three cups of tea.


i met with my first ever book club for the first time last night. i always told myself that the amount of learning i got as an english major could've been acquired just as well had i joined a book club, so i guess that i was curious to see whether or not this belief held true. i also joined because socialization (even if it's forced) is supposed to be good for us. somehow, i was able to convince myself that we're not supposed to lead isolated lives, holed up in our studio apartments all weekend, watching downloaded police dramas on our laptops. so when jaspreet, the other work study girl, asked me to join her book club a month ago, i said yes. amazingly, i didn't back out.

i got into her car and met her friend, victoria, who was riding shotgun. we talked about her work. she interns at the mayor's office in the film and music department, or something like that. when a company wants to film something in seattle, they have to go through that department. i had no idea. we picked up a guy named guy in belltown, and he had a lisp or an accent, or both, and later in the night, i got the feeling he was mildly irritated when i asked him to repeat so many things.

victoria talked about how she had become tired of living alone. "i just want someone to talk to in the morning," she said. "you have your cat, though," jaspreet said. "i know, but it just gets sad, talking to my cat," she said. "i don't want to become the crazy cat lady." i had visions of my ex-roommate from americorps, glenn, getting up in the morning, whistling classical music, or else humming, and farting to his heart's content. i was really happy to be living alone. guy gave jaspreet directions. "stay to the left if you want an adventure, right if you don't." when jaspreet got into the right lane, he shouted, "no! i want an adventure!"

i couldn't help but think that i had been summoned to join this book group because i had been pegged as some sort of social outcast, or if i reeked of my inability to make friends. with the self-proclaimed future crazy cat lady in front of me, and the wild adventurer to my left, i could only guess what my role was. the asian kid who's always down about everything. is that how she saw me? whatever the case, i was glad that our carpool was such an odd group. who wants to meet "ordinary" people?

when we got to shoreline, jaspreet said, "it looks so suburbia here." "i thought you said, 'decemberia.'" "decemberia?" "yeah," i agreed, "i thought you said, 'decemberia,' too." "at least it's not like real suburbia," victoria said. "there aren't gated communities or anything." when we finally arrived, i saw how nice our host's house was. it had a low ceiling, and it looked new but had an old feel. there was a fire in the hearth and the living room was, for lack of a better word, cozy. it seemed to be the sort of house built specifically to host book club meetings. they kept their house pretty empty, too, so that there was no trace of what camilla and her housemates listened to, watched, or even read. there was a game of risk, some magazines, and that was about it.

three girls showed up shortly after we arrived: ashley, emily, and becky. they looked like recent college graduates. i hung back and didn't say much. everyone got tea or coffee, and i drank water. before our official meeting, our host served dal, lamb, rice, and naan, a real indian feast. i wasn't that hungry, so i took some naan and a small bowl of dal. "what's dal?" i asked jaspreet. "it's like lentils," she said. "come on, don't act like you don't know indian food."

we started talking about the book. for those of you who haven't read it, three cups of tea is about this american named greg mortenson who built schools in remote regions of pakistan and afghanistan. in the beginning of our conversation, i didn't say a whole lot. the conversation turned interesting, though, when someone brought up the hate mail mortenson received post-9/11. i had to speak up. "at that part, i had to question why he was so intent on building schools abroad when there's definitely a great need here." emily spoke next, saying that in america, everyone has access to a good education and has the ability to succeed. "it's easier here," she kept saying. our host, an older white woman, agreed.

"i'm a little hesitant to agree," guy said. "i grew up in a small idaho town, and i saw these kids who grew up on a poor indian reservation. you know, if their parents are alcoholics, they're already setting out in life on the wrong foot." i backed him up. "i think that with no child left behind, and all these other things going on, kids just keep getting moved up, but they're still not learning anything. i worked with a lot of high schoolers who were basically illiterate." camilla said that even though our education system is flawed, it's still easier for kids to get an education here than, say, pakistan.

i wasn't quite sure what we were arguing about at that point. i brought up how my dad hadn't graduated high school, and when he came over here in the seventies, he felt like he couldn't continue his education. i was being inarticulate, and i regretted that i was sharing information about myself so suddenly to a group of strangers. "i mean, if that person doesn't feel like he belongs to a particular group, or that once he's reached a certain age, he can't really work to improve himself." emily sympathetically intervened. "there's definitely embarassment that factors in." i nodded.

looking back at this moment, i had to think about what got me so riled up. i think it's the fact that i've only heard white people say things like, "america is still a great country," and "you can work hard to get what you want in this country," and "anyone can get a good education." my former americorps teammate, marisa, once said during a group meeting that even though this country has its problems, it's still the best country to live in. for who? she may be right, but still, how someone possibly say that, knowing our country's history? how can someone say that to the unemployed, the uninsured, the homeless, the addicted?

i've heard again and again that if you just work hard, you can achieve anything. in this country, it's possible. i really take offense to that statement because i look at what it implies. it implies that the poor, the uneducated, the homeless and starving didn't work hard enough. that someone like my dad didn't want "it" badly enough. it blames those who fell short of the american dream for not living up to their part.

on the car ride home, we talked about this some more. guy said, "look at obama. it's great that the black man became president, but think about how many millions of black men will never be the president." "or black kids who can't even possibly dream about becoming the president," jaspreet said. "the american dream is a good story," victoria said. "yeah," i agreed, and then i quoted something i once read: "because you have to be asleep to believe in it."

because i lived the farthest away, i was the first one dropped off, and i was a little sad to leave my odd carpool behind. but there will be more books, more discussions, arguments, and always, the ironic opportunity to discuss privilege.

1 comment:

beastmomma said...

You summed up the evening very well. By the way, you were invited to join the book club because I wanted to get to know you better.