I feel the need to revisit some of the themes of my first blog post. That blog was a “cold blog” - I put this down to the stress of getting my head around embarking on such an extravagant journey. I spent many long hours having conversations with myself, and some with Piggy, about the difficulty of embracing this trip when I come from a background where no one usually gets to do this. Opportunity meets mistrust: “who do I think I am?” Just deciding to take three months to travel and see sights, meet people, when I really don’t have the resources to justify it?
Well, after talking to my dead parents on more than one occasion, which I do from time to time in the knowledge that I now know them as well as I ever will and can therefore anticipate what their answers and reactions will be, I quickly discovered that my people never feel that they have enough resources for extravagance. There will never be “enough”, always something to “beware of”, it will all run out, there is no magic pudding, blah blah blah.
Piggy comes from a similar background, be it the first generation northern English equivalent, and could totally relate to my anxiety.
I finally “exorcised” most of these internal roots that have been planted so well and continue to haunt me through my adult life, if only for a short while. So now we set off temporarily guilt free.
Last entry I felt that I tackled the subject of Africa rather generally and coldly. I need to include that in my search for a queer African context, I have met some remarkable people. I am over the moon about being able to meet some of the people that I have found online, and think that they may become lifelong friends. I won’t give too much away, because I want to wait for them to have agency regarding how much they want to disclose of themselves in this forum. But I want to just mention that all of them have been wonderful helping me to organise this trip, taking time out to meet Piggy and I as we land on foreign territory in countries where politicians and law makers would in some cases like to march us both straight from the airport into the nearest jail.
This is really at the heart of visiting Africa for me, meeting communities that are resilient and courageous within dangerous surroundings. While the world’s media focuses on the appalling conditions of gay Africa, concentrating on how “at risk” they are, it too easily misses that within this lies a strong community, one that is under siege, yet still manages to have pride, even without an official festival to celebrate it, and live their day to day; having relationships, friendships, falling in love, fighting, gossiping, all the usual stuff really. I would like to see this, hopefully write about it, if it is considered appropriate by the people we meet, and celebrate it as a sign of solidarity with other queers from other cultures who kick arse just like the queers back home.
EARLY PLANE DEPARTURE!
As Piggy mentioned, the flight was pushed forward for some boring reason that I refuse to retain. All I do remember? All the last minute preparation that I had planned to do in the morning before 2pm was out the window! No visit to Dick Smiths to register equipment for insurance, no time to finish unpacking those boxes in the communal laundry that had been pissing off the other tenants, no time to carry my dining table that had been sitting in the communal side yard wrapped in plastic to the house of a friend, and definitely no fucking time to have a good sleep and “faff” around leisurely deciding what I should wear for the flight, and making myself look worthy and presentable enough for an international flight, yet maintain an essence of “boho chic”, sending the message to all the other seasoned travellers that this may well be “work a day” for me as I board my flight to New York.
We get there relatively unscathed, a few stress arguments. I am still holding a grudge against Piggy because she thought that it would be a good idea for her mother to come around the night before and clean our apartment!!! Without consultation with me, and that this would happen while I was there trying to get ready while Piggy went out to the “public sphere”, sewing up loose ends while whilst I stayed at home keeping domestic company. Parental cleaning sends shivers down my spine, it reminds me of my own displeasure and discomfort in my younger years, when my mother came to clean ritualistically, proving that my perpetual domestic unworthiness will stay constant. This is an extra burden for a gay Panda of my generation who has grown up enviously looking at all the other gay animals successfully climb the evolutionary ladder of domesticity under the proud watchful gaze of their obsessive compulsively driven mothers. This has always been a big fail for Panda.
In retrospect it was a fine idea, of course Piggy’s mother capably cleaned far better than either of us ever could have, and the apartment was left spotless for our sitters. So job well done Piggy, and eventually I got over my stubborn grudge. Also, I love Piggy’s mum, and the thought of implicating her in my act of regression? Seemed cruel.
Piggy and Panda get to the airport on time, no dramas, lamenting some lost opportunities regarding last minute fine tuning, feeling excited none the less. Panda’s ex “bearfriend” turns up at the airport with a requested moving picture device, and another contraption filled with an endless array of music for the travel. Many thanks to ex “bearfriend”, and nice to be farewelled by what is for Panda, one of the most consistently supportive friend imaginable, only disappointment is that ex bearfriend did not bring gaybee cub along to say goodbye. Gaybee cub is still hibernating, and as I have found out through past experiences? Is a way less cute gaybee cub when woken prematurely.
Piggy has explained most of the flight well, I would only add that my growing anger against other passengers on long haul flights is that they seem to go into a state of stupor, not unlike sheep, under the duress of becoming slowly aware that they are in reality just dressed up meat being moved around the globe. My reaction to this dilemma is to try and make myself more visceral, optimistically trying to express and reinforce that this meat will be alive and well at the end of the journey. This Panda decides somewhere midway over the Pacific that a session of yoga in the largest space outside the toilets of business class is in order as a show of resilience. Needless to say, he is met with a sea of scornful disapproving faces, ruddy podgy faces poking out of business suits and grey bobs framing thin red lips confirm that Panda has once again stepped out of line.
I have been warned over and over about the US customs and immigration officials. Friends that perceive a playful Panda romping around his home turf, stumbling over boundaries and occasionally crushing well-constructed walls, are not convinced that I will be able to modify or adjust appropriately to pass the rigid officialdom that seems to be necessary to safely pass through the gates into the “free world”. I am slightly offended by this, and determined to be the most polite Panda possible, one that would be invited back, maybe even given a scratch on the tummy and a few kind words in the process. Now this is where the problem lies. This desire for extra affirmation is actually the driving force behind most of Panda’s unconventional behaviour.
I pass through several gates, show my passport several times, my visa papers, and feel stupid being so nervous, jesus, I’m a 42 year old Panda! Surely I have earned some leeway? At the last checkpoint of entry at Los Angeles airport, boarding the flight to New York, I am aware that the brown leather hat that I am wearing will probably need to be removed, as has been requested at the other checks, apparently wearing a hat confuses the passport checkers, making my face unrecognisable. I decide to pre-empt the request and I say, “I guess I should take my hat off to you?” The officer looks at Panda amused, and says, “Why?” This not unattractive man seems friendly enough, there is the hint of a smile, one that may actually spread out to reveal beautiful American teeth - I decide to take a chance. With all the voices of warning in my head, I say “Because you’re cute! And American.” BINGO! He smiles with appreciation and warmth, I am vindicated, boundaries are made to be challenged, and walls can be rebuilt in many alternative beautiful ways. This is a good omen, and a wonderfully affirmative way to enter the USA.