Sunday, March 23, 2008

CLOSELY AND CLEARLY AT BOTH SIDES

Last week, while walking down Session Road in downtown Baguio, a city in the northern Philippines, a well-dressed lady stopped me and urged me to attend a celebration of the birth of Christ, gently but insistently pushing an information pamphlet into my hands.

For a moment I was confused, given that this was mid-March, and Christ`s birthday, as far as I know, is usually celebrated on December 25, but I quickly realized that this lady was a Jehovah's Witness, and they do things differently, those Witnesses do. Like celebrating Christ's birthday in April, I think. (I used to walk to Dalewood Senior Public School each day with a neighbourhood kid who was a Jehovah's Witness, and I remember being absolutely astounded when he told me that his family not only didn't celebrate Christmas, or Easter, but they didn't do birthdays, either.)

I thanked the lady and took the pamphlet and stuffed it into my bag. I actually felt a little bit sorry for her, because the Philippines is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, so any other branches of Christianity must have a hard time converting anybody who is already a Christian, albeit one of a different sect. (I feel the same way whenever I see the American Mormons wandering the streets of Baguio with their Filipino brethren each and every day. I would think that converting non-Christians would be a hell of a lot easier than trying to convert people who already believe ninety percent of what you believe...) With things to do, places to go, people to see, the usual stuff of life, I soon forgot about the lady and the pamphlet.

Until the other day.

For here I was, newly entrenched in my apartment in Fujisawa, Japan for another few months, and what should I find in my mailbox but a pamphlet. From the Jehovah's Witnesses. And not just any pamphlet, but the same one that the lady had given me in the Philippines, with the same photo, along with an identical layout -- the only difference being that the text was written in Japanese, as opposed to English.

The surprise is not that there are Jehovah`s Witnesses everywhere. I already knew that. (They even come to your door on Sunday mornings in Japna, too.) But hopping from country to country, no matter how often I do it, always creates a strange, almost mystical sense of disorientation within myself. One morning I'm haggling with a cabbie at the Pasay bus station in central Manila, the Philippines, trying to bargain my way into a reasonable ride at an affordable rate to the airport, and then ten hours later a Japanese gentlemen at Fujisawa Station in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, seeing the map in my hand and the confused look on my face, asks if I need any help. And this is the same day. And it's the same world. While the taxi driver I had met that morning was still in the middle of his daily shift, I had flown thousands of miles away and was in a new land, speaking a different language, shivering in a much colder climate.

My brain can never get used to this.

I soon start to see the world as large, divided, a gigantic series of Connect-Four games whose pieces never seem to align into a certifiable row that links us all and makes any kind of sense. (And if you don't know what Connect-Four even is, then I'm older than I think.)

But then, laying in bed, listening to the sounds of the trucks barreling down the central roadway aligned exactly alongside my new apartment, I think of that pamphlet. It made me feel strangely wanted, that pamphlet did. I don't know why. I have no interest in becoming a Witness, but suddenly the world became very, very small once again. Borders, boundaries, languages were erased. I could concretely link the `me` of two weeks ago with the `me` of today. Some kind of gap had been bridged, with me straddling the middle, looking closely and clearly at both sides.

1 comment:

Craig said...

I never really got much from reading those JW pamphlets, but when I lived in Tonga, the most Methodist spot on the entire planet, I was impressed by what a keen sense the JWs had of all of the other denominations represented in that tiny little country. Big Brother was watching the JWs; but not as closely as the JWs were watching Big Brother.