Wednesday, August 31, 2011

herStory in Veracruz

I'd like to show you all what we've been doing here with this piece of land which isn't ours but also isn't not ours (how's that?)  We have been working very hard for three years. This is the skeleton of our home, taken April 12th, 2008.  Ceiba was 8 months old.
 Arturo, our compadre Jeremias also called "El Flaco", a neighbor of his, Rey, and Don Firulais, a solid old man, started and finished "raising palm" on April 15th.

 The next day at noon Ceiba, Arturo and I arrived with Lady the dog and her puppies, and began occupying this space in order to "be the change we want for the world", in the words of Gandhi. 


I don't remember the first time I met Camaron but I do remember from moments he spent here at our ranch with us that his eyes were calm and gentle and he always showed utmost respect to the people around him.   My daughter called him "Tio Camaron" on several occasions, though she didn't remember him the last time he came over sometime last week or so, after an absence of too many months to have counted.  We barely saw him but I did say hello and heard him asking Ceiba if she'd forgotten "Tio Camaron".  I don't think she answered.

I remember that one day he spoke about an uncle who owned weapons and I felt scared at the idea of arms, as I always do at the thought of weapons, in the hands of just about anyone.  In the USA, I think, weapons are rampant but are most often concealed.  Even police keep their guns tastefully out of sight: though visible, not obvious.  Here in Mexico large, long,  two armed weapons are common on all police, security guards, and military personnel at checkpoints that are present throughout most of the country.  (Our military makes its presence known outside our country, the Mexican military makes its presence known throughout its country).  I remember the indescribable sensation I felt when, strolling in an Underground station in London with some friends on New Years Eve, 1999, we came across a group of British police.  They didn't have guns!  They looked SO strange!  I think of the homeless people I've seen and spoken with who are Vietnam vets, and think  of the story a friend told me of the "bum" who "loiters" around his door in Anchorage, who confessed to having killed a man in 1989 and, as a man of indigenous heritage, to being certain that there was no way of clearing the blood from his name.  He told of a girlfriend who was Christian, and who implored him to accept Christ because she worried about his soul if he didn't.  (He'd been in the Army, sent to somewhere in Central America.  He was ordered to kill, no?).

Today the town's yellow newspaper, which is sold at everyone's door to the tune of a recorded scandalous voice yelling "MATARON a un vecino de Jaltipan", that a young man had been shot dead in Coatzacoalcos.  Of course there's a voice in me (and voiced through me) of the opinion that he must have gotten into things he shouldn't have, fallen in with a "heavy" crowd, and that he must have gotten what was coming to him (because this thought somehow protects me from such seemingly senseless violence).  But the rest of me can't stop thinking about the mirada of our friend, who brought us chickens for our dogs when they were unsellable at work, who played with Ceiba from afar and had barely left boyhood himself.  I hope he's moved to a place where the gentle part of his spirit, which we knew briefly but for certain, is given a better chance than it was in whatever circumstances he sought and found in this life.  I pray that he was a believer.  And also that all of that violence finds its resting place for once and for all.

Rest In Peace Camaron

Saturday, August 6, 2011

the view from the other side

 A couple views of our wee domain and baby jungle from the other side of the ravine.  

It was beneath the Macaya in the foreground below that I met Arturo.  I was struck by the simple chivalry in his standing to cut a few large leaves off a nearby tree and laying them down on the red dirt ledge for me to sit without getting my skirt dirty. 
The largest palapa is the Palapa del Fandango, the one in the foreground is the guest house, and our small rooftop is just barely seen to the right in the first pic.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop

There are too many waterfalls here, the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare and some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other,  less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there...No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

war photography

A friend put this on his Facebook profile,

It's about a mutual friend who we both met in Oaxaca in  2003.  We were all arriving in those days.  Three years later, as a conflict between Oaxaca's civil society and it's government escalated into a street "battle" (the quotes because the weapons were largely sticks and rocks on  the side of the people and canisters of tear gas on the side of the police which, albeit unpleasant and quite frightening, are indeed not usually deadly), the three of us along with other friends and colleagues met up in the central square of Oaxaca in order to make revolution.  As the confusion of conflict buzzed about us, I heard a man say into his walkie talkie, "The police are making a front on Bustamante (a block away), we all need to go there and get ready for the face off."

I'd always been stubbornly confident to a fault, and apparently received Highest Honors on my undergraduate thesis because I'd gone into a war zone to do my research, but in that moment I remember a feeling flooding through my bones and down to my feet that made me certain that I was a) not willing to die for the battle that I'd until then thought myself a part of and b) therefore had no business whatsoever being all up in it.  Coincidentally, Katie's then boyfriend, a Oaxacan very much in his own struggle, looked at my face in that precise moment and perfectly read what my mind and body were thinking.  I remember that without a word he extended his arm toward me, at the end of which his hand was wrapped around the handle bar of the bike that he and Katie shared.  I accepted it with unspeakable gratitude and promptly jumped on and fled the center of the conflict through eerily quiet streets and the caustic remnants of tear gas.

I imagine something akin to this is what Katie must have felt on Tripoli Street in Misurata, Libya on April 20th, as she watched her colleagues fall and bleed.

My head can't decide how to feel about it all, and yet I can't just leave it at that either.

Last night I looked at some of the work of one of her fellow disaster photographers who was killed that day, who did 14 tours in Iraq, and many others among all manner of war-torn peoples.  The tragedy of each image is always the same.  It makes me feel that the side of me that wants to say "their work is important because it gives the rest of the world images of what is really happening" is actually quite wrong.  It makes me feel certain that the side of me that wants to say "they have no business being there whatsoever" is right.  Who are we to know what a child looks like when she's covered in the blood of both her parents, who were just shot dead in front of her because they didn't stop their car promptly when a foreign officer told them to?  Isn't that the sort of thing we should only know if we are truly going to know it by truly living through it?  This child felt her parent's blood fall on her, heard the blasts of gunshots and shattered glass, felt the confusion thereafter, only to be taken from the car by men dressed as non-men, in head-to-toe combat wear, and then photographed like a starlet on the catwalk with no frame of reference whatsoever that could explain the western obsession with "seeing" to "believe".  I imagine that the flashes from the camera in the night must have been just as terrifying to her as the bullets that killed her mother moments before.  Later, the "image" won merits and was discussed by media.  The girl was called "doll like" but was by no means a doll.  The media itself turned her into a doll.  They did NOTHING whatsoever to help her or her people in so doing.  We do NOTHING to stop our soldiers from killing innocent civilians each day, because we simply can't. 

So why?  By what right does a western, white press move in and out of places where not-so-white refugees wait and die during months of war to do the same?  By what right do these talented and daring photographers gain prestige for themselves upon the misery that they capture in the faces of others?

I don't mean to judge Katie or the men who died.  I am proud to know such a brave soul, though I wonder what purpose she'll find for her life now that the innocence inherent in bravery shattered and left her shell shocked.  I'm sure (knowing her) that it will continue to be a noble purpose, and pray that she can mentally leave Tripoli street as her body and soul were fortunate to do.

I wish that the horror that is war, fighting and killing and loving and losing amongst people, were not so hackneyed as it is in our society. (Especially considering that for more than a century we have not experienced a single war as civilians.  This, to me, is KEY).

I wish that saying "Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me" were enough for the entire Earth and all it's people.  (I wish it were enough for me).  I wish that we could all leave our yellow curiosity for blood and misery behind and look for images of peace and love on faces of all the colors of the world.

Finally, I wish Katie all the best and, in spite of it all, thank her for her images, which are not so bloody, but rather are beautifully human.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A whole new world

While it may to some of you appear to be a reference to Aladdin and Jasmine's duet in a Disney movie (it really stuck in my head at 11), it actually refers to the elaborate, exaggerated, but actually quite (possibly) realistic dream that Arturo and I shared when we met and as we quickly came to love each other and agreed to commit our lives to a child and to making a new world for him or her on the land passed to his family through his paternal grandmother.

From the roof of the current guest house facing north (see the outline of the Sierras San Martin and Santa Marta? They are dormant volcanoes that rest at the southernmost point in the Gulf of Mexico). This is approximately half of the land.  The other half stretches westward.  Trees in the foreground are those described below.

The whole new world includes a forest made of the trees where local birds most like to feed.  This was perhaps the first step and happened naturally as the neighbor, who was mono cropping papaya in the zone where Arturo started carving his pyramid into the red earth with a shovel when we decided to make our home here, stopped his cycle of clearing, forceful plowing, and subsequent stripping of the land, and Arturo began to come in his free time to make something here with his machete.  He left this part of the land alone for three years.  Birds came and pooped the seeds of the trees that they most love, and a new native forest was born.  When I first arrived a year or so later they (the new trees) covered our heads but barely made shade.  We've now been here long enough to realize what their awesome growth feels like, and what it looks like, too: 

The Tucan criollo, they come in groups of ten or more at a time

Says "moot-moot", called both the Barranquenio and the Pajaro Cu, swings his tail feathers (see how they barely look attached?) like a pendulum, has a turquoise crown!

from the side.  isn't it beautiful?  They like dripping, cloudy mornings.  They sit in the Palo de Agua and say moot-moot, moot-moot.
A new face.  Anybody know its name?
Paloma torkasa--our endogenous dove

Pajarito rojo: Oh little red bird come to my windowsill...been so lonesome shaking that mornin' chill... (but not here in Jaltipan, where ever Gillian Welch was singing about) 
 Chejere, a smallish woodpecker, doing maintenance on the Palapa del Fandango


home making

If I remember correctly (it's entirely possible that I don't, but you'll have to take my word for it), one morning he said "today I'm going to begin to build it" and that afternoon I was beside myself with joy as I gazed upon the skeleton of our home:

It was enough to make the dream a reality in my mind.  Those days we were living with his parents in town, and would come in the afternoons with our 8 month old Ceiba and set up a temporary hammock camp beneath the tenuous shade of a tomatillo tree.
We were anxious to be living there on a constant basis, in order to get working on what we'd both decided would be our calling in this life: to build a natural home and a "whole new world" for our children.