Saturday, December 26, 2009


Seasons. Change. This year has been full of it, a year ago we left the States with little more than what we could carry and we set up a home here in a small village and aside from one scary medical issue it's been fine, it's been fine as spun sugar dripping off the cone. I've learned some things, things I'd never known about heat and dirt and bugs and third world markets, of concrete bungalows with Cuban doctors who fix you better than your doctors in the States. Of hand washing laundry and learning to make do. I've learned about the dark, about the full of the moon. Of community and what it means to look out for one another when there is no one else to call. And along the way we've had a few breaks, a good gig in the US that enabled us to keep on doing what we are doing even if it meant a bit of back and forth for me.

But change is coming, another one thought out carefully and with our goals firmly in mind but require an unconventional situation. One I embrace and one I do not. It's simple really, when the Man offers you a longer gig in what has proven to be a very uncertain economy you say yes, you say yes even if it means that half of us will need to leave the jungle and come back to the States temporarily, for several months in a row. You say yes and then realize you cannot be away from your child so she must come with you. You say yes and realize that you also cannot leave what you've started here. You say yes and realize how much you will miss J. But J will stay and we will go, and he will build our house while we are gone.

You see how this is a good thing, a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity to allow for both income and construction. You see how if we focus, if we really focus, we can maybe actually pull it off. But it means half of us are leaving and the rest is staying here. It's a distance I can't quite fathom, one where visits are already planned and life is already in motion.

But today I watched the toucans and I cried. I listened to the magnificent howler monkeys screaming in the trees and I cried some more. I do and do not want to go. It requires an extra dose of courage and trust to make this next move.

Our friends have come round today, hugs and small tokens and lots of goodbyes. A few months is a long time here, the mamitas in the village have already offered weekly meals, fry jacks and johnny cakes and rice and beans for J. He is awkward in response, he's not quite like the men here, he is more accustomed in domesticity and doesn't need the help but it's touching all the same and it's quite lovely knowing they'll be here just like it's calming knowing our village there awaits, friends and family who support our next chapter have circled the wagons there too, assisting with odd bits of child care and books for M and a warm embrace for me.

So tomorrow M and I will hug J tight and then get on a plane and start something new and we'll do it together and apart and there is grace in that, in knowing that our small family is it's own little village, that we will watch over each other as we go and that in a short while if all goes as planned we'll be back again soon and move into a place of our own.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

coming on christmas

I'm sure it feels like this everywhere but it certainly feels like the holidays have completely surprised us by how fast they've arrived. The enormous difference this year is here in the jungle things are much (as much as much can be) less commercial. I haven't noticed more advertising, more sales, more stuff. There's a lack of stuff here, a lack of stuff and a lack of money to buy it.

So instead people focus on their families and their holiday meals. Everyone here has a different way, some spring for some holiday liquor, some make special meats, some bake special breads. It's slightly cheerier, occasionally we'll see buildings lit up with lights and when we do it's like magic lighting up the night. Spirity-spirit, M calls it. And it is. As the days progress neighbors occasionally stop by with treats and we've been doing the same, a family near us has had a series of challenges this year, their already meager existence has been threatened even more with illness and injury and as such we've tried to do a few things to assist.

And this year is lacking another former constant in my life: spending holidays at the shelter. Prior to this year I'd spent more holidays than I can count inside shelters, doing my part to make it okay for guests and volunteers alike and this year I am relieved of that burden and the blessing too, there is no one who needs me this year beyond my family and it's quieter and easier and feels just about right. I did my time and I loved all of it but this year it's been for M, a year where she isn't coming in second and that's meant more magic for her. She's been very worried that Santa won't know to find her here, that it's too far for him to come and there are no chimneys to speak of but we've assured her he's gotten her letter and he knows what's what.

So it's good, this thing. We are warm but not hot, we are mostly dry and only have a few bug bites. We found some simple things we'll turn into a meal, not like holidays of past but of a holiday present, one that is simple and good and simply good enough.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

we would if we could

Healthcare is free where I live. It's not excellent, it's probably not where you want to be if you get into a serious accident. But it's here. And it's free. A friend of mine has a father, he's 99 (go, him) and he was sick over the weekend, sick enough to warrant hospitalization and so hospital they went. She's Canadian so she's used to the mecca of free health care, and her standards are not low. She described a rather comprehensive effort to help her father, the one criticism she had was the lack of food so she had to bring meals in for him to eat. She mentioned the nurses feeling bad about it but cited a lack of funding that made providing meals very difficult. They would if they could, she said. Her father was discharged yesterday, the interventions provided were good and now he's on the mend.

And I've thought about that all night. They Would If They Could. But wow, they sure did a lot and it was all for free.

It's such a contrast to what I am reading about America's fight for health care reform. How it's a bunch of fat cats who have health insurance cutting and cutting and trimming and reducing and making it into a bill that might mean something, but it's clearly not Reform.

They Would If They Could.

Where is that ethic? Where is the ethic that we should do what it takes. That the environment and housing and food and healthcare should not victims of oh well, we tried, it's a good compromise after all. Where is the Yes We Can? The Yes We Will?

It's doubly disheartening for me because this President is the first one I've actually believed in. The others I expected nothing much from and got nothing much and that was to be expected after all, and we are left screaming and grumbling and carrying on. But this one, this one I believed in. I still believe in. So when I hear it's the best we can do right now I call Bullshit. Bullshit Mr. President. And I mean that with respect, because I do respect you. But I am worrying about you now. About things. About what it all means and wondering where the fight has gone.

Because it's not enough. It's just not. And I think you know it no matter how it's spun so I have to hope we are still mid-game here, that this is part of your strategy, but it's not really feeling that way right now. So I'll keep watching and I'll wait. But we need you to show up.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

lashing out

The practical and fanciful opinions of M's school collide on a rather frequent basis. One on hand I am appreciative of the opportunity she's having, learning in a rural environment filled with diversity and social sciences based on the broader parts of our world. On the other hand I struggle with what seems to be a much slower pace with big chunks filled up by religion. In this country most of the schools have churches on site and that means Mass. Mass and more mass. If I was her I'd be going batshit but blessedly (pun intended) it's all she knows so far so she seems to manage it okay.

But then the other thing happened. The thing that made my blood boil right off the charts.

M comes home happy, my kid is relentlessly happy, we've been given this enormous gift without fully knowing why but we take it with gratitude, our kid practically no matter the situation she is full of joy. So as we talk about her day it finally winds around and it winds around carefully because my kid, along with being happy she's also pretty smart and she knows what makes her mama freak out. But as we talk it becomes clear, her teacher is smacking kids with a ruler when they don't listen to her. She smacks them with a fucking ruler.

It's called lashing here, it's a practice that is used but I was told that it doesn't happen in her school which is one of the main reasons we chose it. We were told this doesn't happen here. So I find myself starting to go apeshit but I reigned it in, getting the full story mattered the most. So we talk about it more and she tells me that her teacher sometimes smacks kids on their hands when they aren't listening and wait, oh wait good lord almighty you know it yes She's Hit My Kid.

I asked M all kinds of questions, did it hurt (a little) did it make her cry (no) how many times (only once) do other kids cry (no) can you show me how teacher does it (she does and it seems rather benign) but still, what the fuck. What the fuck.

So the next day I go in to talk to this teacher, to tell her unequivocally she is not to touch my kid and to talk to the principal too. To tell them if M is doing something in their minds worthy of being smacked to call me on the phone and I will go there right then and there. But no matter what, Do Not Touch My Kid.

So I go in and I go in calm, I am calm because I feel pretty confident we are all still okay and I walk in the classroom to find out that her teacher is gone, she gone as in not coming back and M has a new teacher starting today. So not knowing this teacher and not having any time to form a relationship (which is a big part of the culture here) I don't have a choice, I have to make it clear. So I tell the teacher and she says we don't do that here and I tell her well yes, some of you apparently do and and I am nice but firm, you don't do that to my kid and she hears me and I can tell she can tell this isn't a discussion point. This is just how it's going to be.

So I think we are good, I think things are going to be fine. I go home and think about it and think some more and talk to a few folks, several of whom don't see lashing as a big thing, they lash their own kids and it's just the way things are done but if they are judging my reaction I can't feel it, I can't feel it because again and at the end of the day we are all mothers here and we need to do what is right for us.

M knows what I did, she knows because we talk about all of it, how upset I was and how this isn't okay with me. She was there when I talked to the teacher, I don't shield her from it because I want her to see her mama standing up for her, that I have her back. She was happy I did it but also somewhat unconcerned, it was clearly a bigger deal to me.

But it makes me think about other stuff, about the way she's being assimilated and whether or not I can live with all the ways it happens. I can't live with all of it in the States and I can't live with all of it here, and the amusing thing that the things I can't live with here are very different than there. It's the stuff you don't think about, the stuff you hope you can turn your head to and assume it'll all turn out okay but to an extent we all know that's bullshit and yet we don't know what else to do but stand up when you have to and keep talking about it. Keep talking about all of it and hope some of it sticks.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

dance sister dance

I've missed the full moon party for the last several months, either travelling or in between I didn't have the time to attend. But last night I was there with the others, gathered on a beautiful jungle mountaintop with fifteen or so other women of all ages and experiences with one common thread running between us - the love of this place.

So we gathered as we always do, sharing a jointly prepared meal and then as the conversation dwindles and the night moves along we move out to the fire, we gather our drums and our music and we sit in a circle and each do what moves us under the moon. This time after the circle closes our sha-woman, an aged yet utterly spry and pixie like woman turns up the music. Baile! she says Dance! and she started to move and I sit for a moment watching women of all ages and sizes shake their hips and move their arms and dance barefoot in front of the fire and I'm lost in it for a moment, these women who if you saw on the streets you'd never expect such sensuality and such grace. I am warm by the fire and smiling when the delightful pixie-sha-woman grabs my hands and pulls me up and we dance and we dance and all of a sudden I dance but on my own this time with eyes closed and I stop feeling self-conscious and I simply feel free.

There's a sacredness to it when women get together like this, when we come together in support of other women, of ourselves, when we let go, when we dance. The peacefulness and the rightness of it washes over me like rain.

As the evening ended I watched the fire for a moment more. I realize that we've been here almost a year now but it doesn't feel like it because for the last few months I've traveled back and forth and yet still, we are here and being right here is one of the reasons why I came and yet I feel like I've cheated, like I haven't embraced the opportunity as fully as I could have because no matter where you go there you are. And I wonder about 2010 and all the uncertainties yet to come and while it's a bit scary I realize I am still in this thing, I am still here and in this thing and the rest will just have to wait and see.

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