Where in the World is Kiribati?
“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”
I’m not sure who initially said that. Its origin is, apparently, one of the many things I’ve yet to learn. Regardless, it rings true.
I’ve found my eyes wide open and my mouth agape more often than I’d like lately since I’ve been reading columns from authors who are incredibly intelligent and have an expansive understanding of the world that I can only look upon with fascinated admiration. Mind you, these aren’t ancient Confucius-type people. They’re folks around my age who either are innately brilliant, or somewhere along the way decided to pull on their big girl/boy panties, don their specs, and do some serious, absorptive learning.
Their breadth of knowledge gives me pause.
As I flip through the latest “US Weekly” and “Food Network Magazine”, these intelligentsias are reading The New Yorker, Harvard Business Review, and The Brothers Karamazov.
Suddenly it dawned on me. If the saying “You are what you read” had any merit, I was a cross between a pink sprinkle cupcake, and Kim Kardashian’s black lycra-clad ass.
So, with all of the determination of a one-legged dog in a marathon, I found a quiz site online called Sporcle, that would challenge me to learn and immediately began to exercise my flabby brain.
Of the many topics available, I zoomed in to the Geography quiz category, knowing that my knowledge in this area, particularly outside of the US, was woeful. As Paula Poundstone once put it, I only remember that Canada is directly above the U.S. because I think of them as our hat.
My first stint was a straight forward name the states quiz.
Piece of red-white-and-blue cake! Hah – 100% on the first try! Maybe there was still some grain left in the old silo, eh? I clicked the “Play Another” button with plucky emphasis.
Up popped a quiz asking me to match the state capitals with the states.
Hey there! Not bad. Not bad at all. One wrong out of 50. I freaking ROCK!!!
My chest puffed up. Maybe, just maybe I was more “worldly” than I gave myself credit for. “Play Another?” My peacock pride said heck yeah! Bring it, baby!
And so it did. Up popped a blank outline of the US, devoid of state borders, daring me to click on the exact spots in the country where specific states lay. I began to sweat. Profusely. I’m supposed to know exactly where Kansas resides in the midst of the vast Western plains? What deviate designed this game?
Never fear, though. After about four tries and many inventive expletives, I had conquered the entire country and felt like Uncle Sam on steroids.
NEXT! I’m smokin’! Ask me where anything is. ANYTHING!
“Play Another?” Why certainly, old chap!
The next quiz was called “Countries of the World”. It presented a world map, and basically just said, “Name them. Go!”
WHAT THE?! Seriously? Name all of the countries? Like, places outside of the US?! Fine then. No problem. Let’s roll.
Except there was a problem. A big one indeed. Once I got past Europe and South America, it was a bumpy ride down unpaved third world dirt paths that metaphorically sprained my tailbone and bruised my sacroiliac. Even the Central American and island nations of North America were giving me a run for my money: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is an actual country in my continent?! And let’s not even discuss all of those unnecessary “stan” countries in Asia. Do we really need all of them? Who names a country something that you have to pronounce through gritted teeth like Kyrgyzstan? And what about the “so-tiny-no-one-even-cares” “a/u” islands of Oceania like Palau, Tuvalu, or Vanuatu. And then there’s the no doubt made up island nation of Kiribati. No one in their right mind has even heard of Kiribati, am I right? Frankly, I think it sounds like the fictitious place where Dr. Doolittle docked his giant sea snail so he could fly the last leg of his trip home aboard a massive lunar moth.
And, since we’re talking here, when did the name “Oceania” even come in to being? Back in the day, labeling this entire region a simple “Australia” seemed to work just fine. New Zealand never balked. If you ask me, that whole area has gotten a little too big for their aboriginal britches. Or lack thereof.
And, finally, the giant unknown landmass that is Africa was headed my way. Raise your hand if you can name more than a few dozen countries in Africa. You can?! The sad truth is that I could only name a third of the countries in Africa, and a good portion of those came from Disney movie references. (Thank you, Madagascar!)
In the end, on that first tragic attempt, I was able to list less than half of the 196 countries in our world.
Pitiful . . . I’m well aware.
It was a rude awakening to say the least. My myopic focus on all things US was as plain as the nose on my Ivory-soap-scrubbed American face. Not only that, but my focus has been US-lite! We’re talking snack cakes and B-list celebs here, and it had to stop!
And it’s beginning to.
Each morning I spend 15 often angst-riddled minutes of name the “Countries of the World”. I’m far from an expert, but I’ve improved considerably. Yesterday, I was up to 80% including obscure nations like Togo, Tonga, and Trinidad and Tobago that I typed in with amazement. Once I conquer the world, I’ll move on to world capitals, flags, leaders, battles, and whatever unknown informational category that lies in store beyond that.
See, I need to remember that just because my school days are long behind me, that doesn’t mean that I should sit here and let my gray matter morph into Silly Putty. I also need to acknowledge that there’s a whole expansive world beyond the shores of New York and California. Beyond “US Weekly” and “The Food Network.” Beyond pink sprinkle cupcakes, and Kim Kardashian’s black lycra-clad ass.