Well, I had been sleeping, finally sunk down into the body surrounding me and floating on the darkness, until I was reawakened rudely by some inconsiderate explosions from the computer screen, these directed at Mark and his need for constant entertainment. I turned to my other side, wiping small amounts of drool off of my face, to eventually see an episode of Family Guy come into sleep-blurred focus on the screen across from the bed.
Now, I tend to enjoy humor rooted in intelligence, rather than jokes created for shock-value and in-jokes that make people feel special because they remember obscure bits of pop culture from the 1980’s, so it’s safe to assume that I do not enjoy this show very much; however, on this night I had been jarred out of the complex sequence of launch codes required to fully journey my way into dreamland, so while the gears and switches were being reset to hopefully restart the process, I had no choice but to listen to this episode.
There was some kind of flashback scene in the episode requiring a cheesy, dated feel, so of course the writers choose to play that staple of 1983, Toto’s “Africa” to get the right atmosphere as well as some cheap nostalgic laughs. I, of course, couldn’t laugh because the moment the song started I wasn’t in my bed anymore; I had been wrenched out of my bedroom and my country and time itself, back a year and a half ago to an open-air dance party celebration in Hamdallaye, Niger. Cement below our feet and thatched roof above, we milled around the chair-encircled courtyard, swimming in the yellow incandescent light of the night with sodas in hand as we talked and joked and celebrated our achievement: we had all survived three months of training to become Peace Corps volunteers. Prior to this night I had never even heard of the song “Africa”, but standing then on the red soil of the continent it sings of, that was soon about to change.
Our silly American dance party was fast becoming a silly American karaoke party as ipods were whipped out and hooked up to the stereo. Performances were typically over-dramatic and chock full of nutty fun as my friends sang off-key and gesticulated wildly to songs like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “She Wolf”. Then Heather stepped up to the microphone and did what she always does best: with bravery, skill, and honesty, she told a story. She had talked about how long ago at some college party, she had heard and been inspired by this next song, and knew that one day she would come to the place it spoke of, and maybe take some time to do the things we never have. Cue Toto.
It was cheesy. It was also true. Most importantly, it meant something, damn it. It meant something to Heather then, and upon hearing the song again on an unremarkable night in my unremarkable bed, it means something to me now.
One of the few consistent lessons I’ve learned in my life is that most of the experiences you think will be the great, meaningful monuments set in stone in your life’s timeline will come without pomp and ceremony, and they will fall disappointingly flat, while other more inconspicuous moments will in retrospect come to mean more to you than you ever thought they would; these moments are almost always inextricably intertwined with cheese. Hearing that song again, laying on my side forced to endure a cheesy 80’s montage on a sub-par TV show in place of my own fantastic dreams, I felt the same thing Heather felt those years ago. I don’t care what it takes, I have to go back someday. Call it the thirst for adventure, or maybe affluent American naivety, or something as cliche as “trying to find myself”. The simple truth is that I saw too many beautiful places and met too many beautiful people to let that world rest unexperienced and unexplored in my life.
I know its cheesy to listen to that song and find inspiration in it, but I won’t let fear of sentiment stop me because on that night it became meaningful to me. All things meaningful are by nature cringe-inducingly cheesy; I have come to embrace this fact, as I would rather lead a meaningful life than a cynical one. I will have to wait until after this year’s France program, but, harnessing the power of as many cheesy cliches as possible, with god (and Toto) as my witness, I vow to return one day to that place, to once again see my sneakers stained by its ancient red soil.