Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Red Sequined Flip Flops

Bed Bugs, Giant Centipedes, and Rats. Oh My!
If Dorothy had figured out within the first ten minutes of the film that the Wizard of Oz was never going to be what she expected, would she still have done the whole thing?
I once knew a place that was black, white, gray, and sometimes a tone of sepia would pop in there. Growing up, as we all know, steals that easy dichotomy of right and wrong, black and white. We’re thrown into a land of color, Technicolor, and as we try to figure out what we should be doing with our lives, how to make this all matter, we find ourselves following yellow brick roads. Well, throw me into a blue and white checkered smock because now that I’m in Samoa, my hair is often in braids like dear Dorothy (one braid and to the side, but trust me, the metaphor will work despite the lack of hair fidelity).
The witch’s hat has been replaced with a pair of sunglasses and a fake flower. She doesn’t have green skin, but the Wicked Witch of the West does strike fear into little short people. When my nemesis appears, children stop whatever they’re doing, laughter ceases, smiles fade, eyes lower, and voices quiet. Fear. The little munchkins are truly afraid of her. For the sake of ambiguity, I will not state who the Wicked Witch is, but if you have spoken with me in the last few months, trust your instinct. She is who you think she is. And if a house fell on her, a house we will call MESC, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. I would probably do a celebratory click of the heels with Toto. Toto, of course, would be my little brother from Tafitoala, Tala. I don’t think he’d be afraid to bite the heel of Mrs. Gulch, which he would immediately follow with a dance of his own.
I’m afraid I wasn’t able to imagine quite perfect metaphors for Dorothy’s three amigos. Rather, the three things they search for, I fear I have lost and am now trying to regain. Ironically, these three things, heart, intelligence, and courage, were the very things that made me travel to the fabled land of Oz. Facing a completely new culture, one has to compromise oneself. Don’t be frightened by that statement; it’s a fact of Oz, a fact that anyone hoping to be caught in that tornado and thrown into a foreign land needs to know before looking into that crystal ball. Vast generalizations are often made by us volunteers from observations we have made. These stereotypes may be wrong, possibly, but this is quite a small place and we have seen most of it and in so doing, we have unfortunately lost some of the tolerance, some of that hope that compelled us to come here in the first place. I, for one, have also realized that maybe, just maybe, grad school would have been the right decision immediately after college. I’m dying to learn more, but my legs are wobbly and the straw is falling out. Courage? Well, it got me here. I’m counting on it to help me stay.
I don’t know where those flying monkeys got their wings, or their little vests and fez hats, but if I did, I would surely purchase them in bulk and outfit the cheeky men of Samoa to match their Oz counterparts. Ever-annoying, and really just clueless, a lot of Samoan men, not all, but a lot have no idea what it means to be respectful to women. There is no place one can go without an annoying flying monkey saying, “Hey baby,” or grazing your leg as you walk down the sidewalk. Just as you are about to pick an apple from a tree, the tree turns on you, and a freakin’ flying monkey comes out of a nowhere to ruin any good mood that existed. Can’t the monkeys just take off the wings, lose the vest, forget pretensions and be respectful? Why they always gotta be harassing Dorothy? She’s just doing her best, trying to get home in one piece, and maybe along the way, saving those little munchkins from a tyrannical ruler.
Now, Glinda the Good Witch. I bet if one were to look up literary or film analyses of the Wiz, Glinda probably turns out to represent some sort of hallucinogen. Well, not much has changed. Glinda, with her feel-good vibe, is most likely Samoa’s own Vailima beer. Need I elaborate more?
Sadly, my Oz doesn’t have nearly as much singing or dancing. Unless we are all at VBar. And thanks to one volunteer, we can all do the hip-out-swivel-drink-in-the-air-eyes-to-the-sky choreographed number. Oddly enough, though, we do often find ourselves rocking out to the occasional Backstreet Boys jam. (Sorry NSYNC; I know, one of you brought sexy back and all, but “Bye, Bye, Bye” just hasn’t stood the test of time like “I Want it That Way.”)
How does the story end? Well, we all know it. After Dorothy’s long trek, she finally meets the Wizard of Oz. She pulls back that curtain and realizes he was never what he was meant to be. Well, I’ve pulled back that curtain too and behind it is disillusionment and disappointment. That man behind the curtain is the whole Peace Corps experience, the whole bravado. The mythology.
Although the Wizard of Oz so succinctly tells us the moral of the endeavor, even though it may be true, I will not be so cliché, but I will end with a little T.S. Eliot.
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

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