Two nights ago I had dinner w/a former colleague – a terrific single woman who I never really got to know before as she was always several degrees above me in our rigid office hierarchy.  Over dinner, I promised her I wouldn’t evacuate the city w/o her should it come to that; she feared having to get out of the city on her own, sitting in traffic for hours w/no one to talk to and scheme with.  Interestingly, despite often feeling so alone here or in the world in general, I never worried about having to get out of NOLA on my own.  I always assumed I’d evacuate with my roommate in the direction of his relatives in Texas (assuming a flight north wasn’t an option).  In exchange for promising Robin I’d take her with us, she agreed to bail me out of Orleans Parish Prison should my unpaid moving violation from February ever catch up with me.

It’s weird feeling reliant on or expectant of my roommate in this way.  We have an awkward intimacy – not quite friends but more than colleagues – stemming from a past friendship turned affair that ended predictably explosively and painfully.  While I take a perverse pleasure in being the antagonistic roommate that eats his food and blocks his car in the driveway, i also find myself eating ice cream with him at midnight, and playing co-host to a dinner party we’ve disjointedly thrown together.  Because when you are on your own in foreign environments – be it Dar es Salaam or, sadly, post-Katrina NOLA ’06 – companionship takes on a different form.

This guy Ronald once summed it up for K in Dar.  He was this shady mechanic who drove her absolutely batty by charging her too much for shoddy work that took too long, while at the same time making sure she had spare cars and doing other favors for her to make her life easier in Dar.   Once, as she thanked him, he said simply, “you don’t get by on your own here.”  And it was true.  People stayed with you when you got sick, picked you up when your car broke down, gave you a place to stay when you needed one, lent you their clothes, invited you on trips at a moment’s notice, and generally made sure you were never alone unless you deliberately went out of your way to be.  When I came home from dinner with Robin I said to my roommate, “do you have an evacuation plan?” He replied he’d head to TX to his family, and added, after a moment, “you’d be welcome to join me.”  “Of course!”  I thought to myself.  Doesn’t he know how the ex-pat system works??



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