water comes out of the tap here, but it’s a fat lie. i can’t gulp it down. it’s kind of like the pacific ocean. i want to jump in but i know it’s a cold tease. i can’t reuse my water bottles because i can’t refill them. i keep buying new ones and tossing old ones in the trash like disney magic is gonna transport them to the bay area. there is a word for recycling in spanish, but it won’t do you any good. i ask around for a better solution. “oh, yah sure, you just buy a giant plastic bag of water and fill up your giant plastic bottle. it’s way cheaper.” a plastic bag of water, you say? si claro. cheaper. this was my biggest concern. i would hate to spend $1 a day on a giant bottle of water when i can spend $1 every three days on a giant plastic bag of water. the money i save from this i will use to buy a ticket to the arctic where i will set fire to the glaciers myself, and beat baby seals. the plastic bag strategy was presented to me by a denverite living in santa marta and volunteering (she married a colombian man and i don’t have the heart to tell her he is a homosexual). igual, one of the projects she is working on is helping a community on the outskirts of town where the folks suffer from skin diseases due to their proximity to the dump. *cough*
i’m rationing my water now. a sip here. a sip there. it’s 2pm and i had a sip this morning. everyone else is doing the best they can too, right? *cough* i know backpackers “do it on the cheap,” and maybe they think somehow this leads to tiny eco-footprints. iffin they even care. sometimes i confuse the dirty, hippie, veg, granola look for actual environmental consciousness. i am also led astray by their dedication to voluntourism. granted, i should know better. someone who thinks that speed volunteerism in a place they know nothing about is a grand act of selflessness hasn’t really thought about this shit much. unfortunately, i tend to think about it overly much; to the point of paralysis.
given this, as i emerge into a little pueblito among a gaggle of white kids bearing badges of altruism ready to save the brown kids for a couple of hours, i can’t help but cringe into a ball of self-aware despair. what am i doing here? some of these volunteers stay for a few months, but most leave in a couple of weeks. they can’t speak a lick of spanish either. slavoj would tell me it may be better to do something than nothing (and so on and so on) but what if that something creates a whole shit load more of something else? like daily piles of one sided connect-the-dot and math worksheets, or grocery raffle prizes handed out in plastic bags. or those tricky abstract things that are harder to see and reverse. what if, instead, we all spent our energies cleaning up the beach or giving away water purifiers? or what if we just rationed our white asses out of here. *cough*
when i was little my sister, my cousins, my aunt, and i used to create concoctions from things we found in my grandparents’ bathroom -shampoo, toothpaste, mouthwash, whatevs- and inject it into these caterpillar things. we used syringes we also found in there. the caterpillars would generally just die, but sometimes they would blow up or do other cool shit.
i always thought my grandpa had diabetes. that’s the only explanation i could imagine for the number of syringes and little bottles of medication in that bathroom. turns out, my family just liked injecting themselves with things to get better. primarily, vitamin b. headache; toothache; gaping wound. just inject that shit. doctors and hospitals? ladrones! no reason to go through all that rigamoroll.
when i got to colombia knowing my 84 year old grandma had a tumor in her sinus, i expected to find syringes strewn about like the first of the month in san francisco’s tenderloin district. but i’m thinking that habit died with my grandpa. she goes to the clinic every day to get her radiation. and now, i’m the one who doesn’t trust them. besides the usual western medicine love of killing the body to cure the disease, they also tell her she can eat whatever she wants -sans acidic, spicy, and hot food- and reassure her that the constant bleeding out of her nose means the tumor is getting smaller. right… the caterpillars met a better end.
so i’m at the cashier, paying with a credit card, and the lady asks me, “cuantas cuotas?” which i mentally translate into, “how many quotas?” and i’m like, “que que?” and she’s all, “cuotas. cuantas cuotas?”
“eh? es que no entiendo. explicamelo, porfa.”
“aja… es que todavia no entiendo.”
i look to my aunt for support. she looks at me like i’ve mutated, and says “tu sabes, cuotas.” jesus. you know, it doesn’t matter how many times you repeat the word, i still won’t understand it. you can say it in a whisper, you can say it super loud, you can say it in a box, you can say it with a fox, it still holds no meaning. break it down for me, people. my lack of understanding seems completely absurd to them; my differences, bizarre.
my grandma says i’m strange. me dice rara. though not to my face. i like to exercise, eat vegetables on the daily, i don’t care for sweets, and i am, when i can be, a vegetarian. i also eat whatever i want, regardless of the time of day. cereal at night. rice in the morning. these things are beyond peculiar. i don’t like to gossip, i don’t lie, and i refuse to talk shit. that shit drives them crazy. i do my own dishes and laundry, and generally clean up after myself. even when the help is there! scan-da-lous. i can’t imagine what they would think if they found out i used to be a dyke. se mueren, me imagino.
and it’s not like these people haven’t traveled all over the world. they have the internet too, for christ’s sake. but even with the recognition that other cultures exist, my own difference seems outside the realm of explanation and a bit freakish. maybe it’s because i am of them, but not like them. perhaps that’s just too much. that somewhere in them or at some point in the future, they could be different or they might change. maybe the realization they don’t have to be the way they are, that everything they do is a choice, is too chaotic.
which is all fine by me. they can have their plastic surgery, instant coffee, hot soup in riot weather, processed diet, strictly heteronormative and misogynistic experiences, and cuota payment plans. i rather be an odd cat with a queer soul.
i stopped eating meat because it was too socially, politically, and environmentally complicated a thing. but, when you move to a place where everything you eat is problematic, you have to make a decision. i have no idea where any of my food comes from. produce is grown by paramilitaries, i’m sure; everything else is owned by monsanto. and recycling is like something that happens in a far off land where fairies and kittens reign supreme. fuck it. i can’t be bothered. i’ll eat whatever you give me. except for sancocho y yucca. eso si no.
relatives stand outside desperately trying to see who’s arrived. i used to talk to my waiting cousins through the slits in the glass and smell the hot humid air outside while my parents hid all of our belongings from customs agents. i had no trouble this time around. i was with my ex-aunt who is now married to a well-known wealthy man. a diplomat, they called her, and waved us through.
i am witnessing firsthand the socialization of a little girl into an adolescence and adulthood of body dysmorphia and a dysfunctional relationship with food.
que llanticas que tienes!
pero eres divina, divina, divina!
mira tu celulitis!
no come nada esa nina.
no comes tanto!
these are things said to or about and in front of my six-year-old cousin. she’s wonderfully charming, precocious, and bossy. unfortunately, for her, she soaks up the world around her like a sponge.
she is the only child in this colombian house of dramatic and chatty adults. she spends all her time with them, conversing with them and listening to all their chismes. i grew up with these adults as well, but i had my cousins and my sister to interact with and distract me. she talks exactly like they do. which is very creepy coming from this little spit of a thing.
i see her watch them talk. i see her hear every thing. including the way the women speak about their bodies.
que flaca estas!
mira aqui me celulitis que feo.
oye pero ella esta bien, bien, gorda.
que nalgonas tengo yo.
nunca voy a estar gorda como antes.
y la nina ya esta engordandose.
these things were all said in front of me as a kid too, and i have been battling their effects as well. but to see it happening to another young woman is horrific. i try to praise her for something other than her appearance, and try, in fact, to never mention her outfit, her looks, her hair, or anything at all. she seeks validation around these things because she knows it’s a sure-fire way to elicit glee in others, and i refuse to bite.
i should be preparing for this trip. loans, phones, memberships, travel insurance, absentee ballots, appropriate head space, magnifying mirror for tweeezing. i should quit smoking and drink less coffee. i should be doing yoga and sit ups. i should be learning some kind of craft. i should play a musical instrument. i should tell people about this blog. i should be more introspective. i should be less self-involved. i should walk my dog more. i should read a spanish book. i should talk to my grandma. i should hear stories from my parents’ past. and then write them down. i should call my friends more. i should stop building walls. i should tear down my existing ones. i should start a correspondence with someone in a foreign country. i should stop eating la muchacha’s rice. i should eat more salad. i should swim more. i should stop being so nervous. at least i floss.
i rode a city bus the other day for an hour. then, i took the metrorail. i think i’ve ridden a miami bus once, maybe twice in my life. the metrorail and people mover existed only for school field trips or getting to outdoor music festivals. their striking similarity to the disney monorail of my youth made it seem like an unrealistic choice for daily transportation. it was a ride! and miami’s a driving town.
i owned a car and started driving before i had a license. i had a permit and my sister’s hand me down jeep wrangler soft top with fat tires and a kick ass sound system. i loved that car. my parents told me i could drive without a license, but if i got pulled over and they took my license away, “te jodiste.” i made the best choice an adolescent could make… since then, i spent most of my time driving around with friends trying to figure out where to go or getting high in one park or another park or a parking lot or a parking garage or at the airport watching planes land or at the beach. i’m not sure what my youth would have looked like without a car. maybe i would have picked up a constructive hobby, or been less fat and angry. either way, it took a long time to get my brain out of the car culture. i don’t think it was until i got a gym membership that i left the car world behind.
miami taught me how to drive. and i drove like an effing maniac. our driving motto is “get there as fast as you fucking can.” the main principle is the recognition that the social contract is really just a suggestion. coño, no somos comunistas. and you should work it to your advantage whenever you can. if you’re in the middle lane, or even the very, far, far left lane, and you need to enter one of the gazillion strip malls to the right, make the turn. someone will honk; everyone will live. if you notice the car next to you is speeding up to get in front of you, speed up too. who do they think they are? castro? the emergency lane can double as a high speed passing lane. don’t worry though, any of the other lanes can also double as emergency lanes. blindspots are for suckers, whether you’re in them or looking at them. never signal, it just lets people anticipate your move and block it. emergency vehicles will part traffic before you like noah, get behind them as soon as they pass. and don’t let that jackass behind you do it first. remain as close as you can to the car in front of you. there’s no real reason for this, we just have no regard for personal space. the latter is not true at stop lights where you want to leave some room to drive away in case of a carjacking. avoid eye contact and you might avoid a bullet.
i will always love driving here. it’s like a crazy arcade game. it taught me how to be a hypervigilant yet relaxed driver. i have accepted the social contract but i recognize you might not have. i could cut you like a fish, but likely i’ll just let you in.
it became i versus we. i, and then, maybe later, if there’s time, and my loans are paid off, we. it was stifling in its linearity, inanity, and insatiability. sisyphus comes to mind. there will always be another, better improved me out there. reaching it requires an infinite amount of time, and it eats it up whole. like a duck. no chewing. no savoring. just swallow.
i had to get out. there was no way i could stick around. when you wake up every morning and wonder how you can get out of working; when you look around your apartment and want to throw up at the amount of things you have not only accumulated but feel incapable of letting go of; when you are not motivated to be who you want to be; that’s when it’s time to go. i hit a wall; all i could do was turn.
life is too short to be… i wouldn’t call it unhappy, but unfulfilled. bored. and tired.
i’ve always fallen in love with every social service job i had. even after a vacation, i would go to bed with a smile thinking about all the things i had to do the next day and which clients i needed to see. the identities i created there were fulfilling, and i would often think of my kids and my heart would fill to bursting. this has been mainly true the last few years working in schools, but it was no longer enough to sustain me. and the public school system sucks really bad. i could not in good conscious continue working in that institution. it chokes the same people who resuscitate it. and my cpr certification expired years ago.
at some point, there stops being an “in the future, i will…” all of the sudden, you are in your future and you find yourself running out of time.
i only have the one chance. and i refuse to allow my biggest accomplishment to be that i earned enough money to buy a house (no offense). no way. not that i have a better answer, really. well, i do, but it still scares me.
and right now is not the time to think about what i would accomplish instead. right now, i just don’t want to have to accomplish anything.