Friday, August 3, 2012

Explaining Disney World

Now that Zachariah is back in town, he has been spending a lot of time over at our house.  Yesterday, he spent about 45 minutes examining the pictures on our walls and asking questions about the things that he was seeing.

"This," he said, examining a picture of a swimming pool at summer camp.  "Is this the sky or the ocean?"

Kennolyn Camps, Santa Cruz, California

The answer, of course, is neither.  But how is he supposed to know that this is a heated and chlorinated swimming pool in the mountains of Santa Cruz?

"It's a swimming pool," I said.  "In California.  I used to work there."

"How wonderful," he said.

"It was," I said.  Thankfully, he didn't ask me more about the summer camp.  I don't know how I would have explained the high ropes or the climbing wall.

Next, he approached a picture of my grandparents holding a 20-pound Butterball turkey.

"Did your Grandparents slaughter this large, gigantic bird?"  He asked.

American Thanksgiving

The answer, of course, again is "no".  They bought it at the grocery store, where it came frozen and wrapped in a plastic bag.  The clerk even gave my grandmother a second plastic bag, just to carry it home.

As we sorted through my pictures, one by one, I realized just how different our lives have really been.  While Zachariah was herding goats and walking five miles to school, I was begging for a hamster and running to catch the school bus.  While he was carving wooden tops out of pumpkins and corn cobs, I was watching my brother wreck a $75 Air Jump RC Car in a puddle on our driveway.

Trying to explain myself (and trying to explain America) was fascinating.  It was as if I was seeing my own culture for the first time.  We looked through picture after picture, wrapped up in the stories behind each individual shot.

Finally, we came upon a picture of the Epcot Ball at Disney World.  It was nighttime in the photo, and the ball looked almost surreal in the yellow-and-purple lighting, floating above the gardens at the front of the park.

Epcot Ball and Cinderella's Castle, Walt Disney World, Florida

"Where is this?"  Asked Zachariah.

I paused, trying to decide how to answer.  “This is in Disney World,” I said.

“What is Disney World?”

"Well, it's a kind of park."

"Like Kruger National Park?"

“….no.  It’s a different kind of park.  It’s a park with… exhibits.”

“Like a science fair?”

“…no.  It’s an amusement park.  It has rides.”

“Rides?  Rides that give you amusement?”


"How many rides are there?"


The conversation continued like this for a while as I tried to explain the concept of Disney World.  For Zachariah, who grew up digging potatoes, herding goats, and picking peas, it was nearly unimaginable.  He found it especially difficult to process the idea of Cinderella's Castle.  It was hard to imagine, he said, that nobody was living in this 18-story castle.

"So big," he mused.

"But empty," I said.

It's interactions like this that make me realize that America does have a culture.  It's hard to pin down, exactly, but an American culture does exist.  Looking through my photographs, I saw countless examples:  cotton candy, Christmas lights, Coney Island.  Dip n'Dots, Disney World, Dollar Menus, drive-in theaters. Some things were easy to explain to Zachariah, while other things were a little more difficult.  More than once, I had to stop and ask myself, "Why do we do that, anyway?"

In the end, I realized that while I miss home, it's good for me to be away for a while.  I'm learning more about my culture by stepping away from it than I ever learned while living engrossed.

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