Tuesday, November 19, 2013

These are the days that must happen to you

Skype conversations are a norm in my life now. I adjust to the fifteen hour time difference between Sydney and Cochabamba. I get home in the late afternoon to talk to my sister or my friend before they head off to work. I make time because these conversations have been the lifeblood of all my relationships. The conversations that are nothing but tonterias, the conversations that are all weight and depth, the conversations that are like wars of words where nobody wins but nobody loses because there's so much to say and it's been too long. All of these conversations keep me sane and give me a different sketch of reality to the one I drew myself. I talk to see my thoughts float out before me and be rearranged in so many different ways by the person on the other side. There are conversations that must happen to you, just as There are days that must happen to you.

A few weeks ago I had a long overdue conversation with my best friend. The conversation steered from recounting of recent events to present doings to the comparison of our past selves. Our past selves who would not settle, who would not sit down, whose dreams clawed out of us impatiently and always. Ghosts of then who would fail to recognise the sleepy faces we wear today. Past selves who would have covered their ears had they heard our conversation - We are not as ambitious as we once were. We do not want the whole world, just a small part of it. We no longer want to conquer, we want to nest. We do not want everything, anymore. We want less, but we want it more. 

What happened to us and the endless possibility that spilled in excess from our mouths at every turn we had to talk about the future? Days, weeks, months, years happened. Reality happened in the realist way possible. Dreams came true and achievements were reached and still the constant ache, the restlessness that did not fade. Problems, instead of being forgotten with the old clothes and ideas we threw out, simply stuck to whatever else we put on.

These are the days that had to happen to me, to us. The knowing that this is the way things are. There will never be a point on the graph of living years that signifies the end of change, of struggle, of figuring it out. The days where you realise that much of the events in your life cannot be controlled by you anymore than the clouds that move and flood and clear without warning or obedience to your sun-filled day dreams. The days where your heart bends to the point of breaking, is set on fire and begins to melt then dries rock hard into a shape you do not recognise. The days the events around you turn to swirls of dust that choke you because you are too slow or time is too fast. The days where you choose wrong, you do wrong, all the while entirely convinced of your rightness. The days where you crawl into a cave for a while to draw paintings and maps on the inside of your mind to try and figure out where to go from here, and when. There are a lot of these days, and although I fight it, I know they have to happen to get to other places and other days.

Listen! I will be honest with you;
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes;
These are the days that must happen to you:

Forever alive, forever forward,
Stately, solemn, sad, withdrawn, baffled, mad, turbulent, feeble, dissatisfied,
Desperate, proud, found, sick, accepted by men, rejected by men,
They go! they go! I know that they go, but I know not where they go;
But I know that they go toward the best - toward something great. 

- Song of the Open Road, Walt Whitman

Monday, November 11, 2013

little people, big dreams

When I was still in high school I went to visit my dad where he worked as a prison officer in Sydney for over two decades. It was father's day and he was working, so my mum, my four siblings and I brought him a picnic lunch. The boom gates were busy, cars were streaming in and out and like so many other children of inmates, I was there to visit my dad. While we chatted happily, the visiting families were stoic faces with painted on smiles. While I waved casually bye to my dad other children's tiny fingers were uncurled from their father's arms, their cries hushed with reassurances of another visit. I was going to see my dad when I got home but those children with fathers on the other side of the wall my dad was working would go home to an absence that filled all the rooms.

Here in Cochabamba I work with children living in jail with their parents. The little boys and girls sleep in the same bed as their mothers and siblings, snuggling tight like jig-saw pieces on a single mattress. There are typically eight families in a single room, bunk beds and no ventilation. There are newly born babies that cry all night because they are hungry and mothers who frustratingly try to lull them to sleep because their prison diet cannot produce enough milk to feed their own babies. The women wash clothes and sell food to make money to pay for their own rooms, the men make furniture six days out of the week in hopes of gaining a little money to perhaps buy an extra blanket or even a bed to sleep on.

And yet the children I work with in CAICC, Centro Apoyo Integral Carcelario y Comunitario (Centre of Integrated Prison and Community Support) are like all children - incredibly amazing little people with giant smiles, golden hearts, limitless imagination and big dreams. These kids tell me confidently they are going to be doctors or teachers, they are going to come and visit me in Australia because they will grow up and learn english and have jobs and travel. They are not limited by their circumstances, they see beyond, CAICC makes sure they can get there. It's not just children from the jail. Some kids at CAICC are there because there parents work long hours or overseas or in other cities. There is no difference between the hearts or minds or dreams of the children, except that at the end of the day half of them board the bus and head home to their prison cell beds.

It broke my heart to visit the jail where these children lived and to see them run along walls and prison guards. It gave me courage to realise that these kids have a place to grow up in and out of the cycle their parents fell into. I have seen with my own eyes the sense of family and community that has been created by CAICC, its director, its two teachers, the cook, the bus driver and the volunteers that have come through before I came, during, and that no doubt will come after. The children have breakfast there, do their homework, muck around, do 'officios' such as cleaning the floor or setting the table for lunch. They learn responsibility, they learn routines, learn work ethic, have adults and peers to look up to, learn how to treat their friends, how to respect their elders and that the world is bigger than the prison they grow up in. They are part of a community and a centre of people who not only care for them but so desperately want them to succeed in life, and do their very best to ensure that happens.

CAICC however has a precarious future and they cannot continue alone. Just like the kids, they need support from all the networks they can muster. They need people to be their champions, as they champion the need for these children to have a better future than their parents. If you want to be one of CAICC's champions and support these kids and their futures the fundraising page is here! 

Because even the smallest dreams and the biggest people need people to back them up. And it is CAICC that supports these beautiful little people with their big and lovely dreams. Everybody gets by with the help of others and if you can help CAICC continue their work, well, that would be a dream come true of this little person.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remembering in Potosi

Potosi is a city replete with legends, superstitions and nostalgia. Once the Villa Imperial and richest city in the world it is now forgotten by it's own president who, like so many who have passed through, promised but never delivered. Where is our international airport? No nos han dado nada an ex-miner complained to me.

Everything was closed for the feriado of Dia de Los Muertos so I spent Saturday afternoon watching Potosinos replace old flowers with new ones at the cemetery. Families sang songs, cried, made jokes and burnt tiny fires in front of the little windows donned with candles, photographs and inscriptions - 'Viviras eternamente en la memoria de tu esposa y hijos'. 

Remembrance and forgetfulness seemed to hold hands here and stroll along every worn out facade. The street signs bear the names of both the new streets and the names of the calles antiguas. The cerro rico is the same mountain sucked dry by the Spanish conquistadores, the same place where eight million indigenous bolivians died, where countless slaves were bought and brought over from Africa to have their lives taken for colonial wealth. It is the same place where still today thirty five tonnes of minerals are produced every month, where bolivians continue to work and live and mine.

My first impression of Potosi was a few months ago along a trip to Salar de Uyuni. We were just passing through but I remembering thinking no hay nada. Igual, I knew I had to come back, if only to see during the daylight what I missed that early morning in July. It was at dusk on the micro to the bus terminal yesterday night that I saw, and one could say believed, how this city was once one of the most celebrated in the world. The sky cast only shadows of the towers, arches, churches and the leaning hills. My mind conjured up parades, parties, corridas and all of the magic that wealth brings. The wealth just like magic disappeared in a click, a puff of smoke leaving the audience dumbfounded, unaware. Potosi is really two cities - one before the magician waves his hand and one after the swish of the cloak. Now you see it, now you don't.

And it was there that I remembered what it was that I had forgotten. That when you visit places you don't just see what is there now, you travel through time and through lives. Your imagination doesn't hold a candle to what is the story of the past. And I remembered, in Potosi, that the past is never really over - we are tourists not only of the where but also of the when.