Thursday, June 20, 2013

A day in the life of

There are good days and there are bad days where I work in Bolivia. There are good days in the bad days, and there are bad days in the good days.

I'll grin stupidly to myself when the kids tell me stories that make no sense, when they ask me what their names are in english, if they have cars where I come from and how come I have no hair. I'll laugh out loud when they say 'sayonara' to me even though I'm not Japanese, when they ask me silly questions and I give them silly answers, when we're playing games or when they want me to sing or play or push them on the swings. Those are the good bits.

I'll bite my tongue and blink back tears of frustration and anger when the afternoon rolls around, one kid is crying because some other kid hit him, the kid that hit him is yelling that it was because the kid who is crying hit him first, the other kids in the room are chanting and screaming and running around and dobbing on both of them and none of them are doing their homework and nobody is listening to my fumbling spanish commands to be quiet, to calm down, to stop crying and screaming and yelling and hitting and to just, pretty please, stop. Those are the not so good bits.

It's hard to measure the value of the work that you're doing when it is something that is meant to inherently add value to somebody else's life. It's easier if you work in the corporate world or a part time job where your KPIs, your monthly reviews and the contracts, projects or sponsors you get provide validation and a clear measurement of success.

A good day is when all the kids get their homework done and we get to play at the park or on the swings in the backyard. My only measurement is if there are more good days than bad days. If somehow I can learn how to make bad days good, if I can make everyday a good day, or even if I can just make it to work everyday - even if it is just for the little ones that run up and hug you as if you were the most special person in the entire world and they had been waiting all day for you to arrive.

That's how everyday begins; it never is a bad day with good bits, just a good day with bits that aren't as good as that. You can't compete with the pure affection of a child who thinks you are the bees knees and maybe that's more the value that's been added to my life rather than any homework I can help them with anyway. That was today anyway, a day in the life of..

Monday, June 10, 2013


Sundays are the best days to walk around Cochabamba. You don't have to risk your life crossing the street because the flood of cars, micros, trufis and motos is replaced with a slow trickle. You see people walking the few dogs that aren't the strays that run the streets and lie baking in the sun all day. You can stop and take photos of the graffiti that is almost always about politics or love. You can walk unencumbered by crowds because the Cochabambinos are having their weekly holiday. The only downside is that there are not the cholitas selling freshly cut papaya and pineapple on every corner, they are taking the day off.

The life style suits me here, the weather and the city that feels more like a town is so much of what living in Malaga was like. Mild winters that seem only to bite with cold right when the sun is down or right before spring arrives. Living in the centre of the city means you can walk to the markets to buy any of the fresh, organic produce. You can walk a block and buy hot empanadas, salteñas or choripan from the street stalls.

It reminds me of the Philippines too. La Paz was like Baguio City, high up in the mountains and cold even during the day. The cobbled and concrete hills, the power lines that hang in fat bunches like jungle vines, the fresh bread sold on the side walk. Maybe because of all of this or perhaps because it seems like the natural course of things, it quickly feels as if I have been living here far long than the few days it has been.

Things have changed, things have stayed the same. I am not as skittish, I do not act as viscerally as I did in Spain but there's also the familiar experience of arriving somewhere new. It's been over two years since that winter I arrived in Malaga and it's winter here now that I've arrived in Cochabamba. A new beginning to a new anecdote "When I lived in Bolivia....".

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Buenos Aires

Walking around cities for the first time has always been an ambivalent experience for me. I am drawn at once to the main streets crowded with people and the empty lane ways that seem to promise some obscure and dangerous perhaps.

After travelling europe I came to the realisation that I didn't care much for cities themselves. The draw card was the people, the teams and crowds and suburbs and sky rises full of people who had come to live squashed over each other in giant grey lego blocks with tiny cut out windows and views that mostly led to other tiny cut out windows of giant grey lego blocks.

In cities you are anonymous, you blend it, you are lost. This doesn't happen in country towns or in nature in the same way. You can be lost in a forest by yourself but being lost amongst the wilderness is not the same as being lost amongst humanity.

You lose count of cars, cafes, people, apartment numbers - you cannot count them all. You are one among many, there is nothing special about you amongst these forests of people. Your reflection is barely recognisable in the windows of departments stores you walk past. Graffiti artists attempt to make their mark but it is always temporary, it will always be painted over.

Buenos Aires is like this. It reminds me of many cities, or just reminds me of what it is like to be in a city outside of my own. Travelling by myself I often find myself just walking around, trying to get a feel for it as if the cities subways and avenues could move me.

I spent a few hours meandering the main streets, listening to that unmistakable Argentinian accent that will always remind me of my friend's room mate back in Spain and our merciless teasing of his spanish. They say "vos" in the place of "tu", they say "aca" instead of "aqui" and their rhythms rise and fall as if speaking was a dramatic exercise in theatre.

Perhaps my favourite thing of my entire twenty-two hour stop over in Buenos Aires was perusing the many bookstores filled with Argentinian history, second-hand books, South American and Spanish poets, revolutionaries and so many ideas from all over the world - all in spanish. I'm not sure if it was because I was looking at the books in such a possessive manner or seemed so intent on scanning the shelves that I got asked twice:
"Vos sos de aca?"
"No, no soy de aqui"

"Are you from here?"
"No, I'm not from here"

Cities allow you to be anybody and nobody at the same time. Medianeras is a film set in Buenos Aires about exactly that. It's about living in Buenos Aires amongst its haphazard architecture, the detachment of living in a city so large and how connections with people can sometimes be so elusive. And it has a cute indie romantic comedy feel. What's not to like?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Hasta Luego

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colours. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 
-Terry Pratchett

It's here, it's here, it's here! This morning I woke up in Sydney but tonight I'll be in Buenos Aires. The knots aren't twisting in my stomach but are somewhere in my chest wrestling with my better judgment and attempts to breathe. Deep breaths, deep breaths. 

Change, both self-induced or brought on by external circumstances, is inevitable. Yet it still makes my heart race, still finds ways to conjure up doubts and anxieties and the really fast thoughts that race by screaming whatareyoudoingwhatareyoudoingwhatareyoudoing... 

And you see everything you love in a way that is more distinct, more obtuse than the everyday blur. Leaving makes you see so vividly what it is that is going to be left behind. Friends you cannot possibly believe you will survive without, family that you cannot possibly believe you will survive without, food and drinks and home comforts that you cannot possibly believe you will survive without.

But somehow, you will because you have before and you will again. It just takes some remembering. Like riding a bike. whyamileavingagain is an old question you ask afresh every time you round the gates at the airport and stand amongst strangers in a queue for other places and new ideas and the beginning of something you can't predict yet. 

So here I am, saying goodbye for now. again. See you on the other side.