Who could miss it? Not me! I woke up from my sleep at 7:38 AM. We were supposed to leave at 8:00 AM. I don’t know why I slept so long! Alam Asraful, my roommate, knocked at my door. “Louis, Louis, we are late!” he said. He is a practicing Muslim, used to waking up at 5:00 AM for prayer. “Oh, my God, it is almost 8:00!” I realized. Just a quick shower and we ran to the bus. We got there on time, which was great, also because the young SUSI student leaders from Europe were coming with us. Just imagine! But while on the bus, I was thinking that I was going to have a very tough day: I had no breakfast, no snack, no bag. We had been given a small clear plastic bag to hold a few items that we wanted to bring. Why? For security reasons. So, must of us had no bag even though it was possible to keep one on the bus. But, at least I did bring two apples, as I couldn’t risk starvation!
And so we went, in the direction of Prescott. Almost two hours’ travel. This was very amusing for me, as it wasn’t easy to go from the virtual world to reality. The virtual world first of all because I was coming from my sleep, and needed the time to realize that I was no longer dreaming. If I slept so long, it may be because I was deep in dreams, but I couldn’t remember the story. Maybe I was dreaming about the Old World without the security constraints of today. Without COVID testing. Without terrorism alerts. With peace. With health. With long lives. Today, one cannot even go to the rodeo with a bag! Maybe I was dreaming about a way to be secure in this New World. Two days ago, I was the victim of hackers, who used my WhatsApp account to scam my relatives and to send unwanted messages on my behalf. I have been so sad these days.
The virtual world also because we have been immersed all this week in the study of Virtual Reality (VR) with Retha Hill. My mind was still at the Tempe ASU campus, wearing VR headsets, enjoying virtual arts and virtually exploring the world around us. It was amazing! During the whole week, we explored the notions of Extended Reality (XR), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) as the future of journalism, mass communication and even education. We were scholars and we had some hands-on introduction to Reality Composer for the training of our own students. I realized that the application of VR can be extended to many other domains including tourism. In the future, it will be possible to visit a museum or a touristic site without being obliged to go there. I thought that we could visit the Grand Canyon in VR with many more possibilities that we couldn’t have in reality, like climbing the cliff or approaching the edges in order to see more details. For example, in the VR studio in Tempe, I could zoom in and see details better than what reality could give me. So, I was thinking that our visit to Prescott could be done virtually. I was wondering if I might not be disappointed by reality. I wanted to be able to go up and down and jump where I want in order to see more details of the objects of my interest. But I knew that I couldn’t do it in reality and I started to feel sad. Time changes! If only I knew before that I could be a fan of VR!
So, we were on our way to Prescott. I looked around and I was not disoriented. Me, coming from Cameroon. Outside the city of Phoenix, the neighborhoods we were passing through along the way were not too different from the neighborhoods in our countries. It was another face of America that we didn’t often see on TV. We were more familiar with Manhattan and its skyscrapers. This was the real world, with ordinary people, with modest homes. But with real life, with tranquility. No noise around. So, I was thinking that this is like at my home.
Early, around 10:00 AM: Prescott, here we are! A great surprise: a parade! What is this? It was the Prescott Frontier Days parade, for Independence Day. It took place in downtown Prescott. We barely had the time to jump out of the bus and witness an hour and half parade. Beautiful, with so many colors, cultures, religions, even politics! Candidate Kari Lake closed the parade. She is running for the nomination of the Republican party for election to the office of state Governor. We had the opportunity this week to follow her debate at the Cronkite building, in the PBS studios in downtown Phoenix. Here in Prescott, SUSI scholars and students went all over the town, visiting the open market and tasting local flavors. It was a classic small town holiday celebration.
At 12:15, we came back to the bus and went to the World’s Oldest Rodeo. I particularly liked this one. It was new for me. Not that I don’t know horses and cows, but I got to see a special sports culture built around horses. I was also impressed by the number of people attending the rodeo. Countless number of cars, with all parking spaces occupied nearby. I understood that it was an important local culture with rodeo spirit and specific attire.
I had obviously heard about the “Wild West” before, but it was amazing that I was actually there! For my very first time, I could watch live the experience of ranch skills transformed into a very high-level competition. I was sad for the brave competitors who couldn’t make it, having the grit to tame the Wild West. I saw them leave the field distraught, as if it were a disgrace. The disgrace of not being a qualified rider. But maybe also a disgrace of not being a worthy child of the Wild West. As if they had betrayed their culture–or even, I daresay, betrayed the nation. I was impressed that everything started with the American national anthem. That meant patriotism was in the air! And that it also started with prayer. I was use, in Cameroon, to being in an ecumenical environment. But here, only a Christian prayer was said, and that was it! It was new for me but interesting to be there.
I went around even behind the scenes. I explored the entire non-prohibited area. I went closer. Closer to the show. I couldn’t sit very far away, where our ticketed seats were. Three of my cohort members joined me. It was new for all of us. We enjoyed being there. We enjoyed the whole package: the grand entrance, the timed and judged events, the wild horse race, the steer-wrestling or bull-dogging, the bareback riding, the tie-down roping, the breakaway roping and the saddle bronc riding. What a competition, requiring style, skill and coordination! But we couldn’t stay until the end. At 3:15 we headed back to Phoenix. I missed the bull riding, a sport that was even famous on TV shows!
Like most of my cohort members, I slept on the bus. We went back to the VR that we truly enjoyed. But I was thinking that my thoughts of the Wild West will change. I knew it before through movies, cartoons and comics, which were all just VR. But now, I had enjoyed it in real life and appreciated the time I spent there. I know now that the cowboys are not a myth, but the Wild West as shown is a virtual representation of reality. It refers to a world that existed centuries ago but that has changed today. The reality of now is a “Modern Wild West.”