I met author Ian McEwan with his wife at The GSK Contemporary Earth exhibition in The Royal Academy of Art a couple of months ago . He and I had an exhibit there A little more than a month later his book Solar hits the bookshelves and the national press.
Like the exhibition Solar was inspired by a trip to the arctic in a boat filled with scientists and artists organised by Cape Farwell. I did the same trip the year after Mcewan who had the misfortune of being in a boat entrapped in the ice of an arctic fjord . Solar is my reading companion on the flight to Virginia today.
As the plane burns fossil fuels I glance at the automated plane tracker on the video screenas it cuts a line across the world, across time zones of my past, across the cities I have performed in, across the homes where I visited members of my family for the first time, across my life. If memory is a living thing we are time travellers.
I change planes in Washington DC. The airport workers here are mainly Habesha.Washington DC is the Habesha capital of the world outside of Ethiopia. I have sisters and brothers who live in Washington. I spent most of my adult life searching for them and within five years of meeting them they have cut me off. The memory awakens.
It’s all got to do with something I wrote: something my father is alleged to have done. It’s all got to do with my conception and the name my mother gave me “lemn” which, in Amharic, means Why . But mostly it’s because I didn’t know the unspoken rule of family – Know what not to speak of. I was blindsided by what I could never have known, by rules I could never have understood. The unspoken time zones of family.
I always thought articulating a problem was a step towards solving it. But what’s there to solve? Hmphhh! The plane lands and the thoroughly enjoyable book ends. I wheel my baggage from Roanoke airport and meet the beaming author, professor and friend Fred D’aguiar who drives me to the hotel. It’s where Maya Angelou stayed when she was visiting writer at Virginia tech. It’s beautiful. The adventure begins.