown toe-nail scratched up against metal. I remembered I was floating in an angular pool about three bathtubs big at the bow of the Central Maritime Hotel, which itself was floating in Dili Harbor. This was an unexpected day, of self-referential pop videos on MTVAsia, sparkling white sheets, hot water and excessive air-conditioners. On the tails of four months of intermittent electricity, emaciated dogs, and cocky roosters this pool was quite amusing. The pool smell, the wavy mesh pattern of sunlight on the blue bottom, I clung to the side, recoiled for a backstroke racing start.
Floating belly up, alternately letting the sun scorch my belly and the water cool it, I could not get the 20 year John Walker, out of my mind. Fellow American who forced himself outside of his “open-minded” uppermiddleclass life, testing the world. Figuring out what it meant to be American, unable to deal with it, masochistically allowing himself to be brain-washed by the Taliban. Now as I floated in a hotel pool on a boat in East Timor, he sat in a US warship, bearded, shackled, awaiting trail for treason. And he is younger than me.
I myself could not avoid the eerie feeling of “joining” when I began working for UN Agency. As if I had some how finally given in to the inevitable. Coming here, I wanted to be an observer, not necessary “independent” or “objective” but I did want to maintain somekind of mental autonomy. And showing up the same time everyday, repeating the same development-speak and office email etiquette, I often feel like I’ve lost all personal direction or motivation. The question that troubles me most here is what am I doing here?
As scary as it sounds, I understand this kid John Walker. He felt alienated and apart from the materialism, the sick power of individualism over community, and the smothering weight of racial and class privilege. What happens when you try to express how excluded and outside of everything you feel you have become? You’re either ignored or told you are too extreme. And for some emotional people like John Walker, the only way out is to find a group to join. One that defines itself negatively, that works between the cracks.
If only John Walker had read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and not the Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ellison’s power is his ability to find a sympathetic string, one that sounds the anger and hatred of another string, but incorporates it into a liveable human drone. Ellison could incorporate and articulate the rage and violence that he and others felt, not discounting it, but counter-balancing it with a love. Love is equaled by hate, it is a constant discipline to maintain their equality.