Minor incident in the history of intercultural exchange

I slept fitfully as the vacuum cleaner went back and forth above my head. Doors slammed, feet pounded down the stairs, furniture slid and rumbled on the hardwood floor. The same dream over and over like a skip in a record: me alone on the line for a four-in-the-morning rush, a blizzard of slips, drunks hollering for their omelettes. And then more shoes overhead, a boombox switched on — Kenyan dance music, loud — and the tromping becoming rhythmic, coordinated. The doorbell buzzing and buzzing. Damn, must be a party! Each of my housemates probably thought the other had told me.

Our paths did cross: in front of the T.V. in the living room, usually, where the more religious of the two would sit every morning in his robes, fresh from praying toward Mecca, to watch a chirpy female aerobics instructor while he sipped black tea. It’s good exercise, Dave! he’d insist, quite seriously, when I tried to tease him. The other, also named Salif, rarely hung out at home, except sometimes to make couscous stew in the kitchen and pound on my door whenever I played music he didn’t like, which was often.

I dragged out at ten, showered, and pulled on a ratty Metallica t-shirt and checkered, gray-and-white chef’s pants wide enough for a clown. I moved slowly, dreading what I knew I’d face upstairs: the entire African Students Association packed into our living room, dancing, glamorous, laughter in a dozen different languages suddenly falling silent as the hairy white guy emerged from the cellar, dressed for the graveyard shift.

13 Replies to “Minor incident in the history of intercultural exchange”

  1. Dave, I remember those days. You really should flip that scenario around. Think about one from that apt. living with you at the A-Frame. I do believe each of those young men would have quickly found other accommodations.

    I may make a comment back channel.

  2. I do believe each of those young men would have quickly found other accommodations.
    True. But remember, I was practically squatting by that time. And the A-Frame was a hole even before Darren and I wrecked it. My residence with the Salifs was much more legit — I paid rent and everything.

  3. Life on bottom, myself thrice a rent slave, once in the cellar; who would have thought there to be an edge so keen as the one which separates a shared house? House mates. Such proximity, such exclusion. So well I remember standing at the door, hand on knob, only to helplessly go forth, out of the aural, into sight.

    By electing an intercultural situation, though, you cannily defuse the whole “likes finding likes” equation Smart. Contrary. Difficult. But doubtless stimulating.

  4. I’ve missed the obvious. Of all available co-equals, it was your notion of Kenyans that was most like your own idea of self.

  5. Keith – Different sides of me feel at home in different kinds of situations. I’m like the protagonist in that song I recorded the other day: “Any old place that I hang my hat, it sure feels like home to me.”

    marja-leena – This was complete nonfiction. Sorry to throw you off like that! I don’t even really have a proper category for pieces like this, except maybe “self-portraits.”

    Bill – Except they weren’t Kenyans, but West Africans (from Niger). And thus, culturally speaking, not so unfamiliar to an American. The one who yelled at me when I played thrash metal always asked me to open my door and crank up the volume whenever I played my old blues records. We had a love for that Sahelian groove in common (among other things).

  6. but you were proud of being that shuffling, shambling abominable troglodyte, yes? That’s why you so proudly displayed it here! It’s the cheery Africans who don’t seem real… just figments of a past television commercial that you vaguely remember. Dancing Africans in a habitat of sun-hating porcupines and arboreal memorabilia or a shambling troll from the depths of hibernation… which seems more real?

  7. If i ever include post blurbs here on my sidebar, like i used to when I was on blogspot, I’ll definitely have to include “shuffling, shambling abominable troglodyte”!

    I don’t know about proud, but comfortable, certainly. I yam what I yam.

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