In all the places I have been I always struggle to make something look like something else. I usually try to make it look like California, which is my own personal promised land, my land of milk and honey. Not everything in this world looks like California. I am always slightly at a loss how every place looks like it’s own special place. No matter how hard I try to make stuff fit in my California shaped box, if I’m honest with myself I can’t really.
Australia, to me, looked like some cross of Europe and California. One area looked a bit like Carmel, with more European houses. Another looked like Santa Monica with more cosmopolitan shops. But really if I was true to Australia, it really just looked like Australia.
South Africa, to me, looks like some strange amalgamation of California and Kenya. Those hills look the hills around Camarillo and Paso Robles except instead of oaks on top they have flat topped acacias. The shopping malls look like something you’d find in Orange County, except somehow they are distinctly South African. I don’t know that I can really place a finger on what makes them particularly South African, maybe it’s that they store right next to the one that looks like Pac Sun is selling biltong and not extraordinarily fattening cinnamon rolls. The clothing in the department stores looks like the clothing in our department stores but something is not quite right maybe it’s because the pots of body butter are flavored with rooibos and marula berry and not green tea and citrus. And the ants here are the color of yellow raisins and not the sun-dried black of the American ones.
Driving down one of the Motorways in England I was reminded of the American mid-west, except every now and then their rolling hills would be cut by stone fence, a paddock for sheep. Other things would break up my comparison; the cars were smaller, the billboards were hung parallel to the road and the dollar signs were replaced with the more fluted pound sign, and the truck stops felt distinctly, I don’t know, European. I suppose they weren’t truck stops, probably had a cuter name.
With globalization everything is growing more and more similar, a lot of the plants that I grew up looking at are present here in Kenya and South Africa. Bougainvillea, birds of paradise, bottlebrush trees, eucalyptus (which belong to Australia), so our uniqueness is growing smaller. Still we remain quite different. I don’t know why I have the compulsion to compare every land that I visit to the place where I grew up. Maybe it’s the call of our hearts for home. May be it’s my attempt to connect my increasing placeless-ness to the place where I grew up.