Monday, June 20, 2011

my surreal life

The other day I was walking Natalie to school like I do every morning.  It's about a 20 minute walk down the end of the peninsula. It's beautiful and I catch glimpses of the lake as I walk.  Often muddy, I sludge my way through while dodging white NGO land cruisers careening their way to work as fast as they can on the pot holed road.  Natalie walks, and I push my big bright blue double BOB sport utility stroller that has two kids in it.  Sometimes I carry one on my back and bring all four.  I stand out.   A lot.  So, on this particular day I was walking.  It was the beginning of dry season and the dust was billowing.  Coughing, with eyes stinging, I determinedly trudged on (I need exercise and an excuse to leave the compound almost desperately) while Natalie complained about how many cars there were and how dusty it was that day.  We were passed  by a big white UN truck with the canvas on the back, full of soldiers.  Natalie screamed and covered her ears.  This actually isn't unusual at all (the UN vehicle or Natalie screaming).  We live down the road from a big UN base camp, and there is a lot of UN traffic because of that.  It's not too unusual to see a UN truck carrying 50 plus soldiers going to their base (which is on my way to school).  And Natalie is freaked out by the huge trucks, by their noise and by the way they barrel past us (as there are not sidewalks).   The truck passed, Natalie calmed down, the dust settled, and I walked on.  Then I hear another barreling behind us.  It passes.  I keep walking.  Another passes.  Natalie now is screaming non stop.  The dust is everywhere.  I quickly stick her in front of Isla's feet on the stroller foot rest.  She closes her eyes and plugs her ears, safe in her world for a moment.  More trucks pass.  By the time I am at the UN base, I am surrounded by nine of these huge UN trucks full of soldiers.  They are turning around, soldiers in fatigues are getting out, street kids are begging from them, dust is whirling, huge trucks are a hairs breadth from me, and I am trying to pick my way through it all with my BOB stroller and my three kids.  At one point, I just had to stop and stand there.  It hit me how surreal my life really is here.  And how I probably will never live in a place like this again, with all it's contradictions and beauty.  

I live behind compound walls, with one guard every day during the day and two at night.  I have barbed wire on two sides of the compound walls.  Once, I had a man fall into our compound, from the neighboring compound.  He had been caught thieving.  The neighbors were yelling at us to send him back over the wall to them.  They wanted to beat him (maybe to death, another post on that in the days ahead).  We knew that if we called the police, perhaps similar fate waited him, but it was less likely.  We called the police.  I have a gorgeous yard, with a tire swing and a swing set.  We have a big garden (which I completely neglect) and rabbits (which our house mates eat, good for the heart I'm told, I still can't stomach that).  I live in an old Belgium "mansion".  It's gorgeous from the outside and crumbling and moldy in the inside (which has given Mike and I asthma the last four years, him worse than me).  I have a full time cook and housekeeper.  The need for a housekeeper seems legitimate given that we need to hand wash cloth diapers (in the tune of 450 per month) and six people make a big mess.  The cook, less so.  Even so, I've grown to appreciate hand made fresh tortillas and food prepared for me 24/7.  At the same time, I feel like I may go nuts some days, craving privacy.  Then, ironically, I struggle with acute loneliness and isolation.  The same gorgeous compound at times feels like a prison.  I don't go anywhere often.  In actuality, where would I go?  To my friends houses, most of whom work now that their kids are in school.  And when the kids are home, often the kids want to play with other german speaking children.  So, it's quiet.  At times the quiet is so loud I want to scream, and I yearn for distraction and adults to talk to, anything to do, to see, to visit.  I am trapped, my mind argues, many days.  Yet, I am scared of the states and the life to come.  How busy everyone is, all the time.  I rarely hear from friends anymore.  Life is too full, too distracted and rushed.  My current life is the antithesis of the typical american life in almost every single way.  I now cling to simplicity and quiet and am scared of the hurry, the need to buy, to have, to compare.  Here, I am rich and my skin screams the true nature of privilege and wealth. I am reminded of what I "have" every single day and my gut wretches every time.  I know my responsibility.  I learn compassion, it is forced on me in a real, physical way.   In the U.S., I will quickly forget what it means to be rich, to be an American with rights, justice, in a country with little corruption (comparatively), and much infrastructure.  I'm afraid that I will lose compassion, humility, and the knowledge of my fragility, the quickness of this life, the preciousness of this life, the weak inside of me.    I say goodbye, yet I can't.   I don't know how.  

This actually is not the same truck, and definitely not the same road.  This picture is from last week, from a porch of f a building down town (where there is a bit of pavement here and there).  My road is either mud or dust, depending on the season.  In either season (dry or rainy), the potholes remain. 

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