watercolor world

Nate with a friend in the airport in Mombasa
In 2010, Nate and I flew to Kenya by ourselves. Rodgers had been here for about a week with a mission trip group, who had just left, and he stayed so that Nate and I could join him and visit his family. When we came out of the airport, my goal was for Rodgers to take Nate from me (I had been holding him almost nonstop for the past 4 days, since we had gone to a wedding in England while the mission trip was going on), then I would fill out the forms for lost luggage because of course we arrived without our checked bags. We walked out of baggage claim to the usual mob of taxi drivers, friends, and family members waiting to meet the passengers on the last flight of the night.

And it took me some time to recognize Rodgers. I didn't recognize my own husband. I had been looking at him every day for a year and a half, and I couldn't recognize his face in the crowd, even when I saw him approaching me. I had been in this arrival terminal once before, 2 years earlier. But everything was so unfamiliar. I had to stop for a minute to get my bearings and begin making sense of what I was seeing and hearing. And I was reminded (again) of a particular passage in a C.S. Lewis book.

a street in Mombasa
I could write so many things about The Chronicles of Narnia. They are the C.S. Lewis books that I've read most frequently. There are so many things that have stuck with me from them - mostly about the nature of God. But this is from The Space Trilogy, which I have read only twice.

Rereading this as an adult, I realized that I remembered very little (and nothing at all from the third book, That Hideous Strength) from the first reading in my teens. I remembered that interplanetary travel requires nudity (ew), that Ransom was kidnapped and woke up in the spherical spaceship in the first book (Out of the Silent Planet), that he lands on floating islands in the second book (Perelandra), that the Green Lady in the second book calls Ransom "Piebald" because he's partially sunburned, and the following from Out of the Silent Planet:

"[Ransom] gazed about him, and the very intensity of his desire to take in the new world at a glance defeated itself. He saw nothing but colors—colors that refused to form themselves into things. Moreover, he knew nothing yet well enough to see it: you cannot see things till you know roughly what they are. His first impression was of a bright, pale world—a watercolor world out of a child's paint-box; a moment later he recognized the flat belt of light blue as a sheet of water, or of something like water, which came nearly to his feet. They were on the shore of a lake or river."

Over the next couple of days, Ransom gradually acclimates to the new world and is able to figure out what he's looking at. When I first read this, I had not experienced the sensation before (except as a baby, as we all do), so I don't know why it stuck with me as it did.

I think of it every time I set foot in a new country. I step out of customs, look around down the street or across the parking lot, and I can't quite make sense of the world right away. Our brains classify what we see automatically. When we are in a familiar place, we can focus our attention just on the things we're looking for - a street sign or a taxi or a familiar face - and ignore the rest as unimportant.

In an unfamiliar place, especially a new country (or a new planet in Ransom's case), we don't have these classifications yet. What things are important? What things can my brain filter out as inconsequential? What does the thing I'm looking for actually look like in real life? What things are potential dangers? Which of these people are trying to get me to hire them and which are actually people I know? Our brains begin filtering things automatically, but it takes time and experience.

So even though it was my second time in domestic arrivals at the Mombasa airport, I could not easily scan the crowd and zero in on my husband. The lighting was weird. The people were standing in an odd pattern, and there was so much commotion. Several of the taxi drivers were waving at me, getting my attention, and Rodgers was not.

WHERE IS MY HUSBAND?! Oh, there he is. Right before panic set in.


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