Thursday, August 6, 2015

Buenos Días Bogotá

“Like someone had picked up Berlin and dropped it in Florida.”  That was my first impression of Bogotá.  But as we kept driving, that description melted away – every turn, every corner, the city seemed completely different and always new.  A giant city bustling with people and traffic.  Oh the traffic!

Bits and pieces of familiarity sprung out at me like neon signs; others were lost in the huge array of newness.  A speed limit sign reminiscent of the game, Mille Bornes, Alfred and I attempted to play as kids, made  me think of France.  A random cow along the side of the road and a packed minibus conjured up thoughts of Zambia.  The palm trees brought to mind a conflated mess of places I’ve lived and visited.  The large square between the Supreme Court and the Congressional building, filled with pigeons who didn’t even flinch when you stepped next to them, transported me to San Marcos Square in Venice.  Small pieces of familiarity floating in a sea of new.

Bogota Some things that ought to have been familiar mixed in with the overwhelming activity of the city in a way that prevented my mind from grasping the known-ness of them.  Bars on windows, garage-door shuttered shops, coach buses, plantains. 

A place so different from anywhere I’d been it could turn even the familiar into something new and strange.  At breakfast, I filled my plate with fresh fruit, eager to try all the strange things before me and ate my piece of watermelon whole, seeds and all.  It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized watermelon is something I know, that I never would have done that at home and probably ought to have removed the seeds.

Meals were a delight of adventures.  Fresh fruit of all kinds, blackberry juice, fresh strawberry juice in milk, varieties of cheeses I couldn’t pronounce tucked inside a crepe slathered in mushroom sauce, a drink made of mint and ice and apparently nothing else (a mint smoothie?).  There was some jam at breakfast that was sort of a yellowish-green.  It looked strange; I had no idea what it was.  So, of course, I had to try it.  It tasted like something I’d eat in art class.  (I didn’t have it again, though my juice at breakfast the next day was the same color.  It did not taste like art supplies.)  Scrambled eggs in sort of a day-glow orange hue, honey dripping off the honey comb into the serving dish, black olive jam (yum!), cornmeal cheese buns (almojábana, I think), flat pastries of all kinds, and the most gorgeous giant desserts that I never saved room for.

The menus were the only thing I could mostly handle on my own.  Thank you Mr. Trizzle and years of authentic Mexican restaurants and taco trucks in the Yay.  The rest of the time, I kept looking for the English signs that accompany the Spanish, or the small English print that is always somewhere on the signs on the bus adverts in the US.  I wasn’t looking because I expected it to be there.  I was looking out of habit.  I would find myself doing it and shake my head at myself.

I did manage to carry out one thing in Español without help from anyone: Fed-Exing Alfred and Nathy-Boo a postcard.  Either Colombia’s postal service is lacking or Colombia is lacking a postal service.  I’m not sure which, but Fed Ex seemed to be the only option.  The difficult part was spelling their address.  “Seite dos” – that part was easy.  “Te aye rrr rrr ah say aye.”  I couldn’t remember the vowel sounds at first.  Why didn’t I write it you say?  I was spelling it verbally because the clerk couldn’t read my handwriting.  Luckily she showed me the price on a calculator.  I can count to 10 and know 20, but once we’re in the thousands, I’m lost!

I felt awful about not being able to do more than greet - *sings* Buenos días, como esta?  Muy bien gracias y como le va? *done singing* and asking “habla Inglés?”  (Thank you again, Oakland.)  But the people were very friendly and helpful.  I guess I was expecting Paris, but Paris is, well, Paris.

Bogotá is in the mountains and surrounded by mountains.  There is one called Monserrate (which first I thought was Mount Serrate, and then when I saw how it written I kept picturing Moulin Rouge for some reason) that has a gondola up to the top – no believed me that this was the correct “English” word for the basket in the sky that takes you up the mountain.  Monserrate can also be climbed.  I must come back someday to climb Monserrate in my hiking boots like Table Mountain in Cape Town.  Or, if I am too old by the time I return, I’ll take the gondola up like at Banff in Canada.  And next time, I should come with someone who likes coffee!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Permanent Display

Stop it.

Stop calling me beautiful.

Stop saying I’m pretty.

In the middle of a conversation,

When I thought we were talking,

When I hoped you were listening.

Now I know,

You are not listening.

This in not a conversation.

I am talking,

But I might as well be squawking, chirping, growling, barking,

Like the other animals in the zoo.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Life After Life in my life

Life after life So I finished the book.  The book I didn’t like.  I can’t say I liked it by the end.  I also can’t say I hated it as much by the end as I did in the middle.  And somewhat begrudgingly, I have to admit it is sticking with me in a thought-provoking life-contemplating sort of way that isn’t wholly disagreeable.

I’ve sometimes wondered how my life would be if I’d done x instead of y.  Most often, if I’d kept the extension I received in the Peace Corps and moved to Livingstone instead of Nashville.  But I’m far more of a fate-ist than Ursula or Kate Atkinson. I  believe things happen for a reason, even if I don’t understand the reason at the time.  And, I believe the big things will work themselves out the way they’re intended to be despite my smaller (or even bigger) choices.

God has a path for me.  Sometimes I see it clearly.  Sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I’m not even sure where the next step goes and I stumble around for awhile.  But in the rearview mirror, when I look down that path, even the stumbling makes sense.  Sometimes I need to be further down the path than other times.

So Ursula’s many lives in some ways have me thinking again of what ifs.  But rather than having regrets or dwelling on the past with anything less than appreciation, Ursula’s effect is to make me feel calmer about the future.  As I tell people who ask I’m not scared about doing this thing or that or some circumstance they think is crazy, “God’s got me.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fancy Flight

avianca logo Ben Stiller and one of the Wilson brothers are talking to Egyptians.  Jennifer Garner is annoyed with what looks to be an anorexic Matthew McConaughey.  And next to me, Robert DeNiro is taking a walk in a park.  I’m listening to Beethoven – and while his 9th Symphony is pleasant, I’m reminded of one of the reasons I prefer flying Southwest – simplicity.  Some might call it no frills.  I think of it more as freedom.  Freedom from the entertainment of others.  Intrusion-less into the calm reflective or comradery time that is my time in the air.

On Southwest, I sit in the front row – nearly every time, certainly every time I can – and all the rest of the plane does not exist.  There is no seat back in front of me to crunch my knees.  There is no tray table that doesn’t go flat on my lap.  There is no meal that I can’t eat while everyone else scarfs down food.  We all have the same little baggie of snack something.

I read, write, knit or make friends with the person next to me.  They’re always exceedingly nice.  Mark, the 7’ tall Warriors fan from Australia.  Hamed, the Algerian Berkeleyite with a fabulous seasonal home in North Africa.  The very pleasant gentleman who calmly tolerated the walking stereotype valley girl and her purse doggie.  But Southwest doesn’t fly internationally, so here I am, 10 rows back in seat 14D.  The seats are spacious.  There’s no seat back in my knees, but the tray table doesn’t fit over my legs. 

I have grand plans of reading, but the shiny sparkles of tv screens pull my eyes, darting in every direction.  A man wearing a plastic sheet as a boa, what looks like Julianne Moore dying of AIDS or consumption.  A cave man smooshing the face of the Australian chick from the acapella movie Munchkinhead loves (the one where the sequel has the Packers), and a bunch of old men in a park with that guy who sings “Party Rock Anthem” (what?).  So my book sits on my lap and I blame these fancy flights, these bored passengers taking advantage of the free entertainment, for my lack of interest in Susan Sell.

Truth is, her eye-poking style of writing makes me rather crabby and I’m already having difficulty being nice to the world.  I should have packed some Ruth Okediji instead, or Pride and Prejudice.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Why “Don’t Resist” Advice is Not the Solution

Sitting on an airplane, the man in front of me was watching 12 Years a Slave.  I glanced up.  Two men were just hung.  A third was passing and was kicked by a white man to move along.  The hung – as being hung - looked at him, at the man passing, with what in their eyes?  Not pleading.  I don’t know.  He looked back knowing it was their last look, and they were hung.  Bodies twitching violently in the air, high above the crunchy brown leaves and the stained hats of the stained white men.

This is why “don’t resist” is not an acceptable answer to the pervasive police brutality against black men in this country.  For over 200 years, we have told black men they have no dignity.  We have emasculated them with commandments that they obey our orders and our force or die.  To tell them the solution to not dying is to just obey is not ok.

“Obey, and fight it later in court,” and this, somehow, is supposed to be “justice.”  Without even getting into the skewedness of that system, even if they “win” by not having charges filed or by getting a case dismissed on a 4th amendment violation, their dignity has still been taken.  There is no justice for that; there’s no getting that back.  The closest they can get is a civil judgment or settlement against an officer or a department by their family after they’re dead – or maybe, in extremely rare cases (Walter Scott), a Colors of the Wind quote murder charge against the officer.

The solution is not “don’t resist.”  The solution is showing respect and acknowledging dignity.  It is officers treating human beings as fellow men – not “others,” not “criminals,” not “thugs,” not “pests,” or “suspects” or “perpetrators.”

A lady who had testified during the Congressional Briefing on The Justice Package said on the news, “it’s the system, not the officers.”  Well you know what? The officers are the system.  And until they can treat other humans – black humans, black male humans – with respect, the system will not change.

“Do not resist” is not the answer.  It only addresses the symptom of “death in police custody.”  It does not address the problem, the raping of black men’s dignity, the continued degradation and emasculation of the American black male.