What Google Earth Revealed

litbonanza.jpgTwo years later in an ergonomic chair I flew across the screen to gaze again at the blur where I had lived. Two eyes disunbelieving: the town, that time shown from above in all its complex clarity.

Google Earth showed, and did not show, the road into town. The middle of nowhere is too symmetrical to be true. East Northeast of our peripheral vision, more like.

Where impossible carts full of watermelons rolled uphill along the dry Volta. Where millet stalks, until swallowed by greedy granaries, hid the rotund huts.Google Earth showed, and did not show, the field where two baobabs twisted together. Me, nasara, seeing the embrace not the fight below.

But my conflict was aerial Sudoku. The logical game I hoped would give patience after saying fuck all this. I started with what I knew, then filled in blanks, retracing what was once intimately familiar.

Easy to find the neighbourhood. Government tribute to order built in concrete blocks, it stood rigid in the midst of organic tangle. And therefore, here is was my their house:
Where I read Orwell in a down-and-out daze.
Gagged on lucky unlucky pills.
Discovered the uncompromising hardness of the wall against my uncompromising head.
My their house, and therefore the footpath and therefore the water pump.
And therefore, the flip-flops struggling against the toes of little girls struggling underneath their weight in water.
How impossibly close I could zoom in from my office in Canada. A starker office stared back at me, where dusty kids could be found waiting on a bench hoping to negotiate into existence their junior secondary education. Impossible, yet right before my eyes.

”So, how was your little adventure?”

Google Earth restored the First World Order of who looks and who is looked at. With this god’s eye view I can hope to reconnect the pieces. Instead of just shaking the kaleidoscope. A friend’s house here, a soccer field there, a library without books, a pharmacy without medicine. Sudoku boxes filled, the square seems complete, I zoom out once again to survey the wholeness with which I had fought to view this fragmented town. At last the whole episode can be neatly repackaged, duct taped shut. Done.
After two years.

That southwest road. No, but this is impossible. To find that insignificant gathering of huts and onion fields, no it is too far, too remote. It cannot be found, but then I can follow that south road, as I did two years ago on shaky moto, and recall that turn, and twist past the trees, and seen from above the first time it is shockingly familiar, this must be it, in fact here is the very school. Where-

“I’m not experiencing reverse culture shock-I just feel like I woke up from a dream. A dream with lots of huts and poor people. This reality is separate from that.”.

This village where a pregnant child is kicked out of two Fathers’ houses in one day. Village where for the sake of honour HIV is shared on a plate. Concerned teachers warning that hoop earrings invite rape. Where I fought to understand the shattered past, to ask why, why, why, why, and the only answer to this mantra a slippery premonition: my heart like confetti thrown upon sight upon sight. But more than one reality here: A luminous development worker, local woman a raindrop on dust, appears at the same crossroad, fate offering us up to each other. Impossible and right in front of me.

Rocky fields give round onions. An affirmation: to be kind to a pregnant classmate. An agreement: a friend with HIV, still a friend. The village yields no resolution but each minute a lesson. Overflowing with absurd hope, caccooned for two years in the sheer mythos of isolation, now glowing impossible and right in front of me from a desk in Alberta. Google Earth showed me it was not a dream.

This sashimi boat no longer separate from the boiled egg pyramid on the head of a child. My education sipped like champagne next to the learn-hunger of a twelve year adult. In my eyes it is all whole milk creamed honey and salty water now.

“We have a saying: when a development worker sees a man walking down the road, she can see he has no shoes. She says, let us bring him shoes. But, he is wishing for a hat”.

Google Earth gave perspective without packaging.
Stories not like Sudoku grid but books tumbling into a library, pharmacy filling with medicine.
Watermelons rolling uphill, more than one reality here
My heart like confetti
Luminous woman a raindrop on dust
Overflowing with absurd hope
A better world is impossible and right in front of us.

Google Earth revealed nothing I hadn’t already seen.

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Kerrie Thornhill Hop Wo grew up on Vancouver Island and graduated from UBC's International Relations program. She currently works as a Program Coordinator for Calgary Immigrant Women's Association, and plans to volunteer in West Africa over the summer before moving to Oxford to start her MPhil in Development Studies.