Friday, January 17, 2014

Oh God, seriously.

Buses here in Bolivia and Peru serve as mobile market places where plastic bags of chicharron are sold through the windows, where a man who presumably has an agreement with the bus driver to create some secret hell for passengers by selling a magical cures-all-sickness-and-prevents-all-cancers natural medicine proselytizes for about an hour with a microphone and a giant speaker, where the beginning of each trip starts with a call to the conversion to Jesus Christ.

Grace is a name that literally means the almighty power of God. I was born into a home that prayed the rosary, has crosses in almost all rooms of the house and bears close resemblance to a chapel. But as the man at the front of the bus spouted on about how the world is a horrible place and unspeakable things happen because you're not down with JC I had to bite my tongue and roll my eyes and stop myself from saying what I was thinking. I ain't buying it this crock of... 

You're not about to blame world hunger, climate change, natural disasters and human rights violations on me not joining in with the rest of the bus yelling AMEN! That's not on and that just pisses me off. Being born catholic I've had to deal with an overwhelming sense of guilt for most of the time I've been alive. Guilt for thinking, guilt for doing, guilt for wanting, guilt for ENJOYING guiltily guilt guilt. Somewhere between high school and university I climbed the mountain of guilt, looked down and realised that I didn't have to be standing there at all.

I believe in the almighty power of God, just not in the sense that has anything to do with yelling Amen on a bus because somebody is telling me a story I already know. There is magic in the universe, there is infinite love and absolutely no shortage of cosmic brilliance, all of which I believe wholeheartedly to be what my namesake is. But I don't have to justify that, I shouldn't have to justify that to anyone. God, No God, should not be an accusation, a pointed finger designed to make you feel defensive, or guilty or on trial. I don't quite think that's what the greater higher powers of the endless milky ways and galaxies had in mind for us. Correct me if you think I'm wrong.

When I climbed to the top of the rubbish dump of guilt I decided to set it on fire and let it all go. Before I did that however I decided to pick through the misguided feelings in search of anything worth keeping. I let go of the guilt for the not believing things I could not believe, of wanting things I was not supposed to want, of believing things I was not supposed to believe and a heavy magnetism drew me to    the only thing I knew to be true - love, kindness, consciousness and the need for us to be good to each other.

The need for me not to yell at this guy who was yelling at me. The need to dig deep into the well of my shallow pool of reserves for situations like this and find a way to be good, or at least, not to be mean or unkind or downright belligerent. So here and now, this is how it's surfaced. And it's reminded me of dear Roger Ebert who I only came to know through his thoughtful blog, who was authentic and true to that deeply human voice that echoes inside all of us, who believed in the magic of the universe - played out on the big screen.

“Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

Can I get an AMEN?   HELL YEAH!?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Away from home

The entire coast of Peru looks like somebody left the oven on, yet somehow managed not to completely burn everything to a crisp charcoal black. The land is a washed out yellow orange that is completely unromantic or rich. The indigenous ladies here have taller hats in longer shapes, skirts with patterns and designs you've never seen and speak varying dialects of quechua. The spanish has a spattering of different phrases. There is CHIFA everywhere. They have pedestrian crossings, for gods sake. And you are here now, in the middle of it.

You wake up to fast and the furious playing at full volume, in Spanish. You adjust your neck, your legs, your reclined seat, your awkwardly curled up body. Peru blurs past you, dry and indifferent. The same scene you were watching on your window tv set when you fell asleep with the sleeve of your jumper clamped over your eyes. There are many buses like this. All of them beginning with the impossibility of sleep, hours and many neck cramps later fatigue and bizarre sleeping positions win out and you are closed eyed and opened mouth comatose. You witness a lion-king sun set five hours outside of Lima, where a flaming sun is swallowed slowly and whole by the horizon of the sea – a curtain fall in reverse, rising over the sky. There’s an old Peruvian man who buys you water because you have no change, because they never have change. He gives you his number and says to call him, and you wish at that moment you didn’t speak Spanish so you'd have a valid excuse not to engage in conversation. You talk to a one armed security guard at the end of a beach in Mancora about machismo, the after-life, family and monogamy. His job is to stop tourists like you from going to the part of the beach where you may get robbed or raped, he tells you matter-of-factly.

Suddenly it’s new years eve, you’re drinking out of a giant plastic bottle cut in half, filled with rum and coke by a tall Argentinian guy who calls everyone che. You ogle at the fire works, a five year old child once again. Too busy with your head permanently tilted at a forty-five degree angle to take in the impressive explosions of street bought smoke and light you don’t see the car that is reversing into you. ‘AYE! AYE!’ the Argentinian yells to where you are standing in the middle of the bottom of a drive way. You laugh in a way that is a little drunk and in no way sheepish, a happy to be alive and not run over and to see fireworks all at the same time laugh. It’s a night you know you will remember and think back on for many new years nights to come. You’ll remember the wandering the streets in search of a bar or a club, emptying the jarra argentina with strangers, ranting to hamburger stall owners about the misuse of the term chinita and the Argentinian all the while laughing and cheering you on. Tumbling into bed at five am and falling into a heavy, snoring, drunken slumber. This is how you spend the first few hours of 2014. Happy and drunk and laughing and ranting in Spanish somewhere in Peru.

Traveling alone doesn't feel that different from home. Coffees by yourself scribbling furiously into a brown patterned book sold exclusively to tourists in la cancha. Except the scenery and people watching is different. Then there are the conversations. The whatareyoudoings and whereareyoufroms you exchange that occasional give way to forthcoming confessions or wonderings. Lying in hammocks near an oasis you talk with a kiwi about buying a tiny house and a giant plot of land in a secret location somewhere in New Zealand, about when you should have kids and does time run out and they have so many options these days but a baby is not a cat but a life altering decision. In Huaraz the Argentine rants to you about tourists that come with no interest in the culture or the people or the language and treat the entire continent like a giant amusement park and he hates it, he hates it. You nod and agree, thinking of the red-eyed, hungover, loki-loyal backpackers struggling through another day of impress-me-south-america! and try and explain diplomatically that you can't write off people like that because maybe it starts off that way with the culture or the language or the people as a nicely presented side-dish to the main course of partypartyparty and a check-list of sights, but you have to start somewhere.

And you're glad for the unexpected adventures, the unforeseen friends, the lovely and surprising kindness and interest people take in you - just another mochilera traveling through. But the last couple of days you think mostly of being home in Cochabamba. You breath a deep sigh as you cross the Bolivian border near Lake Titicaca, a wave of sheer delight and anticipation. So much closer to home. There are no buses when you finally get to La Paz but you ask around with another Argentinian girl who is heading home with as much ganas as you but hundreds of kilometres and many more buses to go. You follow a man outside a bus terminal who says there is an extra bus, which indeed there is. You both need to pee but they have no toilet so you curl up into a ball and wait for Cocha, eight hours away. Finally you are here, you have arrived. The sky is pouring down a sad grey mess spluttering the roads and the window you stare out of with familiarity and recognition; the same weather that saw you off that early morning in December, last year. You're ready for sleep, home cooked food, familiar faces and a city you navigate with a purposeful stride. You take a taxi to your house telling the chofer the address that rolls off your tongue so easily. It's raining and you don't have the keys so you yell from the gate hoping someone in your house will be awake at 8am on a saturday morning and a face you recognise pops out from the second story window smiling and you know the door is opening and you're home, por fin