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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maps to Oman

She told me, the first time we met— “I love maps.” I thought it strange at first. Years later, I’ve found that a map is both compass and kindling, in more ways than one. The maps, they’re imperfect yet full, confusing yet perspective-laden. Much more than the pale, lifeless words like “critical success factors" or “growth targets”. Greenland is laughable. My nostrils trace, eyes flare.

I love Chile. Would she chip her fingernail spinning in Chile? What of the ancient pain off of the Ivory Coast or Ghana?  But, I stare off to a jazz club in Dakar. Geography and demography are not destiny. But, how do you weigh an un-navigable river? Or, measure a shallow, dangerous coast? Where does a mainland ambition meet a Pacific humility? I can’t stop looking. If I come across one on Wikipedia, it's another five minutes lost. The right terrain, the wrong contours. A re-imagination. 

The map of America— a majestic locomotive, the angle, the confidence. But take a look at an old one, maybe one at 1800, before the Louisiana Purchase. It’s unnerving, bristling, and uncomfortable. A strange, contorted face. Or, how a basket would feel like on a blue bicycle. You can stumble and stammer over the confusing lines, they can look like nerves themselves. Anxiously calm. 

The late great business and development visionary C. K. Prahalad kept a map of India tilted on its side in his office. Really, sideways. Turn it on its side and take a look at it. Sometimes I draw India like a symmetrical diamond in the margins. I think the lined angles are deliberating, making sense of things bewildering, settling, arcane, and hopeful— ironing out the uncertainty. 

Impressive is the Persian Empire. Really, all the way to Crete? Even more crazy is that China has the same latitude as America, but with 9,000 miles of coast. Really, take a look— Shanghai and Orlando. It’s impossible. China’s New England and a Gobi Desert like that in Nevada? Impossible! A Chicago on the Yangtze— Chongqing! Look at China’s Wild West. And Mongolia. Should I take the vastness personally? Did Genghis Khan? Would GKhan@gmail smirk seeing a “Welcome to Wyoming” sign? 

Every border has felt the boot of ten thousand marching, rubber soles. Will Sudan split into two countries next year? South Sudan. My flighty, moral questions are hard realities so far away. Really, how large is Africa? It's hard to believe.

Hands down, my favorite— Oman. No one ever talks about it. Take a look. Imagine what a beautiful coast, so much of it. So close, but so far from Yemen. It’s like a sentinel. What it must have seen in 1300. Look how Oman turned itself around from 6 paved miles and 909 students in 1970 to what it is today.

It’s true. Make something of a map. Because if you can't, it’s hard to budge— to make anything of anything.