Friday, June 12, 2009

Shaking the dust off my blog


A year ago I was still in Congo. The rush of the last couple of months in Kinshasa was at its peak and my Guate days still seemed like a desirable but distant possibility. I dreamt of bookshelves for my geeky anthro books and for my favorite historical fiction, for my pseudo-copper Cameroonian cats and the gray and blue water jugs that survived the bullets from March 2007. I am here now. My books are patiently awaiting their shelves but the sofas that will see many hours of reading are already in place. So is my energy efficient fridge (another important element of last year's imagining).

We're in Guate now. Despite having plunged right back into work here, and after getting reacquainted with the local forests, I still need to remind myself that the key to our place is indeed THE key to OUR place, never mind the mortgage. Funny how I have stocked up á-la-Kinshasa with enough non-perishables to last a small-sized siege. I suppose Kin will never completely leave me, nor do I want her to.

I toyed with the idea of changing blogs and start a Guate Days one, but I think I will stick to the Congo one for now and go from there. After all, I think of Congo almost daily, here in the city and particularly when I am in Petén, where the heat and the humidity confuse me at times and I feel like the forest here is the forest there and one day I WILL merge my memories into one long journey down one long river.

I know just a few folks will appreciate the following picture in its fullest (Lisa, Paya, if you are reading). Things are similar but certainly not the same. Following the Congo-Guate analogy, I suppose that Flores and Santa Elena would be my Mbandaka. This is where I spend the most time when I am out in the field. The "Auberge the Bolls" would be the Casona and the Congo River would be Lake Petén Itza. Voilà my new "chez moi."




The awesome Guate pics were taken by Charlie Watson. Thank you Charlie!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Time to move?

Well, I have been home for two months now. This was my first February in Guate since 2005. I left Kin six months ago and I don't think I will be returning to Africa any time soon. I thought I would, or at least I wanted to think I would, and so I told myself and my friends "but I will come back, we will meet again," while life was already making it harder to happen. One day, maybe. In the meantime I have been thinking that perhaps I should start a new blog. I have stuff to write about and I don't think it will fit the tone of Congo Days...I am pretty sure it won't. Why? 1) I feel my geekiness coming back in full force, 2) I am always more serious in Guatemala, 3) I am counting and enumerating things already.

So, I will probably move to a new blog and just visit my Congo ones from time to time, make sure things did happen and it was not my imagination. I will go back and remember how I missed what I now have, and be happy I am here. But I will also go back and feel nostalgic, and I will be happy because I love missing beautiful and tragic places. Like I missed home.


Wild horses

Friday, November 7, 2008

Guate Days

High time I updated my blogs...I am still unsure of how to go about writing about Guate after moving back. The Congo is still quite present in my everyday life, though. I am trying to familiarize myself with the environment crowd again and I keep drawing examples from Congo and Central Africa all the time. It has been fun (and helpful!) to be able to compare gossip on the BINGOs and the general conservation situation and mostly to feel like I can work in my own country on subjects that I care and see some change (if minor) happen in my lifetime.

I do and will miss the vastness of the Congo Basin forests. The pressure on Guate's resources is immense and the little forest left seems to be under serious siege by the usual, scary suspects. I do enjoy being a national again. I never got used to being an ex-pat, specially an obviously white one. I love blending and speaking Spanish and working with colleagues that care as much as I do about the environment, economic development, health, etc. etc. etc. I have so many plans I'll have to take good care of my health because I might need to work well into my 80s to do what I want to do.



I will miss Africa. I am disappointed that the trip I had planned for this year will not happen and hope I'll get to go back in the near future. I miss AB, Martin, TGV, Jack, Nina, Hugette and the rest of the crowd, gossiping with the girls and discovering the globalization of crash diets :) I miss aquagym and not having to wear a sweater in the evening.


I had missed Guate. I am glad I caught the last days of the rainy season and am loving every single November day with its random kites in the sky. I got to walk in the mud and wear my field boots (¿vio Manolo?) hear Q'eqchi' spoken again. I thought I could still say a few words but soon realized all that was coming out was either Lingala or French...


I can't wait to have friends and family visit next year and be, once more, the insufferable Chapina that believes that even if not all is well here, it is always better to be "in my country."

P.S. Congrats to all my friends on Obama's win. We have been shameless supporters of Barack Obama and are thrilled to share the excitement with all the peoples of the United States. Another great November!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Forget Kentucky!


or "El Pollo Campero" for that matter...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy Left Handers Day

August 13, Left Handers Day.

Being a lefty has always been an integral part of my identity. Not sure why, but I always found solace in the fact that I was left-handed and was born in October, don't ask me why. Ever since I was little, I always noticed lefties in the room.

When I was in elementary school I hated art class because of all the rules. All those instructions felt claustrophobic. I was never given a break when it came to cutting with scissors, sewing, or mastering any basic skill with right-hand instruments. Some teachers were more understanding than others, but one or two gave me a hard time for doing things "backwards" despite the fact that I still got very good grades doing things my way. I wish back in the third grade I'd known I was in such good company. I know this would have irked Mrs. S, but I would not have resisted dropping a few names. Here you go, Mrs. S...

Some famous and infamous left-handers: Simon Bolivar, Napoleon, Charlemagne, Alexander the Great, Fidel Castro, Gandhi, Helen Keller, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens, Toulouse Lautrec, Billy the Kid, Jack the Ripper, Mark Twain, Franz Kafka, Marie Curie, Jerry Seinfeld, Drew Carry, Spike Lee, and of course, my friends J, A, T, and others with whom I have bonded over our left-handedness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

My Congo Days are Numbered

My Congo days are numbered and I feel sad. I keep thinking of reasons to stay and I keep finding reasons to return to Guate. I want to go home. Home is Guate. "Home" to me also means a place where I can invest myself because I belong there. I can complain about what doesn't work but I also can legitimately invest myself in living according to my principles and accept the risks that come with this. This sounds horribly lofty and it may give you the wrong impression about how I see myself, but I don't know how else to phrase it.

As much as I will miss the Congo, I need to leave. Being here has taught me many lessons in humility and one of them is acceptance of how little impact we really have on the world. We're just passing through the world, really. The causes that we adhere to may sound altruistic but the reasons why we join have often a (strong) selfish component. In my case, this has been a desire to feel useful. And it is this need to feel useful that drives in part my need to return to Guatemala. The other reasons are obviously selfish and need not be elaborated upon: most of my family is there, most of my friends are there, D. and I like it there, the weather is nice, we love the food, the roads are better, there are far fewer power outages and water usually runs where we'll live.

The usefulness factor is the only one that I feel I need to explain. Here in Kin I feel quite useless. My work may or may not mean a thing in the short term OR in the long term scheme of things. Things in Guate may not be that much different but at least the little dent I'll make will mean something to me. Yes, to me me me.

When people ask me how I came to be in the Congo I answer with the truth: "my boyfriend moved here, I looked for a job, I moved here." I can tell from people's expressions that they find my story a bit disappointing. No, it was not the desire to navigate the Congo River, or walk in the jungle, or see elephants in the wild (I never did, btw). I did not come to save anyone or anything. If we want to talk about saving, it was rather the Congo and its culture shock therapy that saved me or at least forced me to reassess my life. This is why I am sad. In some strange way, it is the Congo that feels more familiar now. I have at least a dozen concrete dreams and plans for Guate and many enjoyable things lined up, but these are all plans that were born on this side of the Atlantic and I sometimes wonder how will they fare over there?

To end this (probably too private) entry, I need to clarify that I am thoroughly enjoying all these thoughts and reflexions. I am happy to be sad about leaving and I am grateful for every day that I've had to say goodbye to my favorite baobabs and rambling Art Deco houses, the strangers that I've come to recognize on the street, the sunsets and the tiny, electric blue Martin pecheurs and all the other birds that live, to quote my friend G., in this giant "cage" that is Kinshasa. I have fewer and fewer days to spare some change for Moïse, my little cheguez friend, to look for the Writer of Wagenia, to wave at the Incorruptible Traffic Cop, to gossip with my friends at work, and for so many things that up to last year would have been easier to leave behind. I'm happy to be sad.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

This particular forest


They want a forest.
This particular forest.
A forest far away.
They want to say they're there.
They want to say they've been.
They want to think the monkeys
are happy in between -
The tug of war,
the human fights,
the obvious question marks.
They want this forest.
But, why this forest?
I have not understood-
what is so special about these monkeys?
Have they got diamonds on the soles of their shoes?
Do they know about their walking blues?
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