My uncle once said that sailing the world made him dream of gardening. I have not stayed in once place for four weeks straight since February, and I am also dreaming of roots.
Huila. Em’s 32nd birthday bash is celebrated at the end of June between the central and eastern cordilleras at a small town folkloric festival in Huila. we dance vallenato and see beauty queens perform a folkloric dance so many times in a row that we ourselves should be competing. A blue agate wind chime hangs in the hotel lobby and I learn about how musica andina has a harp element. It strikes a chord with everything I know. We hike barefoot to a waterfall where a morpho butterfly finds us sitting by rushing water and sunlit pools in Huila’s midafternoon heat. In town, in the evening, boys run with heart shaped balloons flailing behind them and girls are all dressed up in frilly dresses. We dance in sweaty rooftop bars. We celebrate with the whole town at a live vallenato concert in a dusty field, “ponchos arriba!” and Emily is older and wiser by the end of it all.
Guatemala. Then it is July and I am in Guatemala for the first time since moving away in 2010. A peace corps van on the side of central park in Antigua and a gaggle of foreigners spinning poi in central park reminds me how many Americans are in Guatemala at any given time. (A shit ton.) In Guatemala, I feel at home. Lee marries Royer on the shores of Lake Atitlan. I marinate in the colors of the mountains, the beauty of the countryside, the familiar places simultaneously left behind and brought with me wherever I go, old friends- some of whom have known me a decade. The fruits and flowers and tropical foliage. The lake. And Xela. Zacapa. Friends. Walking streets and drinking coffee and juices with friend after run-into friend. Waves and hugs and chats about communes and gardens, new and old projects, life’s circles, how we can use our own capacities as we grow and learn. About art for social change. Travelling takes it out of you- all the normal and the cotidian. And a homecoming reminds you, of how anything can be normal. My ten days there are spent in the company of love. In Zacapa, Casey and I discuss the drug war and I think Teculutan could be San Jose and when a cevicheria next to her house is called, “Medellin” I decide definitively to move there when I return to Colombia. Guatemala reminds me what I know, what I don’t know, what I want to know… what I’m doing about it. Guatemala reminds me the appropriate question may not be obvious, and that the potential lies in the exquisite imagination. There is a striking conversation with a deported man in king and queen, the hugs on every street corner, the catch up with dear friends in every city, the running along melon fields in Zacapa, the throwing myself into lake Atitlan, the chicken bussing through the familiar every town and the way moving through space affects our mindset and connects us to where we are.
Bogota. In Bogota change is on the horizon outside and always onward inside as I work through my last few weeks of over packed scheduling and tasks at FOR. Professional wrap up is pumped with plans for purging my closet and shaking my soul, silent retreats, meditation and dance. African dance. Salsa dance. Séance Dance. All dance. Bendy says I am the mistress of change. I dress for the part. New music, new mindset, and how even though it’s been two months since I left San Jose, I still compare my every experience to there. I think in the morning how my Bogota acoustic sunrise compares to La Union’s vallenato accordion at dawn. And this sort of thing goes on all day. All night. Come, speak of the future…
The red brick building I watched kick off in construction during the worst days of my post trauma psychosis is now being plastered over in my last days at FOR. Its red bricks are about to disappear into another grey building on the Bogota skyline in Chapinero. I can no longer see through the walls. I think it must be like my mind-body-soul-heart’s trauma: plastered over with time and therapy, less visible to an outside eye. And yet, somehow part of the foundation to everything that will be built on top of it from here on out. From raw and red to a more blend-in-able grey.
July is closing out and rituals and promises. Sunny Bogota mornings, rainy afternoons. Rebuilding and retaking my sanity, love as the opposite of power, love as that which we fear. My favorite graffiti collective setting up show just downstairs from the FOR apartment. Art for social change.
And July is still an acknowledgement of trauma when nightmares have me awake long before dawn, stretching my lower back silently and slowly as the sun rises. In the early Bogota morn, before the cars and the sun, you can hear the birds. The birds call to my trauma. They tell it to throw itself from the window. The birds tell me that babies are ready for trauma before they are born and that this is all part of the process. And my lower back relaxes into the stretch. And then I bake early morning pumpkin chai cupcakes and start to pack.
On August 1st, I leave FOR. The same day, a dear friend of mine leaves earth: Fernando dies in a fiery plane crash in a cornfield of El Quiche. His plane is seeing falling out of the sky by farmers in bright traditional dress. And I find out in real time. And the news jolts my post trauma self into convulsions on the floor of my Bogota apartment. And when Emily comes home she sits with me while I cry and blabber on and then she says that life is precious.
Medellin. Days later, in a new city, my precious life becomes reading and dancing and a sunnier Medellin where the surroundings are less harsh. It’s not as hard to breathe in the lower altitude. It’s not as hard to get to a park in the sunshine. I arrive just in time for feria de las flores and get to hear all the reasons why Medellin is a shithole from my socialist anarchist friends and why feria de las flores is a farse. I also get to dance in the street in free concerts. I get to do all of these things because I want to. I get to do them all without process of consensus. I am back to controlling my own life and decision making process. It seems revolutionary. I see my peace community kiddos that live in Medellin every Sunday when they come for dinner. And I dance a lot of salsa. I talk with new people. I walk to new places. I unpack. Regroup. Read. Write. Breathe.
La Union. The same first week of August, Gelita dies and I am unexpectedly on my way to accompany another funeral- on my way to La Union for the first time since I moved away. I am at home in La Union, again. I am collecting seeds and hugging children, being present at the rainy velorio of my next door neighbor, eating and talking and lounging in neighbor’s homes, walking through the jungle of Uraba, sleeping in the first room I ever slept in... in the first room I couldn’t sleep in back in 2011, at the FOR house. I am witness to the sadness in slow, quiet crying and to the sadness in loud wailing. I see foggy rolling clouds and Martin, who appears as if an apparition on the front stoop of the house. I see what happens when people are heartbroken. I eat zapotes until I burst and the jungle breathes so much life into me with so many memories that flood back with the force strong enough to knock me down. I accept how so much of me is trapped in that space. I am bug bitten to hell in four days. Babies kick at me from their mother’s bellies. My god daughter laughs in my arms and I cry out with delight. For the first time I am in the Peace Community without a FOR shirt on and I am connecting with people as Gina and it feels so good. It feels like relationships with other human beings should be. And it seems like such a long time coming in this space that has had such an effect on the human being that I am.
Medellin. Back in Medellin Negro and I walk the park. I feel quieter after a trip to the jungle, after the deaths of August. I’m amazed at how old I look in photos after just one year. Moira comes and we read the human rights updates, which includes one “good” piece of news, however we laugh at the fact that it too has ‘massacre’ in the title. I resolve not to read any crisis updates for a month.
I have the distinct thought I did not die because I am still supposed to create.
Honey whole wheat bread and the job search in full swing; my life as a period piece.
No good and evil in war, only pain. Time as a currency.
I think there are many things I should write before I die.
Writing and homecoming and a hot August in the Midwest.
Eat your way to ecstasy at the Clarion Pass Resort.
A garden to reap and letters to write.
Ginger ale. Homemade everything.
A trip to Ashland. A trip to Oregon: the great plains and the painted canyon, the sky so big, Rogue Elk and the Cascade’s pine forest. Skalkaoho pass and a small family on a farm: Amber, Adam, Ava.
Health nut western towns. The PCT. A dance studio. Walking after riding.
Eco-farms and other simple concepts that are lots of work. Life projects.
Elms, oaks, maples, pines.
Interviews and applications and the anxiety of the unknown. The anxiety within.
Sun tanning and a cousin’s video. A cousin’s wedding at Grumpy’s.
Colombia like an anchor in my heart.
Movements of the body that mirror a post traumatic mind.
Shimmering leaves and park green spaces. A dog to walk.
And where have you been, my darling young one?
Ravioli factory at dad’s. Pool time at mom’s. Oldest friends.
From fear strength. Home as an overgrown garden that must be cleaned out every time I return.
Family and how, in the end, we are not alone in this.
A shower for a wedding in Aruba.
Interviews and rejections and applications entering a second round.
Six months since the boat crash: I cry silently on every airplane. I tense up in every car.
Firsts and lasts and spiraling and overlapping life experiences.
New kicks and haunted spaces. Our life’s “story” is just a narrative we tell to ourselves.
Cali. Back in Colombia, a festival in Cali calls and after a ten hour bus ride, we are dancing at Petronio Alvarez. Homemade liquor and homemade Afro-Pacific beats. The drums! The dresses! The dance circles! Picnics in the park and picnics by the river and nights shaking our asses in outdoor concert land.
Medellin. Reorganization and creation and a discombobulating wind. A starving child in the curtains of my dreams. A lifetime will not be enough to study all I’d like to learn. Job search and starting to work here in Medellin part time, to volunteer, to read the news again. Photo album and jewelry making. Habit building and habit breaking. Mango trees and honey bees and dreams of visions and sincerity. And how I need to protect myself. Reading more, writing more, time for breathing, ciclovia. The image of a mature tree, full of character and beauty. Debasing the soul. Rue the day or seize it. Salsa and Waking the Tiger.Does what you’re doing create anything or perform a service?
I wake up one morning in September with the song which was playing when the combat broke out in my head and my heart is racing. I am sweating. Then I am stretching and asking myself, “How are you connecting to the earth today?”
In the darkness of night, on my way to meet Shaka, I feel threatened by nobody and then look up and remember that the moon will protect me.
In the park the trees in bow the wind. Cristian and Ander come for Sunday dinner. Family dinner.
Palms like quiet castonettes in the breeze. How we learn things. Skill sharing and skill building and doves on my window sill. Sunset is a nice time to be in the park. Trips to the market. No rush. Standing at the sink my thoughts drift to LU. I dance salsa at dives where people dance like they dance in the Barrio. I dance in the barrio. I dance in clubs where they dance like it were cuba circa 1950. Salon. Ballroom. I take a trip to Santa Elena and hippy dippy land where there is an international artisit’s retreat. There are artists from around the world and cows and I gladly trade the woes of the world for talking about clay. Kilns. I compare this retreat to the harsh paramilitary culture pulsating in the city below and its cultural crackdown on anything alternative. A day trip to Guatape’s drown town for a pretty view and the dam has me half manic enjoying the relief paintings on the walls of the homes and half indignant with the reality that the “lake”/ dam is now where the town used to be. That the steeple of the church can be seen below a boat.
Bogota. Bogota for a visa run. The FOR apartment: Jamie and Emily working overtime and me cleaning out my final things. The move is official. My visa is approved. A slumber party at Liza and Mika’s. Bogota’s harsher in environment, Medellin’s is perhaps rawer. I journal in the morning while Liza practices her guitar: metronome journaling while Mika moves sprigs. Wine induced pasta lunch at Jeanine’s and feeling like there is something about life that should be slow and deliberate. We four do not work full time at the moment and it seems like the pace is how it should be. And there are dreams of farm. And fear is part of it. I buy street art. I carry on my lavender plant from the Bogota urban garden and walk the streets of Medellin like Natalie Portman at the end of the Professional. And lavender kicks off the urban garden in Medellin and I know my thoughts are not so different from the little lavender in a bag.
Carmen. Back in Antioquia I attend a protest against the privatization of water sources in a small town outside of Medellin. I protest multi-nationals reaping the territory, harvesting money and leaving behind starvation and death. I hate that I am associated with those companies for the simple act of being foreign, for being from the world-dominating USA.
Medellin. With all of my possessions in Medellin, I feel settled. As October closes I plant an urban garden. I amp my craft box for Art as therapy. I attend political conferences and protests and confront issues of racism and resolve for fearless honesty. I work on my scrap book. As October ends I fill out more applications, have more interviews, more visions of contradicting and completely different futures. I re-enter the world after an August of reclusion, a September of hibernation.
There is a night of fireworks and vallenatos and urban gun fighting and I have sleepless night full of nightmares and tears and then I resolve to wake at 4am. I make coffee and reflect on dreams of young boys in hammocks, dead after combats in jungles. Of funerals and vigils. Of how kids are killed in the city too, but I will never have to see them bleed. I watch the sun rise outside my window, watch the sky turn from black to deep blue while gun shots fire downtown. The night was for mourning, but the dawn would not be broken; the fighting ended with the daylight.
While mopping the floor one day, I dislodge the water tube from the laundry machine. When Negro does laundry, our floor floods. We are on all fours with towels, ringing two inches of water from the tiles, telling stories of every other flood we’ve ever lived through.
I have no foreign friends in Medellin. There will be no Halloween costumes. I see a colorful kite out the window and think of Supango, of Halloweens and All Saints Days of my past. And in the Peace Community, the oldest man goes missing. There are search parties and rumors of foul play.
I wonder, though, if it isn’t more a situation of him turning into a black cat the week of Halloween, and wandering off to die alone.