Aaand of course it’s upon finishing up and reading through my responses that I know there are just a few little details that remain. So essentially, what now? And how am I faring? Or, a response to what became another sub-question from a thoughtful family member responding to my writing about the casas de pique (chop houses) in Buenaventura: Have you imagined the process of your emotional transition to the time when you will be driving down a road and see a sign saying just those two words, advertising a sumptuous and welcoming dining establishment…
In general I’m faring okay, pretty well! I’m relaxing and reflecting a lot, reading and eating and dancing and being in nature, like you do during a life transition post something involved and worth processing. I’m noticing how I feel the same and how I feel different. I’ve disconnected somewhat from the work in Colombia, by choice, and bit by bit I am also making choices about the parts that I want to and can handle reading about and go about updating myself from out of country. I continue to revel and explore in the language that I have developed, and look for good Colombian articles to inform myself with in addition to the funny and whimsical poetry and lyric writing I have looked for.
Over time I am also doing the interesting discovery of which experiences have unconsciously stuck with me or which skills seem to be miraculously well developed all of a sudden. Some fun ones could be almost random, like having a workably good sense of what time it is based on the position of the sun. In Colombia, which is so close to the Equator, at dawn the sun surges like a rocket over the horizon and it plunges with determination at dusk, almost exactly 6-6. There are also pretty defined dry and wet seasons, with only minor variations in heat and more in humidity. As a New Englander this is all just extremely odd. It is one of the things about my place of origin that I am unconditionally affectionate for, our nutso oscillating weather but that absolutely has characteristic changes of season. As somebody who very much marks the passage of time through the change in weather, it almost felt like for the year and a half that I was there my time was suspended a little bit, weather-wise. As what was obviously my most extreme exercise in empathy while there, I tried to understand what it was like to understand time as a Colombian, and asked friends and acompañadxs about it. Are things separated by the sun and rain? Or does it just feel like the most marvelous rotation of crops? Didn’t pin down an exact answer, but it was real fun to think about! I’m also better at thinking through logistics now, and have a sharper sense of the difference of how I come across to others versus how I’m feeling internally. And I know more about land and nature now! This one’s a major plus – learning to spot new fruits nearby is tasty to body and mind.
There are other things, like somewhat ultimate flexibility when it comes to sleeping situations (couch, chair, whatever), but really recognizing that come down to it, now that I do have some choice I’m even allowing myself to enjoy being picky sometimes. Noticing preferences in myself and others in general is constantly instructive. A lot of the time whenever I can feel myself starting to get fatootsed, it doesn’t tend to escalate very much because it is not difficult to recall how hard things actually are in other parts of the world. People are in their own worlds and mostly I get it, it’s just hard sometimes when the temperature of coffee or waiting in a four-person line becomes a matter of upset. I’m learning when it’s important to listen to what are now being somewhat truthfully, somewhat playfully hashtagged as “first world problems”, and when it is useful for me to nod but be on my way.
What that really speaks to is recognizing how lucky and priviledged I am in so many ways, and more of the ways I recognize that. And in fact, most people do lead easier lives when they don’t live in a conflict zone. I think about confianza a lot, and what it means that as small as some peoples’ comfort zones are in the US and beyond, they are actually physically safe. Yeah, a piano might fall on any of our heads, but for the most part people are free of the fear that comes with calculated political violence, and that is precious. It was a weird series of twisted joyful moments for me in my job this summer to arrive and realize that after three days I had freely shared more with some of my new colleagues about my personal and professional life than I had with almost anybody new I met in the last year. I don’t have the creative challenge of finding ways around it anymore, but I can talk freely about my location and company on the phone! I have also been happy to realize how much more consciously I recognize that everybody is coming from somewhere and has their own stories; with some of the patience I gained and some of the questions I learned to ask, I have been a lot more open to people, and learned and have been pleasantly surprised by how much people will offer about themselves if you can be interested.
Experience-wise there are some things I have learned I cannot really do anymore, or at least right now. I’ve always been a sensitive person with a hyperactive, vivid imagination, but I’m way less conflicted when it comes to violent or needlessly gruesome anything. I figure I was doing some pretty sensitive work and was kind of maneuvering it while it was happening, but after leaving I’m aware of how gingerly I’m reacting to some things now, because as aware I am of how much I adore the vast majority of the people and so many, many other things about the country, at the moment it’s a quicker overload. I am choosing how much violence to process and interact with, from news to media. It’s a little rough considering the apalling situations of police brutality and national gun (lack thereof) control in the US right now. I was at once overwhelmed, fired up, inspired, and proud when my Facebook newsfeed turned into a righteous angry hurricane when the events with Michael Brown and Eric Garner were happening and the Black Lives Matter movement was starting to take off, so much so that I wrote an almost-publishable piece about it at the time (we’ll see). But it all really just makes me furious and aghast, because doesn’t feel that damn complicated to me. The arguments to keep guns around that make me maddest are “my guns are mine and I like them”, primarily because returning from a country where there is a conflict with such a staggering number of current and historic citizen victims just pretty much makes me feel like casual ownership is brazen and a dark, condescending slap in the face. See these (both, for a taste of reaction to the preceding).
So on many levels it really was a sobering return to the US, and in really unexpected moments. (Strong material warning for this paragraph and next.) Sometimes they are memories that just pop up. One of the events that affected me slowly but most strongly was the death of a great teacher and educator, Carlos Pedraza, who was killed this past January after being disappeared for two days. Carlos was involved, though on a second-tier or support level with different organizations fighting for causes in education and in the Peoples’ Congress (El Congreso de los Pueblos) and I am 95% sure I met him in the Community during the Campesino University. I think I translated for our delegates during a workshop he ran on education reform. I saw his face in pictures on posters and pamphlets we had in the house for days before putting that together, just before a meeting we had with his brother and the US embassy, which was a lot.
I spent the summer working in New Haven, Connecticut, working with teenagers doing all kinds of cool things, one of them being making different kinds of art that they got to show off at a little gallery towards the end of the session. There were really exciting displays in architecture and design, public art and video installations, and a bunch of other things too. It happened to be my night off that night, but I still wanted to see the pieces, so I went to the gallery later on in the evening, when it was pretty much the staff left and starting to clean up. I walked around laughing and hugging a new friend on staff as we took in all of the interesting pieces there were up, until we came to an all-class collaborative piece with three works held up on thin metal rods. The pieces were made of Barbies, and were (L->R) a pair of legs extended wide, a torso, and I believe two arms all suspended there, simply adorned in some way and labeled in kind, “The Legs”, “The Torso”, “The Arms”. Earlier in session it had turned up on local New Haven news that human limbs had been found in town, and several days later the torso had been found separately. There was somewhat of a tittering buzz on campus, a nervous kind of of what-does-this-mean energy with very real curious edges to it surrounding the whole incident. Dismemberment is so… singular. It’s an act almost medieval-feeling, and it’s just so unusual in the US. It obviously wasn’t blatantly funny to people, but there was enough of a silliness factor, of independent limbs existing somewhere close, especially with such blurry information around the whole thing. And clearly it was enough that our high schoolers were working through it consciously while it worked deeper into sub levels for them, enough that they made art about it. I stopped and caught my breath, and felt that little feeling of dazzlement that happens when it feels like the crank is pulled and all of the blood in your body freezes for a few seconds before it remembers to go again, just a little chillier than before. “It’s the bodies,” I said, “like on the news.” I had been totally taken by surprise, and hugged my friend a little closer.
The first half of the question was about the chop houses, but there was a second half, too. And what I mean by that is who will accompany you on that perilous journey?
It was a strange and somewhat beautiful coincidence that the friend I was holding onto had just gotten back from the Dominican Republic, doing work in a similarly hot region where similar things can happen, too. In a moment where things were on the fast track for a serious emotional nosedive, it was literally right there where we could feel a bit of a parachute open.
It is in moments like that when it is utterly clear to my why my people are most important to me always. I’ve just been listing the parts that have been hardest in my extraction, because they are the parts I’m wrestling with (pre therapy, which I’m looking for). As I said, when I was in Colombia the parts I loved most about the work were absolutely our acompañadxs themselves and my fellow accompaniers, all of whom together were the most inspiration and support you can imagine. But who will accompany me on my journey in the homeland? But you will, of course.
Perhaps I have not said it clearly, or often enough, or loudly. But please hear it: thank you for being my net. Thank you for being interested, or for asking about or investigating this work. A profound and somewhat dumbfounded thank you for making it through these emails, if you’ve done so. Thank you for being there when I was figuring things out. Thank you for being there for me even when you did not know it, when thoughts of you and where you were, interacting and being kind and loving others and yourselves, did so much to make me smile, or remember, and giggle to myself. You all are what fill me up, and your presence made me know that everything, including I myself, would be okay. Normally I do okay homesickness-wise; I’m pretty good at being where I am, feel comfortable sucking my electronic thumb social devices, and know it’ll be fine. But it’s no replacement for getting to see my people, which I got to do in abundance this summer and fall. If I did see you, know just how much that meant to me. If I didn’t, I’m still sending you affection and waiting (somewhat) patiently, with the confidence we’ll see each other again soon and it will be an ecstatic adventure!
So for now I am taking time and place to remove myself and continue to process it all. I am going about continuing to articulate what I want to take and what I want to be from what I have just been doing, and am excitedly gathering materials and momentum before the next big professional move: to the classroom with me, Fall 2016.
You all are really the best. Thanks again for accompanying me on this and other journeys, perilous and otherwise. I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon. For now…
All My Love,