Stranger in a Strange Land


In this chapter of Dune Messiah that I’m reading — my Kindle is probably the only thing keeping me sane now — Paul Maud’dib is troubled again by the visions he sees of a falling moon, of a jihad sweeping across galaxies, of his own power and the fragility of a god-head emperorhood. Lost in the visions of time, the Maud’dib in this novel so far is a man merely occupying, not living, the present. His visions of the future are strange lands, and he is the intruder — or creator, or seeker, or oracle — of those possible futures.

Now I know what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land, not speaking the language, tangled in bureaucratic obscurity. More than that, I realize that I am, in fact, a racist. All the times I’ve criticized someone else for their imperfect English in an English-dominated world, felt superior to someone who was still stumbling through rules of etiquette, I feel them all keenly now that I’m a visitor in a strange land.

There’s nothing so startling as being in a country that almost mirrors your own — the same type of roads, the same people hurrying to work and looking after children, the same bad drivers and suicidal pedestrians — but really does not. The language is, though in a Latin character set, almost unintelligible to the uninitiated. People don’t use dryers, as far as I can tell. Couriers, to use a recent and bitter example, don’t work the same way. My existence is not intimately connected with any other’s in this metropolis.

But though I worry intensely about what the next few days will bring, there are some things entirely out of my control. I am no visionary, no prescient mind as is Paul Maud’dib; I can make some hard decisions, but I can’t predict the future, so cannot even think of ways to manipulate it firmly. And so, instead of writhing in the formless future, I may as well anchor myself in the present.

I am tired, though. Tired of sleeping in other people’s beds, of carefully looking out for food I can eat instead of cooking, of dragging around four separate bags, of living out of said bags. I said I wanted an adventure. Apparently the universe took me very seriously.


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