INDEX: Astonishingly Azure -
One Day and Then One Year I The Sudden Creation and Slow Disappearance of Princess Peggy Transformed by Rocks, Sand and a Lousy Team Those Things Used To Walk
Nightmarishly Navy -
Some Significant Numbers Eye Witnessed The Souls Filth
Grievingly Green -
A Memorable Summer African deed
Ebulliently Emerald -
Not That Stupid Anchored Why Not?
Naturally Neon -
Desperation at the Summit A Series Of Non Stop Stereo-Not-So-Typically Morocco The Quest An Introduction To Hell Starting From Scratch An Open Scar The Mummification The Fall
ONE DAY AND THEN ONE YEAR One day, and then One year. I had waited a long time for this to happen. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it, but it was inevitable. More than 10 years had passed since the last time I had to face an event like this one and the stakes were much higher now. I was alone; on my own for the first time and all of the people that used to be there for me when I needed them where kilometers away. It was a new start; All of the things I had worked on for the last years meant nothing right now. I needed to start all over and give my best so that I could really make something out of the short time I had. I woke up with the strange feeling of not knowing where you are and how you got there. I had already been living in this place for over a week but I still opened my eyes and tried to visualize my old room, the big orange drapes that I had chosen when I was very small and that now made me dizzy, the big bookshelf that had stored most of my childhood memories and a lot of pictures of the people I loved, The big gray TV that I barely used but that brought me good memories, they were all gone. In their places were new catalog furniture objects that didn’t seem to flow with my room but that awkwardly stood still in the light of dawn. I rolled over, I could see the shinning red numbers of my alarm clock, it was already 7:05 and I knew I had to get ready soon but I felt as if my bed sheets had gained weight and had made the decision of not letting me stand up. My night sleep hadn’t been ideal but I had to work with what I had. I focused my sight on my sister’s bed. She was still sleeping, it was strange sharing a room with her, it was something that few times before we had to do. I stood up, I still couldn’t keep my eyes open. I rubbed my eyes a couple of times before I could focus my way to the bathroom. The cold floor tiles gave me the chills as I walked towards the sink. I looked myself in the mirror, it was me, but somehow I felt as if the person in front of the mirror was a completely different from the one being reflected from it. I was ready in a few minutes, since I had pre-chosen the clothes I was going to wear the night before. I walked back to my room, 7:18 on the alarm clock, I was on my schedule. I woke my sister up and guided her to the bathroom. She always took hours getting ready so I had to go and knock on her door constantly as I made our breakfast. I had to be careful not to wake my mom up. I looked out the window as I fixed the table and got the food out of the fridge. It was dull outside; I could feel the cold just by seeing the grey buildings covered with fog. I felt as if I was the only one awake in the whole city, which seemed to be paused in a state of total extinction. My sister was ready. We sat at the table and said a few words. We both looked at our watches again, 7:32. Time was passing faster than I expected. We both ate slowly, as if we didn’t want to get up from the table. As if we didn’t want our lives to continue and we didn’t want reality to hit us. After we cleaned the plates we walked to the bathroom and finished getting ready. Closing the door of my house I felt as if I had left 5
something inside, but I hadn’t, I had checked twice, even three times the night before to make sure everything was ready. It was, I am sure of it now, but I wasn’t sure at the moment. With a lot of thoughts rushing through my head I pressed the elevator button and I got in. A couple minutes later I was outside my house. Again with a weird feeling my sister and I both looked at each other and I could tell the confusion in her face was similar to mine. I stepped out of the building, which was now my home. It was weird to call it my home, since it really wasn’t, and I didn’t really want to call it that. For now, at least, I hoped. It was really cold outside and there was nothing familiar in sight. I walked beside my sister at a constant speed. It took us five minutes to get to the bus stop. I had chosen to take the public bus instead of the metro because for one, the bus stop was closer to my house, and also because apparently the metro was very crowded, especially in the mornings, and there was never really any place to sit. That’s what I had heard about the metro anyway. We both sat down because the electronic TV screen said that the bus arrived in seven minutes. I closed my eyes for just a moment and remembered all the events that had taken place and got me to this place. I wanted to make a good impression. I was stressed about the time we had. I quickly dismissed the thought of being late and told myself that everything was going according to plan. As the bus stopped in front of the stop I let an old lady pass in front of me, she took so long getting on the bus, but I waited patiently besides my sister. As I got in I saw lots of available seats where I could sit. Yes, I was right taking the bus to school. I sat there and looked up to the ceiling and saw a cardboard with all of the stops that bus made. I counted the number of stops it took for the bus to get to Rue de Theatre, eleven stops. Wow. Seemed like a lot, since in metro there were only four. Every detail seemed interesting to me at the time. I sat beside my sister, naturally, but in front of me there was a little boy, he was probably in the fifth grade. His parents weren’t with him, and I could see he was nervous, he had a huge backpack, which he placed in a seat besides him. He could do that, since there was really no one that could use that seat. He got off five stops after I got in, so I had no more distractions really. Now, I could only think of what I was going to happen to me next. One more stop left I thought and I whispered it to my sister, there was no need to whisper really, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking in my normal voice. We both stood up and I pressed the red button on the side of the chair, as soon as I pressed it a red beep in the front of the bus sounded. We walked to the bus door and we both got out at the same time as soon as the doors opened. I kept walking beside my sister as if I didn’t want to let go just yet. I saw no familiar faces, obviously, I was new, and it was natural I didn’t know anyone. There weren’t a lot of people heading towards that place; it seemed desolate, like one of those very remote towns in Massachusetts in the winter. It wasn’t winter though, that’s why I didn’t understand why it felt like that. I walked through the front gate it was all white, again an image of winter popped in my head, naked trees and seven feet of snow. A couple of people were gathered in front of it. It was already time to go in, but nobody seemed to want to face reality just yet, so as I walked in I continued to stare at the people that stayed behind. I finally said 6
goodbye to my sister I wished her good luck, and she said the same. We said we would meet in front of the front gate when it all was over. I already wanted it to be over, but it was just starting. She went to the other side and I entered the other pathway it was very small and as soon as I passed the entrance courtyard I saw no one, for a moment I thought maybe I had been confused and maybe I wasn’t supposed to be there until tomorrow. I looked at my watch, it was 8:19, I was supposed to be there at 8:30, and I had homeroom in the auditorium. Well, that’s what it said in the schedule that they had emailed me the week before. Where was the auditorium? I pulled out a map from my backpack, (which they had emailed me along with the schedule, which they called timetable, weird) I tried not to look geeky or anything. This map only confused me more than I already was. I decided it was time to ask someone where it was. There was a tall blond, and blue-eyed girl; she looked nice I thought, lets ask her. -“Sorry, excuse me, do you know where the auditorium is?” I blurted out without even saying please or hello. She turned around and her long blond hair turned along with her, she looked at me smiled and turned back around and continued taking to her friend. What an idiot I thought. Good start so far. Maybe she didn’t speak English, no, that was impossible, everyone was supposed to speak English in this place, anyways I felt like if I had a knot in my stomach and I didn’t really know who to turn to. After this, for the first time in my life, I felt alone, completely alone. People who were starting to come in the courtyard surrounded me, and I still felt completely alone. Then I decided I had to pull myself together, I couldn’t be late, not today. I decided to ask a boy who was standing in a corner, he was nice about it and showed me the way, and after this I didn’t feel so bad. As I headed with speed to the auditorium I saw like twenty people my age gathered around a staircase, which previously the boy had indicated that would take me into the auditorium. As I approached the staircase I decided I was going to try to talk to someone, maybe make some friends. There was a redheaded girl and she was standing alone, just like me. I said -“Hi what’s your name, I’m Beatriz, and I’m from Colombia, that’s why my accent is weird” I tried to break the ice with a simple joke. She smiled and said “I’m Celia.” Then she was about to say something and was quickly interrupted because two girls came running towards her and jumped on top of her. They all started shouting. Of course, they hadn’t seen each other in over two months now, it was certain that they were excited, I would be, if it were my friends from back home. The three of them hooked each other by the elbows and walked inside the auditorium leaving me there, alone again. Another failed attempt to socialize. Awkwardly I walked alone down the stairs, I entered the auditorium, finally, the auditorium. I had already experienced three failed attempts in ‘making friends’ that day, so I decided to sit alone. I sat in the 7
front because I was like the fifth person to go in so the director said to fill the front seats first. The director, Ms. Burchill seemed nice. She was British, so at exactly 8:30 she started homeroom. When she started talking there were still some people that were taking but they stopped as soon as she raised her voice. I was scared to turn around, that is why I didn’t know how many people we were until Ms. Burchill said -“Welcome to Ecole Active Bilangue Jeannine Manuel to all the new students that are joining us from all over the world, please stand up, and the other 53 of you, stay seated.” As I stood up slowly I did quick math in my head, 53+11. 64, we were 64 I thought. This time I did turn around, I wanted to see who was standing up next to me, I wanted to see which were the new students like me. I hoped that one of them would turn out to be nice. Ms. Burchill continued talking and today, I don’t really remember much of what she said that day, because I was so nervous and I was trying very hard not to distract myself from her face. She kept on looking at me, I was in the front row, first mistake and my attempts not to look geeky all just failed the instant I sat in the first row. She handed us our new ‘timetables’ and she said these were final and if we wanted to make any changes we needed to do them after the first week, after that, there were to be no more changes in our timetables. I quickly looked at mine; it was not what I was used to. I saw that on Mondays I finished at 6pm, which came as a shock, since back home I always finished at 2:05, exactly. It was something I would have to get used to very quickly. Before I knew it the assembly or short homeroom meeting was over. I looked at my watch, and it was 9:40. One hour and ten minutes had passed. It seemed shorter than it really was and I didn’t really know why that happened since I was really bored throughout the whole time and they say time flies when you are having fun. I was having not fun. I still preferred time to go by quickly. I stood up last since I was in the first row and when I was heading towards the door I looked back and sighed, one more year left I thought. I took my timetable out of my bag, I didn’t really know why I had put it there already, anyways, I had Economics I saw. In room MO15. Where was room MO15 I thought again. Only one hour had passed since the moment I had gotten to school and I had found myself lost twice. I went to the bathroom; I knew where the bathroom was because right in front of the staircase of the auditorium there was a huge sign that said TOILETTES. I went straight to it. I opened a stall and pulled out the school map of my bag again. I tried to make sense out of it, and after 10 minutes I finally saw that I could make it to the MO building. I left the bathroom quickly and headed towards where I thought the building was. Fortunately I was right I saw MO2 in a door and it was what looked to be a science classroom. I kept going through the halls and there was nearly no one there I panicked and thought that I was going to be late. MO13 I was getting closer and closer. 8
I was glad. I finally saw MO15. I was relieved finally, I waited a couple of seconds before I decided I wanted to go in. I turned the handle and I went in. About 15 heads turned towards me and the teacher said ‘Bonjour’ and spoke some other words I didn’t understand, it was only after a week that I actually understood that he was just asking why I was late. At the moment I was freaked out and I just said ‘je ne parles pas français’ which I had Google translated the night before just in case I had any tête-à-tête’s with anyone at school. After I spoke my very first French words I headed straight to an empty row of desks and I sat there, alone. I took out my notebook, I had one. Only one for the first day I thought it would be enough. I guess the class was in French, since that is the only thing the teacher was speaking, I understood nothing until he sat down in his computer and started to call up on a lot of name’s. Beatriz Preciado he called, I answered quickly and very quietly ‘yes’ he continued with the next person and then the next. A whole 30 minutes went by and I had not understood a word of what he was saying. He then looked at me and started speaking English! ‘For those of you who don’t speak French, you are allowed to answered the tests and homework in English’. I was relieved to think that at least he knew that there were people that didn’t speak French. My notebook was still blank. I had stared at the chalkboard, yes chalkboard for the whole period, which went by quickly; it was only 45 minutes long. I remembered now that in the meeting in the auditorium Ms. Burchill had mentioned that this year classes only lasted 45 minutes to ensure that we would keep focused during the whole day. I thought that was a good idea, and I felt comfortable for the first time during the day because I thought that at least classes would go by faster. The bell rang and the sounds of when my classmates pushed in the chairs and of everybody gathering their things mixed with the bell, which resembled an airport bell for the new flights. I don’t know why, but I thought of that in that specific moment. I saw I had math and my stomach just started grumbling and I felt like if nothing was going right today. I hated math. I had always hated math, and I didn’t want to try to make any more efforts today. I had already made enough and I didn’t feel like trying! But it was only 10:15, the day had just started. I had a little hint of a smile for just a moment when I thought to myself that today was Tuesday, and that on Tuesdays I finished at 4:30. Getting to math class was easy, because it was NH13 and I had seen it just the hallway before economics class. I went back there and I was right, I had in fact seen the classroom. I went inside and I sat on the back, alone. I waited a few minutes and before I knew it the bell rang. As soon as it did I saw the teacher walking in the door. She was tall and she had long blond hair. She was really pretty. Even for a math teacher I thought. She said a very quick ‘Hello’ to the class and then she started writing on the board. She wrote Mme Coursaget and on the bottom she wrote HL MATH. Hmm. HL math? What could that mean. I had no idea, maybe she would explain. “I hope that you are all in the right place, this is HL MATH class.” She said in an ironic tone. I wasn’t in the right place at all I thought. As soon as she said that she handed out the math books, which were of course huge and very very heavy. She said we had to open 9
it in a certain page and that we should start doing the problems. I started trying to do the problems. I was really frustrated that I couldn’t solve even one, but then I turned around and I saw that a girl behind me was exactly in my position. She had her sheet of paper blank. I felt relieved but I still tried my best. She gave us like 20 minutes for 30 problems. As soon as everybody was done (except for me) she started discussing them as a class and asking people to come up and write their answers on the board. Not me I thought. I had barely gotten to problem number 5 and I still thought that they were wrong. I looked at the clock slyly so the teacher wouldn’t notice that I was in a hurry to leave. I saw it was 10:40. Only 20 more minutes I thought. After discussing the problems, which I took no participation in, she started writing on the chalkboard. Numbers, letters, and more numbers. I took out my notebook and I started copying those numbers down, also I decided to make a rough draft of what my letter to Ms. Burchill would look like. It would be something like: Hello Ms. Burchill, I think I am in the wrong math class. I should be in normal. Thank you. No, no, and no I thought. That was too abrupt and I wanted to be very polite with her. She had been really nice to me this morning and over email. I decided to try and wright again Ms. Burchill, I think I don’t belong in the HL math class. If I could please ask you to be placed in the normal period Thank you. Hmm. Better, but not quite. I decided that it was better to wait until I was home so I would be distracted with all the numbers written in the chalkboard. I like repeating that it was in fact a chalkboard because I wasn’t used to that. And every five minutes or so the chalk with the board would make a sound that I could feel to my bones. I didn’t even like the board. The bell rang again. It was 11:00. One more class and it was lunchtime I thought. I saw in my schedule that it was History class. I hadn’t been that happy since I got my braces off. I think. I loved History, always and in all the languages, but not in French I thought quickly. I was happy because months earlier they had asked me from school if I wanted to take History in English or in French, I chose English, and that is the reason I was so happy. Finally. Something familiar. Something that I knew about and something I was good at. I was happy. Period. I got to class because I asked the guy that was in front of me where N17 was and he said he had class there too and that he would walk with me. I was glad that he had been nice. I was also nervous because I didn’t know what we would talk about. He asked me where I was from and I answered I came from Colombia. He of course added right after “Ah cocaine and beautiful girls.” I smiled but I really didn’t want to smile. Sure, he had been nice about the whole ‘I’ll 10
walk you to class and everything’ but I hated stereotypes. I then asked him where he was from and he said he was from a town about half an hour of London, maybe oxford, I don’t really remember. He didn’t grow to be one of my close friends. He said “we’re here” he stood next to the door and politely let me pass in front of him followed by a “girls first.” Then you go ahead I thought. I was still annoyed about the whole Colombian Cocaine thing. I guess I would have to get used to that because I was going to get it often. Anyways, I didn’t want to be aggravated the whole history lesson, because again, I loved history. I sat alone, but he sat next to me. I didn’t really know why. I say he because I hadn’t really asked his name yet. I decided it was time to do so, after all he had been nice to me, and he was sitting next to me. It was the first time someone had sat next to me all day. “What’s your name?” I said with a kind voice. He said “I’m Ben.” Benjamin I thought in my head because no one was really called ‘Ben’. Anyways, the bell rang again. I hated that bell. I was going to have to get used to it, like a lot of the things in my new school. A blond woman entered the door. Another blond teacher I thought. Weird. She was also very pretty and as soon as she started talking in English you could notice a very light, but yet noticeable French accent behind her almost perfect English. I didn’t care at all since the math teacher, Mme Coursaget she had a terrible accent when she spoke English. My new history teacher, Mme Labalme. I write ‘Mme’ because that is what she wrote in the chalkboard. She seemed nice, she told us a little bit about herself and about the course. I liked everything she said. She said we were going to study about the beginnings of history until today. Starting with Herodotus, “the very first historian,” she said. Also, Ancient Greece, Roman Britain, and then we would continue with actuality but more focused on geography. Topics like overpopulation, global warming, and all those problems that we face today. She then told us something very interesting. She said that usually we all know where we were when huge events occur. For example, if you start to think about it now. You know exactly were you were when the twin towers were hit. And I’m sure everyone that is around 20 years old also knows. She said those moments were very important because there are not a lot of moments like those. I thought about a moment in Colombian recent history, when Ingrid Betancourt was liberated from the FARC guerilla. I just thought of that in that moment. The class went by very quickly and it was because in my own way I was having a lot of fun. 1 hour ago I was excited for lunchtime but now I wasn’t. I don’t even know why I was excited if I had no one to have lunch with. I wanted to stay inside the classroom forever, so I took a long time gathering my things. By things I mean pen because I hadn’t even needed to pull out my notebook because we did no writing. Ben stood up and waved at me, I waved back. That was all. He left and I was again alone. I was the last person that left the room and I walked slowly. I pulled out the timetable from my bag and I checked at what time lunchtime was finished. It was 12:00 now, and 11
I had until 1:45 to get back to class. Wow. So much lunch time. I wasn’t used to having almost two hours for lunch. So I went and asked a little girl if she knew where the secretary’s office was. She pointed to the door just in front. I was glad. I was glad that it wasn’t so far away. I knocked first and I heard a murmur in French. I guess I could go in now. I went in and I just started speaking in English, I didn’t even try my “Je ne parle pas francais,” I just spoke. “I’m sorry, but I seem to have 2 hours of lunch” The lady behind the desk who had black hair and dark black eyes looked at me confused at my question. As if she were confused because I was unhappy to have 2 hours of lunch. She said, “yes, so?” in a very French accent. “Well isn’t that a lot?” I said nervously wishing she wouldn’t yell at me. “It is, but since there isn’t enough classrooms in school to fit you all then we have to have longer hours.” “Oh okay, thank you and sorry to have bothered you” I said followed by a “Goodbye” and then again “thank you.” I closed the door behind me and left. Interesting, I thought. I looked again quickly at my schedule and after lunch, I had French for 2 hours and then I could finally go home. I had 1 hour and 45 minutes. I wasn’t that hungry and even if I were I had no one to go and have lunch with. I decided I would walk to the bus stop take the bus and maybe stop far away from school and see where I could eat where I wasn’t seen. I thought of maybe going to the bathroom, but then I thought that would be way too dramatic and way too boring. I left the white gates of school, walking slowly, of course. I walked until the bus stop. The electronic screen said 10 minutes. That’s okay I thought. I took out my phone and saw I had no messages. Off course, in Colombia it was only about 6 or 7 am. I then decided to go on face book, nothing. Then on twitter, I scrolled down for a few minutes and then there was nothing else to read. I stood up and checked the screen again, 1 minute. I was glad. The bus got there the doors opened and I got in. I sat on the back of the bus and I got out my headphones and played my playlist on my i-pod*. I checked every 2 minutes to check on which stop I was. I decided to get off after 6 stops. I pressed the red button and the doors opened. I was lost, but fortunately there was a Boulangerie right next to me. Boulangerie is French for Bakery. There was one in almost every corner in Paris. I went in and the smell was incredible. There were breads of every kind, rolls, biscuits, cookies, everything of different flavors colors and shapes. Pain chocolat, croissant, baguette, apple pies and everything you could imagine. There were also sandwiches, I looked quickly at al the options and decided to take the Parisian, which was jam and butter, o jambon beurre. It was not expensive at all so I still had enough to by a Nestea. I left and walked around to see if I could find a bench. I did. Not too far away though, so I wouldn’t get lost. I ate my sandwich and it was delicious, I was very happy for a moment. That moment ended quickly because I wasn’t very hungry when I left school, I was now. I finished very fast and then I just sat there. I looked at my watch; it was 12:50 pm. 12
I plugged in my i-pod* and I continued to sit there listening to music. I looked at my phone and I had five bbm’s. Yay I thought. Finally. They were all from my friends asking how my first day was going and if everything was fine and if I was happy. I answered It was great, that it was a little hard, but great. Lies. But I didn’t want to be the girl that was unhappy living in Paris. I looked at my watch after replying to all my messages. Which was quick, since I just copy pasted all of them and ended up replying the same thing to all of them. It was 1:10. I guess it was time to go. I walked back to the bus stop and luckily it wasn’t too far away. I looked again at the electronic screen and saw 7 minutes. Perfect. I waited, also listening to music and with my phone in my hands. The bus arrived and I got in, this time I sat in the front. The seats were much more confortable in the front I noticed. I looked at how many stops were left. Not many, about seven more minutes. It was already 1:20, and I started at 1:45. One more stop left. I stood up, and the same routine as before, I pushed the red button and the doors opened. I got out of the bus and walked towards the school gate. Thirteen more minutes until class started. I took out my schedule in from my bag again to check where I had class. K17. Where is that? I went inside school and in the courtyard I asked a teacher if she could tell me where it was. ‘In front of the MO building’ she answered coldly. I knew exactly where the MO building was, so I walked straight to it. When I got there I looked to my front and there was another building. That should be the K building, and it was. Now, I only had to find K17. Luckily the school was very small so I think by the end of the week I should be mastering the art of locating my classrooms. I waited inside the room until the teacher got there. I was sitting alone. I continued sitting alone for the rest of the year. As soon as the teacher walked in she said ‘Bonjour’ to all of us, followed by a ‘This is a French Beginners lesson, so if you know no French at all, that is okay.’ In a of course, pretty strong French accent. She seemed nice. The class went by very slowly. She explained a little of what we were going to do during the year and a little about the kinds of books we were going to read. She said we were going to read The Stranger by Albert Camus. L’etranger, in French. I thought that was very interesting. I could understand what she was saying because when she talked in French, she then said it all again in English. She gave us our first homework assignment which was to write in a piece of paper for next class, our names, where we came from, what we like doing, what is our level of French, and what books we had read over the summer. She said since it was the first homework that we should do it in English and then Google translate it into French. Her name was Mme. Van Marsenille. That was a long name. I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. Anyways, Mme. Van Marsenille let us out early, at 3:45. She said that usually on Tuesdays after the lesson we had half an hour to go to the library for study period but since today was the first day that we should go ahead and head home. I was so happy. I really liked my new French teacher. I left the classroom and this time I was walking faster. I walked through the white gate 13
and didn’t look at anyone, head down I thought. I had no reason to put my head down; I just didn’t want anyone to see me. It was finally time to go home. I was ecstatic, yes ecstatic, not happy, ecstatic. Finally, I thought. I walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus to come. I was enjoying the moment I had until my next day of school, which I wished wouldn’t come soon. But I didn’t want to think about that just yet. I thought to myself, only one more year to go. I can do this. Can I?
LIFE AND ITS PORCUPINES
I. It was one of those days. You know, those where the sun rises and sets and oxygen is breathed in the same fashion toilets are clustered with waste and cars are drilled with gasoline. One of those. It was a day where the gravity of my endless boredom resorted to my bathing in the lethargic act of drenched respite. So when the sunrise bathed my flesh in its accosting warmth and I happened to open my eyes, I felt flashes of stars dance across my vision. No. Not stars flashing with endearing brightness rendering me replete with enlightenment. Stars that burned my eyelids and grasped my skull in the worst headache ever to grace my precious little head. And by little I don’t mean that it is lacking the fullness of intelligence. Because it’s not. At least I dearly hope so. By little I mean that in that moment my head was empty. But I didn’t know that. Because I was too busy being ransacked by needles perforating my cranium and bordering-on-suicidal thoughts caused by what I would later confidently label a migraine; a migraine that led to my being taken to the hospital to be accosted by physical needles and tasteless soup. I began contemplating the ingredients of such a bland indifference on my tastebuds, but thinking made my head pound even more. And so I refrained from doing so. Next time someone questions my stupidity I’ll attribute it to a migraine. No one can say I don’t learn from the harsh moments in life. So one would think that in such a moment of unbearable pain, I’d rather bask in silence then suffer the puncturing core of human voices. But I happened to overhear a casual scrap of a conversation between my mom and my sister that ended up with the two minimizing their bodies in upturned laughter and with my doing the same. Yes. In my very adjective-ized pain, I managed to crunch the muscles of my stomach as reflex to the funniest thing I’d ever heard in my entire life. Or one of the funniest things. The former sounded more impacting. God knows what it is my sister said in response to my mother’s lecture, but I do know that it was enough to make me forget for the minimalist of a second that I felt like crap found in deserted alleyways only inhabited by rats. That type of metaphorical crap. And to make one forget such a nauseatingly awful feeling? What she said was special. So special, in fact, that it deserved to be remembered for future laughter or just the occasional reminiscing of wit and talent.
But that’s the thing. It wasn’t. II. Two days later and I forgot the exact words she had said. One week later and I forgot the topic of what she had said. A month went by and all I could remember was that when I happened to get that horrible migraine, my sister said something funny. ‘Funny.’ I could have sworn if I were to tell someone the words that came out of her mouth verbatim, they would have convulsed with laughter. But all I could do was think back and wonder how in the world I could have forgotten what had impacted me in such a way. How could I forget the one thing that lightened up that aching day for me? Because the thing is, whenever I remember that day, I don’t think about the pain or the stars or my head. I think about my sister, my mother and I convulsing with laughter until tears grazed our faces. I thought about how there would always be things in life that impact us and how awful it was to not keep those things pocketed in the depths of our memories. And so it began. III. It started with sit-down comedy. I was walking down the drowning heat of Miami with my friend Ariela and we were both exhausted from the terrible chore of what is window shopping. I’d like to point out that I would never willingly submit myself to such atrocious acts that defile my intelligence as a human (It can also be accounted to my laziness), but she bribed me. And by bribery I mean she promised to pay me back for accompanying her in her dreadful journey of staring down clothes by escorting me to Barnes&Nobles and buying me a book. Oh, the corruptness of my soul. She was going on about her limbs and how they were coiling up against her muscles to the point where she felt her veins chafing. She thought she was about to die. LOL JK. But she did mention cramps. 16
So. While conversing about our future night plans filled with the excitement of Blockbuster and the thrill of dangerously-consumable popcorn, I mentioned that we should watch stand-up comedy. You know, Comedy Central Miguel Iglesias with his personalized intermingled definitions of fatness and fluffiness and such. And she said, with sweat pouring down the fatigued muscles of her lips: can’t we just do sit-down comedy? Cue laughter. If you didn’t laugh, well I guess you just had to be there. And obviously there’s a reason you weren’t there because the lack of enthusiasm would have brought down the mood and our laughter. And our self-esteem. I thought about the month before, when the words my sister spoke became a mere star in the universe of my memory, close enough to ponder, but too far away to fully grasp. And while I was making such a metaphorical simile that I myself was very proud of, I decided that it would never happen again. Out came my brand new blackberry with my three Blackberry Messenger contacts and the online book plastered on the Internet server (A kind showcase of my popularity), and I wrote down exactly what we had said. Me: Do you want to watch stand-up comedy? Ariela: Why don’t we do sit-down comedy? I admit it seems vapid and stultifying and not all that interesting with colour-tones that breach Completely Boring. But it was the beginning of my “Oh!-I-Have-To-Write-ThatDown” future where I’d never look back at my past in curiosity, and wonder what exactly happened. Like the lyrical and genius High School Musical soundtrack says, it was the start of something new. III. That ‘something new’ was my writing down an endless hodgepodge of words and situations every single passing day. And so every week I was guaranteed aphorisms (not ‘quotes’ of course, I would never confuse those terms) that would forever make my throat constrict as air puffed out of my oesophagus. Or laugh, as it is most commonly referred to as. And not to flatter myself on the comic genius that surrounds my genetic profile, but a huge portion of said aphorisms were product of my own flesh and blood. And by flesh and blood I of course mean blood-relatives and not the master vampires that consume the breathing space of what is the current mindless media-craze.
The majority of these come from my grandmother on my father’s side whose age is but a mere cardboard wall in her manner of thinking. Given the words that escape her lips every day, one would think that she is the infamous crass Chelsea Handler trapped in a classy old woman’s body. How old exactly is still an enigma to be pieced together, seeing as even her ID has a false birthdate---Apparently, this was doable back in the day---in a blunt attempt to appear younger. But that’s just background information to grasp the pastels and oil markings of her persona. In all honesty, she is one of the few people with morals so tightly and flawlessly bonded that I admire her to a mile-wise extent. Even though said morals tend to occasionally bend like hypnotic dancers when it comes to things involving sex and alcohol. But those curvatures twist to create broad enthusiasm. So they’re not all that bad. Any who, seeing as she’s all rough edges of morals and fairness, she makes it a habit to always scrutinize the check after a meal to make sure everything is just fine and dandy. One particular evening, after having enjoyed the usual garlic bread that accompanies pasta and one’s search for antagonizing breath, she proceeded to do just that. And it was while she was analysing the payment history out loud that she recited, “ Tres gaseosas… una pizza…un penne…,” and then, pausing to look up with mischievous fireworks in her eyes, finished, “Ay, no. Eso lo pedi yo.” Cue the insane cackles of a demented little grandma. I wrote it down: Mati (Her name is Matilde, but we call her Mati) : Tres gaseosas… una pizza…un pene… Ay, no. Eso lo pedi yo.” Yes. My grandmother was indeed referring to having ordered (a euphemism for an intense want, in this case) the male reproductive organ that encases her very visible train of thought. A lady born before the 1950’s took, rather brazenly, the initiative to dig deep and find the obscure pun of ‘penne’ pasta and ‘pene’ the genitalia that consists of floating sperm and other things I would rather not discuss. Isn’t she just poetic? A slightly adverse brand of poetic albeit, but poetic nonetheless. Or the poetic that twists your mind and makes you crack up while questioning the woman’s sanity. All definitions are certifiable. The next time my family was gifted with another beautiful phrase of the like was in 18
Santa Marta during the summer of 2012. We were all gathered around the dinner table, whiskey in every adult and young-adult’s hand--apparently seventeen is not considered young adult --, me holding a very perilous and neuron-stimulating glass of water, talking about certain questionable deeds of the female specimen in general. You know, the basic idea of manipulating, needy, and screechy hummingbirds that should be pushed to the sole confines of romance novels and the murky depths of television? Those. And with that topic came the recurring theme of men and their awfully bland taste in said creatures. That is when my uncle said, in a very original quoting of the Sony Entertainment Television Colombian series, “ Si. Los hombres las prefieren brutas,” to which my grandmother amended, “Las prefieren putas.” Classic. I would also like to add that said uncle that finds wisdom in the perversely true titles of sitcom soap operas also said something noteworthy that eventful evening. While discussing the unfortunate habit of a certain co-worker in the constant creation of lies, he said, “Es mas mentiroso que un brasier.” He’s more of a liar than a bra. If that is not cause for applause, I do not know what is. If it is not common knowledge that there are push-up bras in existence that amount to three-fourths of a woman’s breasts, then I refuse to acknowledge that Shakespeare was British. Because, sad as it may be for the male population to acknowledge said occurrence, it is something that makes up this world. If a woman appears to have a somewhat appropriate size of cleavage, do wait until she removes her bra. Or else the truth might forever be hidden. Tun. Tun. Tun. Besides that very thoughtful warning to all sexually-charged men out there, that pretty much sums up the wisdom from my dad’s side of the family. But to every Bonnie there’s a Clyde in the same way to every little devil there must be a respective angel, with a halo that speaks more than words ever will. And so, to Mati, the very sexually-inclined and outspoken grandmother, there is her counterpart in the form of my maternal grandmother: Miriam. Miriam, also known as “La abuela Pata” or, given her habit to constantly clear her 19
throat, “La Gata Carraspoza.” You may thank my ingenious uncle for this assortment of creative nicknames. Here we have a woman who would rather jump through Olympian hoops than dare say a curse word out loud. Here we find a woman that dares not stay still for one second and if you are to—gasp--- question the lack of butter on the dinner table, she will shoot up like those freaky Jack-in-the-Box clowns and shoot for the kitchen because, “Oh God, there’s no butter and ah, that just can’t happen.” She also has a habit of talking in rants longer than the Great Wall of China and I have come to the conjecture that is where I inherited my inability to refrain from instigating monologues. We all have our defects. So picture my loving and worrisome grandmother, pacing in a frazzled manner because she wants to make dinner and line the walls of our stomachs. That’s when she threw open the kitchen door and, her forehead creasing in more apprehension than I had ever seen grace her countenance, said, “Hay, Mercho se acabo el pan!” She said it in the same way a frightened passenger on a plane would say they were about to crash into the bottomless pit of a currently active volcano. And then comes Mercho, my aunt by marriage, in all her carefree and flamboyant actuality, and says with a cavalier wave of her hand, “Los Italianos nunca comen pan.” Because obviously we all aspire to be Italian and so if they don’t eat bread with pasta, then why eat bread ourselves? Impeccable logic. Speaking of logic, it is logical to assume, if you ever happen to see a woman that was once skinny with a suddenly bulging belly protruding from her waist, that said woman has probably had intercourse recently and has a tiny human growing inside her. That sounds so wrong. Sorry. It is practical to infer that she is pregnant. There. I said it. So what happens, when this happens? My Mom: Hay, estas embarazada? Cuantos meses tienes? Woman: Nah, solo estoy gorda. I cracked up. I wasn’t there, pity really, but my mother told me about it and I just had to write it down. Thinking about it though, at least the woman was very casual about the fact that she had an extra layer of skin encasing her body. But what if she hadn’t been so accepting? 20
I always wonder. Another thing I’ve always wondered is the reason behind parents being so strict in letting their children partake in the consumption of alcohol when its obvious they themselves did it in the same period of their lives. And so this ties in with a very interesting conversation I had with my dad once. He was going on about he never drank in his teen years because it just wasn’t his sort of thing and because he’s such a healthy human being that cares about the ultimate demise of his fragile bladder. I exaggerate. Barely. So I proceeded to say, “Ay Garces. Eras un santo.” (Yes, I do, indeed, call my dad by his last name. Habit). To which he responded, “Yo resaba.” I mock his talk of being an abstaining saint and he tells me that he, in fact, used to pray. Me: Ay Garces. Eras un santo. Garces: Yo resaba. Am I the only one that failed to understand the logic behind that? But I wrote it down anyways. Because, as senseless as it may sound, as stupid as it may seem, it stood out. It made me laugh and it made me forget the extremely shitty afternoon that summed up my whole day. Maybe not forget completely. But for that moment, even if it was just a second, I stopped thinking about the pile of work that seemed like weights lingering by a thin, delicate string on the top of my head. I didn’t replay the way a certain somebody I love didn’t bother saying hi to me that morning. I forgot. And that’s why. That’s one of the reasons it is so important for me to write things down, because I need to remember the things that are special enough to make me forget. When the FARC kidnapped my grandmother, my mom and her siblings were devastated. There’s no other way to describe it. They were nervous and anxious and happened to be going to sort out some issues with the Ministro de Defensa when they passed El Palacio de Narino. My mother (Chayo) said, “ Por aqui era la oficina de exnovio Antonio.” 21
Aunt: Ay si, Antonio tenia mal aliento. Mom: Si, Jorge tambien. Uncle: Y el ex-esposo de Chayo tambien tenia mal aliento. Sera que Chayo fue la que le prendio el mal aliento a todos? It probably sounds dumb. Like a lame attempt at humour if all you do is read the fine words on print. But for them, that was an inner joke that provided comfort. In a moment of such pain there was a glimpse of laughter, of forgetting. And it’s beautiful how, with all the twisted turns and tire-screeching obstacles and darts life has to throw, you can look back and remember all of the good moments in between. Because they do happen. Quite often, actually. But you never notice. IV. There’s something to say about a United States History teacher that hates United States history. It might get a little awkward when said teacher admits that she finds the early nineteen hundreds up until WWI to be pointless. It might even bring about anxiousness when she says: à Mrs. : And the Great Depression was just…depressing. … She admitted this after she stopped teaching US History. Which I think was a very wise decision on her part. And a very funny one at that. Next time someone asks me how I feel about history, instead of saying I love it, especially because of the Zhou Dynasty in China in which Daoism and Confucianism arose, I’ll say I find it depressing. And to add more spunk and authority to my declaration, I’ll back it up with an example: The Great Depression. Oh, the things you learn in high school. But don’t just think the learning is reserved only for subjects like history and science. While those may be the most common, in high school one can learn how to successfully interact with the opposite sex (or not), how to manage to acquire a cast after kicking a soccer ball during PE, how to deal with having every single thing you do spread like AIDs to satisfy everyone’s curiosity, and many such other valuable things. You can also learn how flirting with your teachers can lead to very subtle rejections.
A certain friend of mine would attest to this from personal experience. But when you’re in an AP Statistics course, it is only expected to take risks, what with the probability of being stuck by lightening this year being 1.43%. There is no such thing as being too cautious. Or too dramatic. We had just started the unit on probability with all those permutation and combination equations and such, so it was my friend Mina, in her aim to get a firsthand experience with the world of probabilities, who asked the teacher (male, of course) about a certain probability. Mina: Mister, what is the probability that you will give me massage? (Pause. We can sense that he is absorbing the information.) Mr. Wilmes: The same probability that I will get fired. Was that not just a quick and sharp retort, ladies and gentlemen? A rejection wrapped in a subtle, humorous, and on-topic wrapping paper. Props, Mister. I had to bow down to Mina in her quest to explore the intricacies of statistics on a more personal level. Her willingness to learn is just unmatchable. And it provided laughter, ammunition to resurrect the glucose in our bodies to not go unconscious in the middle of a lecture on chi-square and z-scores. Amen. Taking this incident into account, it is possible to infer that maybe being denied by someone is not such a harsh ordeal. If anything, it’s actually pretty comical. But through the course of these things, you figure out that in life, there is not just one type of rejection. There are the soft, pitying rejections, the subtle refined rejections, the borderline deadly and painful ones, and I would list the rest, but I’d rather just leave life the pleasure of introducing you to them later on. I’m so thoughtful. But as a personal gift to all those who are tearing their hair from the apertures on their scalp in frustration and curiosity, I shall provide one example of a dry, dismissive rejection. It was the last week of tenth grade and people were lining every coordinate of the school in attempts to complete every missing thing in order to finally leave the jailconfines of campus. That is what found Matthias in Ms. League’s Pre-AP English room making up the final test on Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It was after school, and while he sat alone in a desk, basking in solitude, that Sophia 23
Noel and I went to have a little goodbye chat with Ms. League before she left for Illinois. We were attacking her (gracefully) with a bucket-load of questions, one of them being what she planned on doing when she finally settled in there. She said she was planning on teaching but would most likely be a waitress or bartender at first. We told her bartending was sexy. She told us she used to do it before she moved to Bogota. In comes Matthias. Matthias: Miss, if you were a bartender, I’d hit on you. Miss League: Mattias, I’m your teacher and you still hit on me. Apparently he wasn’t paying too much thought to Billy Pilgrim’s reasoning behind the Tralfamadorian concept of existing in the past, present, and the future. Apparently the image of Miss League in bartender attire was exceedingly more appealing. Tends to happen. It also happened to render us comatose for too much action in our abs due to incessant glee. But it begged to be written down. Begged. Speaking of begging, it is not fun when one cannot feel free to express oneself without taking into account the restraints of being inside a high school campus and so has to resort to asking for permission. In the same way I would not feel free to run around naked through the school hallways pretending to chase down a ravenous hyena, there are some things that mere propriety urge you to not do. Or say. They require hesitance. My statistics project was one such affair. I have this fixation on the proportion of certain assets of the female body, probably because God seems to deign more flesh to some people than to others, and so I was enthralled. I would finally get to use statistics to explore something that actually interested me and whose result would probably merge into the nourishment of my bizarre curiosity. But this wasn’t exactly a topic like the percentage of people that prefer the colour blue to green. This was a topic approaching the perverseness of what is the teenage hormonal mind. And so permission was necessary. But maybe the way I went about it was less than 24
tactful. Turning away from the computer screen, the Internet having failed in inspiring me with creative enlightenment, I called Mr. Wilmes up and asked him, “ Mister, can I do a statistics project seeing which females asset males prefer?” There. I said it. But of course, he had to be the typical cute and personality-is-key----Not to say I don’t find personality to be important. I just find that issue to be way overdone--- man and said, “Why don’t you do it about personality?” To which I responded, albeit in a lower tone, “Mister, you cant motorboat personality.” He just stared at me. I thought he was rendered speechless by my audacity and I thought to myself how at that moment I’d rather turn back time than teleport (My favourite and, if you do your research, the most beneficial superpower out there) if only to stop that response. But apparently he was just patiently waiting for me to repeat myself because the little hairs in his inner ears failed to register my voice. He hadn’t heard me. But all of the four people next to me did and they just snorted (very unattractively, I might add) behind their hands. What was up with that anyways? I could have sworn in that moment they lacked the presence of a heart. I’m not being dramatic. Although technically, saying someone might be in a dire need and/or lacking of a heart is not an insult when you consult certain people. There are some who would actually quite bluntly state out loud, word for word, that they lack a fist-sized pulp of blood-red tissue that pumps oxygen and nutrients into their brains. Like an English teacher. An English teacher who would most likely end up rejecting you so bluntly and dryly to the point that the rejection’s effectiveness would supersede that of young, puberty-stricken boys in their successful quest to masturbate. Was that unnecessary?
It got the point across. Imagine getting the nerve up to swallow your pride and ask a certain someone for a bite to eat. Think of that certain someone as a person who has never glanced once in your direction and you’re here, asking him or her to accompany you to fill out your stomachs in each other’s company. Imagine them saying no. This was more painful. Because somehow, in the greater scheme of things, it hurts less when a rejection balances on the least descriptive side. If you fail to understand what I am trying to say, after you witness the upcoming dialogue, you shall. First day of ninth grade Pre-AP English and Sophia Noel was feeling her usual bubbly, hyper self. That is how she came to make a certain Mr. Tangen’s acquaintance, and then proceeded to ask him if he had a Facebook. Mr. Tangen: No. And if I did, I’d delete it. That’s how much I don’t want to be your friend. Doesn’t the clarification of his ‘no’ just deepen the wound to the point where the barely skimmed scratch is now a swollen, carved-out gash? He just had to point out exactly the extent to which his indifference, or rather, dislike, went. Poor little Sophie. And that was not the only time. Years passed and I guess the need to annoy everyone with Cheshire Cat smiles and overly-active vocal chords attached to a never-tiring body just didn’t leave her soul. That’s how she found herself in front of the primary source of a human being admitting to not obtaining a heart. There we were with my ADHD obtaining blonde female friend in Archie’s Restaurant, celebrating the final show of the theatrical production, The Magic Pillow of Kantan with the whole crew. Someone got the most creative idea to write each other special comments on the back of certain Kantan posters, and so write we did. It was when a certain Sophia Noel (And by Sophia Noel I am referring to my ADHD obtaining female friend) took a close look into everyone’s comments on the back of her poster that it happened. Gasping in what some might call a very histrionic manner, Sophia focused on a certain two-syllable comment written in black ink. Two syllables. Said syllables marked the very eloquent and profound thought written out as, “Good job.” The gasping was followed by a very lady-like screech, followed by:
Sophia: Mister, you’re not writing from the heart! Mister Tangen: Sorry, I don’t know what that is. And so she finally understood that her ideals of love were to be demolished by the one man who didn’t have the key to understand it. Nah, she didn’t actually like him that way. And I’m pretty sure the only emotion she found after said statement was amusement. And I’m also pretty sure he does have a heart. But making it an unrequited love story sounded more inviting and enrapturing. Well. Expressing the matter in that perspective made it more appealing. Words fit together like puzzle pieces to form pictures that are just so beautiful, or so endearing, or so humorous that they speak for themselves. In the same way that I twist words to get a certain distorted point across, these aphorisms from real life are words that get a point across and mean something. While their purpose might seem non-existent or even dull, they serve a purpose to me. One person’s crap is another person’s fertilizer. That’s another aphorism from a certain Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. These aphorisms fertilize my emotions to the point where my heart smiles just at the sight of them and makes me laugh in the toughest of moments. And it is in these hard-core seconds of life that I would very much like to be entertained by a student supposedly trying to acquire an opposite-sexed teacher as a lover. I would. V. I was walking down Time Square in New York City, pondering the apparent inexistence of Barnes&Nobles, when I saw this one guy advertising Comedy Central shows in the classiest way ever imagined. His exact words were, “ Comedy show! Eighteen and Over! Fake IDs also accepted.” That surely was unexpected. Apparently, debris and exotic fragments of clothing aren’t the only things you find in New York. A man publicly advertising the illegal act of using fake identification is also a possible occurrence. If the man just happens to do it with the most sincere smile on his face and the most cavalier of tones, well, then you’re in the right place. It happens. I was actually suffocating on PMS that evening when that comment brought a disbelieving smile to my face. I also heard another guy advertising piercings and clearly 27
wrote down him saying, “Girls, get your nipples well done!” But that was highly inappropriate and not the level of classiness needed to qualify for this type of reminiscing, melancholy, and sometime-humorous account. It is humorous. But it’s not wrapped in comical wrapping paper for the sole purpose of entertainment. That day in New York reminded me of just how much I actually missed the people that surround me daily: my friends. I took out my cell phone to write down the Comedy Guy’s words down, and I found myself accosted by the sight of quotes. The quotes that permeated my vision were those of my friends, and just by reading them I felt at home. The thing is, you don’t appreciate what you have until either it’s dead or your attention span dazes off, you momentarily loose track of something, and eventually withdraw an object or idea from your conscience. Quotes are my magical way of glittering myself with awareness every once in a while. They’re my superpower. Yes. While some people have superpowers that revolve around obtaining layers of fat, mine are solely derived from printed words and deep emotions. I’m not kidding about the former. And if an example is deemed necessary, let me just demonstrate the way a regular woman would resort to such, forward, ideas. God knows what happened, but my sister decided to have her make-up go all Abracadabra on her innocent (right) behind. She scuttled like an ant high on ecstasy, pouring through all existing drawers and cabinets in the room. Her attempts to find mascara and blush proved to be futile. She begged me to help and I just couldn’t see how looking for blush would help me get further in life so I lay still on the bed. Apparently I failed to get the gravity of the situation because, when I asked her why it was such a big deal, she said, “ You know without my makeup I’m nothing, right?” She was serious. I laughed in her face. She decided to go on the offensive and said, “ You’re so rude. If I was any fatter I’d sit on you.” If only a certain degree of fat actually did provide weaponry. It doesn’t. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I turned on How I Met Your Mother to Barney discovering fatness as a weapon against unwanted sex. Ha. Ha. Joke. Barney would willingly sleep with anything that moves. But one weapon, or superpower, you might say, that they do obtain, is the power to talk to each other via their eyes. My sister and I were in San Francisco and there was this guy sitting in front of us 28
in a restaurant with a ferocious beard. It did not help that he kept sifting said pubic-like hair between his thumb and pointer finger in a very slow, caressing, and disturbing manner. The dreamy perverted smile on his face didn’t help matters either. I tried to smother my gag reflex by looking anywhere but him and found my eyes connecting with those of my sister. She happened to be making a very constipated face at the moment. I asked her, “What are you doing?” Natalia (Sister): You know in How I Met Your Mother they talk to each other with their eyes? Me: Yeah. Why? Natalia: I was trying to do that. I love her. I might have been creeped out as hell by that other guy to the point where my mind would cloud and faint, but my sister’s comment brought me right back to reality. And sanity. And laughter. Speaking of laughter, ever heard of Twilight? It’s the joke of an already very mainstream book-publishing society that is existent as we speak. Some background information for those who are out of the loop: Bella is a frail, hormonal girl that falls in love with a vampire named Edward that sparkles in the sun. I abhor it. It doesn’t help that my name is Isabella. Having this bit of information in mind, understand the event that occurred one fateful Friday evening. It was cloudy and grey and the atmosphere was monotonously, but very successfully, killing my soul. One hour passed and I felt warmth crawl on my skin through the window and then spread throughout my body and half of the Spanish classroom I was currently in. I got the urge to bask in the sun from a closer distance, without the obstructing barriers of clear windows and brick walls. So I asked my friend Nack, “Hey, do you want to come to the sun with me?” To which he promptly replied, “Yes, Bella, but I’m afraid I will sparkle.” My cackles were so loud I became the object of a very wide range of odd looks. But that’s a customary part of my existence, so t’is all good. What’s not good is being very openly ridiculed for very casual and probable mistakes. I myself frequent the unfortunate spot of being greatly laughed at for the better part of my days as a breathing specimen. Always. This is why I make it a habit to keep my thoughts to myself. By ‘make it a habit’ I mean 29
I try my hardest but never really succeed. It was one of these moments that occurred the voicing of what I later deemed a very awkward and logic-less comment. I was in the car with, once again, Sophia Noel (Not only does she haunt people’s psychedelic nightmares but she also inhabits dark humoured reality). We stopped at a traffic light and so I took the time to absorb and appreciate my surroundings. The air was transparent, the sky was bland white, the pavement had yellow lines plaguing its surface. There was also what seemed to be an edifice with a very peculiar concave roof, and a very pointed tip. So it was only reasonable to assume it was a circus. I voiced my inner questioning out loud and asked, “What is that, a circus?” “It’s a cemetery.” Sophia couldn’t find more amusement than by bluntly pointing out how my inferences couldn’t be any more of an aberration from what was actually there. While I did question my own logic, I wrote it down because I realized the absurdity of such statement. I won’t deny that I myself laughed when I found out that the supposed circus was actually a cemetery. No other things in this world could be such polar opposites. Unless you count the North and South poles, in which case their geographical definitions might as well be literally polar opposites. It’s a screwed up kind of logic. What was really screwed up was a certain Camila Nieto’s logic when one day she decided to tell Nack randomly, “Hey, I’m going to call you, don’t pick up.” Yes. Because of course whenever you call someone and require his or her presence (that is why normal people go out of their way to instigate conversation), you would rather they not pick up the phone. The funniest thing was when Nack responded with, “Hey, I like this game.” Apparently someone didn’t want to have a conversation either. They understand each other. For the sake of satisfying the odd curiosity, do have in mind that Camila was testing if her phone could actually make calls. That’s what phones do, but I digress. But sometimes screwed up logic is necessary for the occasional lightening of a moment. Like when a random guy commented on Camila’s very apparent weirdness by saying, “You’re screwed up,” to which Camila replied, “At least I‘m getting screwed in some way.” This is a perfect example of carefree and twisted. Although sometimes people are so twisted (and by twisted I mean unnecessarily 30
rude) and make facetious comments. Like one time when Jae in all his awkward and sarcastic glory said something of the like and Nack responded with a very original, “Talk to the hand,” in a very unique way of protecting his pride. Jae said, “ Hello hand, how does it feel to constantly masturbate such a small penis?” And Nack’s pride fell down again, as well as propriety. These are all weird and random and sometimes overly sexual. And whoever happens to walk by during one of these peculiar dialogues might even question our sanity. They might ponder how we even obtain friends and why we are not secluded in isolated islands ostracised with only our conscience to accompany us. But we get each other. Those awkward moments and ‘weird’ comments are what make my friends, my friends. That is why they make me smile and why just looking back at said quotes during bad moments teleports me to those exultant instants. Writing down memories is a way of appreciating the present, acknowledging the past, and coping. Whether that coping is in times of hurt or loneliness, looking back at those words will assure the cracking of a smile, the clenching of abdominal muscles, or the trickling of melancholy tears. Aphorisms written down into fine print are for me what Advil is for headaches and what anaesthesia is for hard-core surgery. They are my portable form of entertainment and my ever-present diary. They are the reason I am who I am and the reason sit-down comedy will always be the turning point of my life. I just keep waiting for the perfect moment; I write it all down.
The Sudden Creation and Slow Disappearance of Princess Peggy Have you ever had a moment where you know something strange just happened but you can’t quite put your finger on it because suddenly it’s like you feel nothing at all? It really is the strangest sensation. One second you’re stepping off the curbside and the next you wake up surrounded by medics and strangers offering you their sunglasses. It was a gorgeous New England spring day, one of those really cliché ones. Birds chirping, slight breeze, sun out, not a cloud in the sky – the works. After bad things 31
happen to people they sometimes say that they saw it coming, that they had a feeling that morning like a vision or something. I don’t know why I never got one of those, fate decided to skip me that morning or maybe what happened just wasn’t bad enough to qualify for a premonition, but either way I woke up thinking of nothing but breakfast. It was my first time to Princeton, New Jersey and so far it was gorgeous. I mean I know everyone says New Jersey is the armpit of the US, but Princeton had made a pretty good first impression. We were going to look at the university that day, my sister had just gotten accepted into the engineering program and everyone was very excited. Even the owners of the B&B where we were staying knew the story by then. Of course the campus is lovely, but one can only spend so much time admiring old, famous buildings and the equally old, famous professors that work within them. I was fifteen, like come on now let’s do something interesting. That day we were planning to check out the town. For me that meant anything other than crumbling things and talk of special programs, so of course I was the first one out the door and to the sidewalk. My mom and sister were trailing behind. My dad was at the gym. A combination of factors contributed to the incident. Really, it was a stupid mistake. I mean, what’s one of the first things you learn in life? Look left and right before crossing the street. Except I was living in Scotland at the time, and over there they look right and then left before crossing the street. I could blame it on not knowing my lefts and rights, but I think it was more that I just forgot where I was. I’d gotten used to looking right first. So I looked right first as I stepped off of the curb and into the street. The car didn’t hit me; I think what actually happened was that it was moving across my path and I kind of walked into it. I just didn’t see it coming, and apparently it didn’t see me. Both of my hands flew up and slapped the passenger window’s glass in surprise as the little metal part of the car that sticks out over the wheel ripped into my right kneecap. They told me later that I screamed, but I never heard the sound from my own mouth. Right after the impact I didn’t even notice what had just happened. I heard my sister yell in anger behind me as I continued crossing the street, sending an apology wave after the car that kept going. I can see the tan mini-van speeding off, and as far as I know it never stopped or turned around. I arrived to the other side of the street slightly shaken, but awaiting the angry lecture that was sure to follow. I couldn’t see my mom and sister’s faces clearly, but a lady in a car passing by stopped with an extremely worried expression on her face and pointed at me. I remember thinking, what is she looking at? I’m sorry I didn’t look both ways but its no reason for a stranger to make a fuss! Then my family came closer and I registered the looks on their faces: fear, worry, still a hint of anger. I glanced down at my legs to see if maybe that’s what all the fuss was about. There was a huge bright red puddle bleeding out from my right knee. It was soaking through my jeans, dark and fresh. It took me by surprise, that’s odd, I feel nothing. And then the pain arrived. Pain is commonly described as searing, but I’m not really sure that that’s what it was. It wasn’t quite throbbing either. It was blunt, and hot. It swallowed me. Kaleidoscope dreams: one after the other after the other. Everything was moving in colors and twirls to make this amazing pattern that only made sense in my head. There was sound and feeling. I was living in it. I lived there forever. I came to with the sun in my eyes, concrete under my fingertips and a vague sense of 32
movement around me. A muffled voice from somewhere far away was asking me if I could hear it. Well no, not very well. Come closer and take that sock out of your mouth! I turned my head away from the sun and my mom’s face came into focus. She was speaking to me, yet she didn’t have a sock in her mouth. She asked me again if I could hear her. There we go, better without the sock. Her voice rang clear and I murmured some unintelligible response. Everything was black again. Something was swallowing me. I felt myself sink through the concrete. I was liquid. Then it spit me out. I came to clearly this time, and the sun had gone away. No, wait, there it was. It was dim and brown. Someone had put plastic sunglasses on my face. That was nice of them. More people had arrived, they were in uniforms, and one was talking to my mom. They were standing up behind someone who was crouching beside me. “So how did it hit her right leg if it came from her left?” I didn’t hear my mom’s response. It was a valid question though, what the heck had happened? I just wondered why they were being so skeptical while there was obviously a slightly larger issue at hand. I hope they don’t give me a fine for jaywalking; mom and dad would be so angry. One of the shadows from the crowd approached me and introduced himself. I don’t remember his name. He told me they were going to have to cut my jeans off from above the knee to have a proper look. I told him that my jeans were new and that I hadn’t shaved my legs. He apparently didn’t listen; I heard the opening swish of scissors and felt cold metal on my thigh. I was worried he would cut me. Within a few seconds my knee was exposed. I tried to get a good look at the hole in my leg but my mom held me back: “sweetie I think you’d better look away.” I managed a glimpse of a chunk of bloody, ripped skin before submitting to my mother and resting my head back on the concrete. I was in an ambulance. My dad was sitting behind my stretcher; I hadn’t realized when he’d arrived. He wasn’t speaking to me; it was very calm back there. A medic asked me questions about the day of the week and who the president of the United States was. Thursday, Barack Obama. My dad was impressed that I remembered the day of the week. So was I. They had put some stuff over my gaping wound. I wanted to look at it again now that the pain wasn’t bothering me so much. My right eye had begun to sting or burn or something, I mentioned it to the medic. The hospital ceiling was very white. I sat up and looked around a bit, but was suddenly very embarrassed. I think I even blushed. I laid back down and closed my eyes against those of the medics and hospital staff. We waited a while. I was filled with humiliation or something, probably because of my exposed unshaven leg. I’d worn jeans that day specifically to cover them up and here I was in the most brightly lit place one can find with everyone’s attention on my hairy right leg. My face was burning. The doctor came. I think we had a jolly little conversation about where I’m from and what we were doing in Princeton and Oh! You live in Scotland? How incredible! Yeah can you please look at my knee now it kind of hurts. We went into one of those emergency-room curtained sections. My mom and dad came in but I didn’t know where my sister was. The first thing the doctor did was bend my knee up to my chest. I think I screamed a little. “Yep, still works!” I glared at him and cried. As if I didn’t already dislike him enough for that 33
little trick, he proceeded to smother my gaping wound with some form of evil antiseptic liquid that I’m convinced was chemically engineered to be exceedingly more painful to the patient than ever necessary. He injected some form of anesthetic in my knee. That was probably the worst part. First of all the needle in the syringe is about ten times bigger around than the needle they use for stitching; it’s unnecessarily huge. Second of all, I could feel the cold liquid moving through my tender skin as it reached the torn and screaming edges. My nerves shouted profanities at me. After a period of about a minute, I still felt no change in the amount of agony charging at me from my right leg. Um hi sorry but I don’t think that really worked very well. Then the doctor started to stitch. I felt every tug, pinch, and stab. The miniscule point of the needle broke my inflamed skin, the metal shaft forced it apart to make way for the suddenly massive eye of the needle, and I asked for another shot. The doctor obliged but I still felt every movement of the thread as he pulled the two rugged edges together. A set of stitches for the interior tendons and another for the outside skin. The rip was a wide smiley-face across my kneecap. Rugged and bloody, but still smiling. Oh that’s going to leave a lovely scar. They never told me how many stitches it was, but that was fine with me because it meant I was allowed to use my imagination whenever people asked. I mentioned my stinging eye to the doctor. Now that all the fun of rearranging the skin on my knee was over with, my body had decided to remember about its other ailment. He thought that I may have gotten piece of dirt in their from passing out of being so close to a moving car wheel, and that it had scratched a little hole in the surface of my cornea. Wow, really? Another hole? They put drops of this yellow dye into my eye in order to see any imperfections more clearly. I wanted someone to take a picture of me with one yellow eye; I’d be like Cyclops. We reached the conclusion that there was indeed a large tear in my cornea, but that it was superficial so I’d be fine. He prescribed me eye drops and I was disappointed that they weren’t colored. The doctor, I really wish now that I could remember his name, put a support on my knee so I couldn’t bend it and pop all of the stitches he had so painstakingly put into place. I promised him I wouldn’t attempt any tricks, yet he ordered me to wear it anyways. It had a fancy name like “something-something-demobilizer” but of course now I cannot remember. It was really bright blue, almost nearing neon, and not exactly subtle. Although I managed a graceful hobble out to the parking lot, as soon as my sister saw my florescent blue peg leg the nickname was set, “Princess Peggy! You look so cute!” I spent the rest of the day popping Advil and watching the news with my leg propped up on pillows at the hotel. I dozed off and on, occasionally gazing out the window at the warm New England sunshine peeking through spring-green leaves to dapple the grass in orange spots. Of course this would happen to me on spring break when it’s absolutely beautiful outside, just my luck. The next day I shaved my legs, no easy feat when you can barely change your pants and you cannot bend one leg. But when there’s a will there’s a way. That day, I wore shorts while I lounged around with my leg propped up and watched more TV. American TVs have so many channels; honestly it takes a while to go through them all! I was very busy. By day three I was restless. Lying in bed all day watching TV sounds so nice when you’re busy, but once you actually get that wish it seems like there could be nothing 34
worse in the world to wish for. I whined all morning until my dad was sufficiently annoyed to let me walk with him to the Princeton public library and then, if things were going well, to get lunch. We went slowly and painfully. It was a strange type of walk for me to get used to. It wasn’t as if I needed crutches because I could still technically put weight on my right leg, but I had to either take very small steps or rise up on my left toes to be able to swing my right leg under me for the next step. Neither of these options was very comfortable, and both of them looked funny. I opted for a hybrid: step-rise-swing-step-step-step-step-rise-swing-repeat. It wasn’t any more normal looking, but at least it was fun. I caught lots of glances directed at my neon knee accessory. Someone asked me what happened to my leg. It’s weird to tell someone that a car hit you. Apparently it’s also weird to hear it. As the stranger walked away, wide-eyed, my dad snickered that he was probably just expecting me to say I had had surgery or something. Well, don’t we all just love surprises. The library was beautiful, just like everything else in the pristine town. It looked like it had been recently re-done: a coffee shop at the bottom where you walk in and out and then an enormous expanse of book shelves past the librarian’s desk by the staircase. I did a double take. Staircase? The thought of climbing stairs with my new accessory made me want to lie down and nap. I could barely walk along a flat surface, let alone move in a vertical direction. I glanced at the elevator and my dad glanced at me, eyebrows raised. No way, I’m not a cripple. I can handle a few steps. I approached the staircase confidently, albeit slowly, with my dad at my side. Planning for some remixed version of my “step-rise-swing-step-step-step-step-rise-swing-repeat”, I stepped up with my left foot and then rose on to my toes as high as I could to swing my right leg up and forward. It’s a good thing I dance ballet. Even so, a part of my right foot caught on the step and I staggered. My dad grabbed my arm. I looked at him for reassurance, and he smiled back. I took a deep breath and huffed it out all at once. At least I wasn’t publicly embarrassing myself in front of all my closest friends, maybe it was a good thing to happen in a town in which I knew nobody at all, an ocean away from where I lived. I made it up the rest of the flight without any more trouble. I felt a sense of accomplishment at my tiny feat. We wandered the shelves for a while and then, realizing that it was lunchtime and we did not need any new books anyways, my dad and I set off to leave. Walking down the stairs looked much scarier than it actually turned out to be. It was easier than walking up, in fact. The only drawback was that I had to go one step at a time. I decided I could live with that. We ate quickly and I fell asleep as soon as we arrived back the hotel, exhausted from all of my strenuous activities. When it was time to leave Princeton and I had sufficiently worn out all one-thousandsomething TV channels, there was a slight hiccup in how I was supposed to sit for seven hours with a knee that wouldn’t bend. Our tickets were economy; I apologized for not letting the travel agency know of my plans to visit the emergency room to pick up a fancy blue peg leg before the trip. However, humanity decided to work out for us. We hadn’t planned on me being given a wheelchair in the airport, yet as soon as we arrived someone in an official vest rolled up a chair and placed me in it. He explained that it was a free airport service and he would be with us through security, from then on my parents would push the chair and we were instructed to leave it outside the boarding gate. I remember thinking that that was a pretty silly last instruction, did he 35
think we were going to try to get it down the aisle on the plane? We propped up my leg with my mom’s pink, checkered piece of hand luggage; it looked great with my neon peg leg. My sister wouldn’t stop with the Princess Peggy comments: “Princess Peggy why you’re certainly looking smashing today!” Let me just take this opportunity to inform the reader that my sister was eighteen years old at the time and had just been accepted into the number one undergraduate university in the United States of America to study engineering. Go figure, right? My family caught a lucky break when we approached the check-in counter: because the guy pushing my chair didn’t want to wait in line he rolled us right to the front, so of course the lady at the counter noticed my temporary disability. “Oh you poor thing! What happened?” she was very concerned for my well-being. Even more so once we told her that I’d been hit by a car in a hit and run. She gasped and immediately made a huge fuss with the ladies at the desks next to her. “Well there is no way you will be keeping that leg under the seat in front of you for over seven hours! You poor thing. Here, let me bump you all up to first class, that way you can keep that leg elevated the whole time. Just what the doctor ordered!” My family and I laughed about how we should get seriously injured on vacations more often so people will give us free things and let us skip lines, so far this plan was working out excellently. People stared. I’m not really sure why, like there are so many strange and entertaining people to watch in airports not everyone had to be looking at us. There were so many other options out there. Look away, look away, Princess Peggy coming through! I now make a conscious effort to not gawk at kids in wheelchairs. Going through security we skipped the line again because of my convenient inconvenience, and the TSA people were baffled as to how to scan my leg with the brace on it. I like to think I added some excitement to their day. As promised, my chauffer left us after going through security. My sister and I tried unsuccessfully to learn how to do wheelies in the chair without flipping over backwards. I think my parents preferred it when I was bed-bound. The long haul back to London was comfortable and easy with my leg propped up and all the flight attendants bringing me extra snacks. I’m still not really sure why they thought that would help, but I was not complaining. However, the flight from London to Aberdeen is in one of those tiny planes that don’t have anything but economy seats and there are no personal TV screens. The chairs are very close together, and my leg stuck out into the aisle the whole time, causing inconveniences for people getting up to use the restroom and trolleys passing by to bring food and drinks. My knee was sore from being down about twenty minutes into the flight. There wasn’t much I could do; I don’t remember how I let the food carts by. I guess it’s a good thing my legs are so short. Home again, more time watching TV with the peg leg raised on pillows. Its funny how you can travel for a day and then end up doing the exact same thing you had been doing on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. My best friend brought me chocolate and movies. We watched every movie and ate every single chocolate that same day. You would think that I would have learned from this experience and from then on always taken advantage of my two working legs, never again dreaming of laying around all day. Wrong. You forget those kinds of things quickly. I wanted back on the couch basically as soon as I could do things again. I wore the flashy blue brace for 36
around three weeks during which I was allowed to arrive late to all my classes due to my inability to walk quickly and I found myself with way too much time on my hands when I wasn’t able to ride horses, dance, or play soccer. I went home after school and had, like, the entire day to do all of my homework and then time left over to do whatever I wanted. It was the strangest feeling. I literally had nothing to do; it was like a whole vacation all over again! Sadly though, all good things must end. The brace came off after the designated time period and two weeks had made a huge difference. I had some physical therapy with a trainer at the gym, and we both noticed how shaky my right leg was on its own. Also, I had lost a lot of muscle in that leg for not even bending it for such a long time that dancing was nearly impossible and I couldn’t kick a soccer ball for the life of me. I was afraid to put on my pointe shoes for the first week after taking off the brace because I didn’t want to injure it any further. Any more time off of that leg and I swear it would have shriveled up and died. Then I really would have been Princess Peggy. The most exciting thing about taking the brace off was being able to properly examine my scar. It still looked like a big ugly smile, so I made sure to drawn on eyes and a nose every time that knee was visible. Occasionally my little knee-person would get a little hat or a mustache or something, it all depended on the day. It was lumpy and fat, and a strange mottled color combination of like white, beige and purple. I love gross things like that. I want to be a doctor, so needless to say I was basically having the time of my life investigating the little piece of damaged skin on my knee. The strangest thing though was that the nerves on the scar tissue were all completely damaged, so if someone touched it and I wasn’t looking I would have no idea. Even if you pushed hard it was as if the hand was not directly touching my skin, I could only feel the pressure in the tissue that was less damaged below the surface. There was only one spot on the scar that still had feeling: a tiny little speck of nerves on the right half of the smile. I could never remember the exact spot. Sometimes when I would just touch the smooth scar tissue absent mindedly my fingers would find that one little area where the nerves were for some reason extremely sensitive and my whole leg would jerk up uncontrollably like a spasm or a reflex, usually accompanied by an involuntary yelp from my mouth because it felt like someone had just stabbed a six-inch needle straight into my kneecap. Not that I’ve ever had that exact experience per say, but I mean I can imagine the feeling is pretty similar. Still, to this day, most of the scar remains without any feeling. The nerves underneath the mark, the ones in the deeper tissue, have done a better job of healing and recovering than the ones on top. Of course I’m still young and everything, but after nearly three years you would have thought that most of the nerves would be back by now. I’m pretty sure most of those nerve endings are gone for good, may they rest in peace. Slowly but surely the physical therapy helped build up the muscle in my little cripple leg. Actually it was kind of nice because I got a lot better at playing soccer with my left leg while the right one was on sick leave. I started back at practice the day I took my brace off, but my coach wouldn’t let me do very much because he knew what a difference that time off had made in my fitness level. Passing and shooting were easier with my other leg because my right knee just wouldn’t stay firm enough to kick a ball with any amount of oomph. The only place I didn’t really see a difference was on horseback, and for that I was so 37
grateful. When I finally got back on a horse it was like I had never gotten off, but for dancing that was not the case. Not moving my right leg for so long had made my knee extremely unstable. Even as I worked with my trainer to build the stability back up, I found I had an incredibly difficult time balancing on that leg. My knee would just move side to side uncontrollably. I had always taken the strength in my legs for granted, as everything that I love to do requires it, but when it was suddenly gone I was kind of nervous. When I put my pointe shoes on again I had to work harder than ever just to not fall over. My teachers eyed my wobbling knees suspiciously. If anything, their skepticism just encouraged me to get better more quickly so that I could get back to being good at the things I was good at. The accident happened in early April, and I had a soccer tournament and dance exams in May. So there was some more encouragement for my vacation-legs to get toned up. I remember being worried about the soccer tournament more than the dance exams. If I failed the dance exams it wasn’t such a huge deal because it wasn’t like anyone was counting on me to get some amazing score; I wouldn’t be letting anyone down. With soccer, however, I was the captain of my team. If I couldn’t be there to play with my best friends in that tournament I would have died. Also the tournament that year was in Madrid, there was no way I was going to miss out on a chance to stay in Madrid for a week to play soccer. Motivation, motivation, and more motivation: that’s the key. One month later, I found myself playing four games a day in the Spanish heat and my knee didn’t give me trouble even once. It held up the whole time, I don’t even remember it being very sore. We didn’t win the tournament or anything, but just being there with my team and getting the chance to play with them in Madrid was a pretty amazing experience in itself. I took the dance exams for modern and ballet just shortly after returning from the soccer tournament. Dance exams are extremely stressful situations; even if you somehow land a nice examiner (though I’m pretty sure those don’t exist; they’re like unicorns – a myth someone created to get everyone’s hopes up) the atmosphere is so tense that your legs are bound to shake even if you haven’t been hit by a car any time recently. To some surprise, including my own because I’m not a very gifted dancer to begin with and when you add a peg leg to the mix its not exactly graceful, I passed both exams with marks for merit and distinction. I realize that this was not some huge life threatening disaster that could have ruined my future and whatnot, like my scar isn’t even that big – its just cool cause it looks like a smile, but for me it was an experience that showed me what I take for granted. I’ve never broken a bone and I had never gotten stitched before that day, so for me it was a big deal. Also, losing my ability to do the sports I love for a short time and then having to really work to regain that ability showed me just how much I love them and value being talented in those areas. And, of course, it must be said that I learned a little something about crossing the street as well. Don’t jaywalk, and if you are going to at least make sure you look both ways before you step on to the street. Or you could just remember which side of the rode they drive on in whichever country you happen to be in. I would recommend either method, or mainly any technique that does not land you in the emergency room on your spring break after attempting to cross a street.
Transformed by Rocks, Sand, and a Lousy Team As I got off the bus, all I could think about was that hot, humid, frustrating climate. Was that how deserts looked like? In movies they looked ten times worse. The facade in front of me was nothing like I expected. Even though I was certain about the climate I was going to get, I was wrong about the landscape. A rocky floor was everything I saw. Weird hills laid everywhere. As I entered the Tatacoa Desert, my adventure finally began. I had walked for over ten minutes now, and as short as it might seem, it was not. 39
Believe me when I tell you the first time you set foot on the ground and begin a twenty-four hour race, is actually a really unpleasant time. As I began to walk down the “hill”, I couldn’t help but take a zip of water. God was it really hot! Only ten minutes there and everything had suddenly changed. The other people in my group, I can assume, were quite in similar conditions as me. No one was talking, just concentrating in those long twenty-three hours we had ahead of us. The sun wasn´t helping at all. It kept laughing at us, as if walking wasn’t enough already. Why couldn’t the rain come out? The compass kept marking north. North is all we went for about two hours. I recall getting to this place, I wasn´t sure if it was a new place, or if I had been there before. Were we just running around in circles? Were we actually lost? Or was the vibrant sand the same one we had seen two hours ago? You might have seen in movies those typical scenes in which the main character gets lost in the desert and can´t find where to go. Or you might have seen him wondering like he has been in that same place before. Well, all of this is true in real life too. Being lost in the Tatacoa Desert felt exactly as those movie characters feel. Repetitive landscapes and rocks were beginning to annoy me. If I had to walk for a whole day, I could expect to see at least different scenarios. As time goes by and the sun begins to bother you, you are capable of doing and saying anything that comes to mind. That was the case with my friend Juliana, who couldn’t keep quiet for even a minute. “What if we sing a song?” she said. Singing a song could have been a really good idea, it could have cleared our minds and take our focus out of the sun. Instead, she chose to sing lousy songs like La Cucaracha and Mary had a little lamb. We were around sixteen years old by then, and as mature I thought my group was, it turned out it wasn’t. I already had enough with the worthless sun, and the songs did nothing but worsen the situation. The worst part was that, instead of ignoring her, my other teammates chose to follow her, and after a matter of seconds, all I had was annoying teammates singing weird songs. “I guess I’ll have to ignore them,” I thought. “I´ll just leave them until they get tired,” was my second thought. For all of you who don’t know Juliana, I´ll tell you now, she won’t ever be quiet. “You guys are a team,” kept saying our counselor, “you will need to learn how to live with each other in this long journey ahead of you, so you might as well sing with them, Agus.” As if Juliana herself hadn´t been enough for a day. Obviously, I decided not to follow them, for if I sang, I would get tired even quicker. At least our counselor believed me. My teammates, however, knew that was a “cheap excuse” to avoid them. I then had to explain how excuses couldn’t be cheap, for they weren��t an object, or even less an object for sale. Besides, every lie and excuse will somehow get us into more lies, from which we would have to get out of. All the speaking and convincing and inventing will then, definitely, be expensive. So I had to deal with that too. About three hours had gone by and we were just getting to our second base, where we were supposed to be an hour before. It didn’t matter. At least we were there. Besides, most of the teams weren´t even there yet, which meant we weren’t that far behind. I assumed all of us were fine, so shortly after measuring our breath, I gave the sign for us to step aside and get some rest. But deserts aren’t like that. 40
The doctor at the table kept asking if I was fine. “You look a little pale. Have you been hydrating yourself?” When you are at a desert, 40 degrees Celsius, and someone comes asking if you have hydrated yourself, all you feel like doing is shouting at them. I got myself just fine until then, and with simply two zips of water, so why did I need someone who claimed to have experience following me around that tent in a 40 degree Celsius desert, just provoking me? Desperation was clearly not a strength my group had. Some decided to take their time and rest. Others were giving up by then. Others simply cursed the poor, nice, desert. On the contrary, I was chased by that lousy “doctor”, who, if I wouldn’t have argued with, would have disqualified me from the race. “Yes, thank you I feel perfectly fine!” As if a simple head ache and a rare paleness would stop me from finishing the race. As I hid behind my friends, I could see him asking everyone around if they had seen me. If it hadn´t been for their tiredness and disorientation, I´m pretty sure they would have told him. The thermometer he had in hand wasn´t friendly at all, nor were his pills or his otoscope. Why, out of all the people in the trip, did he decide to check on me? I remember his tools perfectly well. As I sat next to my peers, I realized I wasn’t seeing that well. I got even say I was about to faint. All I could see was a black background with some colored object every now and then. Among those object, the worst of my fears was there. The sharp thermometer hanged from his pocket. Nice way to take care of it, doc. “Time´s up guys” said the guide. “Oh no!” was my first thought. Five more minutes was a lot to ask for. The hot, ugly climate was there again, waiting for us to walk through. Even though I suffered too much, I had to finish the race. Yes, I had to. It was a challenge; a challenge against myself. I couldn´t just give up and stay seated for the rest of the race, staring at that pale floor in front of me as if everything was fine. I had two choices, I could wither keep going with my team and suffer just like them, or I could seat in one of the tents just waiting for it to finish, listening to the doctor say “see, I told you”. So I definitely got up, pretending a smile from cheek to cheek. As we began to move, I saw somewhere far another group that was passing by. I don’t know how or even why, but they looked like us. From where I stood they looked pretty angry at each other. And, if I’m not wrong, they might have been shouting at each other, which by then had become a normal thing in the groups. The only difference I could see was the gender of the people, for all the groups had more or less the same number of people, which was about ten. (Once again I need to remind you readers that after three hours in a desert, staring at people and making observations become a hobby.) It’s not an intentional hobby thought, it’s more like a “I want to finish quick so I’ll just stare at whatever I see hoping time goes by fast” hobby. But after three hours of looking at the same rocky soil and weird insects, you do start to get bored. So let me tell you about all those observation I got to make. First of all, there was the group observation. We were five girls and five boys in our team. All of us around the same age, sin of course, it was a class trip. The first thing I noticed was we were all wearing hats. Most of us had white ones, but there were some with really weird ones. 41
There was one particular hat I keep remembering all the time. It had a red circle on the back. The curious thing is it had nothing else, just a plain red circle. I mean, couldn’t he have brought something better? A Disney hat maybe? Or an entertaining one? However, I decided to give our journey some utility. I began to think all the different meanings that red circle could have. Was it his favorite color maybe? Or was it just an old hat he found on his brother´s closet? Did it belong to a team? Or was it just my mind that after walking for so long was thinking about every thoughtless think there was to think about? Perhaps it was the same vision I had of the black background with colored objects, after all, they assumed I was sick. I then came up with a really weird hypothesis. If that red circle was everything “interesting” I could watch, then it had to mean something. And what I figured it was, was a warning sign telling me that the worst was about to come, more suffering awaited us. (Notice the things you come up to imagine by the time twenty one hours are left). Yes, indeed, hats are really important. Imagine none of us had taken one that day, and walked under the sun for twenty four hours. If that happened, we would have ended with the “doc”, remembering us the importance of shadow, which I would have also argued about. However, figuring out about hats is not as useful as it might sound. I did analyze it for a couple of minutes, but briefly realized that wasn’t helping speed up the clock. So I had to figure out something else to do instead. If you are an attentive reader, you might have noticed how many questions I had, and I can assure you I’m nothing like that. But this whole twenty four hour race was certainly changing me. I was begging to think in another way. Not just the simple things I was used to back at home, but even the unknown and weird things like the red circle, which turned out to be a perfect exercise for my mind. I never had so many questions before, nor do I have as many right now. Having them on those precise moments are perhaps what the trip was about. I knew this was a different activity and a different challenge, but didn’t know exactly why. As time went by, I figured all those questions were helping me accomplish the race. If none of those questions had popped out on my mind, I would have ended up like any other person who doesn’t think things through. I realized questioning was an important aspect I had to develop, after all, questions would lead me to analysis, which would then lead me to conclusions. It turns out that when you wait for hours and think about anything you can possibly imagine, you learn about many different things. Not only do you learn how to manage your patience and feelings, but you learn as well from other people´s stories and experiences. I heard this teammate´s story in which he was lost in the woods and couldn’t find his way back. “Stressing, terrifying moment,” he used to say. What I learned from the story is that we are never really lost. You could be thousands of miles inside a jungle and not know where to go, but won´t be lost. Or you could be lost in a forty-degree Celsius desert and think you´re lost, but not really be. Then just like that, we got to the fourth base. Time went by so quick that I didn’t realize we had passes several ones before us. This time, the base was really different than the previous one. This one was actually a ranch house. It had a small, white, strange house with about ten people on it. “Are they locals? Are they the house 42
owners perhaps? Are they spying on us or trying to still the place where we will sleep?” These were the questions I asked Juliana, who answered back with Gloria Haynor´s song, “I will survive.” “Don´t worry Agus: first I was afraid, I was petrified…And I grew strong and I learned how to get along” were the words she spoke to me. I didn’t get Juliana, I was really nervous about what could happen to us with that people and where we couldn’t end, and all she could do was sing to me that horrible song. We opened our sleeping bags and placed them on that horrible, hard floor that was beside the house. “Excellent guys, you have made it through the first day”, said Juan Carlos, our guys. Yeah, “excellent”. All I needed then was a nap, but instead, Juan Carlos decided that swimming in the aguas termales would be an even better idea. Since the whole race was a group thing, then I had to go with them, for if I had decided to stay, my group would have gotten seriously mad at me. So I picked up my things, put on my bathing suite, grabbed my towel and headed to the “super fun” thermal. Worst part was there was no light in that desert. The only thing I could see was the small percentage that my flashlight provided me. As we got back to the “safe house”, I began to regret taking a bath there. I was seriously cold, and now that the sun was out I had nothing to dry with. Then came dinner time. It wasn’t exactly dinner, but we had to called it someway. I took out of my bag that rotten sandwich I had been given earlier, and the one I had to carry throughout the day. We had an apple and some potato chips, but our guide told us “it was better to save them for next day”. I didn’t need to save them for next day, I had to eat them then. But no, the group decided it was best to put it away, so, being a group thing, we all put it away. Little by little, stress began to enter me. Our sleeping bags were placed next to the house and a field. There was nothing else there, except disgusting animals and insects. I was supposed to sleep there, in a place where I didn’t know what could hit me or when it could. Sleeping next to snakes, birds, and bugs wasn’t anything similar to what I was expecting. As our counselor pronounced “O.K. guys get some rest. Tomorrow we will wake up at five to finish the race,” all I could think about was my really nice, big, comfortable, queen size bed in Bogota. I had only about twelve more hours to go, and then I would get some rest in my bed, which was totally opposite to the “bed” we were sleeping in then. Suddenly, the Lion King´s “A Cigueña” song began to play. The clock marked four forty a.m. It was too early for us to start walking. The night before we went to bed around twelve, so I didn’t understand why we could wake up so fast and leave, without eating breakfast of course since it was a “group thing” and that’s what had won. So I picked up my things and left. My flashlight wasn’t helping now either. I had no idea where I was stepping and what I was stepping in. As the sun began to rise, the hot climate began to attack us. Once again, it was out to make fun of us. As we got to a big, weird, wall, another of those group discussions was held. We had to decide whether we would take the short cut and be among the first ones to finish the race, or we could take the long path and learn more. Its obvious what the answer was. More than half of the teams decided to take the shortcut. My team, on the other side, grabbed me and practically forced me to take the long trail with them, (it still was a team decision). As we left, all I could think about was the other trail. I simply couldn’t understand why they wanted to follow that long one and suffer as they did with the 43
sun who already hated us, and with little time to accomplish it all. My team believed that experience was actually going to make them grow, “nonsense,” I thought. Sand, rocks, and a lousy team was everything I could see. Everything was exactly as it had been the day before. Same insects, same songs, same comments, same doctor and so on… To be honest, I wasn´t sure if I was liking or not that race. I wasn’t exactly sure if I would make it. But what I can, for sure is state how it changed my life. The rocky soil, the doctor, the insect, the hats, the red circle, the team discussions, the white, strange house…I guess they were all just there trying to help me. Just as the food experience taught me how valuable food was, Juliana´s songs taught me how to handle my patience. As we hopped into the bus, (and after finishing in the third position despite the long track we took), I began to realize what the Tatacoa Desert taught me. As I closed my eyes and began to fall asleep, I knew I had accomplished an amazing journey, in which every aspect I had to live through would make a difference in me. All the things I encountered during this journey were there to help me grow, not to fool with me. I realized that then. The things that happened to me on that trip couldn’t have happened anywhere else, they made me grow. But I do have to admit, it was a painful twenty four hour race. The desert´s rocks, sand, and lousy team made me realize how important friendship, tolerance, patience, gratitude, and preserveration were.
Those Things Used To Walk My sister had started attending ballet class. My mom couldn’t stop contemplating the cute tiptoes my sister would do as she spun around the living room. The word got to friends and family that she found a hobby at such a young age. I too was young, just starting school and getting into soccer. Though many asked my mom if she had put both my sister and I into ballet classes together. The reason for the wonder was easy. I couldn’t stop walking around in tiptoes. Unconsciously I would jump around and walk on my tiptoes, in the park, at school and at home. My parents would eventually scold 44
me for walking wrong and try to tell me to walk right. Though I couldn’t control it. Eventually they started worrying about the possible deformities I had in my feet or if it was just a phase. As a young and naïve boy I had no idea about what was going on as I just wanted to stay home and watch Pokémon. Eventually the day came where I visited a special child Orthopedic, one of the only ones in Costa Rica at that time, to see what was wrong with me. As I looked confused and nodded and shook my head toward the doctor’s questions I was laid down on a silver table for x-rays. I wasn’t able to while move on the table as they took the x-ray shots of my feet. All I could hear was machinery making weird noises and a large camera over me zooming in and out. Some days later, the results were mailed to us. With the results at hand, we visited the Orthopedic a second time. As the Orthopedic explained to my parents what it looked like “clubbed feet”. They decided to go somewhere else to find what was really going on with me. Though being the only Orthopedic for children in Costa Rica my dad took pictures of my feet and sent them to medical websites. As the router noises began they indicated that the Internet had connected. It reminded me of the same noise that haunted me in the x-ray room. Several days later my dad got a response by a Mexican doctor that simply explained I had a short tendon on both of my heels and not what was previously diagnosed as having clubbed feet. Therefore my parents decided to go with the simple solution to my problem, operation. They told me it was better to do it now, as it will benefit me later in life. Their words passed into one ear and out the other. That was enough of an answer by my part. I had visited Miami before. I had even lived there eight months before turning four years old. All I could remember of that place was kindergarten in Corral Springs, always being picked up before nap time and eating half a peanut butter jar and puking all over the classroom and getting picked up. Finding it easier and a better location for my operation, we all flew to Miami. Hearing about Disneyland, my sister and I hoped that that was the main reason for the trip. After a long trip and arriving late, my sister’s excitement burned out and fell asleep and I was half way there. We entered the hotel room and got ready to go to bed. “Tomorrow’s the big day,” my mom kept repeating. The Animal Kingdom was what entered my mind upon hearing those words. Images of animals and the Lion King were the last things I thought as I slowly fell asleep. The last murmurs of my parents were long gone as the darkness entered the room. The alarm woke me up. The room was still dark and only my parent’s silhouettes were visible. I lay next to my sister with heavy eyes. I could feel my dad’s hairy arms lifting me and dragging a sweater over me. Not willing to wake up, I let myself be carried away by my dad. I woke up again but this time by people’s chatter. I opened my eyes and saw people with white coats go by. My dad was talking with someone over at a desk. He comes up to me and asks, “Are you cold?” I nod and gently rest my head on his laps. Waiting three hours later, my dad and I walked over to a room. I had my hand held tightly as men and women towered over me. We arrived at a room. The white floor tiles and wallpaper made it disturbingly feel like a mental hospital I had seen in cartoons. A random nurse came over and greeted us. Moments later, all I wore was a robe. They laid me down on a trolley. They rolled me toward another room, which was bigger and had more people in it. I worried, as my father seemed to have left my side. He had just talked to me and said he’d see me later. My concern was short-lived as the room was filled with blue doctors. I could see many faces looking at me from above all 45
talking at once. I even spotted a nurse that looked like a man, with lipstick. I laid there wondering if that was a man or woman as they put a plastic mask over me. “Don’t worry honey, you won’t feel anything,” the genderless nurse told me. A smell of candy rolled up my nostrils as machines began to beep. My last thoughts were about that nurse with lipstick on. I slowly opened my eyes. I had no recollection of this place. A cool breeze rolled inside the room and sent my whole body shivering. I had a hospital robe on and was lying on my back on a hospital bed. I tried to move but I couldn’t. I had no recollection what so ever from the last twenty-four hours. It felt more like a dream than real life. I wondered where my parents were. As I turned my head to the sides, I could see bright blue casts on my legs. I didn’t know what they are. Moving my legs was futile. The heavy casts impeded my every move and raising my upper body to try and take them off was also a failure. Not able to move, noises from outside and machinery were gathering in my mind. Feeling sleepy and groggy I gave myself into sleep forgetting my troubles. My parents were the next thing I saw. With a nurse next to them and my little sister sleeping on a chair, I had trouble focusing my eyes on them. I couldn’t understand why I was seeing blurry images. I started moving and this let them know I was awake. My parents came to me asking how I was doing. I was feeling uncomfortable and couldn’t feel my legs. “He is still under the influence of the anesthesia,” the nurse told my parents. I didn’t understand her. What was she doing talking to my parents? I didn’t know her. My parents came over to me and started asking how I was feeling. I was asking them what had happened to my legs. They tried to explain but I simply broke into tears. Therefore we all stayed and waited until the doctor’s clearance. Time passed and finally we could go. I was dressed and put on a wheelchair while my dad pushed me and my mom carried my little sister out of the hospital. Still feeling the drug’s effect I was rolled out with my head down, bouncing with every uneven pavement. Being already in Miami, my parents sought the opportunity to go shopping as the very next day we would all be going back home. They had brought me to the shopping mall right after leaving the hospital. My mom pushing my sister on the stroller and my dad pushing me on the wheelchair, no one could keep their eyes off of us. Completely tired and unable to move I had to endure going around the mall hearing hundreds of people talking and shouting. All I wanted to do was get off the wheel chair and go home. Although, I was stuck as I couldn’t walk and still didn’t feel my legs. Hours later I had my wish fulfilled as we headed back to the hotel. Carried to the bed exhausted and doing nothing but watching T.V was how I spent the rest of the day. The next day we headed back home to Costa Rica. I was excited to be back home and go back to school but I wasn’t expecting the change that these leg casts would inflict on my everyday life. Ever since I had the casts I had to adapt my way of life to make it more confortable to move and live. I could already stand up but the shape of the heel was round at the bottom making it difficult to keep my balance. Out in the drive way I would practice running without any help. My legs would be stiff and my knees wouldn’t bend. I could watch as much T.V as I wanted because I couldn’t play outside with the other children. I would sometimes crawl on my knees when I would grow tired of walking. I would see 46
my friends and other kids play football outside while I would just sat inside. Going to sleep was hard work for my parents. Having a bunk bed with stairs to climb up was a problem for me with my cast. Every night my dad or mom would have to lift me and push me until I would be on my bed. Getting out of it was even harder. Taking showers was the weirdest part at first. I couldn’t get my casts wet so my parents would tie plastic bags on them. They were filled with air and when the water hit the bags the loud noise would irritate me. I took a dislike to showering and would only do it a couple of times a week. For my birthday, my parents bought me an electric toy jeep in which I could drive in. I would always ride it up and down the neighborhood with my sister as a passenger. The battery would drain out some meters away from my house. I would look upset, as I had to push the jeep back home while standing with my casts on the pavement. Going back to school was hard. I would arrive on wheelchair and everyone would crowd around me staring. My friends would ask me questions and I would just answer that I walked like a ballerina and I was operated. Not being able to participate in recess activities or in P.E was hard for me. I could see everyone running around and having fun except me. We would have P.E next to classrooms from other grade levels. I would sit right in front of the classroom window and could see a crowd of kids look at me from behind. Many would laugh at me, talk about me and always look at me. That always bothered me as I always found myself explaining to every single person in school why I had these casts on. The older kids always intimidated me. I’d say that a car hit me so they wouldn’t do anything to me. Though it was a matter of time until everyone lost interest of the kid with blue feet. The big day came. I was getting my leg plasters off. I couldn’t remember how my life was without the blue casts on my legs. The past months with them on had changed my life. My parents carried me to the car. On the way to the Orthopedic, I starred out the car window. I could sense my parent’s excitement was greater than mine. We had arrived. I glanced over to a metal desk with tools on it that suited more in a construction site than in a child doctor’s office as we entered the doctor’s office. They sat me on top of the patient bed and began to explain to me that they were going to cut my leg plasters off. The doctor headed to the metal desk and grabbed what looked like a round pizza cutter. I searched the room to see if there was pizza though he flickered a switch on the tool and he headed toward me. The noise of the round electric saw frightened me. The turning blade was as big as my hand, the noise was deafening. The doctor approached me with what to me seemed a dangerous weapon. I started crying for my mom pleading for her to take me away from the weapon. “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt. It’s a special kind of blade see,” the doctor proceeded to put the turning blade on his hand making a point it didn’t cut him. Though I didn’t buy it. He put the blade on the right leg plaster. The noise it made was like the woodcutting from a construction site. As air entered my sweaty legs, I could feel the cold passing through the damp skin. I was now screaming for them to stop. I was frightened it my move to close and cut me. He finished the right leg and went for the left one. I started moving my legs and his assistant needed to come over and hold down my legs. I felt as if I was trapped. My back to the wall, in front of me the death blade, and assistants to my side, there was nowhere to go. Just a few minutes had gone by though it seemed an 47
eternity to me. I kept crying on my mom’s shoulder as she carried me back to the car. I had enough. I wanted to leave that place before the y would come back after me and cut something else up. Arriving home, I still didn’t get used to walking and bending my knees. I was carried to my parent’s bed in front of a T.V. I tried to stand up but saw I had no strength and I kept falling back down on the bed. For the next few days I still wanted to be carried, as I was too afraid to run or walk. For months I rode on a wheel chair or walked without bending my knees, I had forgotten how to walk. I was afraid I would fall. I was still a burden for my parents. Taking showers was easy now. The feeling of water through my ankles was almost as a new feeling for me. It wasn’t long until I remembered how to run and walk. The freedom I felt was wonderful. Now I remember what those long loose limbs are used for.
Some Significant Number I never thought a family member could hurt me this much. I never thought they could make me feel disgusting, worthless. I never thought words said from when I was a four year old could resonate in my mind thirteen years later. But they did, and they still do. I’ll never forget what my grandmother said; I’ll never forget how she made me feel. How is it possible that I still remember the exact words coming out of her mouth? I guess there are some things we aren’t meant to forget. I only wish we could.
It was Christmas Day nineteen ninety-nine, one to be celebrated. It was my younger siblings’ first holiday; one in which we were all gathered as the family we were meant to be: two adults and two pairs of twins. We were in my grand parents’ house in Cali. It was both the first and last time we spent Christmas with them, it was also the last time I was truly happy being around them. After that Christmas, there was no excitement in spending time with my grandparents, no joy when they came to visit, nothing. There was simply resentment. I only wish my parents would’ve chosen to spend Christmas some where else that year, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. I sometimes wonder if I ‘d been another person, maybe my interests would be different, I resort to wondering if my grades would be better, maybe my performance in school would be amazing since I’d have the confidence to speak out loud. Maybe I could love my grandparents. People say Christmas morning is best when you’re a kid, you still believe in Santa, and you haven’t quite figured out how evil the world truly is. This was the last time I felt this way, all of the other Christmases were plagued by two haunting words: you’re fat. Some people say that events in life are marked by large transitions, an ending of something, maybe a graduation; but they also say that the most important transitions are marked by smaller, minuscule events. One event like this, which has the power to change every single moment after it, this moment has the power to alter my mood in a way no one ever thought possible. Its quite odd if you think about it, having one moment when you were four years old virtually change your life. But this is my day-today reality, I am forced to live with the thought that I am never good enough or that I will never be. I am forced to live with the though that no one will ever love me. As we all opened our presents, the atmosphere was lively. Everyone was joyful. I had just received the Christina Aguilera costume; one I’d been waiting for all year. Without hesitation, I put it on and proceeded to dance to her music, my mom clapped in amusement (she always loved seeing her children enjoy their presents) but my happiness was short lived when about five minutes into my performance my grandma stopped the music and demanded I lose weight before I dance. Lose weight? Me? Yes, she wasn’t kidding. I simply looked at her, chuckled a bit thinking she was just playing around. She wasn’t. It took thirty seconds for my eyes to fill with tears, for my stomach to turn as it never had. It took thirty seconds for my Grandmother to strip that Christmases happiness away. That day became a blur for me; all I remember was leaving the room hysterically crying. My mom and dad yelling at my grandparents who were yelling back telling them I needed to lose the weight. I’m only four I thought, what does my weight have to do with all of this? From that day on, the number on the scale has been my enemy. It defines whether I feel beautiful or I don’t. My weight defines what I’ll wear that day, what I’ll eat. It became a terrible obsession a kid shouldn’t have to deal with, anything that looked just a bit like it would make me “fat” didn’t go any where near my mouth for a while, that is, until the emotional eating began. In the fall of 2000, I entered kinder five. I remember my mother telling me it was 50
going to be a good year. It wasn’t. Mid way through October, food became my ally; I probably gained more weight during those 3 months alone than I ever had. It seemed as if my life revolved around food, solely around food. My parents became worried, and I was quickly sent to a dietician. A dietician. To this day, I still find this ridiculous. I don’t understand why a five-year old has the need to go to a dietician, I don’t understand why a number on the scale has to be a worry on a child’s mind. I have never actually confronted my parents about this, when I think of it I slowly start to believe they don’t even remember why they did sent me away in the first place, it’s like the memory of their over weight emotional child is buried some place where they can’t find it. Arriving in school one day, I was called by my teacher during recess who said, in these exact words, “Isabella, you really have to lose weight”. It was as if again, the grandmother incident was happening. My eyes filled with tears, I could hear her saying “Oh! Don’t worry darling, you’ll lose the weight, everybody always does” but it was too late, the damage had already been done. I ran out of the room sobbing. I could feel my heart throbbing in my throat, my face getting redder and redder. The two adults that I had looked up to had defied my trust. After this, “fat” is the worst insult that you could say to me, and talking about my weight makes me want to cry. That same summer, I was shipped off to Cali. This week was completely different than the ones in the past. There was no lollypop when we got off the airplane, no bread in the morning, and no dessert. We were on a diet. I realized this the second day when Rosie (my grandmother), took me to a dietician. Another one! I was seven years old at the time and could not believe this was happening. In the car ride home all she would talk about was how thin I would be when I got home and how impressed my parents would be. Tears filled my eyes as she spoke. I started crying silently and felt her stop the car. “She’s finally going to realize what she’s doing hurts!” I thought, but this definitely didn’t happen. She stopped the car and yelled at me for wasting her time, she yelled at me for basically, crying. I remember her saying I was a disgrace to the family and didn’t appreciate all she was doing for me. “What is she doing for me?” I thought. Absolutely nothing. That week was a nightmare. I was relieved when my father traveled to Cali to spend some “quality” time with us. I figured he’d stop the diet nonsense and let me enjoy the rest of my time there. I was wrong. My father didn’t stand up for me, he didn’t tell Rosie to stop taking me to the dietician, and he definitely didn’t stop her from calling me fat and other degrading names. I remember coming back home and telling my mother what had happened, I remember her face in utter disbelief. I never saw my mother kiss my dad after this, they didn’t hug, and they even stopped talking to each other for a while. As a kid, I’d blame everything on my Grandmother. In my eyes, it was her fault my parents were experiencing marital trouble, but it wasn’t. I can now realize. It was my father’s fault for not standing up for his young children, and my mother felt guilty of sending us to such horrible place. I can actually now stop blaming my Grandmother for the family trouble we experience, I can stop blaming her for all the restless nights I lay awake listening to my parents yell, waiting for the silence; which came when my dad would go to sleep on the couch and my mom on the bed 51
crying herself to sleep. When I think about what happened that summer, I could never imagine what was next to come. No one could’ve ever warned me of what the next summers would bring because no one thought it possible. My mom and I thought that that was as bad as it could get, that maybe, just maybe next summer would be different. This was not how the series of events of the next couple of summers turned out. They all began with the same greet from my grand parents: “Isabella! Hello! It looks like you’ve put on a lot of weight since we last saw you” and every week spent there, ended with the same “see, I told you you could lose weight if you tried”. I then went home crying, not wanting to ever go back. There is a specific age in development that psychologists believe children don’t have a conscious, they believe that eventually, with the nurturing of right and wrong they’re able to develop one; but not before. I characterize this stage as first through fifth grade, when my classmates didn’t realize how much their words hurt me. It was in the first grade the first comment about my weight from a classmate came my way. After a long day of learning, we were doing an exercise that required all my classmates and I to step on a scale in order to pot our weight on a chart. “Don’t pick me, don’t pick me,” I thought, my fear of the scale had escalated to a point that during the doctors appointment I’d cry hysterically not wanting to get on. Off course, my turn eventually came. Shaking, as soon as I stepped on the scale I remember a voice from the back of the classroom that said: “careful! She’s going to break the scale.” I felt my face getting redder and redder, tears filled my eyes in complete disbelief. I’m proud to say that that day, I swallowed my tears, put my head down, and sat back on my chair. I didn’t cry that day. Every day since then, I’m afraid that if I step on a scale in front of a crowd, the same words will be repeated. The following years are a complete whirlwind for me. All I know was that I became a compulsive eater; yes, like the ones in the movies. I’d have a “secret” cookie stash under my bed, which I’d, eat right before I went to sleep. I’d ask one of my best friends to buy jars of peanut butter for me and I’d store them behind my shoes, being careful not to let anyone into my so-called “goodie stash.” My obsession with food got to the extreme point where I’d ask my mother to buy chocolates for my classroom with the excuse that we were having a birthday celebration. I would then keep the candy in my room and nibble on it for the following days. When we’d go on vacation, I’d leave the house and buy monstrous amounts of sweets that I’d eventually take home. During those years, food was my only friend. Sixth grade was difficult. Not only was I struggling with both math and English but I had trouble making friends, lots of trouble. It seemed as if kids that age have developed a conscious but don’t want to use it. I mean, they know they’re hurting you by telling you you’re fat, but the kids don’t care. During a class trip we were taken by OPEPA to a gorgeous waterfall, where we were encouraged to dive in; and so we did. While my group was leaving, my classmates kept complaining of coldness and after I said, “well, I’m not cold” one of them responded with the straight forward answer of “yeah, you 52
have all your fat to keep you warm.” I simply laughed along and pretended it didn’t hurt me, even though I was torn up inside. That summer, I was once again sent to Cali against my mothers wish. This time, Rosie prohibited my sister and I from calling home. We weren’t allowed to tell my mother what was going on around the house, she figured my mother would be more surprised to see us arrive “thinner” if we didn’t talk to her at all. We literally felt like prisoners in their house, we had to sneak in to Rosie’s room to use the phone, and being caught meant virtually no food for the rest of the day. When my sister and I had the chance to use the phone, we’d dial the extension six, one, one for Bogotá and then our house phone number. As soon as my mother would pick up the phone and answer “Hello!” we’d summoned to uncontrollable tears, we’d tell her about how much we missed her and how miserable we were in Cali but she’d simply say “don’t worry darlings, it’s almost over.” We both cried every single night. We couldn’t stand one more second of this non-sense; Rosie was taking this “losing weight thing” to a completely different level. She had masseuse come to her house at 8 o’clock in the morning and massage us with special creams that supposedly made you lose inches. We were then wrapped in white plastic and put into a Turkish bath, after that, it was time for breakfast. Half an apple and a piece of cheese was all we were given. Nothing else. We then had a million different exercise classes ranging from Pilates to intense cross fit. It was like boot camp but worse. Looking back on what she did to us, the only feeling I get is complete disgust; Rosie made her oldest two grand daughters absolutely despise her in a matter of seconds. I don’t understand how someone can be content with doing all of those things to a couple of twelve-year olds, how they could go to sleep in the room next to ours hearing our tears of despair. My sister and I would lie in our bed thinking what my mother would be doing right now, “probably yelling at Rosie and pulling her hair out,” my sister Valentina would always say. Rosie’s never-ending torture seemed to stall a while when my father was around, we were then offered bread and cereal for breakfast but Valentina and I knew it was forbidden. One bite out of any of both would mean we’d have to pay for it the next day. This was the last time we spent the summer with her. This was also the last summer my mother decided that she had had enough. Even though my parents remained married, I some times like to think they don’t; it’s easier that way. The fact that my parents weren’t talking to each other hurt me more than I’ll ever be able to put into words for them, they’ll never know about the times that I stayed up simply wishing they’d get a divorce. To this day, I still think that separating for good would’ve been the most viable option for all of their children’s benefit. My mother’s life wouldn’t have revolved around saying mean things about her husband in front of her children, and I probably would’ve never become mad at my dad as I did for no apparent reason. I sometimes wonder what it would’ve been like to enjoy my weeks in Rosie’s house; I envy the excitement my younger siblings feel when they’re told that they will 53
be visiting their grandparents for a week. I envy the smiles on their faces as they arrive back home and tell us all about their trip. I wonder if we actually have the same grandparents. I wonder why she’s so nice to my siblings; I wonder why they love going to her house. I wonder. I wonder if Rosie knows of the eating disorder I’ve developed over the years because of her, I wonder if she knows that in the seventh grade I simply stopped eating. Everything spiraled out of control one day. I looked in the mirror and was disgusted in what I saw, I remembered Rosie and her face looking at me in disappointment, I remembered her harsh words. I was never going to be good enough. The next day, during Sociales we were told we had to write a story about Martians invading earth, and then present it to the class. A kid stood up and started telling his, I was very entertained by it until he said something; something that resonates in my mind today when I look at him. “Then, the Martians make a bomb explode and we all die except Isabella because she’s so fat, all her grease saves her.” Every single person including the teacher summoned into uncontrollable laughter wile I stood there, helpless. This was the day I simply stopped eating. It was hard in the beginning, since I was only eating a tuna can per day but it got easier as the days went on. I never really put much thought into how my parents never said anything, I only figured they were either also sick of me being fat or didn’t realize I wasn’t eating at all. The day finally came, my grand parents were visiting from Cali and we were all going on a trip to Payande. I was extremely excited since I had lost over nine kilograms. Nine kilograms! But that simply wasn’t enough for her, Rosie didn’t just say I was fat, she stated I had little to no chance of ever getting married because no one would ever love me at my current weight, she pointed out my imperfections as if she were a surgeon getting ready to cut. She did all of this in my families presence; but instead of my mother fighting back as I had imagined, she did nothing there were no words said; there were no eyes locked. I stood in the center of the room in utter disbelief; I then quickly collapsed in tears. I’m probably never going to understand what drives Rosie to make comments like those; I’m never going to understand how she feels all right with hugging me goodbye after all the tears I shed because of her. My mother always tells me that maybe she was picked on like this for years when she was young; but if se were picked on, she would know how awful it feels and she would’ve never done it to us. I constantly listen to my friends talk about how much fun they had in the eight grade since we were the oldest of the middle school, but still young enough for high school boys to “hit” on us. I remember a very different eight grade. Ever since I was quite young, I’ve had people make fun of me, laugh at me, and call me names. All of this intensified when the eight grade came along, I didn’t have many friends. In reality, I didn’t have friends. I was one of those girls who tries to fit in yet fails every single time, the girl who never did anything wrong but everyone hates. It was around August when it became worse than it had ever been; I was being constantly bullied by two girls in my grade. Their reason? Unknown. I became so accustomed to their acts of hatred that I simply figured they treated all their friends this way. Being locked up in locker room, having a “kick me sign” put on my back, and being told “shh, Isabella, 54
shh” every time I spoke were a part of my reality. When December of the ninth grade came along, the bullying finally ceased; but I will never forget how they made me feel. I went home crying almost every day and never really thought someone could love me. Once again, the people whom I most trusted had made me feel worthless and even though these girls have become two of my best friends, the memory of their acts still gives me the chills. There isn’t one day when I see them that I don’t wish everything was different, maybe if Rosie had never said those words I would’ve been able to stand up for myself and not put up with all the bullying. Once, I told my mom about the bullying and she didn’t believe me, she said I’ve always had a strong personality and that it was probably all in my head. I told her about my self-esteem problems and about always feeling worthless, never worth anyone’s trouble. She simply said that ever since I’ve grown up all she sees is a strong individual not afraid to stand up for herself. It was that day when I felt my own mother didn’t know me. I realized that she saw what she wanted to see in her children, not one time did she ask why my eyes were so red when I came back from school or why I hated the weekends so much. Not one time did she ask if I was okay or having trouble in school. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t have to go through everything with Rosie on my own. I had my sister Valentina to help me along the way. We have never been the “best sister friends who tell each other everything” in fact, we’re completely different. Our friends are sometimes perplexed at how different we are and how turbulent our relationship is. There was a time around the ninth grade where I couldn’t leave my house without her saying something like “are you really wearing that outside?” or something like “you look so fat in that shirt.” Sometimes she’d simply look at me and laugh, acting as if I was truly inferior. It always seemed as if as soon as I made a new friend, or started getting closer to someone she’d interfere. It’s like she didn’t want me to be happy. Even though Valentina constantly made me feel less, she taught me some very valuable lessons. She was always there when I cried over something ridiculous, and she eventually stood up for me when I couldn’t. I now realize my self-esteem issues all revolve around the people I most trust. I do not wish any of this on anyone, I really wish my mother would just accept the fact that her “perfect daughter” isn’t that perfect after all, I wish people would actually realize how their actions hurt someone. I guess its true that emotional pain hurts more than physical pain; you can’t take a pill to make the hurt go away. You can only wait in the hope that time will become your ally, and when you look back and remember words being said they won’t sting any more. Rosie now calls me regularly and asks for forgiveness, saying, “she doesn’t know what she did wrong, she’s just a grandmother who wanted the best for her granddaughters” but my sister and I simply wait at the end of the telephone for her harsh comment to come. Its sometimes, “I really hope you two are losing weight, you’d be gorgeous if you were thinner” or it can also be, “I’ll seen you in a while, make me proud by being 55
thin.” We don’t pay attention to them any more; we’ve learnt to block them out of our lives. It is a routine event; she never fails to say what she thinks of us. As she walks into my apartment door I stare at her wearing a fake smile on my face, she’ll never know how much she hurt me. I wait for her to come and say hello, always knowing that before she says “Hello!” she’ll say how much weight I’ve lost. Our talks are always brief; I never really have much to say to her. For a while, I couldn’t even look her in the eyes without falling to tears but I’m stronger now. I now know not to eat in front of her if I don’t want a lecture, I know not to wear anything too tight if I don’t want to be pinched, I now know what it feels to be betrayed by a family member for so long. I wish I could say my obsession with food is over, I wish I could say I don’t worry about my weight every day or that feeling “fat” doesn’t control my life. But if I say that I’d be lying. As I step on the scale I realize the numbers looking back at me may be completely insignificant to some one else, but to me they are more than significant. They are everything.
Eye Witnessed The Souls Filth In my unhappy days of school, I feel like the highlight of the year is the trip in which we go to an interesting part of Colombia. This year it is to La zona Cafetera, were Colombia produces coffee. This destination does not excite me. Today I am packing. I try to make my bag as neat as I can. Things always get lost in this kind of trips. However, my things will not. I am a bit scared. Last trip I had to share a tent with girls that really annoyed me. All girls annoy me. I must annoy them too. I am the bossiest person in the grade. I do not really care if I hurt their abundant feelings. The ones I, the superior being, lack. I am laying in bed now. The trip’s excitement has not kicked in. It does not feel real yet, 56
but I cannot sleep which is not very surprising. I have several sleeping problems. I have weird nightmares. Several therapists have tried to tell me what they mean. However, the thing is I am sure I produced them to say I dreamed them. Obtain attention from the therapist, and hear her say exactly what I already know. I still marble at my own capacity to manipulate. I used to starve for my mom’s attention. She focused only on me for maybe four years. That deteriorated my relationship with my sister. She developed a strong feeling of envy towards me. The second inconvenience is that starving gave me a series of gastric problems. The pain, if I am honest, it still scares me. When I get a little stomachache, I remember the horrible feeling of those truly powerful gastric issues. The memory magnifies the pain. So every time I feel bad, it instantly gets worse. It was real. Yet, three years of complaining were not enough. Nobody believed me. I will not make that same mistake again for sure. Manipulation is dysfunctional when it harms the one using it. I have perfected my technique after those hard three years. Either way, my energy must be pure for tomorrows trip. I must concentrate. How can I coexist with my inferior classmates? How can I fake genuine friendship? I have the worst headache. I have tons of stress and I do not know why. It could be that I unconsciously doubt my abilities. I doubt that. I finally fell asleep after creating a mental movie of a boy I do not even know and me. I wake up and it is so cold outside my bed. I do not want to leave this comfort nest my body heat has created. I am showering, cleaning myself very well because I will not have this luxury for 5 days. My parents know I will not miss them. They still follow the silly family protocol and tell me they love me and to be safe. My mom off course adds the ridiculous phrase “Be a good girl, behave and set the example.” This only makes you think about misbehaving. I think about it but that is not part of my master plan. Misbehaving wastes too much energy, and it produces no benefit whatsoever. The airport is ugly as always. I fake my smile towards these girls. Part of my master plan is to make them believe I am one of them. Make them feel like they can love me and then become their sort of queen, if I shall. Very egocentrically, but aren’t we all? No, idiots are not. I go in engaging in non-important chitchat that should make me bond a bit with the prey. We arrive at the destination. I pose for the pictures because I want to look happily involved. I have to be everywhere. If I could only clone myself. Exposure, one of my weapons. One that has a dangerous side. El pez muere por la boca. The more you talk, higher the risk of failure. Still, if you do not talk, you do not get anywhere, so… yeah. We always travel with this company called Blue Fields. They are fine but this trip was not planned well. I am not having fun. The first night I did not sleep. I had to change rooms because the girls in my room annoyed me. I am trying to keep my plan in mind. What I do not understand is, why this girls appreciate essentially useless things. At the end, I conclude again that they are inferior. Sadly, that knowledge makes me miserable instead of helping me. Somehow, they have not noticed my superiority. Their naiveness is cute but hard to understand. Sometimes I snap, and they make such a big 57
deal about it. It just gets in the way. (My temper and their lack of brainpower.) I am very tired from the day’s activities. We had to harvest coffee, it was nice but the weather is killing me. I wonder what it would be like if there where boys in our school. School trips would be better. Boys and girls make up the world, so what is the fuzz about us hanging out with them? I just hate these catholic-based rules. This school is so boring. These prune girls are so boring too. Last time I tried to educate them I had to sign a document promising not to talk about those topics again. To clear things up I told them how babies where made. I slept well. Today’s activity scares me. I can see it scares several of the girls as well. Maybe I can bond with them through that mutual fear. I am bonding with some of them. We are going kayaking, but there is the option of going in a big boat. We agreed to go on the big boat together, to help each other through the fearful experience. Perfect! I am sitting in the boat, relieved because the boat is safe. Suddenly I hear Tito one of the counselors of Blue Fields saying that we cannot leave the shore until someone volunteers to ride on the last kayak. My hero instinct is pushing me to volunteer. I am making calculations in my head. Will it be brave to go? How will this change my plan? Maybe I can brag about it later. That does it. I conquered my fear. Not like the others that stayed in the boat. I want to do it and at the same time, I do not. This is my moment, everyone is quiet. Since I am petite and not very athletic, this will surprise them all. “I will go,” I say. “Great” Tito cheers and all the girls smile. “I’m scared,” I tell him. “I will do all the work. The only thing you need to do is balance the kayak. If you feel it is trying to flip itself, you counterbalance. Okay?” “That’s all?” I ask. “Yeah, relax and enjoy,” he pats my back and helps me get into the front space of the kayak. My head is spinning so fast. My confidence is gone in these situations. I am a little girl like all of them. I am unable to predict what will happen to me. I am at the mercy of this river. My stomach is turning and my gastritis is at its strongest point. My gastric acid is rejoicing with the little stomach I have left. My palms are sweating. My whole back is stiff. Why did I agree do ride this? Where those stupid social relations worth it? NO. The water is so dirty and the kayak has tried to flip several times. I am holding on to nothing. I am lost, so confused. I can see this big rock in front of us. We are moving fast towards it. Straight. Fast. Fuck. Our kayak hits the rock at full speed. I am going to die. I am so weak. I scream. I’m screaming and I can see the complete vertical flip we are doing. I will not stop screaming. Half a second has passed but I can think about the bed of rocks waiting for my head when we finish this satanic loop. We crash. I cannot breathe. I am drinking this filthy water. I can see the dirt in the water. The water is brown. I cannot breathe. Where is the top? I look up. I am trapped in the kayak but my whole body is inside the water. I see the outline of the kayak floating above me. I am not moving. My kayak is trapped in the middle of two rocks? How long has it been? I cry, under water. I am dying. I fight to get out of the kayak but I have no energy left. 58
Filth surrounds me. I will die in a school trip in filthy water. I cannot fool fate. I have been under water for too long. What can I offer? Suddenly I remembered my religion classes. I can make a sacrifice. God is here. God exists. Even if I have doubted. He forgives me. He has to forgive me. I will do anything. I have been here too long. “Please God I’m alone. I don’t want to die.” I remember my mom. “I don’t want to die, forgive me!” I am praying with a soul I did not know existed inside me. Terror opens a new part of me. It shakes me and tells me I am nobody. As soon as I finish my pledge, I feel the hands of someone. I am out. I take a deep breath. I cough. Air. “Are you okay?” says a man that was guiding one of the boats. I can see the boat. They take me to a rock. My chest hurts. This guy, who is he? I thank him. I cannot stop thanking him. An angel. I feel this urge to cry and I try to stop. Tito comes, pats me in the back as if nothing happened. Where was he when I was stuck? He looks concerned but tries to disguise it. He fails. “What?” Really, they are going to make me ride that kayak again. “No way.” Nothing can make me get on that artifact of the demon again. I tell them I will sue them if they do not get me in the big boat. Tito laughs and I want to cut him with a big knife. My whole body is shaking. I cannot figure out if it is because I am cold or because I am pissed. Those useless (not including the guy that pulled me out of the water) workers get the boat to turn and wait for me. I can barely get in because I am shaking too hard. I seat in the middle, were I feel safe. I cry and this girl that I have analyzed many times turns and tells me she has never seen me cry. I do not answer. The one next to me tries to pat me and tells me we are almost there. Why are they being nice? I hate this feeling of weakness. They are feeling pity. Pity? Pity. I brace myself. This is my worst nightmare. Everything is wrong. My plan has crumbled. A moronic girl called Sonia wants to sit in the left side of the boat. She is in the right side. She switches sides and the boat is unbalanced. I can feel the lack of stability and I panic. I am screaming at her at the top of my lungs. “ What in the world do you think you are doing? Are you stupid? Wait! Do not move. Go back to your place. I will push you out of the boat myself. No! Do not stay there looking at me.” She looks at me so confused and remains in the left side. I feel the boat shaking and the owner of the boat, a local, says, “Someone has to move to the right side. We need even weight in both sides.” I am freaking out. I grab the first girl pull her with a strength that I did not know I had, and sit her in the right side. The rest of the boat ride nobody speaks. I can see the eight girls in the boat turning to look at me. I am a monster. Well, that is better than the creature worthy of pity. We stop finally and I can see the Chiva waiting for us. I throw myself into the firm soil. I have never appreciated the comfort of a stable surface beneath my feet so much as I do today. I take some grass and kiss it in a very dramatic way. Now that I am safe, I will take advantage of this newly acquired attention. The counselors ask me if I am all right and I explode in tears. Why are they acting as if nothing happened? 59
“How long was I under the water?” I ask one of them with scared tears in my eyes. “More than a minute not much really,” he answers. More than a minute… it felt like half an hour. “That’s a bit long,” he says. “I know,” I tell him. I get into the Chiva and I see other girls wet. I ask them if they fell too and they say yes. All of them were in kayaks. Hmmm coincidence? Don’t think so. One of them has a nasty cut in her arm. The Spanish teacher says she was the one that stayed the longest under water. She smiles and laughs. She is mentally fine. They all ask her questions. She is stealing my fame. I hear her simple-minded answers. Stupid people are happier, I tell myself all the way back to the hotel. We are getting ready to sleep. I am so tired. This was a bad day. I close my eyes. First night in which every room is silent. I am about to fall asleep when I see the dirty water moving around me. I wake up, scared. What is wrong with me. For a moment, I feel delight in the possibility of having some sort of trauma. I stand up and feel the ground beneath my feet. Yes, I am alive. Alive. GOD It was not luck. I kneel. I pray and I thank Him. He is great. I am small and insignificant. He can save me. He can destroy me. I thank Him. I assure Him I will never again doubt the words He preaches. I go to sleep. I sleep soundly. I am very hungry. Today we will return. I approach Sonia the girl I screamed to. Her gentle glare is not judgmental. I can see now her true beauty. I have not apologized but I can see she already forgave me. “I was scared, I didn’t mean to be rude. You are not stupid. I was not nice to you, forgive me,” I tell her and my voice is tender and strange. I feel the power of kindness. The satisfaction it gives me to have ask her for forgiveness is indescribable. I can see the smiles of the girls next to Sonia. They think it is nice of me. They look at me with changed eyes. I take a moment to myself. I do not ask God why this happened. I know the answer. He striped me from the darkness of selfishness. I will only be in this earth once. I need to be as nice to everyone as I can be. What will my parents say when they see me? Will they notice that I was born again? That He saved me. “Mom, I almost drowned. The moment I remembered you and asked God to save me they pulled me out,” I tell her. I keep myself from crying. “Really? Well I’m glad you are here,” she does not believe me. I know it. I breathe and calm myself. For me it is enough to know that it is true. The Lord is the only one who should matter. I answer her questions. They feel a little insignificant after what I told her, but my responses make her happy and that is sufficient. My usual laziness is gone. Normally I would have asked for a McDonalds after a school trip and then I would have slept the whole day through. Instead, I ask my mother if she needs help in the kitchen. I clean my room and 60
my bathroom. I am about to get in bed when my mom comes into my room. “Maria Adelaide’s mom called me,” she says and hugs me. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you. Three moms have called me to ask if you are okay. Their daughters told them that you almost drowned,” she is whispering. She is not good being nice. This is genuine. “Next time trust me, mom.” She kisses me and I go to sleep. God was who made my mother believe. He felt my sadness and made those mothers call mine. He knew that would make her understand. “Grandma can you buy a rosary for me?” I ask with my newly acquired tender voice. “Sure, what for?” she asks skeptical. “I want to pray it,” I tell her the truth. “Well that is great,” her voice spills true happiness. “Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo, santificado sea tu Nombre; venga a nosotros tu reino; hágase tu voluntad en la tierra como en el cielo. Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; y perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden. No nos dejes caer en la tentación; mas líbranos del mal. Amen. Dios te salve María llena eres de gracia el Señor es contigo bendita eres entre todas la mujeres y bendito el fruto de tu vientre Jesús Santa María, madre de Dios ruega por nosotros los pecadores ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte Amén. Creo en Dios Padre todopoderoso, creador del cielo y de la tierra. Creo en Jesucristo, su único Hijo, nuestro Señor; que fue concebido por obra y gracia del Espíritu Santo, nació de Santa María Virgen; padeció bajo el poder de Poncio Pilatos, fue crucificado, muerto y sepultado; descendió a los infiernos, al tercer día resucitó de entre los muertos; subió a los cielos y está sentado a la diestra de Dios Padre desde allí ha de venir a juzgar a los vivos y a los muertos. Creo en el Espíritu Santo; la Santa Iglesia Católica, 61
la comunión de los Santos; el perdón de los pecados; la resurrección de los muertos; y la vida eterna. Amén.” I pray and pray in the bus next to Cynthia Lacouture that now has a rosary too. I teach her how to pray it, and together we ask for the benefit of others. My faith has made my sister upset. She makes fun of me and tries to embarrass me in front of people. Right now, we are fighting over some shoes she wants. She hits me and since I am reading the bible, I remember that He would not be happy if I started hitting her back. I proceed to tell her “God will forgive you,” I say “even if you hit me.” I do not see it coming but she slaps me so hard my head hurts. She starts screaming but the pain is too strong I ignore her. I want to call my mom. I want to get her grounded. What do I do God? Nothing. My connection to God has made me better. I have sinned and I am not close to perfect. My old self tries to get a hold of me and turn me selfish and self-centered again. However, my biggest concern is death. I am obsessed with it. I cry at night. I cannot escape it. I cry because I am vulnerable. My mom bought me a book of Saint Theresa but I cannot read it, she is dead even though she did so much good in the name of God. I cannot ignore the pain. It scares me and I am afraid to find out that my faith is an illusion made by my fear of death. I have been thinking about death too much, about how I cannot escape it. I feel I was so close to it. I really was not. That makes me think about the pain. What if I die in a horrible way? How strong am I? How much does God love me? What do I have to do for God to grant me a proper death? No, no, stop thinking about this. Mom said life is not enjoyable if you live it thinking on the end of it. She is right but I cannot help it. I am staying at my grandma’s house for today and I want to ask her if she is afraid of death but I do not know how she is going to take it. “Ita, are you scared of death? … dying.” I had word vomit and asked her. She hesitates before answering and says, “Not scared, I am just unsure on how it will be. I want a peaceful death. Nevertheless, I avoid those thoughts. Why do you ask?” “Curiosity”. More than curiosity, one day I will be old like her and I wonder if fear will consume me. I have been obsessed for almost a year now and I cannot seem to recuperate. It is not because of the accident or because of God. I know it is just an obsession. I have those often, but what seems peculiar about this one is that it is constant. I cannot enjoy science anymore because it reminds me of the end of the world or the dilemmas of creation and all that stuff. I think I will live miserably for the rest of my days. I will wonder why this and why that. I will rely on God to help me because I want to kill the girls around me. Oh, here I go again. Breathe! They are human beings. My conclusion, which is sad and will lead me to doom is that: There is poverty because man created it. There is hurt because man causes it. There is stress because man created society. We 62
are the destroyers of the world. We cannot fix it now. I now think of myself as nothing, only a carrier of eternal sadness. “Dinner is ready!,” mom screams. “Pasta?” Life goes on. I continue. I eat.
A Memorable Summer Doctors running through the corridors, people crying, it was too late to do something, the patient had already died. Me in the middle, lost, the only word that could describe my situation. This is how my summer ended. “What happened?” Mariana asked. “It’s Iva, she drank some kind of drug that burned her digestive system,” I said. 64
That was the only thing I could understand after talking with the doctor. Iva had to fly to the United States and get some professional treatment. All her digestive system had to get reconstructed because of the acid she drank by mistake. This acid not only messed up all her system but also made her lose all her memory so she couldn’t remember what had happened. Iva was one of my closest friends. We had become very close after spending three weeks together. All I could think of when looking at her, lying on the hospital bed was trouble. She was messed up, all of her insides were burned and she had to take some treatment for three months. Watching the faces of the doctors didn’t help at all. They were very worried for Iva. All the food she ingested made the situation even worse. Imagine having every single part of your digestive system burned, it was a disaster! She couldn’t eat because it would make the organs swell even more. Everyone that looked at her thought she could have been pregnant; her stomach was read and you could tell how all her body was in total pain. She pulled her tongue out and it was full of blisters. The doctors were trying to figure out what kind of acid she had ingested, all her inner body had second-degree burns. My friends and her family were impressed. The doctors said that a case like this one had never showed up in the hospital’s history, which made the situation even more drastic. As soon as we entered the disco Iva decided to go with the Russians. We arrived to the conclusion. Very weird people always surrounded Russians, the possibilities that a friend of them gave her a zip of his drink were very high. This “drink” was apparently a concentrate mixture of acids. Prim, that was all the time with her, started to scream because of the stress. She had her forehead frowned and the only words that came out of her mouth were “O god how did this happen”. Iva’s personality is complicated. She is a very extraverted person and sometimes can lose control. She never considers the trouble things can bring. Being very social and never thinking about the consequences, make her personality unique. I know that if I need a partner for something crazy she will be available. However, this was the main cause of this terrible catastrophe. When I think about France the first thing that comes to my mind is the Eiffel Tower. The school year was coming to an end; all I wanted was an independent and an unforgettable summer. I asked my parents what were we doing in vacation and they said we were going to stay in Cartagena all summer long. As soon as I heard this I started looking in the Internet for summer schools, I wanted to spend my summer doing a different thing. I went to college counseling to ask for recommendation for some cool summer camps. They gave me a couple but I really didn’t like them. I asked my friends if they wanted to come with me but all of them had already plans with their family until one day. One sunny afternoon I was playing tennis with Mariana, we started talking about our summer and I started to convince her to do something cool and interesting with me. After two hours of playing tennis we were about to start a match, I said to her that if I won she had to come with me during my vacations, but if I lost she had the opportunity to choose what to do. We started paying; the match was equal until the last point. She did an incredible ball that left her as the winner of the match. With this 65
news I had nothing left to do than to wait for her decision. She came up with a very good idea; Mariana said that if I found one nice summer camp she was willing to come with me. That afternoon I started looking for cool places were to spend my summer. It had to be an incredible place so that Mariana was convinced to come with me. I looked and looked unit I found one that looked AMAZING, it was in a little town in the southern coast of France. This little town was called Antibes. Antibes is a little town that it’s location is between Cannes and Nice. These huge cities are a major tourist attraction in Europe. Cote de Sur was known after its big and beautiful beaches; the seawater was one of the most beautiful and crystalline water in all Europe. I started to look pictures in the Internet and I was amazed with the things I found. Asking my dad was another thing that convinced me a lot with this place, he told me that I didn’t have to doubt in going to this wonderful place full of beautiful people and nice places were to see the sunset. After this long conversation I was totally going to this place, every place in Internet I looked said it was amazing. Mariana as well was amazed. At the beginning of June we had everything planned. We were leaving the 30th of June and we had our ticket back the 21st of July. 25th…26th… 27th…28th …29th and finally 30 was here. It was the first time we were traveling over seas by ourselves, my itinerary was: Cartagena- Miami Miami- Paris Paris-Nice. I was having breakfast in South America, lunch in the US and dinner last but not least but in Europe. This made me more exited than ever. Arriving to Nice alone, not sure if the camp was picking me up made me a little nervous. All my nerves cleared away when I saw my name in poster held by the staff of the camp. The staff members started to ask me things in French and I had no clue of what they were saying. I arrived to France without knowing ANYTHING in French, they started talking to me and I felt it was Chinese, the only word I knew was “Bonjour”, it was very funny how this people thought I understood everything but really I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. As soon as the bus left me in the campus I was about to die. I arrived alone because Mariana got another flight and it was terrible. I had my bus ride with an Italian 13year-old girl that was very nice. We were both impressed of how pictures deceive you. On the Internet the campus looked amazing, all the rooms seemed like a five star hotel. Arriving and encountering a totally different place made myself feel frustration. The rooms looked like a jail. We only had a bed and a little window that had a view to the garden that had a horrible smell. There were only three showers and 3 toilets for 50 girls; this made it disgusting after a couple of days. I was about to cry when I suddenly felled asleep. I was dreaming with the wonderful place I saw in the Internet when all of a sudden someone entered my room. It was Mariana!!! My face changed completely. She entered the room with a big smile on her face telling me that everything was going to be all right that I had to relax and calm myself. I was boiling in stress. After a while I decided to calm all my feelings and just go with the flow. That day we had all the afternoon to visit the village and to get to know the place a little better. Our first friend was Carmen; she was a Spanish 16-year-old girl returning from last summer. She said it was going to be the best vacation of our life, that as soon as the other members of the camp arrive it was going to change everything. Mariana and I just looked at each other and smiled feeling a relief from all the stress we were feeling. Walking down the streets feeling the breeze in our skin made ourselves relax and enjoy our long walk. The port where all the boats were left was amazing. The 66
entire village was surrounded by blue crystalline water. Some old walls surrounded the entire village, millions of years ago these protected the city from pirates. I felt all the air and the ambiance of intellectual people. We sat on the port and took an ice cream, while eating our ice cream, we saw people entering the beautiful boats and going in the sea, we could see the happiness this amazing trip brought to them. Each boat was even bigger than the previous one; we could see how people from all around the world came to this place to spend their vacations. Our curfew was getting closer so we started to head toward the campus. Entering the big gates depressed me. I saw all the trees without flowers and there were no green areas at all, this idea brought me sadness and made me homesick. Members of the camp started to arrive and a variety of people started to arise. Mariana and I started to socialize and make new friends. This was very easy for us, we loved making new friends, especially when they are from other cultures. We entered the computer lab and saw a very nice girl, we came in very friendly, and all of a sudden she called other two people. Their names were, Iva, Dujna and Marco, they were from Serbia and were happy to meet us. Colombia was a totally new country for them, they had heard of it because of the drugs and the violence we had, they thought we lived in hammocks, and that we went to school in horses. We looked at them and laughed, clarifying the misunderstanding took us a long time. Iva and Dunja ended up being our best friends, we were all the time with them, and their personality was very similar to ours. I love making new friends. That night we had a big assembly with all the staff and members to talk about the camp; it was everything in French so Mariana and I didn’t understand a single word. This was very funny, all the councilors started talking and we couldn’t hold our laughs. The Serbians spoke very good French, they understood everything perfectly, so we made them our translators. Every time a counselor came to talk to us Iva and Dunja came and rescued us. The next morning at seven in the morning a counselor came to knock in our rooms and wake us up. This was very hard for us, I spend a terrible night and couldn’t sleep at all, I had jet-lack, all my schedule and routine were messed up. We went and had some breakfast and after wards, took a test. This test would tell in which level we must be assigned. Obviously, we were in the worst level of French AO. In our first lesson we made friends from all over the world, we got to know people from Ukraine, Spain, Italy, Serbia, Switzerland, Brazil, Portugal, England, China, Russia, and Japan. After every morning lesson, we went and took a train by ourselves, visiting all of the near by towns that made up the French Rivera. Therefore we had the opportunity to visit Ventigmilia, Monte Carlo, Cap ‘Dai, Nice and Cannes. This coast is very exclusive. Here you find people from all over the world, we were exposed to all the cultures possible. We met very weird people. Making friends was not a problem for Mariana and me. By the second week we had already traveled with different groups of friends to different parts. My favorite place was Cap’ Dai. This little town was full of huge houses, here the water was crystalline, swimming in this water was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, it seemed like a pool with all the possible things in the floor. Every time I went under water, I could feel the fresh water hydrate my skin. Feeling the drops sliding down my body made me realize that my face was coming out of the water leaving the entire negative feelings behind, filling my body with energy. I love the sea; I could spend hours and hours of my live only watching the horizon and creating all the possible 67
stories in my head. We swam for about an hour and arrived to the other end of the town. Imagine the size of this town that one could swim the entire coast in about an hour! We went out of the water and started walking through the little streets that were full of curves and it seemed like a labyrinth. In every corner there was even a better and bigger house full of flowers and wonderful vegetation. Each house had a gigantic gate that showed the house importance. After walking the entire town from the beginning to the end we arrived to the same place. I love being surrounded by nice people that are open to socializing. During my trip I had this wonderful opportunity of opening to people that are like me and that are willing to share all their life. Talking to intelligent people taught me important lessons for life. Nothing better that finishing a conversation and having a nice satisfaction of, WOW that girl or boy is amazing, he not only help me become a better person but also taught me things that make me grow as a person. I met a girl called Angelina, she was from Indonesia and she is a perfect definition of a genius. I sat with her for about two hours and just talked about life, it was amazing and surprising how she connected all her life to the worlds history, she could tell me a real life story and connected to the Greeks and to the Romans etc. She was the perfect girl, popular, beautiful, and very intelligent. 19th of July. That day was probably one of the days in my life I will never forget. It all started when my morning lessons finished. That day I have met a group of friends from Dominican Republic; they were about 15 of them. It was their first weekend in the camp and they were crazy because they wanted to go clubbing. Suddenly, I had a wonderful but crazy idea, I said to my group of friends to go Cannes and party in the night. But we had a big problem, the last train to Cannes form Antibes was at 11 pm, at this time clubs were just opening, and the first one back to Antibes was at 5am. Adriana started screaming, “I got It I got it,” the plan was to go during the day to Cannes, after spending all the day there she said we had to rent a room in a hotel to change ourselves. Then go to a club and finally grab the 5am train. I started to see all the consequences that this could bring, then there was a dwarf voice in my mind that said, “YOLO, when are you going to be again in the south of France alone with all your friends” the answer was NEVER. So Mariana and I started packing all our stuff and now, Cannes was waiting for us. The train station was full of people from the camp, they were asking us about our plans for today, we said we were going to chill in Cannes’ beaches for a while have some lunch and then return to the campus, nobody doubt about our plans. I have heard a lot about Cannes, especially because the third best disco in the world is located here, it’s called Palais, every evening there is a famous DJ playing. We arrived to this new city as tourists, not knowing about anything. The streets looked very interesting so we started to walk through them. We kept walking and we arrived to the pier that was full of restaurants that had the beach in front. This place was amazing, all the people we saw were very nice and we could see that this place was very exclusive, well all the famous boutiques where at the other side of the street, shops such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Miu Miu etc. We kept on walking and we saw a very nice place called Pool beach. We decided to enter and grab a table in the VIP area. All of a sudden we saw a gigantic crowd around a man, he turns and it was NE-YO, the artist. The music was very nice and as time passed the music was changing to party mode. We started dancing and having fun with Ne-Yo. Here I realized how money does 68
everything, this artist that is not hot at all was surrounded with 35-year-old models that were beautiful, they were the perfect description of gold diggers. The day was passing and each minute got even better. It was perfect, the music was great and the people were very kind and welcoming. That day I got to know people from all over the world, I was very happy and having lots of fun. Apart from dancing with the rapper I got the opportunity to meet people from Cannes. GOD, they were hot, apart from their appearance I talked to them and they were very interesting. One of them was a national champion of kite surfing; these man amazed me so I spend hours talking to him and asking him about his national championship. We danced and sang for a long time; in this party I realized something, time passes very fast when you are having lots of fun. We couldn’t understand the happiness and fun we were having, it was incredible what we were feeling. All my body turns into goose bumps when thinking of that incredible moment. The pool party was coming to an end so we had to get going. It was about 7 in the afternoon when we decided to go. Finding a hotel was not easy at all. My Dominican friends wanted to bath themselves, so we went into the streets of Cannes again looking for a hotel were to spend the night. It took us a lot of time because no hotel received 15 persons only in one room, so we had to go hotel-by-hotel looking for a nice place were to change. It was about 10, when we finally found one that received us. This room was perfect; we changed very fast and put some make-up on. After, we ordered some pizza and now we were all set for more party. Coming out of the hotel as totally different persons, was wonderful. A taxi was waiting for us in the street, we went in and asked him to take us to Palais. Here I started analyzing how everything was coming up perfectly. We talked to some friends that were in the camp and they told us the counselors had no doubts that we were sleeping, so everything was perfect. For me this experience was totally new. Music, lights, chaos all of this was in our way, coming down from this taxi I felt all the adrenaline going through my body. Walking up the stairs through the red carpet and hearing all the music in front of us made me feel so happy I can’t even describe it. As soon as I entered the disco I saw all of my friends that I had met that day in the beach. Wewere all very happy of reuniting. DJ Chukie was our DJ that night, I couldn’t even imagine what I was living. We started to dance and to make more friends as we had planed, everywhere we looked there were people having lots of fun and dancing as if it were the last day of their life. This place was gigantic; I went up on the stage and saw no end to the enormous place. Music genre changed and everyone started to jump and cream. I started to feel drops falling from the ceiling and people pushing, CHAOS was about to start. From one moment to another there were lights changing of color and a dwarf came out, he had about fifteen bottles of champagne under his arm and started shaking them, dunking everyone in the disco. We danced until the morning having a wonderful time; it was for sure the best day of my life. All of a sudden I saw my watch and it was 6:00am, we had already missed the first train, breakfast was at 8:00 so we were perfect on time. We ran to the hotel grabbed all our stuff and got going to the train station. There, we waited for the next train. “What a night” I continued to say. My whole body was still full of adrenaline; I couldn’t believe what we have done. The last step was arriving on time to the camp like this we wouldn’t get caught. Leaving the station was a total chaos, everybody 69
screamed, laughed and ran. We got the first public bus to the campus, this bus left us in the train station that was about 3 blocks away from the camp, as soon as we got down from the bus we started running. Our Russians friends that had also escaped knew the secret entrance. Here I felt as a detective, every step I took made me shiver. The Russians knew everything; we just followed and arrived to our room safe and perfect. Breakfast was at 8am and it was 6am, we had two hours to sleep and then go and eat some food. As soon as we entered the cafeteria everyone looked at us and we could hear how rumors were starting to form. Everyone whispered, “they were the ones that escaped last night and look no councilors caught them.” I couldn’t believe how tired my body was; I could barely walk to get my tray and some cereal. We were in need of energy and food; we ate as if there were no tomorrow. We continued in shock about the wonderful day we had spent. After breakfast we went to our room and started to pack. It was very sad packing all my stuff, every little thing I put on my bag brought me wonderful memories that will always stay on my mind. This is were the action starts. Iva had disappeared! We ran through all the campus looking for her and there was no clue at all. Coming up with a solution or a plan to find her was not easy. She had no cell-phone and all her friends arrived perfectly to the camp. The only solution to this huge problem was to go back and look for her in Cannes. Since it was Saturday we could go out of the camp. I signed out and ran to the train station. My whole body was shivering I couldn’t believe what had happened. The idea of having a friend disappear was not funny at all. Everyone screamed ideas and possible alternatives of her destination. The last time I saw her was entering the disco, but as I said she decided to go with the Russians and disappeared. I knew this risky plan was going to have some bad consequences. It was impossible that this would come out perfect. Arriving to the Cannes made everyone think what was going to happen next. We knew the kind of problem we were into, finding our friend in this huge city was almost impossible. But then I said “Nothing is impossible, continue”. We all came to an agreement and decided to go to the disco and ask for her. In our way there, we found her wallet in the middle of the street. We opened it at it was full of papers and recites, nothing that could help. All sorts of imagines came to my mind. Is she alive? Had someone raped her? Is she in Cannes? Where is she? My mind was a big mess. I had nothing else to do than to continue looking. Should we tell the camp? I felt it was my fault because of letting her go with the weird people. But what could I do there? She was happy as the rest of us, the only problem was that she couldn’t managed her freedom correctly. Iva was the kind of girl that had always been pressured by her parents. They were very strict and were always on top of her. She had to be a brilliant student and always do perfect on school. In Serbia she couldn’t go out and party, this was the main issue. As soon as she saw all the freedom we had, she didn’t know how to manage it. She became crazy and started to receive drinks form everyone. This is the why I think parent should give their children some freedom. They should have a balance between freedom and being strict, because if not this will happen. Iva that had never been at a disco, having the opportunity to be in one made her crazy and start to make inconvenient decisions. I picture her dancing and having fun and then when someone offered a drink, her mind is so naïve, she thinks no one would like to offer her a dangerous substance. When they gave it to her, she just took a zip and thought 70
everything would be perfect. This was coming out of our hands; we had nothing else to do. We looked everywhere but there was no result – we were screwed. All of our faces were pail, I decided to call the campus and inform them what had happen. Before calling we had to put together this big puzzle and come up with a concrete story that would help us find Iva. Telling the camp was not easy at all. While the phone rang I trembled and wanted to cry. It had a lot of pressure in me. Edwin, the coordinator answered. “Hello,” he said. ”eee hi Edwin,” my shivery voice said, “i i it’s Manuela. My friend eee Iva ddddisappeared.” “WHAT!!! Explain, how come she disappeared?” That was all I could say before starting to cry. Marian hugged me and told me that now that the camp knew they would find her easily. While the councilors arrived I made up a terrible story in my head. I started to picture my friend Iva in the movie Taken. She had been kidnapped and some Russians would start to traffic her as a prostitute. All of this came up to my head. I had no mind for anything. All of a sudden Marco called. We found her!” he shouted. I can’t describe what I felt in that moment all I knew was that she was alive. This brought me a big relief and my stress vanished. Everything was taken care of. The hospital was full of policemen, councilors, and friends worried because of this disaster. As I said previously she had taken some acids that made her memory blank and that burned all of her digestive system. What made myself relax was the fact that now the responsibility was not on me, the camp and her family members were taking care of it. I did all I could, but now the only thing left was her health. Doctors came in and out of her room making us more confused than ever. Everything ended up fine. She had to fly all the way to the States to get professional care. The doctors found out that indeed she took some acid that burned all her thorax. The treatment for this was long but at the end all came up fine. Saying goodbye to our Spanish friends was very sad. We were only left with our Dominican Republic friends. We spend all of the day in the pool resting and in the afternoon we went to the town to get a creep and buy some gifts for our parents. Only knowing that it was going to be the last time we were in Antibes depressed ourselves. This little town that had welcomed us so nicely was like our home by now. This was very sad. We walked through the walls ate ice cream and some creeps. The sun set was beautiful, it seemed like it was all set for us. I couldn’t ask for more. It was the best vacations of my life everything came up perfectly, except for Iva. But we did all we could and now she is perfect. This vacation made me grow as an individual: now, I see myself more mature and independent, I feel I can travel the whole world by myself and nothing will happen. Iva’s parents congratulated, she is fine, and that is the only thing that matters. I am happy now, because everything ended up fine. Now I know everything has a solution, and I know that decisions have to be done having present the consequences. Even though life is too short to analyze every single thing. That’s why every morning I restate my lemma for life “life today
African Deed It all began with an eight-hour flight to London. My entire extended family had planned a trip to Africa. Were we would visit Kenya. As my mother gave us some details about the trip, my two brothers and I were filled with joy and excitement. We couldnâ€™t wait to see a real lion, a hippopotamus or even a cheetah. I really know this trip was going to be unforgettable. As we arrived to the London airport we gathers our bags and drove to our corresponding hotels. My entire family consisted of four close families. These were the Puerto family, the Marulanda family, the Carrizosa family, and 72
the Lizarralde family. The four families were booked in different hotels, but we all had the same itineraries. As my family arrived to our corresponding hotel and got settled my sister remember she had left her hat in the airport. I should first give you some background information about this hat; she had bought it in Colombia with her entire saving and was so exited to wear it, that she brought it on the airplane with her. Anyhow, in the airport she was helping my father but the bags into the cab and as she began to sweet she took the hat of and put it on the sidewalk. But when they finished putting the bags in the cab she forgot all about the hat. We had official started our vacation with our left foot. The next morning my mother came into our room to wake us up. She told us that we had forty-five minutes to take a bath, wash our teeth and get ready; and that she would be waiting for us in the lobby. My brothers and I had forgotten what we were going to do today, and didn’t know what kind of cloth to wear. We all put on some shorts and a t-shirt and ran down stars. My parents were all ready there and a Taxi had just arrived to take us to the “family meeting point.” I can’t remember the name of our meeting point, but it was just in front of a beautiful park. For breakfast we all had some croissants on the street. This was because we really didn’t have time to go to a restaurant, sit down and eat, since the tour bus was arriving at any moment now. I remember the first time I saw the bus, it was red, and had to floors, this was the first time I ever saw a bus with two floors before and further more had the opportunity to sit on it. As I got in I ran directly to the second floor and convinced all my cousins to do the same. The entire morning the bus showed us around London. At first everyone was paying attention, but towards the end it was only my grandmother and I. This was due to the fact that weeks before the trip all my friends wouldn’t stop talking wonders about London and so I didn’t want to miss any little bit. After the tour bus we were all starving and went directly to a famous sushi restaurant my grandmother had made reservations month ago. The food there was amazing, but the best thing about it was that it had a moving bar, where different sushi were put on top of it so that the costumers could choice any sushi they wanted. I ate like twenty sushi rolls and my stomach grew like ten inches. It was the best. In the afternoon we went to see the royal palace were we got to see when the guards were changed after they completed their shifts. It was extraordinary, although it did take a long time. After a long day of site seeing everyone was exhausted a nd we agreed to go to our hotels, take a nap and meet again at six pm at the Ritz hotel for tea. When I entered the hotel I was breathless. It was like the most beautiful place in the world, where a young prince lived. Everything shined and spackled. The manager took us to our sits, and different kinds of trays were brought to us. I remember eating cucumber sandwiches, cheese-crème sandwiches, salmon sandwiches, and sconces lots of them. After tea we were all pretty full and called it a day. I got into bed and feel a sleep instantaneously. I woke up in the morning and my mother was already up. She was finishing packing for our trip to Africa. I was so exited; I ran to the shower and got ready in seconds. I wanted to leave now! The plane would leave at noon and we had to be 73
there two hours before, to do the checking and boarding. My mother put me in charge of waking up the remanding member of our family. At nine- thirty we were out side of the hotel waiting for a cab. When we arrived to the airport my mom gave us our corresponding games to keep us entertained. In the airplane I sat next to my two brothers and in the back row were our parents. The flight was about eleven hours but I was prepared, I had my drawing kit with me. When we arrived to the airport it was about hundred degrees outside and there was no air conditioner around. We waited about an hour for our immigration forms to be ready and then boarded another aircraft, which would take us directly to our camps. We arrive around five pm, and our tour guides had prepared a delicious typical Kenyan lunch. After lunch we did several activities to get to know the names of the people we were going to spend the next ten days with. They were all so nice, although some of the names were difficult to pronounce. It was now around eight when Ninan, the director of the expedition, started talking about some of the most important safety information we had to know. But most importantly he mentions that there were some hippopotamus tunes near our tents. However, that there was nothing to worry about, because for a month now they hadn’t seen any, I was terrified. After the debriefing he showed us around the camp and directed us to our individual tents. My sister was going to be my roommate for the next ten days; this was great because I know that if I ever go scared we could just sleep on the same bed. The tents were enormous. We both had our separate beds with bed night tables and even had our individual closets. However, the toilets were unusual, at first they seemed like regular toilet. But when you looked inside instead of water there was an endless hole. They explained that since we were in the middle of the jungle there was no electricity, so every time we went to the bathroom we had to put some dirt on top of it. After seeing this I most say I was scared to look at the shower. It wasn’t that bad, actually now that I came to think about it wasn’t bad at all. It was just like a regular shower, the only thing was that every time you wanted to take a bath you had to tell on of the boys of the camp to bring you water. We later unpacked most of our things and went to sleep. At six am we heard a trumpet and we both knew it was the sign to get ready. My mother came a few minutes after and put out some cloth in our beds. We were not supposed to take a bath in the morning; besides who would take one when it was negative ten degree outside. We meet with the entire family in the breakfast table and spoke about how we spent the night. Every one admitted they were a little scared, but that they were all able to sleep just fine. Except for my two cousins Martin and Alejandro. They were roommates and before going to sleep Alejandro had forgotten to go to the bathroom and he couldn’t hold it any longer. So, he had ask Martin to go out of the tent and accompany him while he did necessities; well he was a feared of seeing an animal or something outside. At first Martin told him no, but Alejandro bribed him, by telling Martin that if he did this one favor then he would give him his entire bag of candies. Martin immediate agreed. As they were telling the story my uncle asked them why they didn’t just go to the toilets inside the tent, and their response was that they were even more a feared of entering the bathroom area of the tent. 74
At eight am we were all in the cars ready to start our adventure. That day, the cars were divided by families, but we had agreed that for the next ten days here we would always rotate cars so that everyone could be with everyone. In the first four hours of the trip I had already seen more animals that I had in my entire life. It was amazing I saw: baboons, deer’s, buffalo’s, numerous hippos, zebras, cheats and antelopes. At noon we were together for lunch. Were we talked about our different experiences. After lunch we would all go fishing, I am not a fan of fishing but well in life you have to try and do everything. Besides, I could say that I went fishing in Africa. It was now around four pm and my father, grandfather and uncle were the only ones able to fish something. They were all pretty small except the one from my father. Everyone wanted to take a picture holding the fish it was incredible. After we finished fishing we went back to the camp to rest a little and eat something. Around eight they called us to dinner and after everyone was done we ended up telling jokes and playing cards. As people began getting tired they would go to there separate tents to sleep. That night I slept alone, although it was maybe because I was so tried, and I know that tomorrow we were going to visit an indigoes tribe, so I had to be rested. The next morning they let us sleep in a little, but at eight they woke us up for breakfast. There we raffles who was going in which car. One of the main proposes of the trip, my grandfather said, that morning was that the family became more united. I loved everyone, but I didn’t want to be stuck in a car with only adults, I wanted at least one cousin in my car. It turns out that my car consisted of only two adults and three of my cousins. I know that it would be great because one of the cousins in my car was the funny one, and everything she said made me laugh. I remember one time when we were spending our summer in my grandparent’s summerhouse back in Florida, when she made me laugh so hard while drinking a Coke that the drink came right out through my nose. I’ll be honest it was the worst sensation ever, but it made quite a story. That morning we spent most of the time trying to find lions. When finally we found one trying to hunt a buffalo. But, it wasn’t just one there were about five or six. The tour guide explained that they were all women. Since, they were the ones that did the hunting. I was shocked with this information, I couldn’t believe that the king of the jungle made the woman do there hunting for them, it was madness. However, as we silently watch this natural, beautiful event I felt a rush flow through my body. The hunters seemed to be very calm, and quite, and as they got closer to their prey they would get behind the bush’s so the animal wouldn’t see them coming. When eventually in less than second two lions had jumped on top of the buffalo and were trying to bit him, while the other four were scratching him and trying to push him over so it would be easier to kill him. At first the buffalo was very resistant, he would try to jump so that the lions on top of him would fall, but that just made it worse. Finally a lion bit his leg and he fell immediately. The lions then began feeding on it. I was speech less. I just couldn’t process what I had seen. The guide than told use we had to move 75
on because the lions hated it when a car watched them eat. The driver later toke us to the place we were going to have lunch. I thought it was going to be at the same place we ate yesterday, but it was different, very different. The camp had brought one of there portable tables and had it located under a tree. That way we could have lunch in the middle of the reserve. It was beautiful, we had to wait about an hour for the rest of the cars to arrive but during that time we played soccer and told jokes. After lunch we all began telling the wonderful thing we had seen, and as my uncle started telling the hunt we had witness nobody believed us. They were all jealous. After lunch we began taking photos next to the beautiful sunset that was behind us. My grandmother than started to take family portraits and towards the end everyone was extremely exhausted of posing. Around four in the afternoon the camp leader came to us and told us it was time to go visit the indigoes tribe. I was very exited, I had never visited one and was even more existed that I was going to be able to visit one in Africa. It was an hour and half drive to the camp. When we got there the leader of the tribe was waiting for us. They welcomed us with their arms opened. The leader didn’t know how to speak English, and we of course didn’t understand there dialect, but one of the tour guides did so as the leaders told use a little about his culture and people the tour guide would translate it for us. A family had volunteered their house for us to see. It was very stranger. As soon as we opened the door there was a small room to your left where the family would keep their gouts. In their tradition goats were secrete and could never he killer. As you passed through the goat room you arrived to a one by one meter square, and basically this was there home. They had only one bed where the mother and daughter slept in and the men of the family had to sleep on the floor. There was a fireplace in the middle of the house that was used for cooking and for heat at night. After they showed use around the tribe, they had prepared a beautiful show for us, were they had a boy and a girl around fourteen years ago sing. The song was there calling to God, it was beautiful. After the song all the teenage boys began jumping as high as they could. I really didn’t understand what they were doing, but the tour guide later explained that it was there traditional dance to welcome newcomers. After there wonderful show the leader started showing us some of the crafts they did. They were almost all made of wheat and they were extraordinary. They made hats and bags to transport either their children or there goods. After they taught us about their traditions they had the most amazing dinner planned out for us. And it at all consisted of their typical foods. I was very impressed that almost all their foods had spices on it. But I love spices so I finished eating most of it. After dinner the leader asked us if we could put on a show on something typical of our culture. We were happy to do this, since they had been so kind to us. However, we didn’t know what to do. My aunt first thought of doing a typical Colombian dance called “La Cumbia”. And it was a great idea, however we had a problem, nobody knew how to dance it. As everyone began screaming out ideas my little cousin who was ten years old came up with the prefect 76
ideas. We had to sing, and dance like Shakira. It was perfect, we all know thousands of songs form her and even though we couldn’t exactly dance like her the tribe members wouldn’t know. Finally my two cousins, my sister and I were the ones chosen to dance like Shakira. I was tremendously nervous. My hands started to shake and so did my mouth, but I had to get through at list one song. My cousin started singing and as I remember the words I accompanied her. In less then seconds all of my nervous and anxiety went away. I sang like ten songs while dancing, but towards the end I was all worn out. All of the tripe people wouldn’t stop staring.. When we finished everyone started clamping and they did so for a long while. That night I went to sleep with an enormous smile in my face. We were now seven days through the trip and it had been amazing. Today we were going to a famous lake were hippos were known to found. I woke up as soon as I herd the trumpet. I was now very used to the routine. That morning we decided that all the grandchildren could go on the same car, with one adult. Since, the car drive was long and they didn’t want us to fall asleep. I got into my car with my eight cousin’s and my dad who had volunteer to drive with us. During the entire first half of the drive we all told story’s and laughed at each other. When suddenly a herd of impalas come running centimeters any from our car. Our tour guide then dared my older cousin to get out of the car and crawl into a ball while all the impalas ran by. My older cousin knowing it was not dangerous got out of the car, crawled into a ball and we watched how all of the impalas would just jump right over him. When they had all passed he got up and ran to the car again. He was filled with adedaline and asked if he could to it again. I was so jealous, I wanted to try but they didn’t let me because I was to little. We drove for another while until we arrived to the famous lake. It was breathtaking. The lake was not that big, in fact it was quite small. However, it was all crewed with hippopotamus. We saw some sleeping, other just outside the water like if they were tanning of something and other where just in the water trying to cool off. They were enormous and as we watch the tour guide told us how dangerous these animal really were. We stayed there for a long while until we got bored and wanted to have lunch. It only toke us an hour to arrive to the place where we were having lunch. It was another camp that had agreed to invite us, and let us eat there. Before lunch we went around the new camp. It was much smaller then ours, but it was next to a beautiful lake and the view was incredible. We all ate like if there was no tomorrow, I don’t really remember why we were so hungry. After lunch we went to a little living room they had with air conditioning and just toke a short nap. It had really been a perfect day. Ninian later came in and told us it was time to head back we all ran to our cars. In the way back they lets us sit in the roof with our leg’s hanging into the car through the sunroof. We were singing and laughing and shouting and all of a sudden we began sing “Pasame la Botella”.A song that was number one hit in Colombia. While singing we had a water bottle and were passing it around as we drank. When all of a sudden I was 77
drinking and my little brother started pulling the bottle form my hands. I wasn’t finished drinking so I pulled harder and he fell into the car through the sunroof and hit the back part of his head with the handle of the door. The car stop imminently when they heard him crying and then toke him to the back of the car were the first aid kit was. Ninain was trying to see if something serious had happed, when he later saw blood go down his head. He than turned around to my father and said: “His going to need stitches.”My father called my mother and tried to explained what had happened, when she started screaming and crying like crazy saying,” Aids, disease this just cant be happening, tell me it’s a joke, tell me it’s a joke!!” One of the brothers of a tour guide was a doctor and had a small health center three hours way from were we where. My mother than toke a car and went directly to the center. While the rest of the family went back to our camp and started praying hopping that everything would turn out fine. As I arrive to the camp I went straight to my tent and as I got into my covers I started crying. If something were to happen it would all be my fault. Why didn’t I just let go, I wasn’t that thirsty. Around nine at night I heard the car arrive and ran to meet them there. My mother had her eyes all red from crying, but my father came baring a smile. They gathered us all together in the dining table and began telling us how it went. They explained how the doctor had all of his instruments all sterilized and clean. How the first thing he did was shave a ten by ten centimeter square on the back of his head to get a clear shot of what had happened and how to sticked him up. However, before he did anything he gave my bother a shot of local anesthesia so he couldn’t feel anything. He later used a total of seven stitches to close him up; and told my parents that the wound was completely clean. The only thing they had to do was protect him from the sum. I started crying of joy and gave my brother a thousand kisses telling him how sorry I was. That night I prayed for an hour giving God thanks for keeping my brother safe. Later that night my mother came into our tent and started packing. She reminded us that tomorrow we were leaving to Paris and we had to pack everything before we went to bed. I got up in the morning and went straight to my parent’s tent to see how my brother had slept. As I got there they told me that my brother had slept perfect, but that we were leaving in half an hour and I had to get ready. I ran back to my tent and woke my sister up. We both toke short showers and were having breakfast twenty minutes later. This was the last time we were going to be all together, because everyone was headed in different directions after Africa. We then gave thanks to all the people that made our trip so incredible and unforgettable. It toke us less than forty minutes to arrive to the airport were we all said goodbye, and gave thanks to our grandparents for inviting us to this wonderful trip. We bored our twelve-hour plane and I felt asleep before the plane toke off. I woke up and we were half way there, only six hour remaining. Both my brother and parents were sleeping so I started doing my summer vacation Kumon. I hated them, and it toke me forever to do them, but if I 78
didn’t then my mom woundnt let me watch TV. Beside I had done none so far and the vacation was almost over. Before I know it we had arrived to Paris. It was my first time in Paris and my life lasting dream was to see the Eiffel tower and before I even got there I know it would be my favorite place on earth. We grabbed our bags and a van from the hotel was waiting for us in the airport. It toke us two hour to get to the hotel, the traffic was the terrible, but I still had a smile in my faces. When we arrived we went to our rooms and rapidly unpacked. It was now around nine pm, so we put some fresh cloth on and started walking around the “City of Love” to see if we could find somewhere to eat. We ended up eating at a local place that served all of Paris typical food, I couldn’t decide what I liked the best. Later that night we arrived to the hotel and went to bed. The next morning my mother came into our room around nine thirty in the morning and told us that they were taking my brother to the hospital to make sure everything was perfect and that they would be back around noon so we could sleep in and order some room service for breakfast. My parent’s arriver at one and when they came into our room my sister and I were all ready to start our tour around Paris. They told us that everything had gone perfect in the hospital and that my brother’s recovery was going just was expected. As we left the hotel we got on a “hop on hop off” bus that would take us around Paris and show us everything and at the end it left us right beside a very famous park were we walked around. After that wonderful afternoon we arrived back to the hotel and packed everything we had used. Tomorrow we were headed home. We woke up at seven in the morning; toke showers and arrived to the airport around nine. Our vacation had reached an end and I really didn’t want it to. It had been the best vacation of my life even after my brother’s accident. As I bored the plane I said goodbye to Paris and eight hours later I was back home.
Not that Stupid There’s only 14 “first day of school”, well if you are lucky. Most of them were the start of a good year, but there were some exceptions. The night of august 17th, 2004 I laid in my bed with my eyes open for several hours, looking at the wall right in front of me, and thinking. That night I didn’t sleep much. But this was normal, most people can’t sleep the day before they start school, but this was no normal first day of school. It was by far the second most drastic change I had in my life, just below going into school. It was my first change of teacher I had in two years, even though we were 80
supposed to change teachers and classmates every year the school agreed with our parents that we were an awesome group and should continue the work that the teacher was doing last year, so we spent two of our first four years of school with the same teacher. This was also the beginning of my first year in elementary school, the dreadfully horrifying, “no bathroom trips during class time” hell that our teachers always used to threaten us. They told you that the teacher didn’t care about you and that there was never extra recess. In my case, though, the teacher ended up caring a little too much about me. During this day I had two goals: establish my group of friends and don’t stand out to the teacher. One I accomplished flawlessly, not just establishing my friends but also deciding who to not talk with. The other one, it turns out, didn’t go that well. They placed me in[FV1] [FV2] [FV3] [FV4] Ms. Llano’s class. She was a smallish (everybody seemed big at that time but she was small in comparison) lady with blonde turned white hair and good amount of wrinkles on her face. I thought she was old, probably due to the white hair and wrinkles, and I didn’t like old teachers. It all went great, I didn’t do any screw ups and didn’t stand out because of anything but my height, which I assume teachers don’t care about much. Some of my friends were there, well at least the few the school had the pity to keep together. It was like if they had proposed themselves to separate us as much as possible, and probably if it had been physically possible to separate us more, they would have done it, the school has no pity when there isn’t money involved. My friends back then were very different than those today. At that time you were friends with the people that played the same sport as you, but years later I realized that these friends were not the type of people I liked hanging out with. I was never a social person, ok, not really. I have never been outgoing with people that I don’t know well, but once I get to know them they get to see the other side of me, confident and social. This was actually my first impression in the teacher, she saw my transformation when I went out to recess. The next few weeks went fine, at least for me. Nothing did I know that the teacher had flagged me as “special”. I got to catch up with my friends and bore them with my horribly told stories about my vacation in Barranquilla while they were dying to talk about their trip to Europe or Disney or something like that. During the open house my parents got to know my new teacher. They didn’t show any excitement about her, different to their reaction to my previous teacher who they loved. This didn’t mean for me that they didn’t like her, they just liked didn’t love her as much. Trouble started when my parents got cited to a meeting with Ms. Llano to discuss “my development in class”, how exciting. I was naïve and thought that it was average talk about my organization and how I forgot everything, but this had never gotten to this level, face to face meeting. Before this the maximum communication between my teachers and my parent were notes in my agenda that my parents had to sign. I came to know months after that these meetings were effect of my teacher’s concern about my “learning disabilities”. Which obviously my parents knew was nonexistent. As arrogant as it may sound, I don’t have learning disabilities. I’m no genius but I’m clearly not stupid either. During this meeting they agreed that they would only observe and if she noticed I continued to have problems she would call another meeting. The next day I didn’t even remember that my parents had a meeting with Ms. Llano yesterday, they didn’t tell me what they talked about and neither they lectured me. I was still completely blind to what was happening and what they thought about me. I 81
imagine they were concerned if not worried, but I don’t remember. The next month was mostly uneventful, the only thing I remember was the surprise that everybody had when I went out during religion class, and my surprise that I was the only kid that wasn’t either Catholic or Jewish. Some kids told me that I would go to hell, others told me that I was a sinner, then most of them ended up losing faith in the years to follow. I was doing well on most classes, not failing anything. Spanish has always been my worst class, sometimes because I suck at tildes but mostly because I refuse to do what I don’t like and Spanish bores the hell out of me. The next meeting created suspicion, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought, but it was simple, the teacher only wanted to tell my parents that I had missed a few homework but that was it, I wished. Meetings happened while we were on a class with a different teacher on a different room, like art or P.E. I knew about the meetings because my parents took the opportunity every time to check on me and say hi. On this meeting the teacher asked my parents to give me an exam, she wanted them to measure if I actually had a learning problem, because without it she couldn’t get me into the learning center now known as student support program. My parents were still pretty confident that I didn’t need it, so they convinced her to just observe for a month, and after that month they would meet again and make a decision. That month there was a small grade soccer tournament between the classes and most of the boys of the class played. We even made t-shirts that said Ms. Llano’s class. In that time I was in the soccer team so I was eager to play with my class, even though that not many of my classmates were in the team. We placed second after the class where most of my soccer team was, logically they were undefeated. We also had big presentations about the planets, as always I was the last person in the class list so I had to do Pluto. I bought a Styrofoam sphere slightly larger than my head and painted it grey, well told my mom to paint it gray. Then I stood in front of the class reciting what my dad had told me about Pluto the night before. Finally the day came, suspicions started when both my dad and my mom got in the car. Generally in the morning our dad used to take us and in the afternoon my mom would pick us up. But this wasn’t enough to put me in alert. What worried me was when we parked and everybody walked out of the car. They told me that they were going to talk with my teacher and that then they would go on to their jobs. That day we had art first thing in the morning, and right after that we had computers, we got to the class and at seven ten we formed a straight line and Ms. Llano walked us to art class. She came in, said hi to the art teacher and went back to the class to talk to my parents. I should’ve started worrying when another teacher told us that Ms. Llano had asked her to pick us up and take us to computers because she was busy, but I didn’t even notice it was a bad sign, nobody noticed. During computer class Ms. Llano walked in, she didn’t show any emotion on her face, but she acted as she had been relieved of something. During that time I thought that the meeting was because I wasn’t getting along very well with another boy in my class, now known as chevis. I, as I do with the people that I don’t like, didn’t even cared acknowledging his existence, I never said anything to him and neither did he. But one day during recess he got mad at me for some reason still unknown to the best thinkers of the planet, including my teacher and my friends. He insulted me with what was considered an insult at that time, something along the lines of “su cola huele a popo de elefante”, and I didn’t think twice about my impulsive reflexes and told him he was stupid in a subtle way, he didn’t understand and just 82
looked at me with a face of confusion and anger. I was worried about the meeting, never had my parents been called because of a disciplinary fault on my part, but it seemed far too exaggerated to call them for that, and they hadn’t called Chevis’ parents. During the ride home that afternoon my sister talked all the way, and I just sat there and reflected on life as I always did. My mom acted normally and didn’t comment anything about the meeting, and I was just too scared to ask. They dropped the bomb on me during dinner, I guess they wanted both to be present when they gave me the news, they probably wanted to see my reaction to convince themselves that I was perfectly normal. I think that they were actually beginning to consider the possibility. They told me that they were going to give me an exam to measure my learning abilities. My mom volunteers in the Hogar, a foundation by my school to provide cheap education to poor people who live nearby, and is friends with everybody there, probably because she is from the coast and there they can talk to a rock for hours. She told me that she had talked to her Psychologist friend and that she would gladly give me the exam that Thursday afterschool. That gave me 3 days to forget, just enough. Thursday I walked tiredly to the gate, I had played soccer for a long time that afternoon so my legs hurt. I did notice something was different, my mom was on time. That reminded me that it was the day of the exam, but it wasn’t a big deal for me. I was actually relieved to know that all the meetings were about that. We walked through the school all the way up to the Hogar, and went up to a second floor. The first door to the left was open, we went in. My mom gave her a 100% costeño greeting, letting know the whole building that she was happy to see her. The psychologist then asked my mom to wait outside and that I would be ready in 45 minutes, I just thought that it gave just enough time to get to my house on time for the new episode of Drake & Josh, great. The test was all multiple choice which I love because the answer is written on the paper. I had to read some passages about different topics including Science, English and other topics and then I had to answer questions to see if I understood what I read. 35 minutes later I was walking out to find my mom telling my story to a bunch of strangers as if it was the cover page news of the day. I tried to shut her up by making her go quickly, but what the people from the coast have in speed to talk they lack it in speed to get out of a place, its worst than trying to get a dictator out of office. When I was finally out I my mom asked how it went, and again following my reflexes I answered “fine”. The results came in on Monday, and since it’s my greatest pleasure to ruin endings, I did great. That might sound a bit arrogant, but it would be even more obnoxious to lie and say that I failed miserably. My parents were very happy and relieved. The last meeting was the only one that I knew was going to happen with anticipation and I also knew what it was about, and since I had grown a special type of love towards Ms. Llano I was even more exited for it to happen than my parents. I love to prove people wrong, and if it’s someone that I don’t like and that thought I had a learning problem it’s my greatest pleasure to do it. The rest of the year came down normally, a few missing homework problems but nothing serious. I never got to see that hell my teachers in primary used to talk about, and I went to the bathroom as I pleased. I’m starting to think that they might have exaggerated some stuff. 83
To make this a happy ending Ms. Llano had to quit at the end of the year, yay! The amazing part was that my parents were just as happy that she quit as I was, I never imagined that they actually didnâ€™t like her that much.
Anchored I used to love the ocean, and yes, that includes the beach day everybody writes about, but mainly it was just the ocean. It was perhaps the best thing that my parents could say to me when we woke up on a boring Sunday family time day. Those days when I woke up like a bouncing ball, threw on my first swimsuit, and ran to the buildings storage room to get our beach supplies. We took the beach supplies seriously, and by seriously I mean a collection of multicolor sand buckets, two of my brotherâ€™s body surfboards with Edhardy designs vs. my puppy faced ones, and finally racket tennis. My mom and dad would just go on and on about how we had to take better care of our 84
stuff, and lecturing us about a so-called responsibility value. That’s because at the end of the day they were the ones who carried them back and forth, and they were the ones forced to swipe that credit card if any toy was lost or else face the wrath of our tears. We were always trying to show off our super skills to the rest of the kids in our building. I’m going to be honest, my brother and I were pretty good when it came to sports and even ten times better when it came to proving who was faster at catching the ball, who could jump the highest waves, and who could do the most cartwheels without getting dizzy. It’s Funny because in psychology I learned that being better at something while in front of people is called social loafing, so it probably defined my entire childhood. Anyway, I would spend hours in the ocean just purposely tying over and over again to let the waves smash me against the sandy floor while still trying to hold my brothers hand. Oh right I haven’t quite introduced him yet, his name is Bond, James Bond. Just kidding his name is Julio Mario, but one of my best friends started calling him Jules so that nickname stuck. I have to admit I was kind of jealous it wasn’t me who made up that awesome nickname, but when she’s not around I suck up all the credit. We were a team, just me and him against the world (so my parents). I mean there was my little brother Marcelo at the time, but we just bullied him out of the squad for being little and missing out on all of our inside jokes. I feel a little guilty; it wasn’t his fault he was still in my mom’s womb. Now a day he has about fifteen cousins his same age, and I am lucky if I can spend 15 minutes with him, I realized Karma punched me right in the face. Jules and I spent about 97.35% of our YOLO (You Only Live Once) moments either in the beach or in the pool, and even water fountains in the Portofino building are included. It all came down to ROFL when we did things like confusing our parents in the ocean by surprise pinching strangers underwater, or crying when we were forced to go yet again to swimming with our fake team mates and fake love for the sport. In those moments when we felt cornered to go swimming, we found love and comfort in man’s best friend: the vending machine. The feeling I experienced while those Cotton Candy Puffs or Spicy Fries were just seconds away from jumping off aisle B2, is unimaginable. I remember hiding off in the locker room showers when I was too cold to get back into the water. The only thing that pissed me off about those stupid showers was that you had to make a choice. A choice on whether to step into Dante’s Inferno or the Arctic Ocean. Anyway, the ocean was everything to me until that dreadful moment when I saw JAWS in my mom’s minivan. My mom just told us it was ketchup, and I guess it made sense to Jules and Marcelo. I don’t know about everyone else in my family, but that was more than enough for me. After that, the ocean was not an option. By the fifth time I refused to go to the beach I’m sure my parents probably thought I felt insecure about my body or something like that. I started to become like Chief Brody in the movie, I only dipped my feet into the water ankle length to fool everyone that I was going in. It’s not like I wasn’t going to have fun, the entertaining game
of running up and down the shore to not let the waves catch up to you was my new and improved version of fun. Never was I ever going back. Not only did the movie show enough blood to traumatize me for a few centuries, but it also showed the sneaky ways of the shark. I was in no position to offer myself as bait so that a humongous beast that drags me down by the foot to the depths of the ocean, and then brings me back up again to scream for my life while I helplessly pound the water. I was convinced that somewhere in the sandy beaches of Miami, Jaws was just waiting for me to carelessly slip into the shark-infested waters. As if it were not enough, my obsession with sharks got to a point where I considered the pool dangerous. The perfect place for a shark to drop from a helicopter and land right behind me while I was in the middle of my breaststroke. Swimming classes became living nightmares. Between every lap, I looked back and checked that the only thing that was ganging up on me was my coach that was screaming not far behind. That is why the news of going to Islas Del Rosario in vacation was not exactly music to my ears. The boat ride was hell. The five of us got into a socalled “boat”, but if you ask me, it was a wooden canoe. After all, the waves were not the Miami waves I sacrificed myself for while playing, they were the kind of waves you see in the movie The Perfect Storm. Then out of the blue surface, I saw the house! They told me I was going to an island, but to my surprise, the house was the island. It was a huge house with a long smooth wooden dock. It reminded me of the hotel hallways where I felt like Usain Bolt when running from room to room. It was all butterflies and unicorns to everyone mainly because I think it fits the perfect stereotypical description of summer paradise. After all, it was so private and quite it scared me to think we were so far away from civilization (today it ‘s more of CNG’s official summer party place). The house was beautiful, it had the tropical aroma encrypted in every room, but then at the far back I realized it had two aquariums. When I say aquariums I do not mean glass windows and fake rocks and seaweed; the aquarium was just an ocean pool full of fishes, turtles and those murky green underwater snakes called “morenas” by the locals. Right next to it was the other one that surprisingly was even bigger but had only one fish. I repeat one fish. I remember the first time I looked over to find that so called king of the fishes, it just popped up like a humongous log surfacing in the water. Holy mother of God. How can they call that a fish? It was dark brown with white freckled spots all around his dorsal fins. His eyes were pitch dark, the emptiness made him seem like he was possessed. Surprisingly his mouth did not have teeth, instead it reminded me of the whale shark that is the biggest species of shark in the world, and yet only eats plankton. I refused to believe that by the size of his mouth, he could easily swallow my little brother in just one gulp, and I was going to do anything to keep everyone away from the tank. I think everyone must have hated me in that trip because I became hysterically bossy. Starting with the fact that I stayed 50 feet away from both “aquariums”, I also became like the lifeguard who never learned how to swim. Nobody could step close to the border because I would scream my lungs out, but I had it very clear that if anyone fell in, well then I wished them luck in wrestling the tiny fish from eating them alive 86
because I was not plunging myself in their to save lives. I guess I was being a little over protective, but what the hell it was a life or death situation. I remember being absolutely mortified just watching Jules lunge himself every morning at 6 a.m. (shark’s normal feeding time according to Shark Week) to go spear fishing with the locals. The program had already become my #1 television show and that is a very hard spot to get by my standard, and that was perhaps the first nono if you are trying to avoid a Great White or a Black Tip Reef shark face to face. Still I would run up and down the dock working as a shark spotter. I counted the seconds for him to get out of the water and that meant his toenail needed to be dry before he could consider himself a survivor. I guess I can say something good came out of this obsessive freak show I put on every day. It forced me to dig deep inside my inner self to find some hidden talent, and by deep I mean extremely profound almost like reaching into a black hole to realize I didn’t suck at fishing. That’s right fishing. To be honest, my thing wasn’t sitting on a boat, scratch that, sitting on the dock with a stick in my hand and waiting patiently for some stupid marine animal to figure out it’s hungry. I was more of a scuba diving, skiing and going on boat trips kind of person, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I remember it was so easy to catch a fish. We wouldn’t use the normal fishing rods, but instead we improvised with just a string, hook and some rocks as weights. I came to realize fishing wasn’t all that boring. I found it so easy and fast that I felt as if I were empting the ocean of its fish. The best feeling in the world was the slow nibble, and then faster and faster until that final pull where the nylon sinks powerfully into your skin and you just blurt out “HA I got you now!” I’m pretty sure I can say Jules felt the same way as the waves crashed against the dock as we lured in the fishes. I pulled that gilled creature with all my might picturing it was a Hammer Shark just giving up to my supernatural powers. Eventually Jules would pop my bubble and scorn at what a tiny sardine I had accidentally hooked through the eye. I have to give him some credit, I don’t know if it was his love for that stupid ocean or just pure talent, but he caught every single species in a matter of hours. By the end of the day, he had everything from the orange spikey one with bloated eyes to the rainbow colored ones that were the easiest to catch. We probably caught a never before found species because we were out of bait in no time. At night, my hands stung from the cut, and the salt just made it worse. Fish scales were stuck to my face, but every time I tried to clean it off the smell just punched me in the face. Jules was on his record streak. I had never seen him so full of it. He whistled away fish after fish just showing them off in my face. Normally it would have made every muscle in my body twitch in fury, but this time the ocean was so calm I did not feel like messing up the moment. I started to open up fishes with my hands in order to get their guts and stomach. I used my nails to claw in through their gills and rip off their heads, then using the hook I emptied their insides until I found the perfect intestine for Jules to use as bait. I felt so cool just tearing fish apart like I was unwrapping a birthday present, and still the first thing I did was look up to see his face; I had my brother’s approval. 87
Our parents eventually came out of the house like runaway serial killers to take us to bed. Jules decided to leave his fishing rod with a huge hook that he found while scuba diving. He insisted on leaving the rod overnight even though it was the last 12 hours of our vacation. I was so tired I couldnâ€™t have cared less about his Nemo fantasies. The next morning I had to face not only my fears, but also a thousand remarks from my brother screaming, â€œI told you so!â€?
WHY NOT? Prologue Time stretches back infinitely, and it also goes forward infinitely. Mathematically speaking, any finite amount of time within the infinite expanse of time is negligible. The time it takes people to write books is basically zero. The length of the summer vacation was basically zero. The dinosaurs existed for a time period of approximately zero. This beautiful blue planet we live on has existed for a whopping and amazing time total of about zero. And yet, amidst all these zeros and meaningless hip-hop music, there was a very significant event that has made all the difference. At least for 88
me. Welcome to my life. Why talk about anything though? Why talk about my life? Why even care? Why care to care? The list would be endless, and I have somewhat made it clear previously that nothing mattered anyways. One question, however, does answer all of the above in a simple and ambiguous way: “Why not?” I want you to stop thinking about that for too long. I’m sure you’ll find at least eightyfive reasons “why not” does not answer everything, because in fact, it might as well not answer anything at all. Why should that matter anyways? Screw it. Enough talk. Let us start at the beginning. In terms of me, there wasn’t much before the eleventh of January, 1995. Well, I probably did exist for a couple months before that day, but otherwise, nothing. Much the same way, I simply won’t ‘be’ at some point in the future. Again, I emphasize that I am as insignificant within the concept of time and space as a single nitrogen molecule is to seven thousand haystacks, a penny is to the planet of Uranus, and a camel is to the entire galactic sector of ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha. Nevertheless, that is how it began, and at the moment, it has not ended. Now, I realize this isn’t standard talk. Again, welcome to my life. I could easily talk about my entire life as a single event, but I will simply bore you. In fact, allow me to spoil my life until now for you. I was born, spent my early years in Korea (the good one, not the naughty one), went to Argentina, came to Colombia, went back to Korea, came back to Colombia, and suddenly here I am, in my last year of high school, writing this piece of text about myself. In the middle of the night. By myself. While eating potato chips. No. I’m planning on talking about last year. Last year, when graduation still seemed several decades away, when happy and sad stuff happened simultaneously, when no one gave too much of a flying truck about whether there was a party on Saturday night. Actually, let’s go even deeper. We need to go deeper. I’m going to talk about a certain period of twelve days, what I consider to be one of the greater-and-bettertimes of my life, when I travelled to other countries with my friends to be greeted by fluffy llamas and horrifying hotels with poop on the curtains. I’m going to talk about Peru. And some other stuff. A small period of time in my life. A zero smaller than zero. I liked it nonetheless. Now, I want you to forget everything I said. Forget my emphases, forget the questions, and forget the zeros and the camels. I want to remember, not philosophize. This short period of time in my life is one I don’t want to forget. It’s one of the few occurrences in this occurrence called life that I personally think is worth cherishing and constantly being reminded of for at least the remaining time I have on this world before death 89
comes to claim me. In the end, it wouldn’t even matter, but hey: why not?
1 “You ready, dude?” “Uh, yeah, sure.” Holy shrooms. I’m finally going to Peru now. ‘What will it be like? Will I like it? All of the seniors tell me they loved it, but that they wouldn’t go again… I guess that’s bad and good.’ I look around. Not too many of my close friends are around, but the air conditioning in the airport is pretty nice. Not that it’s necessary though; it’s a pretty cold day. It’s almost always a pretty cold day. I look around again. ‘How different would it have been if I were on the other plane? If I didn’t need the Bolivian visa in the first place? I could have gone on a later plane with my other friends, talking about cats and portals and other general mishmash.’ Not that I could do anything at this point, but it’s always worth a thought. Just to thaw the brain out of the constant chilly breeze buffeting my head. I look around again. ‘Who do I know?’ I see Nack right beside me with his black and white Jansport bag hung loosely on his right shoulder. Typical Asian with glasses, puffy hair, and an Asian sense of humor. Generally Colombianized, though. ‘Why the heck am I still holding my duffel bag?’ I lay it down onto the dirty white floor. Just behind, I see Kaylee, who smiles as I make eye contact. Brownish-blonde (or bronde), braces, freckles. ‘Her eyes are blue.’ I smile back and continue searching. Then there’s Jon, who looks awkward everywhere but still manages to somehow fit in, staring at the ceiling as there were a magical apparition that had appeared out of thin air. ‘I’ll never know what he’s thinking. I could ask, but I know that I won’t anyways.’ Reality is lost in my stream of thoughts, and the next thing I know, I’m sitting inside an airplane. I vaguely remember passing through a bunch of people who would stare at the Asian that seems out of place, but aside from that, all was lost. It probably doesn’t matter anyways. Except Nack’s passport photo, because that was pretty funny. I’m assuming I’m going to miss out on another portion of reality, as I am quite sleepy. Last thing I see is the crappy interior of a TACA airplane full of noise and the permeating smell of airline food. The first thing I see is Jon on the aisle seat, either sleeping or meditating. ‘Probably meditating.’ We’re almost there, according to the random sound stream coming from behind me. ‘Interesting.’ Sleep is a beautiful thing. ‘It’s so hot in here. I don’t want this blanket.’ I’ve always hated airplane blankets due to their ability to generate static electricity. 90
Lima. No security check. ‘Score.’ Another plane. Turbulence. Cusco. ‘Why does time pass by so quickly? Well, I guess I was sleeping. Meh.’ “Yeah! First day in Cusco! Let’s go get out visas, yeah? Glimpse at the culture.” Mr. O’Connor is happy and enthusiastic as usual. I wonder if he’s always like that. I wonder what’s going on in his head. Unicorns maybe. At the airport, everyone else leaves on big gray buses. The group of people that need a Bolivian visa to later enter Bolivia takes a small white van. I like it. I’ve always liked small groups. We embark on a journey to get a stamp on our passports. We talk about stuff. ‘Yes. Yes. What am I even talking about? Where are the llamas?’ Nack wants to try coca leaves. Oh, hey, Natalia has some coca leaves. I might as well try a coca leaf. Dark, dirty green. Hmm. Bleaugh. Tastes like a bitter version of toilet paper. Not that I have tried toilet paper. ‘Will this give me energy?’ Maybe. ‘Well, that wasn’t too long of a ride.’ I get off the van, actually aware of the climate. It’s not that different from Bogota’s. Makes sense; Cusco was higher up than Bogota. I think. “Guys, look at all these cactuses!” someone says. “You mean cacti?” I correct. “Potato, tomato… Same crap.” ‘Hmm. There’s a lot of new stuff. Random dogs in construction sites, cacti all over the sidewalk… But this might as well be an obscure part of Colombia.’ I still don’t feel like I’m in Peru. I’m not accepting the fact that I’m in Peru until I see a herd of llamas. Meanwhile, Mr. O’Connor is talking on the phone. “What? Okay, yes. Yes. Okay, so it opens tomorrow? O…kay. Alright. Thank you. Um, guys? The Bolivian embassy is closed today.” ‘Oh, great. Now what.’ “So what do we do now?” “Food?” “Yeah! Food!” “Food.” We eat some typical local food. Soup, meat, and an unknown variation of vegetables mixed into a hodgepodge of I-don’t-know-what. The rest of the day fast forwards and I’m at the hotel. Or whatever. It’s cozy and stuff. The people from the other plane arrive and we are assigned rooms. I’m in a room with 91
Nack and Pollo, the curly haired athletic-ish Colombian whose nickname translates to ‘chicken’ for no apparent reason that I know of. After dinner, which involved massive amounts of bread (which seems to true for every single meal in Peru), the people from Bluefields, the organization that sponsors and plans our activities, lead us to our rooms to sleep. It’s the first night in Peru, and I’m not sleeping yet. While making as little noise as possible, Nack, Pollo, and I play poker with the playing cards Nack and I brought. We didn’t bet money, because why would anyone *cough* do that? Instead, we decide that the loser has to carry the winner’s bag on the way up to Machu Picchu, which I think we’re going to hike in two or three days. At some point, we stop playing. Nack won, Pollo lost. Surprisingly, I was left with the exact amount I started with. Is the cup half-full or half-empty? I don’t know. Time will tell. The bed is comfy and sweet. I just hope Nack doesn’t draw any vulgarities on my face while I sleep.
2 I slept well, which is probably why I’m sleepy. Oh, well. I tell Nack and Pollo that I’ll shower first. I go into the tiny bathroom and see that my face is intact. Good. I think the shower will be nice and coo- OH NO THERE’S NO HOT WATER. IT’S COLD. AHHH. GET IT OVER WITH, GET IT OVER WITH, FFFFFFF“Jae! What’s taking so long?” “I’m trying! I’m- How about YOU come in here! Just- NO! DON’T COME IN, YOU STUPID.” Alright. Get it over with. Get it over- Okay, there. I-It’s all fine. Just water. Just coldness. That sucked. But it woke me up. Haha. Wait till they take a shower. By the time Pollo showers, there’s warm water. Please slap me on the face with a two kilogram object accelerating at three meters per second per second. We eat breakfast, which involves soup and a surplus of bread. ‘Hmm. Dejavu.’ According to one of the Bluefields guys, we’re a bit behind schedule. I don’t mind that much. I want my bread. Bread is good. “Hey, doesn’t that guy sort of look like Jesus?” Nack says. I stare at the Bluefields guy that just spoke. “Yeah, he sort of does. And he gave us bread.” We laugh. The name sticks in my head. He’ll probably be ‘Jesus’ to me for the rest of the trip. Apparently today is the Cusco tour day. ‘Why can’t these people let us rest?’ What are 92
we even going to do for the remaining ten days after today?’ We get out of the hotel to see the same road we saw while coming here yesterday. The streets are full of rocks embedded into them. I don’t think cars would have a nice time trying to drive on that. Especially not Colombian taxis. Oh, right. I’m in Peru. I have yet to see a llama. So cars do drive on this road. I now know this because we’re getting onto this tour bus. Oh, nice. I see everyone that wasn’t in my plane yesterday. I feel more comfortable staying stagnant in a chair in a moving vehicle now. We’re heading to this ancient rock place. We’re going to Sexy Woman. What? That doesn’t sound right. Sexy Woman? Oh. Saqsay Waman. Who names these places? Now I’ll probably remember the place I’m going as ‘Sexy Woman’. Not that it’s bad or anything, though. We all get off and stride into rockland. I should really take picture- OH NO WHERE’S MY CAMERA oh, I’m holding it. Genius. So many rocks. Rectangular rocks. Rock arches. Rocks. Big rocks. How did the Incans even move all this? They must’ve been superheroes. Oh, it’s starting to rain slightly. I don’t like the feeling of wet grass on my ankles. The grass is very green and pretty though and… I look across the grass. “LLAMAS!” I’m officially in Peru. The aftershock of seeing a group of llamas last for quite some time that time seems to skip by. We take an all-class photo, take pictures of the constantly running away llamas, get pictures taken by a creepy old man, go to another rock place only to be cancelled because of the massive downpour of rain, go to a restaurant to eat more bread and avocado, and go to an Incan temple whose design made it very apparent that a single rectangular block of stone was continually copy-pasted in an exact fashion. ‘Pretty sure Incans didn’t have Photoshop back then. Must have been Paint.’ Nack suddenly exclaims, “Hey, have you seen my rain jacket?” “Um… no.” “The dark blue one?” “No.” “Sure?” “No. I mean, yes.” Nack seems to have lost his jacket, but I honestly don’t mind too much. The Cusco tour was cut short and now we have free time. I go out in the streets and so many of the people are spraying foam on each other. What. “Oh yeah! I knew this! It’s festival time right now, so everyone’s partying!” 93
“By spraying whipped cream on all human beings?” “Yeah!” “…Wanna join?” “Yeah!” Basically all CNG students buy at least one can of foam spray. Me included. ‘Why not?’ We start out spraying people who have the balls to come spray us first. A little kid comes and sprays some on one of the girls, and we show him the full onslaught of the CNG alliance. Then, things escalate pretty quickly. We start spraying cars. Especially the ones that had their windows open. Just when we’re thinking that this might be illegal, we see a few policemen watching from a distance. They’re laughing. As long as we don’t spray them, it shouldn’t be illegal. I think. Then, things escalate a bit more. We start spraying everyone. Tourists, locals, men, women, children, fellow friends… It’s free for all now. An hour is a short time. After enjoying some Starbucks coffee, which I was surprised to find, we start walking back to get back to the hotel. Hostile forces are everywhere, preparing to ambush us with even more foam. Most of my friends are getting sprayed. I hope I don’t experience the same misfortune. ‘I’ll pretend to be an Asian Diplomat tourist thing. Think of Asian stereotypes. Ching chong. Ching chong. Ching chong… Oh. I didn’t get sprayed. I got through the dark alley. This is great.’ Dinner is served. Poker night. Again. But with slightly different people. Nack and I invited some people from other rooms over to play. By now, we know the hotel like the back of our hands, so we wander around and stuff. It is not completely untrue to state that money was not uninvolved. I should probably sleep. Tomorrow we head towards Machu Picchu. I should sleep. Alright. Just one more game.
3 I wake up. I head down to the food place. Jesus is already eating. I think his real name is Juan Carlos. Breakfast. Bread. Soup. Bread. I would probably have minded if I were at home, but just because I was with my friends, the same bread was tasty every time. 94
Either that, or I have a very short-term memory in terms of bread. “So are we going to Machu Picchu today?” “We’re gonna go somewhere… But it’s not Machu Picchu.” I randomly get reminded of something my physics teacher, an old British gentleman called Mr. Durrance said: “Back when I was a young man, it wasn’t Machu Picchu. It was just Picchu.” “Jae, what are you thinking about?” Nack asks. “Hmm? What?” “You were smiling.” “Oh, nothing. Mr. Durrance.” “Haha, okay.” This happens more than I would want. I chuckle or smile at a funny thought, which, of course, to other people, would seem like an indication of insanity. ‘Maybe it just makes me seem more mysterious. Probably not. Would that be a good thing? I don’t know.’ “Jae, you’re doing it again.” “Oh. Sorry.” “Why?” “I… just… whatever.” Everyone else gets to rest peacefully for an hour or so. On the other hand, I have to go to the Bolivian embassy again. I go up to my room to get my passport and wallet. ‘I want Starbucks again. So what would happen if I can’t get the Bolivian visa? Are we coming back here before we go to Bolivia? I guess it wouldn’t be too bad if I stayed in Cusco though. I really, really like this place. Feels like home.’ Mr. O’Connor enters the diner with a smile stretched from ear to ear. “Okay, the Bolivian visa people? We have to leave now. The van’s waiting, alright?” The van is cozy. Nack, Kaylee, Camille, Jon, Natalia Navarro… As we walk out, we notice an old woman selling the photos the old man yesterday must have taken. I buy mine and one for my semi Mexican friend, Gerardo. Having arrived in the embassy again, there’s disappointment in the air. The guy in charge of giving the visa permission within the embassy isn’t here. ‘Wow. Really? What now? Staying in Cusco later might be fine.’ Some part of me is actually wishing to stay here. I heard Bolivia wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine anyways. ‘Should I express my thought out loud? Maybe later.’ So sleepy. I want to sleep. We catch up to the group that had a head start in going somewhere. I think we have embarked on the journey which will end with Machu Picchu.
We visit a random market in a semi-circular formation. I so want to buy that llama plush thing. It’s so fluffy. How much is it? Oh. Maybe not today. No. Maybe it’ll be cheaper at Bolivia. Are there llamas in Bolivia? I guess I’ll find out. Llama farm. Llamas. Llamas everywhere. I am in Peru. I think the alpacas are cuter, as they’re fluffier. They sort of look like dirty carpets though. Photo spree. Pisac. Some other market place. Much bigger though. They’re selling corn, and they’re huge. Let me try some… Wow. That’s good. I’m hungry. Oh, look, a Puma parody shirt that says llama instead. I think I’ll buy one of those. I guess I’ll go a bit deeper into the market… Sexual card games, penis statues, erotic medicine… I don’t think I should be here. This is funny, but I don’t think I should be here. I think I’ll go back to the bus and sleep. I hope Nack bought some of that corn. I want some more. We stop by another random plaza. I’m not interested. I take a picture in someone else’s motorcycle-ish vehicle and go back in the bus. I’m half-sleeping, listening to the beautiful piano melody seeping out of the iPod. I look outside to see an endless range of mountains and a picturesque glacial peak right outside the window. This is just beautiful. This is possibly the prettiest picture I’ve ever seen in my life. I take a picture, but it doesn’t look as pretty. ‘I guess I’ll just remember this moment as the most beautiful scene ever. Maybe I’ll look at the picture in the future and reminisce. Maybe I’ll write a book. Who knows?’ The two hour bus ride since the last stop concludes with our arriving at Lares. It seems like a small place with thermal baths. Just random brown hot water coming from the ground, I suppose. I don’t care too much at this point. ‘Why not?’ I change into my swimming suit and dive in. ‘Ohhhhh my lawd, it’s so hot. So hot. Dizzy. Oohhh… There we go. Wow. This is hot as hell.’ I look around to see not too many girls in the thermal baths. ‘Darn it, where are the ladies at? Oh, well. Might as well enjoy the heat and relax before whatever awaits tomorrow and on.’ Dinner. Soup. Poker. Using pistachio shells as chips. I think I won. I don’t know. I’m sleepy. Tent. Good night.
4 Breakfast. Bread. Pretty good, actually. Eddie spills Gerardo’s yogurt and suddenly the place is full of noise and yogurt. Now I want yogurt. Oh, never mind, we ran out of yogurt. Let’s blame it on Eddie. 96
We leave the heavy big bags with our clothes in them inside the buses as we leave for what’s probably going to be a long hike. Walk… Walk… Walk… Walk some more. Walk even more. ‘This reminds me of that one Fight Club scene where the dude just runs. Something about acid. And then he ran some more. That movie was good.’ My legs are going to spontaneously explode into millions of tiny pieces of meat. My heart is going to pop out of my ribcage and flop around on the dirty mud. My lungs are going to simply stop and the world will have a larger future oxygen supply. I’m dying. ‘Almost there. It’s not that bad. The place is beautiful. Everywhere I look is a postcard. Blue sky, snowcaps, stuff like that. Plus, I’m not behind all the other people like I expected to be. In fact, I’m almost one of the first, taking the lead. I’m special. Yes, I am.’ We reach the top. It’s not the actual top, since I see more mountain above me, but in terms of our hike, it looks pretty downhill from here. Not in a metaphorical sense. “Did you know that we’re 4500 meters above sea level?” someone shouts out. ‘Really? Huh. I thought it would be harder to breathe at this point, but I guess not. Yes, I’m special. I wonder if anyone else thinks they’re special too.’ I take some pictures. We wait until the majority of the people come up to this point. I look down at every part of the trail I’ve walked through. ‘Damn, I walked a lot.’ We start heading down the other way. It starts hailing. It starts hailing a lot. We can see it piling up from the horizon to the near fields. It looks like snow. Everyone’s talking. “Oh my God, it’s snowing!” “Wow!” “Yay!” “Ouch. It hurts.” “Put your hoods on!” “It’s getting cold… better drink my own piss.” “What?” “Nothing.” I plank on the snow. I bet I look funny. Well, let’s keep going. Maybe I shouldn’t have planked. I’m all wet and it’s cold. Oh dear. I can’t tell whether my next step will be stable ground or a patch of mud. I don’t want my boots to get submerged under theAWWWW CRAP. Get out. Get out. Get out. Ewwww. Mud inside my boots. I’ll sort it 97
out later. This sucks. This is cold. This is beautiful. I, along with many others coming in order, arrive at the temporary campsite. As I can hear, everyone, and I mean everyone, seems to be cold. At least it stopped hailing. So much white. This combination of green and white reminds me of something. Christmas maybe? My hands are cold. Warm soup, YES. Heaven. Warm water. YES. Double heaven. All the way across the sky. Some native women and children come to the campsite and start selling gloves, hats, socks, and general other warm stuff. What a good business. All their merchandise are gone within a half-hour. I got a pair of gloves and a hat. I’m still cold though. Time to walk again. Walking. Walking. Walking. Down. Down. We arrive at a campsite enclosed inside a fence. Looks sort of like a prison. What do you mean there’s only one bathroom? Oh please. I thought the trip was pretty marvelous and great until now, but some girls are crying, saying that this isn’t what they paid their money for. What did you expect? It’s not my opinion though. Dinner. Chocolate pudding for dessert. Too tired for poker. I squeeze into the tent and hypnotize myself to sleep.
5 Breakfast. Crappy bathroom. Time seems to be going quite faster. We start walking. It’s not as vertical as yesterday. Most of the walking so far seemed horizontal. I wonder what my gravitational potential energy is. The walk is very cheerful, full of singing and joking. Racism here and there. Walk… Walk… My feet hurt. Maybe I have a blister. We arrive at Ollantaytambo. There’s a pet cat and dog here. I like animals. I think. As we have lunch (which involves rice, beans, chicken, and Fanta), I keep giving stuff to 98
the dog. It probably won’t ever go away. I don’t mind too much. I don’t want to touch it too much though; it might have a disease or something. What kind of a place is called Ollantaytambo? It probably means “the dark sunset of the golden brick.” Or maybe “the sacred rock of the great green raven.” Whatever. Walk. Walk. How much more do we have to walk? Train station. Train ticket. Train. Poker with five people. We arrive at Aguas Calientes. This is the Machu Picchu place. It is from here that we begin the ultimate hike thing. I think. I thought something pretty similar like two days ago. A kitten jumps into the train railtrack. I grab it and bring it out. And I take a photo with it. I like cats. I want a cat. My mom doesn’t like cats. She doesn’t want all the excess hair and poop strewn all around the house. I’m assigned a room in the Wiracocha Inn with Gerardo and Santiago, another close friend. ‘Finally, a normal bed. An actual hotel.’ All the CNG students arrive at this one other hotel to have a buffet. Finally, a proper meal. Well, not that the other meals weren’t proper. Am I spoiled? I might be. I’m hungry. Thank everyone and everything for the dinner. Thank everyone and everything for the shower. Thank everyone and everything for being able to charge my camera, which was dying. Machu Picchu’s going to be tomorrow. There’s also apparently another bigger mountain right on Machu Picchu for those willing to take an extra step, to conquer Peru. I probably won’t do it. I’ll probably be extremely tired. On the other hand, I am going on the Machu Picchu hike itself. No way I’m going back to Colombia without that meaningful experience. I’m not going to ride a bus up there. Will I die? Maybe. I’ll think about that once I’m dead. ‘Why not.’ Got to sleep early. I have to wake up at 3:00 in the morning tomorrow so that we can hike up and see the sunrise. I watch a random episode of the Big Bang Theory and some crime detective thing. I laugh because the story is solved as it is revealed that the thought-to-be murderer actually has an evil twin. That was bad. Gratitude for the TV. Gratitude for the toilet. Gratitude for a good sleep. 99
6 I wake up at the sound of the alarms coming from various phones. We get ready and head out. I think I lost my lantern. That seems like a bit of a problem; it’s like three in the morning
and frankly, I can’t see crap. Walking. I wonder if at some point we’ll just stop walking. That might be nice. I’m relying on everyone else’s light sources to see the ground, but I’m probably stepping on a bunch of donkey poop anyways. This isn’t that bad. We’ve just started ascending after a short-ish walk. I do want to stop and rest though. I don’t think it’s gonna happen. I don’t really want to stay behind. Come on Jae, you can do it. You’ll see the sunrise. It’ll be beautiful. Like the last few days. Come on. Kill me. My legs are screaming in agony, and my heart is pumping the same blood all around my body about five times each second. I know I’m sweating out a river, but maybe it’s just the rain. Thank you, rain. It’s probably thanks to the rain that I’m not having a heatstroke. Okay, I see the end. I can see the sky. Oh, never mind, there’s another set of stairs. I bet this is the last part… Oh, darn, there’s another. It’s about time we reach the peak. Nope. Still no. Well, now I have a hunch. This is the last set of stairs. Please… …FUCK. Screw life and all it stands for. It feels like I’m rubbing sandpaper on my crotch. Except it’s my whole body and mind. Okay. Calm down. It’s not that bad. I think the pre-Machu Picchu hike was actually worse. Right? Right? Tell me I’m right. Oh, whatever. Everyone else is probably just as tired as I am, if not more. Almost there. I think I hear buses and tourism stuff. Come on. Come on. “Anyone reach the top yet?” I yell. “Yeah! Come on!” I hear from a very close distance. Yes. Please. Oh, yes. I see shops and stuff. Bricks and stuff. Yes. YES. I made it! “Woo!” “Yeah! We made it guys!” “I can’t wait till we see the sunrise!” “The sun already rose, Jae. Look up.” “Oh…” 100
I guess I didn’t notice the increased light all around me. How stupid of me. I look like as if a bird took a dump on my head and a anteater decided to slather it all over my hair and face. But then everyone else looks like that too. We get tickets and enter Machu Picchu. It’s pretty foggy. I see rock formations here and there. So organized. Everyone’s taking pictures. Wow, it’s so pretty here. Green grass, llamas chewing on them… How did the Incans even make this place? I don’t think we’re getting the main course of Machu Picchu just yet. The people that want to go to the bigger mountain on Machu Picchu, apparently called Wayna Picchu, have to go now. You know what? I’ve come this far and this is a once in a lifetime experience. I going up there. Plus, I think some Bluefields guy just said it would take only twenty minutes. ‘Why not.’ Maybe I shouldn’t have done this. Wayna Picchu is rather steep, so one needs ropes to go up and down. My acrophobia seems to be acting up. I look down. I shouldn’t have looked down. Go up. Maybe I shouldn’t have come. Too late to go back though. Climb. Walk. Climb. Walk. I have conquered Wayna Picchu. I guess I’m supposed to be able to see all of Machu Picchu as well as all the pretty landscapes, but it’s too foggy to see anything. Or cloudy. Could be either, seeing that we’re pretty high up. Speaking of which, I don’t know how high up Machu Picchu is. I think it was actually lower in altitude than Cusco? Whatever. Pictures. Here and there. Birds everywhere. Jesus gets naked on top of a high rock. Interesting. Making very sure that I wouldn’t slip and fall into the foggy abyss as I descended back down, I climb back down. With Mr. O’Connor. And Gerardo. I made it back down. I think that means I’m not dead. They told me it would take twenty minutes. Liars. That was two hours. I go seeing the actual insides of Machu Picchu along with Nack, Isabella, and Gabriela. We were given the option to follow a tour guide, but I think moving by ourselves is a bit more fun. I take a bunch of photos. Oh, hey. This is that one famous Machu Picchu photo spot. Let me take a picture… Woah! It’s just like a postcard! I feel like a professional photographer. “I feel like a professional photographer,” Nack comments. I was thinking that first. “Nack, just because you have a more expensive camera doesn’t mean you’re more 101
professional than anyone else.” “Hahaha. I’m still pretty pro.” “Alright.” As I go back down from the photo hotspot, someone asks me, “Hey Jae, what’s your camera?” “Oh. It’s a Samsung.” “Really? But doesn’t your dad work in LG?” “Uh… Yes he does.” “Betrayer!” Haha. Well, this place is pretty amazing. And beautiful. And classic. Will I come back here? Maybe. Not too soon, though. We go back outside. I watch the others, tantalizing me as they slowly ingest the delicious ice creams. I don’t have money. I get on the bus. The way back to Aguas Calientes is on the bus. Thank goodness. I try to count how many sets of stairs we’ve passed on the way down. I lose count. Damn it. Even after that, the stairs go for a long time. I feel proud. Isn’t pride a cardinal sin? Huh. We arrive in Aguas Calientes. I sort of want to go back to the hotel and just rest, but I also want to look around and maybe go shopping. I’ll do that. A bunch of restaurant people shout out Japanese phrases as I walk by. Then some more. Then a bit more. Should I be offended? One guy shouts out ‘hello’ in Korean. “Woah! You know Korean!” “Yes, I’ve had a few Korean customers, so…” “Haha, nice. Good to hear my language here.” “Haha, must be. By the way, how do you say ‘welcome’?” “Oh, it’s ‘Eo-seo-o-se-yo’.” “Eoseo oseyo.” “Yes!” We talk for a while, while my friends just watch, either laughing or making racist jokes. I think racist jokes are funny. One shouldn’t take them so seriously. We go back to the hotel and pack our stuff. We go on a train. We’re going to Ollantaytambo. The train stops. “Are we there?” “I don’t think so.” This reminds me of that one part in the third movie of Harry Potter when the train stopped and the dementors came in and tried to take Harry’s soul. Is that what’s happening? 102
Never mind. Here we go again. We arrive. I have no idea where I am. We take a bus. I sleep. Cusco. In the middle of the night. I feel like I’m at home. Seriously, I think I’m in love with Cusco. Finally, the walking part of the trip is over. In fact, half of the trip has passed by. I love Peru so far. I think we’re going to Bolivia tomorrow. Oh, right I still need my visa, so there’s that. Well, it’ll all happen tomorrow. Good night, Cusco.
7 I wake up at seven. Isn’t it day seven? Yes it is. Double seven. It’ll be a lucky day. I had a good sleep, so that’s a great start as well. We’re supposed to go to Bolivia via an eight hour bus ride. Jesus. The visa people once again head towards the Bolivian embassy. Thankfully, the guy is there. I get a stamp in my passport. “That’s it?” “Yep.” “Okay.” On the other hand, Kaylee and Natalia, who have diplomatic passports, can’t get visas without going through a huge whoop-a-whop. Things will be figured out though; we have the mighty Mr. O’Connor and his power of infinite optimism. We take a two hour ride on a small white van. I’m sleeping like a boss. The previous statement is probably a hyperbole, as I constantly woke up at the sharp pain inflicted by the glass as I constantly banged my head every time there was a bump on a road. We catch up to the other group, who are having lunch. Lunch. Chicken. Oh my God, the chicken is so good. We join the other group and get on the two-floored bus. Jokes. Jokes everywhere. “A Roman walks into a bar. He raises his two fingers and said ‘give me five beers’!” Laughter everywhere. Happiness everywhere. I’m happy. I think Nack is happy. 103
We arrive at Puno. It’s dark, so there’s not much to visually see. We have dinner at a hotel. Boy, this is great. Sadly, this four-star hotel isn’t the one I’m sleeping in. I have to go walking a bit to a three-starred hotel. Not really complaining though. While Nack and Pollo go out of the room, I listen to the music coming from the TV speakers. Classics. Recent pop songs. Eminem. This is the life. It was a long and tiring day without much action. I’ll miss Cusco. Once Nack and Pollo come back to sleep, Nack and I start spontaneously laughing for no reason. Pollo gets annoyed, but we’re not annoyed. We laugh and laugh and laugh until all the laughter that was being saved was released in a burst. I think we have to wake up at 3:30 tomorrow. Damn.
8 I wake up. 3:30? I think so. I wonder if we’re going to Bolivia today. Jesus tells me we’re going to Lake Titicaca. It’s apparently a famous lake in Peru. I’ll pretend I already knew that. The bus takes forever to come. We get to a harbor. Is this an ocean? Oh, it’s not. I can see some land at the other side. Well, it is a lake. We get onto a boat. Do I get seasick? I don’t think so. We keep going until we arrive at a floating village. It’s like one of those villages I would find in a video game. Like in Pokemon or something. There’s quite some people living here, and they teach us how the place floats, what they eat, etc. It’s this weird looking stick-plant that floats. It’s also edible. They also make little cute souvenirs and boats out of the same plant. Talk about versatility. “Do you want to take one of these boats?” one of the native women asks. “Uh, maybe.” “When they say ‘do you want to take it,’ they mean do you want to buy it,” a friend whispers in my ears. “Oh.” I got to know these people a bit in the last hour, so I might as well buy something. This looks nice. It’s a bird, sun, fish, and a boat all strung into one piece in that order. They tell me they’re supposed to symbolize the sky, the land, and the underworld. 104
Something like that. We take the boats back to the land village, where I can clearly see the contrast of the ‘modernized’ parts and the floating ‘natural’ villages. We ride the bus until the Peru-Bolivian border and we get off. At this point, honestly, the surroundings and things in general seem to have decreased in quality. As we cross the borders, we see warning posters of fake taxi kidnappings. And soccer team stickers. Once everyone gets through, we get on another bus. Camila seems sick and she’s crying? What happened? Kidney stone? Wow. We continue on the bus with a very kind tour guide, but I think everyone’s falling asleep. I can’t blame anyone, since everyone’s tired and stuff. We arrive at La Paz. I think I hear something about La Paz not being the capital of Bolivia, but I’m not too sure. We arrive at the hotel. Sagarnaga. We enter the hotel with high enthusiasm and optimism for future showers and sleep. I enter my room on the second floor. Disappointment. The only contents of the hotel room are the two wooden beds that look like they’re going to fall apart at the breeze of the air, an analog TV that seems to be so old that not only does it have the super-box attached to the back of it, but it also has little knobs that have to be turned to switch the channels, of which there are seven in total. The view out the window is simply magnificent, consisting of a dark alleyway with a broken down car, a wooden ladder, a couple piles of trash, and stacked beer cans. I enter the bathroom. Filthy tiles, filthy sink, filthy showers. Why are the shower curtains brown? Is that- oh my God. “Hey, I found something here!” Santiago calls out from the room. The closet has an obsolete drawer that has been broken down to reveal a piece of wood with three nails stuck onto one of the far edges. “You think there was a murder here or something?” We open the room door to check if we’re the only ones with a crappy room. Everyone’s out in the hallway, calling his or her parents or complaining about their rooms. One room has poop blatantly sitting in the sink. Another has a broken window or something like that. Wow. This is shitty. Literally.
The Bluefields people who had reserved the hotel were not expecting this either. They say they’ll try to figure it out while we eat dinner. We are promised Burger King. We divide into three large groups and head towards the Burger King which is apparently only five blocks away. We walk. And walk. And walk. I think that was definitely more than five blocks. Really, I don’t think I need to walk more for the rest of my life. I did enough walking. We find a Burger King. Success! No one’s here. Where’s everyone? Oh, it’s not here? We walk eight blocks back the way we came from and find another Burger King, this time filled with very familiar people. “Hey! Where were you? We almost finished our burgers.” “We got lost. We went to another Burger King that was eight more blocks down.” “How does that work?” “I don’t know.” We eat. Whoppers. Fries. Ice cream. We go back to the Sagarnaga hotel. Ugh. I don’t really want to be here. Whatever. I guess this is also a once in a lifetime experience. I sit on the bed, desolately awaiting my inevitable fate of having to eventually take a shower today or tomorrow. I’m going to get a disease aren’t I? Oh, this sucks. Why is there so much noise in the hallway? I go outside. I see people coming out of their rooms with their bags. “We’re getting out of here! They said we’re moving to another hotel!” Thank God. We all change hotels from what seemed like a half-star hotel to a five-star hotel. I feel sort of bad for the owner of the Sagarnaga hotel, who probably had to pay Bluefields back. Not too much though. I do feel sorry for Bluefields, since they had to pay more just for us to be more comfortable. Maybe it was their fault for not looking in depth into the hotel we were going to be staying in. That’s in the past now, though. The boys and the girls were assigned to different hotels. We can’t visit each other because the two hotels are actually quite far away. Our hotel is fine, but I think the girls got the better one. They have a casino. Not that I would necessarily have visited the casino. Who would do such a thing? The beds are nice. That’s a change. We have a Bolivian tour tomorrow. First night in Bolivia, here I come.
9 We all wake up late. Later than usual, at least. 8:20. Good hotel. Good shower. The soap is weird. We visit a museum. It has a lot of rare artifacts, pottery, and gold. ‘How much money would I get if I stole all this gold and sold them? Probably a lot. Then I would go to jail. By the time I come out, there would be hoverboards, electromagnetic fusion fueled Terminators, and iPhone 17’s. But then I’m not going to steal. So I’m fine. We go to a random plaza. I look to the left and see pigeons. Right. Pigeons. Up. Pigeons. Down. Pigeons. There is an absurd amount of pigeons in the area, and none of them seem to give a crap whether we’re here or not. We buy corn from an old lady selling corn. The moment the corn leaves the hand, all the pigeons simultaneously dive towards the corn. We start throwing corn at each other, and the pigeons attack their targets. Then Sammy accidentally steps on a pigeon. It struggles and twitches on the floor for a while, and then it lies still. Some other pigeons come and poke at it with no reaction coming back. This is sad. I wonder how many pigeons die every day. A lot, I’m guessing. We go to a desert-ish rock formation place called the Moon Valley. This place reminds me of the Tatacoa desert, a desert I went to last year and almost died (or felt like I died). That was a year ago? Time sure flows quickly. Where will I be in another year? Only time will tell. Lunch. Jesus tells us that “the only thing constant is change,” and that we should perservere no matter how hard things get. That’s a nice quote. I might write it down. I’ll probably forget. Marketplace. I remember that I didn’t buy a fluffy llama because I thought fluffy llamas would be cheaper here. I think I was wrong. There are no fluffy llamas here. I am disappointed. There’s not that much to buy, although every shop seems to have a section reserved for sexually arousing medicine stuff such as “evil love potion” and “erector”. There’s also an abundance of fetuses in a jar. I know a game called the Binding of Isaac, in which you escape to your basement because your mom is trying to kill you, and you have to beat each level my murdering your unborn brothers/sisters with your own tears. Why did these fetuses suddenly remind me of that? Oh, right. The best item that you can get in the game is the ‘fetus in a jar’. Right. I want a llama. There are no llamas. Jon buys a real, dead, and altogether not-too-pleasing llama. A llama fetus. Why would you even buy that? “Why not?” he says. 107
Dinner. Pasta. Not bad. Now I’m starting to think about going back to school after the trip. We get back on Wednesday night, and many of my friends have expressed their disapproval of the idea of going to school on Thursday, which we supposedly have to. Mrs. Kaun, the high school principal, came along on the trip. I wonder if she’ll come to school on Thursday. Hmm. We go back to the hotel. Poker. Sleep. I won’t let the bed bugs bite.
10 Wake up. Chill. Breakfast. Toast. I didn’t realize this before, but I think I love toast. I could live the rest of my life on toast, butter, and jam (or jelly). Either that or I am very, very hungry. Lunch. Chicken. I love chicken. I must be very, very hungry. We all take taxis to a place called Remar for some social service. The place is right beside the end of the sidewalk. Really. The road just abruptly ends, and a cliff awaits right in front of it. What the heck? We have some cultural exchange with the people in Remar, including this one very shy girl. These people have, in general, not been out of Bolivia. As I showed on the world map where I was from (South Korea, by the way), I felt slightly bad for having basically been to all kinds of places in the world. I’m not going to mention this. We do some activities. I make some chocolate nuggets with arequipe in them. I think mine looks the prettiest. I can’t resist the temptation to eat them right now! Okay, I ate them. Simply delicious. Other activities. Not as fun. Dance show for us. Thank you. Taxi back to the hotel area. Dinner. Sandwich. Awesome. So good. I must have been very, very hungry. Eddie’s Sprite explodes. Back to the hotel.
Tomorrow we have to wake up early, at about 4:00, to take a plane to Lima. This is the last night in Bolivia, the country where six Hershey chocolate bars cost twenty-five bolivianos (or 7000 pesos) and crappy hotels lurk in the shadows of La Paz. Will I miss Bolivia? Regardless of my answer, good night.
11 I wake up. What time is it? We have to be downstairs all ready at 5:00. It’s 5:00. That’s not good. “Nack! We’re late! What the heck! You said you’d set the alarm!” “I did! I did… Oh. I put the alarm for 4:00 Bogota time… I think there’s a one hour delay here, so they alarm rang at 5:00.” “We appear to be royally screwed.” “It seems so.” We somehow make it to the bus. Turns out a lot of other people had the similar idea to wake up late. The bus takes us to the airport. La Paz to Lima. On a TACA plane. We arrive at Lima. Lima is pretty warm. At least it’s not boiling hot like the summers in Korea. It’s even worse in Korea because of all the mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are useless and they should all die. Hotel. Shower. SO GOOD. Once I go back to Bogota, I’ll be thankful for everything I have: the bed, the hot shower, the books… I’ll probably forget though. I shouldn’t. We all go have lunch and a Chinese and Peruvian fusion food restaurant. I actually like the stuff. I really wanted all these sweet things, especially after having had a bunch of soup and bread for most of the trip. We finish eating. There’s a lot of food leftover. I wonder if the restaurant reuses the food if it’s perfectly edible and fine. They shouldn’t do it, but look at all the potential food we’re wasting. I would eat more if it weren’t for the fact that I only have a single stomach. We visit some catacombs. Bones here, bones there, watch your head as you pass through here. And here are some more bones. There are some more. Here, there. 109
We come out from the dark catacombs into the light. This could potentially be some great symbolism about how I left my dark past behind me and now everything is enlightened. I don’t think that’s my story though. We buy a ‘Last Supper’ T-shirt to give to Jesus at dinner. We thought it was funny. I also buy a fake butterfly prank thing, just because it’s cheap and looks cool. Jesus, meanwhile, seems to have no idea. He suggests we go eat ice cream, since we have free time. “So, we can go eat ice cream guys. The ice cream place is just a bit away from the hotel. Like two blocks, three blocks, four blocks, five.” “What?” everyone says at pretty much the same time. “Hahaha, Jesus turned two blocks into five. What a miracle!” “Hahahaha!” Anyways, free time. Ice cream with Mr.O’Connor, Kaylee, Nack, and some other people. I think I like vanilla ice cream more than chocolate ice cream. I still love chocolate though. I want some pistachio ice cream. Pistachio ice cream is green. Green is my favorite color. Nack’s favorite color is blue. Why is it my favorite color? I decide to walk around Lima with Nack. ‘Why not?’ We go to a mall-ish place adjacent to the ocean, a few blocks away from the hotel. There, we watch the sunset and start looking around. Bicycle playing cards. Should I buy some? Nah, they’re cheaper elsewhere. Starbucks. Yes. I buy a mocha Frappuccino. Nack buys a Zippo lighter that looks like a director slate. It’s all shiny and stuff. “Oh, crap. We’re late. We’re supposed to go for dinner in like… now.” “Let’s go then!” We run back to the hotel, making sure cars don’t run over us. We’re not late. Everyone else is pretty much late as well. Is that a Colombian thing? There’s so many occasions when the party or appointment is at 12:00 and everybody comes at 1:00 (and so casually, too). Have I been Colombianized? Maybe. I know Nack has. At the meeting, we give Jesus the T-shirt. We give signed T-shirts to many other Bluefields people, including Kathy, who was the leader of our group. Dinner at Al Fresco. I order sushi because I figure it’ll be good since Lima is right next to the ocean and fresh marine food can be acquired easily. Well, at least more than in Bogota, which is far away from a large body of water in all directions and is 2600 meters above sea level.
No regrets. It’s good. This is truly the last supper. Hotel. Room. Tomorrow will be the last day. How will it be? An epic conclusion, maybe? Meh.
12 Everyone that wants to go surfing had to wake up at 6:30. I wake up at 6:30 despite not actually wanting to go surf. I’ll figure something out. We take a bus to the beach, where several surfing instructors are waiting. I decide not to surf. I know this is probably another once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I really don’t want to get wet. Why not? I don’t know. I have something against water. For example, I hate rain. Disregarding the male honor code, I usually carry around an umbrella because I just hate being doused in rainwater or saltwater. Meanwhile, I just look around the beach, finding shells, sea urchins, and crabs. And listening to the continuous crashing of the waves onto the infinitely stretched beach full of stones and pebbles. The other non-surfing people, namely Lulu, Juliana, and Agustina, and I, decide to walk to the mall I went to yesterday. I tell them I know the way, so we head towards the place. The walk is longer than expected. The sunlight is accumulating inside our bodies, heating us up. We eventually get there. It has a completely different view in the morning. We want to eat something, but everything seems to be closed. KFC is closed. Pizza Hut is closed. Starbucks isn’t, and is in fact, full of Americans. Frutix, a natural fruit juice place, opens as well, and we get drinks. I like this. Just relaxing for the last day. Especially if we do have to go to school tomorrow. I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. I’ll think about that later. We walk back to the hotel and wait until all the surfers come back. They say it was fun, but that they also got cuts and sunburns. Now I’m even more glad that I didn’t go. I hate sunburns. But then, who doesn’t? We head to the airport. Now I’m feeling like the trip is over. In fact, the trip is pretty much over. I think.
“What the heck is that?” says the guy looking at the x-ray machine. “Hey, come here! You gotta see this!” The airport security stopped Jon from bringing the llama fetus. The hilarious fight ensues. Mr. O’Connor and Jon spurt out arguments at the airport security people. “The plane from La Paz to Lima didn’t say anything about this!” “But sir, this is not our fault. We can’t let you take this.” “What do you mean we can’t take this? I bought it!” “It’s in the regulations, sir.” “But the flight from La Paz to Lima didn’t say anything!” “Yes, but the Avianca policies are different.” “We came in an Avianca plane. They didn’t say anything.” “Oh, well…” Then it just got weird. “I’m pretty sure there’s no actual policy that doesn’t allow us to take this.” “Well…” “You guys are disrespecting my religion towards the Pacha Mama!” “Uh…” “This llama will be a sacrifice for my religion. Are you going to stop us?” “Well… Okay. But we’ll have to put it into the baggage. We can’t let you take that by hand.” “Fine.” And so the llama makes its way onto the plane. Yay! Nobody makes an argument with the global studies teacher. Or Jon. The plane ride back home is calming. Sleep all the way. Thus, this concludes the end of this amazing trip. Thank you, everything and everyone. Goodbye, Bolivia. Goodbye, Peru. Bogota is cold. I wear my jacket. We get onto the school buses, which take us to the school, where we’re all going to be picked up by our respective parents. That was great. … “Do we have school tomorrow?” “…Shit.” “Are you coming?” “I don’t know. I still don’t feel like I’m back to normality.” “You’re never normal, Jae.” “…Okay.” Laughter fills up the serene night sky. 112
I think back and then think of what the future might hold. Probably something good. That was cheesy, I know. But hey: why not?
Desperation at the Summit The Mile High City was the first thing I saw waking up from a long and sound sleep in my flight from Dallas. It was a very sunny day and the only thought on my parentsâ€™ mind was the one and only tour through the Vail peaks. The fact that it was the first time I would see the Rocky Mountains closely excited me. My father had shown them to me on some picture books. We arrived at the hotel and for some reason I was very energetic and wanted to know all the mountains immediately. Their height, their majesty, and their splendor marveled me as I looked out the roomâ€™s 114
window. The tour was at 3 p.m. that day, so we rested a little, packed our backpacks, and headed out to meet the Rockies. The altitude that the natural landscape had amazed me and all I kept doing was staring at the summit. High altitudes had never frightened me. On the opposite, they had always intrigued me and amazed me. We already were on top of a mountain. This captivated me. So why did I see before me such tall mountains that made it seem as if I was in a valley? The wish came immediately to me: I wanted to get up there. I told my parents, “I want to go to the very top of the mountain.” They told me, “We cannot do that because it is too dangerous and we would not be able to reach the top.” Furious, throughout the entire tour I ignored everything the guide said, and, while my parents thought that I was only appreciating the magnificence of the mountain range, I was planning on how to fool my parents and get on my way to the top of the mountain. I was not this kind of person. Now that I think about it, that was probably the first time I was intentionally thinking of doing something wrong. Of course, I did not know it was wrong. On the contrary, I thought it was the right thing to do. My parents had told me all my life to follow my dreams and that if I persisted and took initiative, they would become reality. It was Peak 9, one of the highest peaks in the area. It was Peak 9: the place where I expected to have the time of my life. I saw that my parents and the guide where paying little attention to where I was and were too busy learning all the facts about the Rocky Mountains. What use does it have to learn all those things about the range if you do not experience them? This thought made me feel confident that the thing I needed to do was to experience those 11,000 feet of altitude. They accelerated their pace to able to see more of the sites. When they were about 5 meters ahead of me, I rushed to the side, toward where the path began its inclination. I believe no one saw me since I did not hear any shouts that told me to stop. Even at the age of five, I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my back and giving my legs more and more energy. Always keeping my head up, the summit seemed to be farther and farther away. I think about one hour had passed since I started running and I was nowhere. I could barely see the base of the mountain where I had begun my journey and the rest was all dirt and trees. I began to feel lonely. The feeling of failure of not being able to reach the summit as I had wanted had taken over me. Suddenly, I heard roaring and what I could figure was a huge crowd far away well ahead of where I was. The next thing I heard was the rumbling of motors of race motorcycles. My parents had been right! The USA Pro-Challenge motorcycle race was to be underway at that precise time. All my adrenaline turned into pure fear. Not knowing what to do, I hid behind some trees in the middle of the mountain, which was the only thing I could find for protection. I did not know what I was finding protection against, but I perceived it was nothing good. When I figured that was useless, since a motorcycle could easily hit me if it went toward where I was, it was too late to do anything about it. If I moved, the risk of being hit was more. I clung unto that trunk as if it was the only thing that could save me from tragedy. I thought for a moment that it might simply be the roar of a helicopter passing by. However, I was mistaken. The motorcycles passed by very fast. In my entire 5 years of existence, I had never seen any object move that fast, even less with a human riding it. It was all a mystery to me. At first, I thought they were crazy people who had lost their mind. I could only see them 115
as they jumped down a steep inclination. That meant that they could only see me at that short distance too! When I turned around with my back against the trunk, I saw the person. This man was wearing and entirely blue uniform with a death skull painted in his helmet. The front of the motorcycle had the #2 sign and the name Jones. He came straight at where I was crouching. I doubted of whether to run across the mountain, which would have been fatal, or stay where I was thinking was useless at that moment. Due to the fear and anxiety I was going through, I could not move because my body was immobilized. The only thing I remember was the red light, extremely bright due to the reflection of the sunâ€™s glare, shining at my eyes. I felt the ground tremble as the motorcycle got nearer and nearer. The racer approached me and when he was 1 meter away from me, he made a sharp, edgy turn, which sprayed me with dirt, all throughout my body. The grip of the motorcycle slipped a little and the wheel almost hit me. Those 10 seconds it took the bicycle to get to where I was, seemed to me like 5 minutes. Although it was not as I had expected, that was certainly the time of my life. As the motorcyclists passed by, I stayed behind the tree and hoped it was all a nightmare. I saw racers in all the different color uniforms I could imagine. Some had solid colors, others had rainbow jackets and others even had fancy boots. I was actually seeing a race first-hand inches away from the action, while all the other people had to watch it from a considerable distance away. However, I was not thinking about that. One of the things that marveled me was the acrobatic jumps the racers performed every time they leaped in the air due to a sharp inclination of the mountains or a mogul. I wondered why they did that. Was it not supposed to be better to rush to the finish line at the base of the mountain? Nevertheless, I guess those acrobatics are what make the show. After the worst passed and the race went passed my locations, my worries changed. Now, I had to figure out how to get back to where I was. I had no idea how I was going to do this. The mountain was huge! I could barely see the equipmentrenting shacks at the bottom. I began to wander the range on my own going across it. That was the worst thing, since I was getting farther and farther away from my starting place. However, at that moment it seemed easier, since going down looked too hard. Therefore, my decision was to walk. For some reason I did not feel lost. I was confident that walking would lead me to where I wanted to go, even though I had no idea where that was. I had passed three hours in the mountain. Nothing changed. It was like a slanted desert. Nothing to the left, nothing straight, nothing to the back, only spots to the right bottom where I could see some houses. Nothing was different from when I first saw it from the hotel window. This impressed me. As the fourth hour in the range came to its conclusion, I resigned to sleep in the mountain that night. I had always wanted to be an adventurer and explore dangerous things. However, once the moment actually came to sleep alone in an unknown, open area, I really did not want to do it. As a glazed at the horizon, I distinguished a red allterrain vehicle in the distance. I think they saw me, since they made a sharp turn toward where I was. I thought that it was going to be another race, but this time with 116
four-wheeled vehicles. On the vehicle, two tall men spoke quickly in English. They were in a hurry. For a moment, I thought they might be going to kidnap me. Since I could not understand them because I had not developed a great comprehension of the language at that age, I just stood still watching them wide-eyed. They talked to each other in a way that I could only hear their whispers. They carried me into the quad and started the engine roared. We were going fast down that mountain. I thought the brakes were broken or something. As we approached the bottom of the mountain, I began to recognize the backside of the hotel we were staying at. The ride was about half an hour going very fast. I was amazed at how much I had walked on my own without knowing. I liked going at such a great speed and especially down such a steep mountain. However, the feeling of being so uncomfortable and what seemed to be between two great walls was very unpleasant. When I got off the vehicle, my parents were talking to another tall man with the same red uniform as the other two who were with me. As I called their names, they turned around and their faces reflected happiness and relief. I had no idea how much they had suffered throughout those four hours I was lost My parents had noticed I was missing just after I had started running, but instead of searching for me up the mountain, they thought I had gone into one of the stores or hotels along the path we were in. At first, they were not extremely scared, but when the guide told them that the problem was that there was the motorcycle race precisely at that peak and at that time. They almost had a nervous breakdown! They wanted to go personally and look for me in the mountain, but the security people did not let them. Therefore, they called the rescue team and initiated a search. Since it was only an assumption that I was in the mountain in that specific area, the rescuers could not stop the race. Therefore, it was all up to the searchers to find me before dark. I had not even thought about my parents while I was up there. I thought they were going to be extremely angry when they saw me again. However, surprisingly to me, they were just happy to see me fine again. They had to fill in paperwork that took years to complete. I saw my father flipping the pages as if he were skimming a book. According to my parents, the organization of the rescue service in Vail was awful. At first, they had said that the searching would only commence after 6 hours of being lost. However, I was a five-year old and had no idea where I was going, so in those six hours, I could have easily walked my way to another town, where it would have been much more difficult to find me. Fortunately, my father insisted enough until they sent the last vehicle in search to find me. That one was the one I saw. Maybe the two men who had picked me up had not been so nice because they had been over two hours in search for me. As soon as the formalities of the protocol finished, a doctor examined me because I seemed to have suffered some scrapes and was all full of dirt. I did not notice these details until I was lying in the doctorâ€™s office. It was the adrenaline and the fear I had that made me not feel the pain from those injuries. I wondered if it would be like in the movies where a man would ask me all those questions such as, â€œAre you all 117
right?” For the first part of the examination, the doctor was very silent while he was examining me. Nevertheless, then the questions came. It was a lot worse than I thought. The doctor asked me, “How are you feeling?” and while I was answering in my mixed-up English, he interrupted me and asked me the next question. This was somewhat frustrating since I thought that he was not paying attention to anything I was saying. My parents every now and then peeked in into the examining room to see how I was doing and asked me if I needed anything. He put some medicines in the scrapes I had in my knees and covered them with gauze. I could not move my leg very well with that gauze. After this incident took place, my parents’ attitude toward my adventures in the mountains changed dramatically. Since then, I go every two years to ski in the same section of the range. It was not because of the experience that I go; it is because Colorado is the best skiing place in the United States. Its powder snow throughout winter makes skiing an incredible activity that most people enjoy. Every time, they are very careful in the pick-off and drop-off. The injured people that come down the ski mountain every day impressed me. Still, the rescuers do not rescue some people and they have to find their way along to an emergency shack where they can get treatment. The advertisements seen in the streets of the town and throughout the base of the mountain are simply false. There is no immediate response, there is no security, and there is no guaranteed safety. I came to this conclusion after I saw that the slogan of the mountain patrol said something like that. I never felt secure in the mountain and I cannot and did not want to imagine what would have happened if I would have needed to sleep in the middle of the mountain. As time went by, I began to grow resentment for that service, since they were literally lying to the people. Every time I passed by that shack, it was full of anxious people waiting to talk to one or maximum two staff members. That was definitely not immediate help. When I finally got out of the doctor’s office, I went with my parents to the hotel room where I could see that their faces had turned into those of disgust. I told them everything that had happened all the way through. They frowned. Lastly, they understood. I received calls from everyone in my family, even people who I did not even recall knowing. The fact that the motorcycle race was an off-road motocross competition shocked me. Since the price was money, there was nothing in the world that could stop those racers from reaching the base of the mountain, not even myself in the way. They started telling everyone they knew what had what happened. At first, I enjoyed being the center of attention and have so many people talking about me at the same time. The only thing left to do was publish it in the newspaper. After a while, I grew bored of having the same questions asked to me and the same sermons of how I should not have done that. I know I should have stopped and thought about it better. However, the event was already in the past. It took a long time before everybody calmed down about the topic. I had a dream about the incident that night. I had decided to run across the mountain when I heard the rumbling approaching. When I turned right, a motorcycle was two meters away from where I was. The driver tried to stop, but he was going too fast. The motorcycle hit me in the leg very hard. The pain was excruciating. I could not 118
move my leg, which made me desperate. I thought I was going to die at that moment. As I tried to stand up, someone yelled â€œLay down!â€? I obeyed. I could only look up and pray. I prayed so many times I cannot remember. The only thing I asked for was to get help as soon as possible and to come out of this accident safely. When the race was over, an emergency vehicle came to pick me up and took me to the hospital. I remember all the doctors, the nurses, and the beds lying around in the corridors. I had never really been to a hospital in such a critical situation. This fact shocked me. The yelling of the nurses did not help either. They made me feel that I was the person who had the most danger at this moment. My whole leg was full of blood and the doctorâ€™s face was not very hopeful. I started crying and could not think straight. They said something about surgery. At that moment, I woke up. I was sweating in bed at 2 a.m. I had been very lucky indeed. I had luckily chosen the better option of not crossing the mountain. Fear had saved me. I could not sleep the rest of the night and kept thinking about that moment. At times, I felt proud of myself, but soon after, I returned to the thought that it had all been a matter of luck. That particular race interested me. My desire to know everything about it surprised my parents. I think they realized how annoying it is to talk about the same topic for so long. I hope. After learning all the facts and the information, I had not yet received the piece of information I wanted the most. In what position did Jones come in? That intrigued me a lot. I hoped he came in last and earned as little money as possible. That was not the case. He came in second. At least it had not been first. The difference between him and the winner was about three seconds, which was probably the time he lost by making that unexpected curve when he saw me. That also amused me. I knew many other factors could have made him come second, but I was sure I was one of them. I do not know why I was so angry with Jones since I was the intruder in his designated path and I was the one who was not supposed to be there. Two years later, I returned to the exact same spot where I had hidden behind the tree. I felt confused. How could I have survived that? I mean, it was two trees without any real protection that had saved me. It was winter. As I looked up the mountain, I saw skiers and snowboarders gliding down the snow very fast. In my mind, they were all motorcycle racers. Every time I saw a person completely dressed in blue, I remember Jones, that individual who had almost run over me. I was fascinated to remember those moments, but now, from a safe and analytic perspective. The people went past me. They all wanted to get down the hill as soon as possible, just like the racers. I felt like I was experiencing the same event. I did not feel fear. Why? It was the same situation. I was seven. Maybe that was it. The next thing I knew it was time for me to go back to the hotel. Those days I kept looking at the mountain, as if there was something special about it. We had gone to the same hotel, so that reminded me of everything. The hotel had not changed much. It looked as if during that time there were no maintenance or reparations made. One of the posters in the hotel showed a picture of the town seen from the top of the mountain. It said that the best views of the towns nearby and of the range were abundant from the top of Peak 9, which was the highest peak. The same desire of going up to that summit overtook me. For an instant, I thought of doing it again. 119
Maybe this time I could make it. However, this feeling only lasted a few minutes, since I reconsidered the idea and realized that I would never make it. Besides, this time it was not one race that was coming down the mountain. It was thousands and thousands of skiers and snowboarders who constantly were not fully paying attention to their way ahead. Being a rookie skier, as I was, was an imminent danger under those conditions. Besides, I saw a man who, instead of going around a fallen snowboarder, jumped on top of him and kept on going. He gave a loud scream of joy once he did his performance, as if he had just made the most amazing trick ever. As I went for another ski session, this time with the Vail Ski School, we headed to another mountain. I thought it would me the exact same. However, it was not. We got on the chair lift through the exclusive express line for the Ski School and headed on up. It was an amazing view I got in that chairlift. I could see the whole town from where I was. In addition, the trails formed by the tall pine trees made the slopes look defined and challenging. We got off and started skiing down a blue slope, which is an intermediate level. As we went downhill, I noticed that the snow had begun to get a little icy, but I did not mind that. Suddenly, my right ski caught a very icy section of the slope and I plummeted toward the snow. I rolled like a ball about seven meters downward and then stopped. I was face down. I could hear the sounds of the skis rushing past me. I looked upward, and saw the same of what I had seen two years ago. The snow was new. The people were new. However, the feeling was the same. I stood up on my skis and headed down the mountain as fast as I could to catch up with the group. It was a strange feeling. Everything I saw reminded me of the incident. When I was walking down Main Street where all the shops are, I turned to the right and at that precise moment I was passing by the store in which I had bought the hiking boots I used the day I got lost in the mountain. What a coincidence! At first, it was scary when I thought of that memory, but then it became something that I was proud of. Not in the sense that I wanted to repeat it or that I liked the feeling when I was up there, but in the sense that I had the courage to run up the mountain alone in order to accomplish my dream. This fact fascinated me. When I was walking or in a restaurant, I always heard people telling their children never to go up a mountain on their own. I had already done it and came back safe and sound. The thought that I had done something many other people had not really made me feel important and brave. Even though the trail on which the incident sight was in was a green slope (the easiest one) and I was already skiing down blue slopes, I did everything in my reach to pass by that same place every time. It made me feel the moment exactly as it had been that day. As I skied down the mountain I could not stop thinking about the incident, I do not know if it was because I was not over it or because I had nothing else to think about. When I got in the chairlift again, the boy beside me asked me which time I had been the most afraid. I told him the entire story. The slowness of the chair helped me to have time to tell him the whole story. He could not believe it. He told me that he had also seen the race that year because he lived in Aspen, a town nearby Vail. He asked me, â€œThe security guards were everywhere. How did you get in?â€? I did not have any idea how I had gotten past the security lines. There was none that I remember. That 120
reiterates my point: there is no security! I felt good telling the whole story. It was as if I finally could share this experience with someone else and get his or her feedback. While I was telling him my adventure, I looked down the chairlift and the large amount of skiers that fell and then another individual who was looking another way hit them impressed me. Snowboarders I did not keep track of since they fall down all the time just to stop and rest for the most part. Two years ago, I went once again to Vail, but this time in summer. We had kept going every two years but always during winter time, since we figured there was a lot more to do in that season than in summer. We stayed at the same hotel as usual and began to browse the activities brochure the staff member handed to us in the front desk. Although I had expected it since I knew we were going to Vail again, the fact that the same race was underway at the same exact time I was going to be there once again took me by surprise. I laughed when I saw the advertisement. There was a racer all dressed in blue with the black helmet on. My parents immediately thought that was the same man I had told them about in my descriptions of the incident. No. That was not him. There is something different. It took me about two days to realize that it was the helmet. It did not have the skull. Maybe he had changed it. However, I was sure it was not him. I decided to have a look at the race, but this time from behind the finish line. The velocity of the racers amazed me. I could not even imagine the adrenaline they were experiencing. Although the terrain covered is a lot, the race takes very little time to complete. The spectators all around me surely were watching the race, but they had certainly not experienced it first hand, as they thought they were doing at that moment. I am currently an advanced skier and usually went to the black diamond slopes, which are the most difficult ones. Now I understand those people who found it very exciting to jump over obstacles even if they are people. However, since I understood the feeling of being on the ground with a massive crowd of racers coming right at you, I decided to always stop and help the people stand up, if possible. I realized that everyone criticizes the rescue teams, but no one does anything about them. Once, I saw a women fall very hard on a black slope, on which it is extremely difficult to get up and keep going, due to its severe inclination. I went to the hut where there was a red painted on the front door. I expected to find all the rescuers in there drinking coffee and laughing at each otherâ€™s jokes. I really hoped they proved me wrong. That was not the case. What a surprise! It was just as I had imagined. It took them about 10 minutes to get ready and get all the gear set up. Once again, the security, service, and full attention this organization provided amazed me! I do not know how I remember all the details of the experience or why I am still angry with the rescue team and Jones. What I certainly know is that that experience taught me what it felt like to be literally alone in the middle of nothing. Although I used to be afraid of going on my own up tall mountains or being too near a motorcycle race, I know that one of the main reasons why I am such a good skier now and why I enjoy speed so much has to do with that experience. I have never learned to ride a motorcycle well, because when I always get on one, I drive too slowly to really get good at it. It has been about eleven years since the incident took place and I still like to 121
go to the same mountain. So the athletes can have more space on the slope, the trees were cut off. Occasionally, I dream about that moment when I am in Colorado, especially in the flight to Denver. Any situation I face now is nothing compared to the fear and anxiousness I have now. I could have not told the story because of a silly idea. However, to me, it was not only an idea. It was the dream to reach the summit.
A Series of Non Stop It’s a normal day. I got to school and arrive home. Oh wait. I’ve got to wax. I ask my mom if she can drive me to the waxing place. There’s car restriction hour, she can’t. She tells me to call a taxi. I effectively do so, but we live in Bogotá so there’s obviously none. Especially in rush hour. Before I continue with such interesting story, I should mention my mild paranoia regarding security. They do sort of scare you when they tell you how the man was gagged while trying to rob him in the “millionaire ride”. 122
Preventing it becomes one of your five senses, at least for me. But not until that day. We leave the building and grab a taxi in the street. This is normal. I always do this: I am not scared. We are on 72 street with 4th right now. He is doing a great j – wait…did we almost crash? Whew, thank god nothing serious happened. I close my eyes, I open them. My brain knows where we are. It takes one second for it to realize the amount of reality that is harassing me. I am not scared. We are on carrera 5ta, still on street 72. The driver wants to pass as quickly as possible through the stop sign. Wait, what is happening? There’s a black car. We don’t make it to the other end of the street. He did not push the brake. 3, 2, 1. He proves Newton’s theory. He tries to maneuver the wheel so we don’t flip. He fails, we do flip. I can only relate this to one word: bad. This only happens in movies. My brain doesn’t believe it, but my body does; I am screaming horribly. I am not scared. No, really, I’m not. I don’t even know what’s happening. Is it really happening? To me? Black. All I see is black. Stop. It stops. I am kneeling. Am I still inside the taxi? Where is the way out? I don’t see anyone. There is a hand grabbing my arm, pulling me. “Matilde! Matilde!” He pulls me out. I don’t say thank you. I just walk, straight forward. Where am I going? Wait. Stop, you’re whole. It hits me. That is how I remember the accident. No, nothing happened to me at all, if you were wondering. Actually, the real, true, interesting story I have to tell is nothing but what you just read. The rest is just reflection. It’s only now that I understand what happened. At the moment it was too much take in. It was not the type of dramatic crash everyone expects. I felt like I was being surrounded by too many good people. I was overwhelmed. Others just liked to watch. The I-don’t-want-to-feel-guilty-about-not-doing-anything people asked me “are you okay?” Sure, like there’s so much you can do for me. In an accident, the only people that will help are the ones who insist. This awfully sympathetic lady came up to me filled with willingness, offered me her cell phone and told me to call someone. Who was I to call? My mom was there with me. I mean, I obviously needed to tell my dad. But, why if my mom was with me did I feel like I needed to do something? You’d expect for an adult to take care, calmly, of a hard to handle situation, especially if they are your legal guardian. They’d tell you everything will be fine and you’ll be okay. My mom was exasperated. Normally, whenever something goes wrong (this applies to any place at any time) she gets furious at whoever is trying to do something about it. This time, something didn’t go wrong; something went extremely, dreadfully wrong. The accident could have harmed her daughter; we could have died. I wasn’t scared. I felt tremendously weird. More like awkward. I had never witnessed something similar before. It was just so full of people and they were all staring at me, at least that’s what my egocentric self thinks. Was it because I was a child? I mean, I know I looked kind of small, but I was alive. Not even a scratch. Yet, I felt I was the only one they were talking to. No, wait, I can’t lie. I’m saying this because I was just looking to my eyes’ minimum reach. I didn’t see the taxi driver’s face until we got to the hospital. The only thing I remember about him is that he had glasses and a light blue 123
shirt. And my mom? Where was my mom? She must have been arguing with someone, but I was just focused on me. Only me. I had my CNG school sweater. Now I understand how obviously they were staring. I recognized some people. There was an ex-senior that asked me how I was. I bet if he didn’t know that I was from his school, he wouldn’t have bothered. Why is it that we have that kind of illegitimate compassion for those that our brain notices? You never really understand the easiness in which people can be manipulated until you have an accident. The ladies of Carulla gave me free water. Out of all the people involved, I was the only one sitting on the stairs talking to the lady who had offered me her phone. Since the taxi had landed next to the sidewalk, we almost run over the man that had pulled me out. He was wearing a black sweater. I really wasn’t paying attention to what was going on around me. All I remember now is pure blurring. People and blur. I acted like nothing had happened. Shouldn’t have I at least seemed a little worried? I felt I was nice to everyone. But I just wasn’t what everyone expected me to be. They expected chaos, blood, screaming, stress. Nothing ever got exciting for them. The truth is, my heart could have easily popped out of my chest, I just didn’t show it. I couldn’t manage to believe it. It feels pedantically good to be the center of attention to be honest. It’s not like all eyes were on me, but I had never had that type of attention. Never have I suffered from severe physical nor emotional pain. Let’s just say this accident was one of those things that I could tell a story about and people would always pay attention. That kind of thing. I don’t know how long we waited, time didn’t exist then. An ambulance arrived. If I am not wrong, the fire men did too. The setting is still blurry in my mind. The car we crashed with was a natural gas car. Oh, what are the chances? I don’t remember stepping inside the ambulance. I felt at peace once I got in. There was no more noise and nothing but tranquility. But still, I felt agitated. Like if I had forgotten something. Everything was perfectly fine, but I wasn’t stable. That was the kind of shock I had; there is something I don’t like about this situation. He asked us many questions. I don’t quite remember the order. I know the back part of my neck was hurting and if I turned my eyes to the left I would see blurry. The paramedics stabbed my pride once I realized there was no siren for us. Why couldn’t I hear the siren? Wasn’t it a priority for them to get us rapidly to the hospital? I wanted to feel the adrenaline we see in that type of accidents. Thing is, everything was extremely well. Were you wearing a seatbelt? No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. Had I ever done that in a cab? No? Am I still doing it when in a cab? No. How is it possible that my mom’s scratched finger was the largest injury? They challenged us to be patient while in urgencies. I didn’t mind at all. Now, my mom…she was still pretty stressed. As I sat and waited, I saw the people that were sitting the same way I was. They were thinking. What were their lives like? What were they waiting for? I really hope they didn’t have an ill familiar. Whatever the situation was, we were all the same with relation to the world. Nobody stood out in there; it was just a room full of people with their hands touching their face thinking “what will happen next?” Oh no, I will be full of homework tonight. Why? Why homework? That is actually a really complex topic. Stress always pops when before homework. 124
They call us. I listen to my mom talking to “Casas,” a doctor who works in the El Country clinic. She always does that. I don’t think it’s bad. I mean, you have to make your ties useful. They transfer me to a room. It is so weird. I would enjoy it if I could understand what everything is about in here. I wait. A lady comes and starts revising me to see if I am worth her time. She says she is sorry for being late; she was attending a more serious taxi-accident. I’m not worth her time. Nothing to worry about, I am too fine. Once I step out of that weird- looking room, I see my mom. We enter a room where a nurse will treat her scratch. They are going to treat her scratch. It could have easily been a cooking or a paper scratch. But we can’t be that useless after such event. Funny, huh? Just because it could have potentially been a serious disaster, they will treat my mom’s scratch. Man is always trying to make himself useful. The nurse dismisses us from the room. As soon as I think I may have some sort of rest from the stress everyone’s in, a man asks my mom to speak with him. Ugh, here it comes; the judicial process. The taxi driver and the natural gas car driver are standing behind the other man. They are both expecting to be suited. - Remember when I told you how my mother is very irritable? Hah, imagine her temper when she encountered with the men that had made the accident. Though I do think they were going too fast, though – She explodes once she is asked to sue both men. I don’t understand what she is saying; she’s got overwhelmingly too much expression. They are both terrified. They are both wearing glasses. The one with the natural gas car asks her if she is the “famous journalist.” She responds. He says he reads her everyday and admires her deeply. I will never know if he just said that to escape of his reality or if he really admires her. I am starting to feel bad for the drivers. She will not sue them, but they must promise her to drive with caution. Approximately five or six accidents a day occur in the hospital involving taxies. And this is only in one hospital. I cried that night. I wasn’t scared; it was loneliness. I went to my parent’s bedroom and lied with my mom for a while. As far as I knew, my mom was an atheist. From the things I remember most of that day, and am completely sure of their order of appearance, is what my mother said to me that night: “this made me believe in God.” That is the first and last time she has ever said or demonstrated that. I still think it was the effect of the accident that made her feel she had to say that. I still laugh at how the next day I really wanted everyone to know about it. In the bus we went by the place of the accident. I didn’t want to pass by unnoticed, so I said to my friends “woah, that’s a whole lot of glass over there” to which they responded “oh my, what happened?” I giggled, “that was me haha.” I got what I wanted, questions and attention. I guess I wanted the attention because I didn’t feel the same. Something had happened, not that it would change the course of my life, but it did make me feel weird. And while in everyone’s life it was just one day more, for me it was a day after a socially-determined rough accident. A friend of mine asked me if I was okay. I had seen her father while waiting in the E.R.. My mom obviously told him; she couldn’t resist the temptation. Now I understand from whom I inherited that thrive for compassion. Anyway, my friend’s father told her what I had been through. It was like she read my mind the next day. She told everyone about the accident. And as you can imagine, they all turned to me and said the 125
obvious. I finally felt satisfied. No more childish craving for attention, she had done it for me. They spoke of my survival as if I were Jesus along with his prophecy. Was it, in fact, a miracle? Yes, we are getting into that whole God’s existentialism thing. It is strange for me to have survived, wearing no seatbelt yet with no single, minuscule injury. But I just couldn’t manage to believe He existed. I still can’t. I have no concrete answer as to why I don’t believe in God. It simply doesn’t fit in my head that such phenomenon exists. As much as I try, I will never be able to convince anyone who doesn’t think the same way. Since I don’t believe in God, I leave it to luck. What I mean by leaving it to luck is that there is no external figurative force acting upon the event. For me, it is more like a coincidence. Not in the way “it was a coincidence I took that taxi which was going to crash.” Destiny would come into place. I don’t believe in destiny. I simply don’t believe. We have raised ourselves as figures to worship God. When people say that it’s only in times of need that people reach to Him, it is because actually some of us don’t have anything else to rely on. This leads us to putting our faith in God’s hands and feeling satisfied with completing a heart-to-heart moment with Him. Society relies on God because they must. The only problem is, the more we know and the more we discover, the less is left of Him. Such controversial society. This is precisely why I didn’t know what to respond to my mother when she said that made her believe in God. It is now that I understand that what she meant was something completely different. She felt closer to me, not God. In my family there has always been freedom of expression, and when we let some conservative skin show, it is controversial. By her revealing something that has gone against the status quo of our family, she demonstrated that sometimes it’s okay to believe something you are not supposed to. It didn’t matter what she said or didn’t say that night. I felt too comfortable for a stupid typically necessary cliché to change the mood of the situation. My mother was there for me, just like I was there for her when she was accelerated. People tend to think the proximity with God is much greater than that feeling. Nothing made me happier than knowing I could sob next to my mother. I could rely on her. We over think multiple things that can be solved just by believing in ourselves. The idea of God has taken us, humans, for granted. We assume that we don’t have the power to overcome our fears, dreams and our choices. That is why I believe in Nietzsche’s “Power of Will.” I like Nietzsche.
Stereo-Not-So-Typically Morocco There are notable differences between the Middle East and Western civilizations. One frequently hears about women's rights, burqas, and sexism. What if these stereotypes were all accurate? To discover how Middle Eastern life realty is, one would have to travel. Been there, done that. These labels are often considered judgmental, but when visiting any country of the Koran, like I did, you'll understand why one should at least consider their preciseness.
___________________________________________ We were uneasy of what to expect. A desert? A flea market? Bearded men selling spices and hookahs? I was close enough, especially with the desert part; There are endless expanses of inhabited land. When all you do to pass the time is stare out a window, managing to fall asleep or just catching a glimpse of a donkey made me ecstatic. But that’s for later. I remember pulling on a pair of shorts and a tank top. The clothing was similar to the one my friend Catalina was wearing, just ordinary clothing. We left romantic Paris to enter what modern-worlders consider an exotic place. It couldn´t be that bad. After being mugged in the City of Lights, could anything be worse? With Catalina´s parents, Alfonso and Monique, we boarded our Air Morocco flight. I was prepared for bad things, but not for this. The plane was tiny and rickety. Other than the guy sitting across my friend and I, there were about fifteen persons on that plane. Had it fallen, I bet we wouldn’t even have made the newspaper´s third page. A flight so empty didn’t shock me. The only think that did me was when the plane finally landed; I had already begun to embrace death. Most of the people I know have quickly replaced their dreams of visiting Europe for a new one, touring Morocco. After two hours of flight, Alfonso awoke us and sat beside us. He seemed agitated. Quickly, I became a bundle of nerves. When an adult is troubled, things must be dire. Alfonso explained the creep near us had been staring as we slept, not used to seeing young (or old) women showing their shoulders and legs. Boy, did that sick man make me regret wearing those clothes! That insignificant event was just the introduction to the most nerve-racking days, all loyal to stereotypes. THE AIRPORT After a shaky landing and many thanks to my God, we dismounted down some unsteady stairs. The worker at the airport, staring through his bushy eyebrow and large nose, checked our passport carelessly. This was probably the first time I, as a Colombian, was not accused of drug dealing. Stereotypes everywhere! We retrieved our bags and walked outside to feel the welcoming heat wave. Even though it was nighttime, high temperatures were still clinging to the moist earth. Both sweaty and uncomfortable, we kept moving. One anticipates the usual airport crowd, those people who push each other while waiting anxiously for their special ones. Some may even carry balloons or signs, but that’s pushing it. Amazingly enough, the airport's exit was near desolate, with the exception of a few tourist guides. We turned when a voice called Alfonso. The pair, consisting of a bulky man and the only native woman I'd seen so far, would be our guides and driver. We’d met Muhammed and Kauta. They lead us to a rusty, beat-up van and all nine of us sat there, overwhelmed by sweat, our bags, and each other. Oh, what joy! MARRAKECH Anxiety climbed as we reached our hotel, but we were incapable of trash talking, afraid someone would understand. Even though we meant to sleep in pairs, two rooms housed all seven of us. We locked doors, closed windows tightly, and placed chairs 127
behind the door just as extra precaution. Through the windows, we intently studied the people in an alley behind the hotel. These men, no women included, had what looked like a Mexican party. The only exceptions were it was in Morocco and without mariachis… or tacos. Other than that, I don't recall much about Marrakech. The grimy, congested streets filled with males were not entertaining or pretty. At all. I might have some repressed memories to take care of. MUHAMMED The purpose of renting of a van was to make our trip through Morocco comfortable and easygoing. We ordered another van; Bolivian public transportation would have been better. We seriously tried to be contented, but were on edge around most people except, perhaps, Kauta. Most men were either awkward and stiff, or overly disrespectful, even Muhammed. He refused to help females mount the bus, but would have allowed Alfonso to stand on his head to ease his boarding. Most of us felt indignant towards Muhammed. Disbelief washed over us, I found it exceedingly insulting! Coming from a society where chivalry was once the law, it seemed like gallantry had become extinct there. As a matter-of-fact, Muhammed was a living proof of the Koran’s power. In Arab countries, most men are named after their messiah. If people were so passionate in any Catholic country, Jesus would be the trend for men. I felt baffled. What a blatant society, no one is original enough to make up other names for their children. Have they forgotten uniqueness? Names like Yusleidy and Unsavi are in danger of falling into oblivion. KAUTA Kauta´s face strained with worry that time the police stopped us once. Immediately, we panicked. Our guide avoided the Moroccan laws by wearing a dress considered inappropriate for guides. I wondered (and still do) how this sexist society kept these women under control. Many must have felt jealous, seeing modern women living freely while they were repressed by men: Fathers, brothers, husbands, cousins. It is admirable that they maintain control. Other women, guided by their religion, certainly defend these beliefs against obscene traditions like ours. Consider how one spark can light a fire. If one of these women decided to rebel, which would be the result? Would massive amounts of women side with them, or would they all cower? Maybe they’ll just hide under their burqas, like they always do. I actually saw my first burqa on the second day as crossed the street and looked up. A woman in black stood on the opposite side of the road, waiting to cross the street. Her wait was eternal, like ours. Any female could expect this. She wore the hue of darkness from head to toe and I remember my heart skipping a beat as I stared. 128
I pictured life under a blanket, the same blanket that obliterates your identity. Yet again, most of these women have never known treatment other than that sinful one. Many women understand and even cherish this lifestyle. I even knew a woman who married a Muslim man, losing her friends and her job. She never realized how this ridiculous change led her to abandon the world she was born in. But I’m sure others long to rescue that lost identity. Educated in the West, I felt unwell after realizing the amount of women who depended on males, all because of a piece of clothing. Burqas should at least be pretty, but who has heard of pleasant jail. All this wondering panicked me, thus I seeked Kauta´s knowledge. Turns out not all women use burqas. This depends on social class, family history, and most importantly, traditions. Empathy for these women embraced me. Other than that, I felt more composed when I heard that in Muslim countries, women contribute in politics, education and social issues, just to name a few. MAN IN THE FOUNTAN After 10 hours in our van, it was necessary that we stretched. Muhammad stopped at a famous fountain. It´s so well known I’ve forgotten its name. As I descended, I made eye contact with a peculiar guy. Bizarre. We saw the whole monument after a few minutes. I turned around and the same man waved, startling me. Barely seconds after that, I turned left to find the guy disappeared. Relief flushed over me a minute too soon. What I saw when I looked right made me run and cry. This is partly because I’m a weakling, but this bloke stood barely thirty centimeters away from me, smiling and waving, attempting to come closer. When had he approached me? As I ran towards Bedouin–looking Alfonso, the man calmly walked behind me! I felt threatened. Since I cried and people began to stare, we piled into the bus. I turned around just in time to see the guy grab a cab. My first thought was that he would follow us and he actually did! This lasted for about six insignificant blocks, but the irrelevant distance felt like a lifetime. I wasn’t the only anxious one, the adults addressed the issue with Kauta, but suddenly, the cab was out of sight. That wasn’t soothing either, but our speculations ended minutes later. It could have been worse. PICTURES IN THE PLAZA To rest from another endless bus ride through Morocco, we visited a famous merchant ´s plaza in Casablanca. The place was quite humble. Other than the serpent charmers, men selling robes, and large amount of beggars, there were numerous tourists. Their awed faces gave them away. So did the non-stop clicking of their cameras. Catalina´s dirty blond hair and California tan are not common for Muslims. Neither was Laura´s pale white skin, freckles, and long, auburn hair. Surprisingly, they followed me the most. Brunettes are very common in Muslim countries, yet my body type and features interested them. This startled me. Honestly, I was the only person who 129
successfully blended in. Or so I thought. Even with the blinding sun, I unexpectedly lost myself when a guy took a picture of us. As on cue, a few others followed. We do make a bizarre combo, but it seemed astonishing that people disrespected our personal space and took pictures of us. These men hoarded us but eventually Kauta managed to lead us into a shop. We were safe from the paparazzi but not from the uncontrolled shop owners. FES Fes, the city of artisans. Beautiful fountains and bricks, spices and marketplaces, the popular part of Fes. Not many tourists face the real thing: the Melah. This is the combination of a labyrinth, a neighborhood, and any store during Black Friday. The place overflowed with robed people wearing turbans. Everyone knew we did not belong there, and terrified me. How could the guide expose us to such hazards? She knew if anything went wrong, her power was limited because of her sex, I felt outraged! I remember many stares. Surprisingly, few were unfriendly! About ten minutes passed when we encountered a towering guy. Before walking on, the only warning we got was: “If you break away from the group, chances are we won’t find you.” I gulped as I pictured myself being sold as a slave. The man turned, but not fast enough to hide his amused smile. Uneasily, we ran behind him as a weak attempt to avoid disappearing. We finally reached and entered a metalworker´s shop. The elderly man was pleasant, but also extremely interested in our money. His wise eyes followed us as we observed the statues. Alfonso liked a bronze sculpture shaped like a horse. “$15,000” the man told him. We left the shop. This guy followed us for an hour, in an attempt to sell his masterpiece. After half an hour, it changed from amusing to obnoxious. This guy lowered the price to three thousand dollars, and kept going. So much for manipulating the uninformed tourist. He tested Alfonso´s patience. His wrath unleashed and shouting made it clear we would not purchase the figure. We travelled through narrow pathways, passed by gloomy mosques, and reached our second destination, a place where people fervently weaved. The mind and the hands became detached after years of knitting. I was earnest to try this technique. The women were encouraging, though I feared my work would ruin theirs. That was just me being positive. After some time passed and many didactic explanations, I managed to ruin the tablecloth the woman worked on. Consequently, I bought the cloth, thanked the cheery women for their patience, and left. 130
We exited the Melah, but would be back the next day. For the first time in days, I felt jubilant as we left the hotel and interact with those amiable people. Honestly, being part of the community exposed another stereotype: wealthier Moroccans wouldn’t enter the world of artisans, just like Colombians would avoid the barrios de invasión, and Americans would mock those labeled hillbillies. Disregarding the place, stereotypes are part of everyday life. BEDOUINS Morocco houses two groups: the Arabs (mostly Muslim) and the Bedouins. When there are two crowds, they generally look for reasons to generate conflict. This was the case of the Moroccan opponents. To understand both lifestyles, Kauta and Muhammed interned us in a Bedouin community located in the outskirts of Casablanca. The audacity and irony of their humble lifestyle was how the laidback and cheap routine exceedingly influenced part of their income. Lets all live in teepee and raise some buffaloes and charge people to live on that. Just living la vida loca. Before abandoning the van, we noticed male merchants outside our vehicle. Our guide warned us to keep silent or they would follow us perpetually. The door opened and these traders jumped us, urgently displaying a variety of bracelets and other objects of artisan production. They had filthy beards containing accumulations of grime and a material I seriously hope wasn’t food. We sprinted uphill and were shepherded into a humble house. The father stood at a distance, watching us with authority as his wife smiled sincerely. Her daughters offered us cups of mint tea. For them, drinking tea was an art and they managed a ceremonial approach. She poured tea into the battered cup and dispensed it back into the teapot. After emptying the cup, she removed the leaves and repeated the process. I was entranced with the charming fashion she served the beverage. The infusion would methodically flow from the teapot´s slender spout, time after time. The drink fell elegantly into the cup. The mint tea in a dilapidated teacup reminded me of the taste of candy canes. We opened the door and a new wave of men hoarded us. Once again we kept hushed as we walked downhill. One of those fierce men offered us small mirrors. With all the movement, one of them fell out of his hand and cracked. With a choleric kick, he sent the fragments flying and shockingly avoided cutting himself. When the guy lost control, we switched from a fast walk to a jog, nearly sprinting to reach the van. I decided culture makes places fairer. These meek households were, in their own way, in much better living conditions than many underprivileged Colombian houses. Many micro businesses are more honest and noteworthy than Colombian ones. I hope my comments didn´t resemble Silvia Pasternomo’s offensive critique. On the downside, culture, which once seemed beneficial, can also affect a tremendously important part of the society, women. 131
HENNA TATTOOS My interest in henna tattoos rose when I became part of a blogging community. I was as excited as when I rode a camel. Kauta had met the young woman once; she would be the tattoo artist. The apathetic woman recognized Kauta, who stood a large distance away. Her indifferent attitude completely shifted as she and Kauta met and chatted hurriedly in their unidentified dialect. The group walked into some ruins. It was a weekday evening, just like Kauta had arranged. The ruins, I recall, were once a castle full of beautiful greenery. That day, I was surprised to find lush trees covered in pink blossoms. No beggars in sight. We sat under the shade of one of those trees, led here by the woman and her orange wear. The callous women removed her equipment from the bag she carried. As stinky as the henna was, I was waiting for my turn close by. The designs this lady produced were both effortless and mechanic. Line after line, we all stared, absorbed by her work. As quickly as she began, she finished. When it was finally my turn, this women´s talent really dazed me. With ease, she placed the tip of the needle-less catheter on my skin and covered my hands with exotic and floral patterns. The brown liquid looked sickening and the smell was appalling. Before one could say “Morocco,” she decorated my legs with the eccentric patterns. All I had to do was leave the henna on my skin until it hardened and then fell off. I began to cross the street when a car zoomed by. Kauta pulled me back, ruining the print on my skin in the process. Certainly, that irresponsible driver much have seen me as just another pigeon pecking the street. My duty was to jump out of the way. CAMELS Unexpected, yet at the same time very expected, one could ride camels in Morocco. Anyone who has heard about the Middle East or has watched Aladdin is aware of this exciting activity. It was by far the highlight of the journey, no doubt about that. After apprehension and a sleepless van ride, I first saw these creatures. I wholeheartedly assumed they would stumble due to their wobbly legs. The three camels were larger than I had anticipated and unsurprisingly, very uncomfortable. One's “journey on a camel” begins like this: The animal is laying flat on the ground. Both you and your partner mount it, one behind the other. The person in front grabs onto a pair of wooden handles, a dangerous and unreliable safety alternative. The other rider's safety depends on your arms´ strength because, after an order, the animal stands up. It stretches its hind legs before the front ones. At a certain moment, one is parallel to the ground. Following the stand comes by the lamest ride ever. If it were not the excitement of being on a camel, riding a donkey would have been the similar. Except for the hump. The camels walked around a rocky road, but my fear about their awkward legs was still there. All of us mounting and dismounting was a treacherous journey. It was actually tiring, 132
so we placed our feet into the river's freezing water. While there, some men nearly assaulted us to sell a necklace. When one of the tourists acknowledged them, both began offering lower and lower prices for the same product. The brawl became intense thus we left. We sat in our respective seats watching the two men outside as they held a heated discussion. One of them lost it and punched the other. We left hurriedly since environment grew violent. MUSLIM WOMEN IN PARIS We finally left. Overall, it was not that bad, but it was not soothing either. Personally, I the downfall of the trip was being a female, and that was not good for tourism. I would not just decide to travel back there. The plane landed in Paris, a city with streets full of Muslim women begging for money. After seeing so many repressed women and others that lived along those traditions, I was determined to do what I could make their lives better. That was just a more positive me trying to change the world. Like most women, I was attempting to support my genre. Paris is a city that excels in terms of the arts and tourism. Nonetheless, it is a very populated place. I kept seeing beggars, but most of filthy women being ignores. After listening to the unknown language they spoke and observing their rags, it was impossible to deny: Paris was flooded with these women I felt sympathy for. A few coins wouldn’t make me a difference to many, but surely these Muslim women would benefit from my small donations. After a few days, I realized they were not even Muslim women! Their clothes resembled Muslim wear but they were those despicable Gypsies, a rejected and country- less community that lives off theft and begging. I felt passionately crestfallen. There is a feeling one gets when someone takes advantage of your compassion. It’s very hard to overcome it and try to share time and knowledge again. I literally felt outrage pulsing through me. The feeling only intensified when I stood under the Eiffel Tower to take a picture with some sailors and somebody began pushing me. When we turned around, I realized the Gypsy stole my camera. So much for ignoring what people say about gypsies. STEREOTYPES Stereotypes have no barriers. People don’t forget what they hear, and these judgmental comments can affect a person’s integrity, but when travelling, always ask for advice. There will be no surprises if you pay attention to labels. They are an excellent source of cultural knowledge. Remember to use them as long as they don’t affect you.
The Quest The carrot cake had too much frosting and was the size of a wrestlers fist. Yet, not fearing the possible health issues such as obesity,the teenage girl and old man picked up their spoons and ate as if they didnâ€™t have all day. Uncle Loren was obviously the one that convinced her to share the over-frosted carrot cake. Juliana said yes because she knew food wouldn't be her top priority for too long. The sugar in her system might help make time go faster but sugar only tends to deposit quickly, not make time speed up.
The rest of the passengers were asking for drinks in the bar as this odd looking duo sat at a table sharing the huge carrot cake. The location was prime since they were right next to the security checkpoint of the Baltimore Airport. Anyone who has traveled knows that it is essential to keep your eyes on the lines of the security checkpoints because the flow of people could ultimately predict whether you make your flight or not. Juliana and Uncle Loren would chat between bites and as they stuffed their faces with the cake, they could assess the line. Uncle Loren had been more relaxed after they had gotten her boarding pass and ticket so he simply focused on getting the biggest bites of cake. Juliana was the one traveling. She kept checking her watch and making sure the line didn't get too long. At the beginning it was every few minutes and then practically every second. Patience had never been Julianaâ€™s virtue and after having that carrot cake, her jumpiness really kicked. If there was one thing that made her nervous, it was being left behind. One could think of an airplane as the epitome of being left behind. This was not a regular flight. This flight had been the result of months of dialogue and decisions. The idea of missing the flight made her more and more anxious but there was no need, they had plenty of time. ----------The trip had been planned 3 months in advance just because of one reason: parents. It involved a lot of persuasion and really putting all the rhetoric one learns in school to practice. The heated debates between daughter and parents would have been worthy of a televised broadcast even though they were less glamorous. The battlefields would either be at the table, where the eaten food would be violently digested, or in the car. This trip was the culmination of months of hardcore persuasion and much bickering. "Why can't I go? Give me one good reason," said Juliana whining. "We can't control anything if you go." said her father, "I can't have control of the situation if something goes wrong." "Your dad is right," said her mother, nodding at her father, "We let you do what you want here because we are around, but what you are asking of us right now is to let our teenage daughter come in close proximity with danger. We would never forgive ourselves if something happened to you because we said yes." Julianas parents had that expression on their faces that only parents have. That expression that sometimes made her want to stop pushing the topic. They would look at her with concern mixed with desperation and just a tinge of anger, every single time she brought the topic up. At one point, the arguments they told her stopped making sense and this is how Juliana knew they were close to breaking. Among the most entertaining and somewhat stereotypical was: "You will be close to Mexico! Think of all those dangerous gangs!" said her mother one morning. 135
Mexicans? Their daughter was asking to go see her boyfriend in San Antonio and they were more concerned about borders? She found it a little hypocritical that her mother was assuming such a close-minded view when they themselves were Colombian. They knew what it was like to have a negative reputation because of the damage of a few. The scenarios they came up with were common in Colombia but just because she was going to be alone, they became more vivid to her parents. These chats went on for about a month. Every morning Juliana would bring up the topic and just pester them with it. She was crafty and sought help. Her parents thought that by telling her that she could only go if someone went with her, they had won the battle. Little did they know she had been messaging with her aunt and her cousin asking if either would go with her. As soon as her aunt said yes because she had a work related trip in San Antonio, Juliana couldn't help have a triumphant attitude when telling her parents the news. As soon as she got the yes from her parents, which was more of a declaration of defeat, a flight was booked and everything was finally set in motion. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the day to get there but waiting for two months seemed like a second compared to the ten months that had already passed. -------The security line was getting very long. Juliana and her uncle left part of the cake sitting on the plate. Even Uncle Loren and his sweet tooth couldn't finish the overlyfrosted carrot cake. They walked over to the line and she was now behind a suited man and an overly dressed woman. Uncle Loren stood idly by as the line moved and Juliana got further away. When they were about to be too far away to talk, he told her to be careful and continued waiting from behind the taped area. Juliana walked step by step and soon found herself in front of the security officer. He simply extended his hand and she handed him her boarding pass and passport. The trick was to act excessively cheerful and maybe they would act nice back. Security at an American airport is intimidating to a foreigner. Juliana might have an American passport but it clearly stated that the origin is Colombian. The security officer was joking around with the other officer in duty and was pretty distracted. He handed Juliana her papers back and she couldn't have gotten out of the way any faster. Now it was everyoneâ€™s favorite activity: security check stripping. Juliana wasn't wearing anything that required too much time to take off but for some reason it was in this particular moment, that she got her first pang of excitement. As she placed her bag on the machine and passed the scanning machine, she always would turn around and find her uncle. He waved every single time and had a smile on his face. It was actually happening and as she collected her belongings, she turned one last time and waved goodbye to her uncle, walking away. -------136
Juliana had arrived in the United States almost a month before her trip to San Antonio. If she had not been in the States during this time, the trip to San Antonio would probably not have happened. For months she had been talking to her aunt Magda about possibly doing an internship in her office. When it was confirmed that she would be one of three interns, arrangements were made for her to spend the whole summer with her aunt and uncle in Columbia. Juliana was not used to being away from home and adjusting to her American families lifestyle had been a little hard. Not to mention the commuter bus rides that seemed to last for hours between Columbia and Washington DC. Every day was rise early and go to sleep late. While friends back home were tanning along sunny beaches or sleeping in late, Juliana was working 8 hours a day. The same task got old after a while and this just made her appreciate how school is a constant change of activities. Since the day she had arrived, all her family had been expressing their thoughts about their "baby cousin" flying halfway across the country to see some guy. It was like fighting a battalion of war tanks with a pocket knife. Every time she would bring it up to anyone, the conversation immediately turned into a talk about warnings and concerns. Who knows? Maybe she was being naĂŻve about this trip. Her cousins didn't mind blatantly pointing out how sheltered she was and how the world could trick you in an instant. "You might not be the only one," said her cousin Marcy on night, "Juli, I am not saying this to scare you but you guys have been merely talking for a year. He might have other girls he is with at the same time as you." "He isn't that kind of guy," said Juliana calmly. "I will be fine. Your mom is coming with me and cousin Sara is also coming." "Juli, guys here aren't like the guys you go to school with," continued Marcy, "We just don't want you to get hurt or get into a situation that could end up compromising you." Juliana knew exactly what they were talking about. But she knew herself enough and knew Jacob enough to know that a situation like the ones being insinuated would not occur. She was going to this trip with three bodyguards, one of which was her 60 year old aunt who could probably cancel the whole thing if anything questionable came up. The whole plan had been discussed. She would be staying with her cousin Sara and her husband at their hotel room. This also excited her since she hadn't seen her cousin since November and this would give them an opportunity to catch up. In a sense she was reuniting with more than one person. Even though she was firm in her decision of going, her cousinâ€™s words took a toll on her. Doubts took over and now everything she was sure about turned into thoughts with back doors toward negative feelings. There was a pressure in her chest that came 137
and went every time her family’s warnings came into her mind. Her everyday life became a string of thoughts of "What if?" and each one of these thoughts made the pressure in her chest stronger. Along with being a little out of her element and the warnings, came the sleepless nights. Anxiety was building up. Every night Juliana would wake up feeling overwhelmed. Nothing like this had happened back home. She found comfort in the fact that her aunt and uncle were so understanding of her teenage mood swings. They, after all, had had two teenage daughters of their own. They were so understanding they encouraged her to take a bubble bath and drink a cup of tea one night. Needless to say that was not one of the sleepless nights. ------------------As she left the security checkpoint, her cell phone began to ring and the screen flashed a name that made her smile. She put the phone up to her ear and kept walking toward the gate. "Hey Gabs," said Juliana when she answered the phone. "What's up what's up?" said Gabriela Geter from the other side of the country. "Not much, you know, just walking through the airport about to catch my plane to Texas." said Juliana, excited. "Oh it’s today?" asked Gabriela, "Wow time has gone by really fast!" "Gabs I am so nervous," said Juliana as she walked down the stairs, "What if it’s not, you know, good? What if he sees me and he just thinks I am ugly?" "Ok stop," said Gabriela with an attitude, "Look, if this guy didn't like you as much as he does he wouldn't be doing all this for you. And even if something does happen, you can bet I will find him and beat him up. Nobody messes with you without having to deal with me." Juliana talked to Gabriela as she made her way through the airport. She passed a bathroom and was instantly overcome with the need to go. Whenever she was anxious or nervous, her bladder and her feelings decided to cooperate in making her feel the most uncomfortable. The need to be at the gate ready to board and to get a few extra minutes with her friend made her focus on something other than the toilet. Juliana reached the gate and realized they were going to start boarding the plane soon. "Gabs I think I better go just to make sure I hear when they call my number," Juliana said into the phone. "Oh ok. Well call me when you land," said Gabriela calmly, "and stop worrying. Bye." The gate was packed with people. Juliana stared at those around her. Lots of people 138
were crowded around the power outlets charging phones and computers. The girl with the white top and the jean shorts charging her phone was really entertaining. Every time her phone would vibrate, an annoyed expression would come over her face. Her clothes were really nice and that just made Juliana stare down at her own clothes and debate whether this was the appropriate attire for seeing your boyfriend. Her phone buzzed and she snapped out of her superficial dilemma. She had a text from Jacob which just made her smile: "Just make sure you get on that plane and don't let any terrorist keep you from getting here. I'm here waiting." She was about to respond but the voice from the heavens announced it was time to board the plane. She diligently took out her boarding pass and listened as they called the different letters to enter the plane. It was a new experience to fly with an airline that let you pick whatever seat you wanted. It seemed a little disorganized but nobody else seemed to mind. When the voice announced that "B" group should start boarding, she walked over to the column that had her number on it and stood there waiting until the line began to move. Juliana adjusted her bag and walked with her boarding pass in hand, ready to give it in. As she handed her boarding pass to the airline worker, everything started to feel very unreal. She entered the tunnel to enter the plane with a very calm attitude and just walked straight on until she was aboard the plane. She made her way through the narrow isle between the seats and for some reason felt the need to sit in the back of the plane. This proved good for two things: getting a window seat and a prime location near the restroom. She sat in her seat and sent a quick message to her uncle telling him she was sitting in the plane. There were still people boarding and she was sure the middle and isle seats next to her would not be empty much longer. She took out her phone again and texted Jacob telling him she was on the plane in a seat near the butt of the plane. It only took a minute for the screen to show she had a new message. He apologized for getting her such a crappy seat but she just responded that it had been her choice to sit there. During the texting, two guys had sat next to her. They shared the interaction all passengers share on an airplane with their neighbors, a smile acknowledging their presence and that is that. Juliana continued texting and the two guys kept talking about some sort of sport. A few minutes after they had sat down, the announcement was made to turn off all electronic devices. Juliana texted Jacob telling him that she had to turn off the phone and that she was nervous. He responded instantly: "Nothing is between us now. We've been counting months and weeks and days and now itâ€™s just down to a couple of hours." After reading the text, she turned off her phone and sat back in her seat looking out the window. It was always a thrill when airplanes took off. How they would gain speed 139
and for a few minutes, everyone in the plane experienced that strange adrenaline rush that only airplanes can give you. Juliana had never been scared of airplanes and take off was her favorite part. So as she sat and stared out into the dark night, the plane to San Antonio, Texas started speeding up until it was airborne. All the passengers seemed to loosen up as the aircraft turned southwest for the destination to be straight ahead. The plane ride was quiet and Juliana decided to calm her nerves by reading. She was halfway done with her english reading assignment and decided to finish the book on the plane. She simply put in her earphones and took out her auntsâ€™ Nook. As she read, she would take some time to look out the window at the darkness that surrounded the plane. Part of her wished the plane would hurry up but she was really glad for this time she got to become calm and composed. Inside her, emotions were stirring. Anyone around her would have thought she was relaxed and, aside from the discomfort of the guy next to her invading her personal space with his legs, that was all they would have seen. It was the simple fact that each mile was a mile closer to San Antonio that distracted her from reading. ---------It had been a year and 2 days since they had seen each other. They had met last summer and had started sending messages back in August. Her whole first semester had been pretty much sleep deprived since she would stay up late talking to Jacob. They could talk for hours and she just couldn't go one night without talking to him. She preferred looking like a walking zombie the next day than missing a call. Back then, Jacob had started the process to enter the Navy. He had gone to the recruiter and through MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station). Everything had been set in place and those first few months, he was just waiting to leave to boot camp. He had a set date to leave in March and while he waited, he would hang out with his friends and play music. Occasionally in the calls he would be working on his music and was playing the guitar as they talked. The time felt like it was passing fast for Juliana but not for Jacob. He became frustrated with wanting to leave and do something. When the date got closer, he started acting weird towards her. It became routine for the calls, that had once been filled with talking,to stay quiet until someone uttered a goodbye. He would lash out and say the wrong things. Juliana felt like he was doing it to hurt her and was getting tired of it. Two nights before he left, they talked about what had been happening lately between them and decided that while Jacob was in boot camp, they would take a break. Juliana didn't want to admit it but when he left, it felt like she could breathe. There was no one making her feel bad and she decided to take the next two months as a time to get over him. He was probably going to come back and break up with her anyway so why hold on to anything. She spent a lot of time with her friends and was keeping her mind off Jacob. She wasn't over him though. She tried to trick herself into 140
thinking she was but in reality, she was just blocking the feelings out. Two weeks after Jacob had left, the first two envelopes of letters arrived. Juliana read every letter more than once. There was a letter for every day he had been gone and all of them involved an apology. Juliana felt confused at the beginning. She couldn’t decide if this was some sort of joke and was scared it would go back to how it was before. Yet, the more she read, the more she knew the break was over. Jacob had admitted he had been an “asshole” before he left and that just showed Juliana that it was okay to trust him again. From that moment on, Juliana wrote a letter every day and would send them in up to 4 different envelopes. Letters were sent backwards and forwards for two months before Jacob finished boot camp. Juliana was almost done with school and he was sent to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. -----------The plane was quiet and Juliana still hadn't gone to the bathroom. It was always awkward for Juliana to ask the two people sitting next to her on a plane to move. It wasn’t because she was shy but because it seemed every time she went to the bathroom on a plane, everyone stared at her. It must be because everyone knows that if someone is getting up in the middle of the flight, they are about to use the restroom. This wasn't the exception. Juliana turned and faced the two guys next to her, who, as if reading her mind, started putting their tray tables up and their computers away. They stepped out into the aisle and as she squeezed past them, she muttered a soft thank you. The strategic location of her seat allowed her only to have to be looked upon by 5 rows of strangers as she went to the bathroom. She was already beneath the arch that separated the small room with the beverages and stewardess chairs, when she saw the occupied sign on the bathroom door. Technically she was supposed to sit down and wait in her chair, but Juliana wasn't about to go through that after having made those near her somewhat uncomfortable and enduring 5 rows of stares. The two flight attendants sat in their chairs, one reading and the other doing a crossword puzzle. They looked up at her and smiled before going back to their activities. Taking this as their approval, she stood next to the arch and waited for the person in the bathroom to be done with their business. It was chilly in this part of the plane. Juliana stood there waiting and realized she still hadn't been fully overcome with the idea that she was here, in the back of a plane, waiting for her turn in the bathroom. Everything seemed to be passing too fast and yet, her nerves never seemed to subside. Juliana felt giddy, which is not exactly a word you would use to describe a person who is waiting their turn for the restroom in an airplane. From afar she seemed like she had to go to the bathroom urgently and was happy it was almost her turn because she kept changing her position all the time and every other minute, a smile would creep into her lips. When the middle aged man got out of the bathroom, Juliana gave him an 141
acknowledging smile, then darted past him into the bathroom. Aside from taking care of the obvious, she got a look of herself in the mirror. She fixed the back of her dirty blonde hair and made sure her eyes weren't melting from the makeup she had decided to wear. She only wore makeup for special occasions and wasn't exactly the best at putting it on. She made sure her light blue dress wasn't too wrinkled and when she was reassured she didn't look scruffy, she left the restroom. Juliana stepped out of the bathroom and saw a small boy jumping from foot to foot with his father behind him. The boy didn't need any sort of help and just sped past her into the bathroom as if his life depended on it. She walked back out to the row of seats and when she found her seat again, smiled down at the two guys who quickly stood up to let her sit down again. Juliana spent a few minutes looking out the window even though all she saw was darkness and some tiny lights down below. ----------Sometimes it felt like the only ones that were the most supportive about all this were either her cousins or her friends. Juliana understood why her parents couldn't be and her aunt and uncle showed their support in their own way. It was obvious that almost everyone in her family had their reservations about this trip. Her cousins had given her a hard time before, but the Monday before her trip they decided it would be a great idea to take her out to dinner. Juliana knew there was more than met the eye involving this dinner but she wasn’t about to say no to her cousins. That afternoon after they had all gotten back from work, they all went to an italian restaurant in Howards Square. They sat in the restaurant and drifted from topic to topic not really having a fixed one. For a few minutes Juliana thought that maybe she had been wrong about her cousins intentions and she just sat back and relaxed. That took a total of about ten minutes. At least they waited for the waitress to bring the bread basket before they brought up the truth behind the al edged cousin dinner. "Juli, the reason we have brought you here tonight is because you are going to San Antonio on Friday and we just felt we needed to sit down and give you a talk." said her cousin Erika. Juliana stared at them with her “I knew this wasn’t just a cousin dinner” look. They wanted to give her another talk. That was all anybody had been doing all summer. Her sixty year old aunt tried to communicate the message that guys and girls think differently, and that what she was expecting from this trip might be very different from what he was expecting. Then Erika and Marcy had each had given her talks during the summer concerning the same topic. Even Erika’s husband had been having talks with her on the rides back home from work but he had a way of subtly saying things. In total, all The Talks she had received in the past month far outweighed the ones she had received back home. Her parents were more concerned about her running into a gang and knew her enough to know The Talk was not needed. 142
"Like I was saying the other night," said her cousin Marcy taking a bite of her food, "don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to do." "I know this might not mean much to you guys," said Juliana calmly, "but I know myself enough and I know him. What you guys are insinuating is the last thing on our minds." "Juli, we aren’t saying any of this to scare you,” said Erika staring right at her, "You are our baby cousin and as family, we need to protect you but from the bottom of our hearts, we are hoping you will go and have an amazing time." Her family was just concerned and that was understandable. Her friends on the other hand were a different story. From the day she got to school and told everyone her parents had said yes, they had all been excited and supportive. These, after all, were the people who she talked to about him. Even during the summer when she was away from everyone, they kept asking about the trip. The closer the date had gotten, the more they seemed excited and helped quench any sort of doubt in her mind. Usually, Juliana would comment anything with her friend Daniela. The night before the trip it only seemed reasonable that Juliana would want to call as she packed her small suitcase. So as clothes were being thrown into the bag, she Skyped with Daniela. “I am kind of scared,” said Juliana as she moved stuff around in the bag,“ but I am excited more than anything. I hope he is excited as well.” “Juli,” said Daniela calmly, “He has been waiting for this as much as you have and I seriously doubt you have anything to worry about.” "I know," said Juliana as she threw a shirt into her bag, "I just want everything to work out perfectly." "Trust me," said Daniela, "it will be whatever you want it to be." Contrary to her cousins, Daniela wasn't expecting the hounds of teenage hormone hell to arise. This is when it was nice to talk about the trip. When there was no sort of connotation in the conversation and no one thought she was possessed by some sort of crazy feline that would prowl at the sight of any sort of inclination. No matter how many times everyone said how mature she was for her age, they thought her maturity was far outweighed by what her pituitary gland dictated. -------------------“Ladies and gentlemen we would like to thank you for flying Southwest and hope your stay in San Antonio, Texas is...” announced the voice from the speakers on the plane. Juliana couldn't believe it. Here she was, in Texas, about to see Jacob after a whole 143
year. Thatâ€™s when the shaking began. It was the same kind of shaking she got in every piano recital. Her body only experienced these kinds of nerves when she played in front of people, and, being the same kind of nerves, it decided to stick to shaking what it knew: her hands. She started getting her stuff together and was shaking as if she was cold. The two guys who had sat next to her smiled at her. During the descent of the plane they had started talking and she had told them all about why she had decided to venture to San Antonio. There is just something about spending three hours on a plane and only speaking to your neighbors the last thirty minutes that has its charm, isn't there? Juliana knew that as soon as the plane stopped, people would spring up from their seats like toasts jumping out of a toaster. On an airplane you are supposed to sit tight and wait for the sign of the belt to be turned off. Most people had unbuckled their belts the minute the plane had touched the ground and the fear of dying became a little less important. Juliana just sat in her seat with her belt unbuckled and waited for the swarm of people to start moving before making any attempt to get up. After the really anxious people on the plane were off, the rest of the passengers proceeded to exit the aircraft. Juliana wouldn't admit it but she wanted to be one of the last to get off the plane. As much as it felt like she was ready for what could happen as soon as she saw Jacob, her shaking told her otherwise. She gathered up her bag and walked down the aisle of the plane. The crew was waiting at the end and she smiled and said thank you. She felt like Rose in the final scene in Titanic when Rose comes back to the Titanic in a dream and she is surrounded by a swarm of people smiling. Juliana walked with determination out of the tunnel connecting the plane to the airport building. It was pretty empty and one could tell this was the last flight to arrive that night since everything was shut down. Juliana looked around as she walked down the corridor surrounded by stores and eating places. She thought maybe if she distracted herself, her hands would stop shaking and she would at least appear to be normal. She needed more time and as if her little bathroom adventure on the plane hadn't emptied her bladder, she went into the women's bathroom at the airport. She really did have to pee again but after getting that taken care of, she washed her hands and made sure she still looked decent. Juliana decided her hair was starting to look shabby and opted for combing it before finally just staring at herself. This is it. No matter what, she was doing this and no amount of shaking hands was going to stop her. She stared at her reflection in the mirror and adjusted a loose strand of hair, she knew it was time to get this over with. The San Antonio airport had a big banner welcoming the troops home right before Juliana exited the corridor with all the different gates. It was a very particular entrance made of metal and with little windows on the side. The sign just reminded her that San Antonio really was a military destination and that Jacob was part of the Navy. But those thoughts about the military, her hair, and doubts, disappeared the moment one 144
of the small little windows gave her a glimpse of him. Now if only the very chatty and very slow people in front of her would hurry up, the glimpse she got would come into full view. She stepped through the door frame and the biggest smile came into her face. There was no straight path towards Jacob but she just wanted to run the few steps that were between them. Sure, she had to dodge a blonde woman who got in the way of her little run and might have looked like she was about to trip, but it didn't matter. For once her mind was completely silent and her only focus was to get to Jacob. He was smiling and when she was two steps away from him, he extended his arms. Juliana crashed into Jacob and felt herself be lifted from the ground, and any sort of worries, doubts, or warnings became a thing of the past.
An Introduction to Hell You never think things will happen until they do. Well, that’s kind of obvious, but that a simple tummy ache would turn into a dreadful half an hour surgery? It was November 2007, my mom was selling candies in a bazaar in the country club but unfortunately she couldn’t work that day. I ended up filling in for her. It was a Sunday, meaning that this day would never end, people running around and little kids messing up the station that I had so carefully organized. “Work, work, work” was all that kept going on in my head. I couldn’t handle this chaos, so I dragged a friend with me to hell. After a long and hardworking day, hell was coming to an end. I was closing up, putting all of this disaster away. Just when I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, I started to get a small stomachache. Since I didn’t want to keep on ruining my day I didn’t pay 145
much attention to it. After all, I thought it was because of all the candy I had eaten. Well you should understand, it was the only sweet thing that Sunday. After I finished packing everything up, the pain was beating me like a drum. Could this be normal? Maybe I was just exaggerating, I tend to do that. To tell you the truth, it was nothing serious. I thought that by the next day it would be over. I was wrong. Because of all of the fuss on Sunday, I didn’t feel like doing anything. I closed my eyes and I would still hear those irritating screams of the intense children. I just laid down on my bed and watched time go by. I didn’t do my homework; I didn’t do anything, I just laid there, waiting for something to happen. Anything. Just thinking about the fact that I had to go to school the next day, made me want to scream louder than those kids. So I remembered about my stomachache, it was the perfect excuse to not go to school on Monday. As soon as I got home, I told my dad about the pain and he told me to take an AlkaSeltzer and to go to sleep right away. I needed some rest from the hard, painful, worst day. I made it through the night but when my dad came to wake me up I just thought about the cold and the whole lots of studying that I would have to do if I went to school. What was better? Bazaar or school? Both were classified as hell. I rolled around pretending that the pain was killing me, I just wanted to stay home. I definitely have good acting skills, they convinced my parents to let me stay in that day but even though the pain wasn’t as bad, I still exaggerated everything. As time passed by, and the day went on, I didn’t do much. Watch movies, surf the Internet, nothing interesting just the usual stuff you do when you are sick. Even though the pain had decreased and I felt somewhat better, I still didn’t want to go to school again. That’s why when my mom told me that I should go and study the next day, I went and ate a candy so that I would be able to stay at home once again. Unfortunately this made things much worse than I expected. It was already about nine o’clock when the pain started spreading out to the bottom right side of my stomach, it got to the point to which walking was a tough thing for me to do. I didn't know if this was psychological, or if it was karma eating me up. It was as if the little kids from the Bazaar were all on top of me. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. I told my dad about the pain, again. He’s a doctor so he would know how to handle it. He made me lay down in bed when he started touching my stomach, carefully pressing where the appendix is located. He’d start to question me about what I was feeling. “Does it hurt when I press or when I release my hand?” I would say: “when you release”. Then asked again “does it hurt when you put your legs up?” “Yes” I answered, with a crying voice. I didn't know why he asked me so many questions; I just had a stomachache, not a top secret. I could see his forehead turn into a frown. My dad is a very happy person that tells a lot of jokes so you never know when he’s being serious. I never thought that that frown would be something that I should worry about. Instead I just wanted to go to bed and pretend that nothing was happening. “No.” Said my dad; “we’re going to the hospital right away.” That’s when I got worried; I knew this was something he wouldn’t joke about. I could feel blood rushing through my veins, my heart beating so fast I was afraid it would pop out of my chest. No, not really. But still, I began to tremble and cry out: “No dad, I swear I’m fine!” Just hearing someone pronounce the word “hospital” makes me want to puke. My mom laughed at him, “you’re crazy! It’s just a regular stomachache. Don’t worry 146
baby, you’ll be fine by tomorrow”, trying to calm my nerves. Was I dreaming? Could my week get any worse? When was this going to end? She thought that if I actually had appendicitis I would be crying and wouldn’t be standing up. She whispered in my ear: “your dad doesn’t know anything, trust me.” What was she trying to do? She kept on making everything worse. Now I didn't know whom to believe. All I had was a stomachache, it couldn't be the end of the world, but at that time it was. Sweat ran down my head, eww sweat. But yes, that was what was going on. I started to have a nervous break down because I believed that karma was haunting me. I really didn't want to go to hell. My dad knew the symptoms and said that I showed them all, and that it had to be taken care of. I couldn’t believe it so I agreed with my mom, that I didn’t have appendicitis, after all it was easier to think that I was okay rather than facing the fact that I had to be taken into the worst thing ever, surgery. My mom and I spent the next half hour convincing him that things were fine and all those lies I had told him that morning were turning into: “you know what dad, I’m feeling so much better now”. But somehow my dad knew they weren’t. He started to get mad and said that it was for my own good that if we didn’t go to the hospital it could turn to something worse. I never thought it could be appendicitis since the pain wasn’t that bad to be that virus or whatever appendicitis is. It was already ten o’clock and I had no choice but to do what my dad said and go to the hospital. I put some sweats on, got in the car and headed to Clinica del Country and entered through emergencies. I really don’t understand why it’s called the emergency room if they won’t take care of you right away. Now that is another version of hell. Everyone screaming because they all have the same complaints, seeing people sick, and having a rock in my stomach all made everything worse. I started counting sheep, I tried to do something that would distract me from the impatient woman that I had beside me. She did not make me feel any better. I had to wait about an hour when they finally called me in to look at the appendix. It had been the longest and worst hour of my life. I was shaking like never before. The simple thought of being inside an operation room in an hour was killing me, it invaded my head, and it sped up my heart. I couldn’t think about anything else. “Camila Pastrana” I heard someone call my name. I turned quickly and grabbed my dad’s hand and walked with him into the doctor’s office. Each step was one closer to hear what I didn't want to know. It was getting closer to the over banding doom of hell. This was hell. The intrigue of knowing if doctors were going to cut me open made my head spin. I was only 12. I was young, innocent and scared. The irritating doctor laid me in the bed and touched my stomach just as my dad had done a couple hours ago and asked the same boring and scary questions. Finally, he came to the conclusion that I had all the appendicitis symptoms but he wondered why it didn’t hurt as much as it was supposed to. When he told me this, I began to pant real quickly and my eyes began to fill with tears, even though I didn’t cry. They told me they would have to make an echography to be sure that it was appendicitis. Meanwhile, they took me to another room where they injected me serum, I just wished and prayed that I wouldn’t have to go through the operation. I talked to my friends, to my sisters looking for comfort but nobody answered, it was too late and everyone was asleep. I felt all alone. Another never- ending hour passed by. Each tic-toc was worse than the little kids pounding my hand for a candy. 147
By the time I heard my name being called out again, they made me go inside a room to change into a bathrobe. I then sat in a chair where they kept injecting me with serum. I don't understand why they say that it won't hurt when I knew that it was going to be a disastrous pain. I kept on wishing for a miracle to happen, for prince charming to rush through that old and ugly door telling me to run away, that it was all a mistake and that I was alright, that the appendicitis had been a false alarm. Ha! How rebellious am I to think that. I knew that it was appendicitis and that I had to have the operation. There was nothing else that could be done, no prince charming or happy ending. I saw a nurse enter the room with a wheel chair and hoped it wasn’t for me. “Camila Pastrana” the nurse said, again. My heart stopped for two seconds, but it was time to face reality. I got up and sat in the ugly blue chair and made my dad come along with me. It was late, around 11:30 pm; the halls of the hospital were all empty with flickering lights. I felt in a horror movie. We arrived to the room where the echography would take place. They made me drink a lot of water so that the pee would help to make my insides look clearer. They made me wait another half hour before going in. There was another patient inside and we were waiting for them to be finished. While we waited I was really scared so I talked to my dad meanwhile. I confessed about some things that had happened in the past, some things that I had lied about but he didn’t seem to care. What is it with nurses calling out people’s names so tragically? Tragically? Was she using a specific tone of voice to call my name out? Well, for me it seemed so. I was called once again and the nurse pushed the wheel chair inside the room. I climbed on the bed and the doctor applied some cold cream on my stomach and started rubbing this weird thing in my tummy just where it was hurting. Brr that was cold. I’m not sure what it was but I just felt how he pressured it against what I think was my appendix. The pressure hurt but the more he pressed, the more it gave me the need to pee. He suddenly opened his eyes wide big and couldn’t believe the size of my appendix. “When was the last time you ate something?” the doctor asked me. “Umm… lunch? I think so.” I panicked and lied about that last candy I had eaten to “increase” the pain. How stupid was I? They couldn’t begin the operation if I had eaten something in the last six hours. Now the only thing I thought about was something going wrong during my surgery thanks to that stupid orange candy. The doctor was still amazed with the size of my appendix. He couldn’t believe it was so big and that the pain I felt was so little. The operation had to take place immediately. I had waited too long and I was already late. “Where was this freaking bathroom?” I thought. “Maybe with the water I drank before the echography, and with the pee I had accumulated, some of the candy would come out. Who was I fooling? Of course not.” I kept on talking to myself. Before the operation, I finally had the time to pee but as soon as I came out of the bathroom, I had a moving bed expecting me at the door. Why couldn’t it be a limousine awaiting for me to go to prom? Or a hot guy in a Mercedes picking me up for a date? Cheesy, I know. But instead I had a bed with wheels awaiting for me to go to surgery. Lucky me. I hopped in my carriage and my driver took me to the operation room. This time I really began crying. But I wasn’t crying because of the pain, instead I was just shocked with the fact that they were going to cut my stomach open and take one of my organs out in a few minutes. Since my dad is a doctor, as I have stated before, he has his close and trustworthy doctor friends. He called one of them over and he came in 5 minutes ready to take 148
care of the situation. Just like superman or batman or whatever. It was time to begin the operation, but I didn’t want to go in the room without my dad. Fortunately he was allowed to go inside and keep me company, daughter of doctor privileges. While they were getting ready to start, a nurse pushed my carriage to the operation room. I began questioning her, it was the first time I would have to go through something like this and it made me really nervous. I asked about the operation. “How does it work? Will it hurt? Why does appendicitis occur?” I asked desperately. The nurse answered my questions nicely, but I could tell she was about to push my bed out the window. She managed not to do that, and instead was trying to make me feel better and comforted me. I arrived to the machine room, which was the place my appendix would be taken out. I was very calm by now. I knew nothing else could be done and that reality had to be faced. I accepted the fact that the operation would begin soon and all I could think about was that it would be okay. I just wanted it to be over already. The anesthesiologist came in and put me an injection through my hand. She put a mask on my nose and mouth, “Close your eyes and breathe slowly,” she said. I obeyed. “I’m going to make you drunk” Whatever that meant. She’d tell me that I would soon fall in a deep dream, as those words started fading slowly and I began feeling very tired. Those were my last memories before I woke up. “Where am I? What is this place?” I asked myself. Only to realize a few seconds later that I was in the hospital. Hospital. I had to puke again. But this time it was real. I began having a sore throat and I was really thirsty. I just wanted something to drink and ease the pain. “Water!” I yelled, “water!” that’s all I needed, some water. I then turned right and saw my dad sitting next to me. He called the nurse right away and told her to bring me some. She ran and got me the glass of water I needed so badly. In no time I drank the whole glass in one sip. They took me down to a private room. It was already one o’clock in the morning. My mom was by my side; she was going to sleep over to keep me company over night. I then fell asleep immediately. I began having nightmares with my stomachache only to wake up and realize that those nightmares were true. The nausea feeling I had was unstoppable. I woke my mom up and she called the nurse for help but all that the useless nurse did was bring me a bucket so that I could puke in it if I needed. The bucket, or was it a bucket? Was a piece of metal that measured ten centimeters long and another ten centimeters wide, and like five in depth. How useful. Obviously I couldn’t throw up since I had nothing in my stomach except that horrible candy that I don’t know where it went. “Oh my God, I’m alive!” I thought. For the next 2 hours I just rolled around my bed until it was finally six am and I was able to get some sleep. When I woke up again at ten, my mom had gone home and brought me new clothes, hygiene stuff and everything else that I would need. She handed me back my phone and saw a lot of missed calls and texts from worried friends and family. At the time I didn’t have any type of pain. They put me back in the beautiful and comfortable wheel chair but this time it was to take me back to my car. Yay! I finally got to go back home. As soon as I got to my house, I laid down on my couch in the living room. I fell asleep when suddenly a lot of voices woke me up. My friends came to visit me and I was so happy that I finally got to see them. Then I saw my boyfriend come in as well with a bag full of my favorite candy, which obviously I couldn’t eat. I was on a strict diet that the hospital gave me because if I didn’t follow it, I could get fat and the stitches could 149
break or it wouldn’t be good for my stomach to handle right after the operation. Instead, my friends ate all the candy that he had given me. I couldn’t move, it was really hard for me to get up because I didn’t have strength in my abs. They had to carry me around from place to place. Even though ther e was no pain, it was still really hard for me to get up. That first day, I thought my nightmare had ended, but I was wrong. It was just the beginning. I went to bed regularly but at four am I woke up because I wasn’t able to move. I was in such and uncomfortable position getting to the point where the pain as unbearable. “Andrea! Andrea!” I called my sister “call dad, I can’t move!” she ran upstairs and got my dad. Both my parents rushed down to see what was happening. The pain was indescribable. He tried to comfort me and gave me aspirins to kill the pain, but nothing would work. Sometimes the pain would fade away but at other times everything was just a blur. The pain was eating my insides; I just wanted it to end. In other words I was in hell. When people knew I was sick, they’d come immediately to visit me but everyone brought nice desserts and candies as gifts but I couldn’t eat them. How smart is everyone? I was still under the diet for another 3 weeks. In that time I lost about 10 pounds. Even though I couldn’t exercise, the diet was what helped me to keep fit in that time, other wise I would’ve gotten really fat and that would be another problem. Time went by and the pain slowly started to decrease. After 3 weeks I could get out of bed by myself finally and I went back to school. It was nice to get back with my friends and actually do something than just lay in bed all day alone. In school, I still had to take it slowly, I couldn’t move so fast and I couldn’t exercise yet. When I finally learned how to handle the pain with the movement I was so much better. The pain came sometimes, and when it was strong I had to go to the nurse to get some rest otherwise it would get really bad and I wouldn’t be able to move. It was still hard managing the pain. Those were the worst and longest weeks of my life. And I still have a scar in the bottom right side of my stomach which I love and hope that will never go away.
Starting From Scratch My adventure begins in 1996. As you get older, you always wish that you could have done more with your life, traveled to different countries and experience things other people cannot. I feel very lucky to say that will never be an issue for me. I have moved, lived, and visited so many places it is hard to keep count. This affected my life in many ways. How many people can say they have lived in three continents before they were fifteen? Not many. My mom’s job is the reason we move so often. Sometimes my mom feels guilty because we never want to move and we do not like the new place for a very long time. Except, I never remember thinking that I blamed my mom for not liking a country. In most cases I would just blame the school or the country itself. I only started accusing them when I turned old enough to understand what was actually happening. 150
A few key factors that take time to adjusting to a country are: the weather, the people and the environment. Out of all the places I have lived, none of them are similar. Maybe the languages are and the continent they are in, but not those three factors. You learn that it takes a while to adjust to change and it takes a while to like a place, from moving so much. I have so many memories I want to share about each place but I am not going to tell you my life story it is more me trying to tell you how my life story came to be. My childhood began in Pretoria, South Africa. This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I lived there from when I was a baby until I was six years old. The only things I really remember from South Africa were school, safaris and parties. It was not a high school party, but more like a barbeque. Sometimes I have a flashback. In these moments, you really want to go back. Not back to the country, but back to that exact moment. Sadly, you can never re create a memory, so maybe if I write them down I can kind of relive it. Kindergarten was an interesting time. Apparently I was very talkative and got in trouble for it. I guess I used to be one of those annoying kids that never stopped making noises. Once you turn fourteen this will seem very funny because you turn out completely different. Now, I do not recall doing any of that because they were usually stories told by my parents or sister. What I do remember doing is ‘stealing’ raisins from the nurses’ office and getting caught. When you got hurt on the playground or did not feel good, you could go to the nurse and she would give you some raisins to make you feel better. You were supposed to eat them in the office, but us crazy kids used to sneak them out and share them with our friends. My friends were very good at it, but I always seemed to have trouble doing it. Once, I planned to escape with the raisins in my hand. I was sketchy about the plan, but I gave it a shot since I had no pockets. Well, when I was about to walk out the door, the nurse told me to open my hands. I had to eat every single one of them in front of her before I could leave. I am sure my friends were disappointed. I cannot start writing about my life in South Africa and not mention anything about the safaris. It is basically mandatory for anyone to go on safaris in South Africa. They are beautiful and not to mention unforgettable. You rent a 4X4, pack everything you will need for a whole day and just drive since the parks are usually enormous. Our car usually had a back part that was open so my sister and I, or if anyone came with us, could stand up and my dad would drive fast. We would be in charge of spotting the animals. Once you see an animal, everything around you is quiet. Instead of yelling, “There! Over there!” you would just nudge them and point so that the animals would not get scared and run off. Once we stood still for half an hour because there was a herd of elephants walking by right on the route the cars were supposed to follow. Honestly, you do not care because you are busy either taking pictures or just enjoying the moment. As the day came to an end, the sky would turn blue and there would still be a few rays of light in the sky. I will never forget when the sun would be setting and the temperature would slowly drop. The driving in South Africa was also different. Just like in the United Kingdom, South 151
Africans drive on the left side of the road. That is the most I can recall from how people drove there. I was too young to pay attention to if people drove through red lights or actually respected the laws. It was more like me trying to look out the window, if I could reach, and looking at the top of a mountain or the sky. Most of the cars you would see driving around were mini buses, regular cars and motorcycles. One time we were waiting at a stoplight and I was just minding my own business. I vaguely remember hearing my mom say, “…Cover your ears…” and all of a sudden there is an enormous crash. A light blue mini bus crashed into somebody on a motorcycle. That is probably the first serious vehicle accident I had ever seen and I was terrified. From then on my sister and I would always get scared when we saw a light blue mini bus driving near us. South Africa had amazing weather, it was usually sunny and later in the afternoon there would be a small breeze. The weather was not like that every day. Since I was young, when the weather was incredibly hot it did not really matter since I did not notice as easily as I do now. It was easy to play outside in our garden or go swimming every weekend since the sun was mostly out every day. When I was around five or six I asked my parents how they met Eggie and Janie and they would say that one day they knocked at our house and Janie introduced herself and said that she and her sister, though they were not related, were looking for a job. I am sure that is not how it went but that is the story I have always heard. Later, when I became a little older I never bothered to ask. These two magnificent women were my babysitters but also best friends in South Africa. Out of all the people who took care of me, Eggie and Janie were the ones who left the most impact on my life. I was with them all day for most of the week. They made a delicious lunch for me everyday. It was very thick slices of bread with a lot of butter on both of them and a thick layer of jam. My parents noticed that I was gaining weight and made me stop eating them, but we would always be sneaky and eat them anyways. I have so many amazing memories with them and they all make me smile. I would always sit on Janies’ back when I was younger and when we got to the door I was always amazed at how a piece of metal could open a door. I was curious and wanted to try to do it myself. Eggie and Janie always said no until one time they finally let me. I think I twisted it the wrong way because next thing I know half of the metal is missing and the door was not open. When you are six, moving is not on the list of things you care about. Things like getting a toy or the next time you can go swimming is. My sister had to leave her best friend behind which was very difficult since she was ten understood what was happening better than I did. The hardest thing I did at this point in my life was saying good-bye to Eggie and Janie. They meant so much to me and all of a sudden I was leaving them behind. I have no recollection of my parents telling me that I was moving to Brazil. I think it was me more tagging along with my parents, not really understanding the whole situation. Our way of saying good-bye to our close friends and acquaintances was throwing a big 152
party inviting almost everyone that we ever met in South Africa. I remember doing many things such as learning how to play typical African instruments, talking to my friends and playing with my dog that we had to leave behind. I mostly remember this because there are so many pictures and albums in my house. We had a lot of people walking around our house when the company came to pack our furniture and other things. I remember we had to buy lunch for them and my dad decided to go to McDonalds. We went around to get everyone’s order, which ended up being about thirty different meals. We came back with about ten Big Mac bags filled with the food for the packers. There are many moments I do not remember from this time in my life but the smiles on their faces are unforgettable. When I spoke English, I used to have a South African accent. Instead of saying tomato, (tah-MAY-toe), I used to say tomato, (tuh-MAH-toe). I regret losing the accent but I could not help it. Once we moved to Brasilia and my sister and I went to an American School for the first time, we adjusted to the American accent. Before moving, my dad would tease my sister by saying tah-MAY-toe really bothered her. Later on when her American accent kicked in she would hate it when my dad said tuh-MAH-toe. My first big move to Brasilia, Brazil was in 2002. It was strange to move to a country where you did not know the language because you would wonder how you would communicate. My sister and I, mostly my sister, would always complain about it to my parents. They had lived in other Spanish speaking countries before so they understood Portuguese a bit, but we were going in there without any knowledge of the language, the people and the environment. I do not really remember the day I arrived or even what happened that day. All I remember was going to orientation and having a tour of the school without my parents. I was about six and was terrified of being alone, but my sister was there with me. There was this one girl and her brother who randomly began talking to us. Long story short, we are friends, their parents and our parents are friends and we became those families that went on trips together. In school, I took Portuguese classes every day and ended up learning one phrase, “ Eu não posso falar português”. Yes, I did use Google translate to see how to spell all the words, but I can say it perfectly. I wish I did remember how to speak Portuguese because it would be really cool to be able to speak four languages. My parents did not like living in Brazil, especially in Brasilia. It is nothing like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo where there is a lot to do. It was more like the suburbs. You had a house, went to school or work, and could go out to eat at the pier. Let me tell you something about Pier 21, there was no Ferris wheel or other things you usually see at a pier. There was a view of water (I am not sure if it was an important river or just some water), restaurants, a bookstore and a movie theater. That is exactly how I remember it and that is all you had. 153
When you are about nine you like going out to eat and visiting your friends, but when you are older like my sister and parents, you can get a little crazy from doing the same routine every day for two years. Maria came in everyday. She was a lot younger than Eggie and Janie and I had difficulty talking to her since I did not speak Portuguese and she did not speak English. I do remember obsessing over trying to teach her how to speak English. I would write down random words, translate them to Portuguese, and then quiz her. Now that I look back on it, I do not think she enjoyed it very much, but politely smiled and sat with me for two hours, once a week, ‘trying’ to learn English. As far as I can remember, the driving in Brazil was pretty organized and not hectic and disorganized. One time when we were stopping at a red light on a busy street, a man stepped out of his car. As a kid you never see this happen because you are to stay seated until you reach your destination. I pointed it out to my dad and sister and it turned out the man was peeing right on the street. He stepped out of his car to pee while the light was red and sat back down when it turned green. I found that very strange. When I heard that we were moving to Argentina, I was a bit sadder because I had actual friends that I was leaving behind. The good thing about this move was that the countries were a lot closer. I could visit them much easier then I could visit South Africa. But I never did. My dad was the first who went to visit Argentina to see how everything was. I think his main reason to visit before us was for the schools because after, when arrived, we went to orientation. Usually, with my friends, parents would visit the country before to check out the schools and houses, but in our case it took us six months to find one. We were living in a hotel and two different apartments for people in our situation, before we finally found a house we all liked. The car ride to the airport in Brazil was not that sad for me. My sister was crying and I was reading a letter one of my best friends wrote for me. I remember there were some grammar mistakes, but I still thought it was nice of her. As I read the letter, the image or her crying in her moms’ arms came to mind while I drove away the last night I was in Brazil. You are not supposed to feel good when people cry, but I felt like she actually cared and was going to miss me. That is the main reason I did not mind as much that she was crying. When we landed in Buenos Aires, we took a cab to the hotel and I remember sitting and thinking about the name Buenos Aires. With the little amount of Portuguese I managed to learn, I realized that it translated to Good Airs. Then I looked outside the window and saw a lot of cars and grey fog coming out of them. Oddly the sky was very blue and there were almost no clouds. I guess it lived up to its name. My memorable life in Buenos Aires, Argentina began in 2005. The driving in Buenos Aires was crazy, it was not slow and crowded (only on Sundays), 154
but people would drive very fast and do whatever they wanted. The first year we were there, we had a rental car. It was probably the smallest, most out-of-shape thing, but we still chose it. So one day my dad, sister and I were just driving when all of sudden the car starts slowing down. After a couple seconds it just stopped. My dad forgot to look at the gaslight. We were stuck on the side of the road with no gas. We tried to push it for a while, but my dad was the one who had to steer and my sister and I were not strong enough to push it. Luckily, my dad realized there was a gas station a kilometer away so it was not as bad as we expected. He came back with gas and we made it home. I remember driving to school. You had to drive down a hill and you could see the river, Rio de la Plata, and the sun rising over it. It took us thirty seconds to get down the hill, which is enough to see the beginning of the sunrise. At first the sky was a mixture of red and orange. Then you saw a yellow-white arc coming up and after you were down the hill, the sun would be just above the horizon. Back then, I was always too tired to care, but once you look back, you remember those moments and how beautiful they were. My first day of school in Argentina was very weird. I remember thinking to myself not to be nervous and I just had to talk to everyone. I arrived with my mom to my classroom and no one was there, only my teacher. He welcomed us and brought my mom and I to the playground where everyone else was. He brought me to a group of girls who were all talking about their summer vacation. He introduced me to all of them and told me that the girl in front of me would be my buddy. The girl looked at me and seemed scared and did not know what to say to me. So, I asked her what she did for summer and she answered me. It was all very awkward but at that age, you do not really care. That year I met few people I would spend the next six years going to school with. Most of them move, but there was a group of us that would go to school together from grade three to grade eight. To most people it does not seem like a very long time, but to me it did because we saw each other grow up. Argentines are notorious for staying up very late, mostly because everything opens late. Restaurants would close at one in the morning and people would leave clubs at six in the morning. I remember I invited people in fourth grade to Kansas, a grill restaurant, for my birthday. It was a Friday and very busy and you could not make a reservation. We had to wait two hours before we got our seats and we had to call each of my friendâ€™s parents to tell them to pick them up a lot later than planned. We finished eating at around eleven and everybody was pretty much sleeping at the table. I think they had fun. One of the amazing things about living in Argentina was the weather. It had all four seasons, but the winter season would be during June all the way to August. Most of that time I would be in Holland where it would be summer. I basically lived in summer weather for five years straight. I always knew that I was going to move after four years, that was how it worked. My parents did not have to tell my sister and I since we knew, but when they told us was 155
that we got an extension for an extra year we were very happy. My sister would be able to graduate and I could ‘graduate’ from middle school. My family and I realized how quickly time went by when the summer of 2010 began. We had to pack our whole house, say good-bye to our friends and move to a country none of us were mentally prepared for. Even though my parents were born and lived in Holland, the idea of going back was not comforting. I think I am making the move to Holland a bit dramatic, but none of us really wanted to move. Holland is an amazing country and many people want to visit it and I encourage them, but for my family and I, living in a familiar environment was too boring. We already visited it for a month every year. Was that not enough? My sister was going to Chicago for college, my mom would be working in a different department and my dad would start to work in an office instead of at his desk at home. I was the only one who would be doing the same exact thing but in a different place. My unexpected turn of events moving to Wassenaar, Netherlands in 2010. When I moved to Holland I knew the biggest change and challenge to adapt to would be how everything ends really early there. You had dinner at five and restaurants would open around that time too. Closing time would be the latest around eight. I did not live in Amsterdam or The Hague so everything closed earlier. I lived in a town called Wassenaar and went to a school called The American School of The Hague (ASH). I guess it was like that since Wassenaar was just half an hour away from The Hague. What you did have a lot of was freedom. As a teenager, your bike is like your shoes, it brings you everywhere. You biked to school, people’s houses and the small shopping center in the middle of the town. Orientation was super awkward. Everyone was coming back from their summer and wanted to talk to their friends. I really did not want to be there and tried my best to talk to people but all wanted to do was go back to Argentina. It got worse though because orientation was not just one day, but three. In those three days I had to create my schedule for the next four years, take tests so that the school could determine which classes I could take and make friends I would need to keep for the next four years. I never really felt like I fit in when I was in Holland. It was definitely different from all the other places and that was probably because of my age. In Argentina and Brazil, I was really young and I feel like when you are younger you can talk easier and connect more. You never think about how somebody will crimp your style if you hang out with them. Once you are in high school you are kind of already seen as something and you can either change it or just be yourself. Not a lot happened in Holland. I joined the softball team, which was pretty cool. We travelled a lot and had practice three times a week. We also had a lot of games during the weekend, which gave me an excuse to tell people I actually did something. Other than that I concentrated on school and family since we could visit them a lot more and it was easier. 156
When I heard we were moving to Colombia, I was excited because I never really liked living in Holland. It is fun to go there during the summer but besides that, it was boring. I was usually the foreign one at a school and did not know the country too well. I was not the only one who had a Dutch nationality at my school, but it felt weird to admit that I was Dutch since it was an American school. Anyways, my family and I were on vacation in Spain and we were in the lobby surfing the web. I was about to go to my room when my mom came up to me and said she just got an offer to move to Colombia. The reason I was excited was because I knew a few people who were attending Colegio Nueva Granada. I did not really know what to think, but I remember opening my computer up again and telling my friend on Skype. She said I should go because we knew the same people who lived there. My sister told us it was a great idea because we would be in the same time zone as her. I spent that whole night thinking about it and how different it would be. When I mentioned the news to my friends back in Holland many were sad, but not heartbroken. This is understandable since they only actually got to know me for about a year. I was going to attend ASH for another month and then leave to Colombia. As a good-bye party I invited some of my friends to a local bagel restaurant. When everyone arrived at around 5:30 on a Friday, we went inside to order. They told us they were closing and could not order anymore. We then had to decide on a new location and the only place open was Subway. I am quite good at organizing events. My rushed move to Bogota, Colombia in 2011. I moved to Bogota, Colombia. Again, the minute my family and I walk out of the airport, we notice how crazy the cars drive in South America. People here do their own thing, but mostly because there is so much traffic. They want to get into the faster lane and just cut in front of you. One problem I had was which school I wanted to go to. Usually the embassy or my parents would choose it for me but for some reason they made me pick. Let me tell you something, it is so much easier to pick which school you want to go to first and then take the tests to see if they want to accept you because if not you have to take more than one. Well, I sometimes get insecure about the choices I pick whether it is about food or a school, so I took a test for Colegio Nueva Granda and Colegio Gran Breta単a. I was in between schools because I was following the IB program in Holland and CGB was the one that offered that. CNG on the other hand was where all my friends were going to, but only offered AP. I was accepted to both schools, but decided to pick CNG and see how that was. A lady from the embassy who had enrolled their kids into CGB said they heard some bad things about CNG and about how people, especially in my grade, were not the nicest. Her kids were at least four years younger than me and never went to CNG. I do not know who her sources were, but I guess that was her way of trying to welcome me to Colombia. To sum up my first year in Colombia, I arrived at CNG. They put me in the lowest classes without looking at my transcript from Holland. And the people who I knew at 157
the school were leaving. In Colombia I never had an orientation. I just started school. They paired me up with a buddy who had two classes with me. She was very nice and explained how the schedule worked because it was the complete opposite from my school. The first day of school was interesting. I spent the first three hours in the counselors’ office while he tried to make my schedule ‘based’ on the one I had in Holland. When I finally got my schedule, I had English where I would meet my buddy. The counselor walked with me to the classroom and called her outside so that she could explain to me my schedule. She even wrote it down for me. When she was done explaining, I entered the class and sat down. Somebody from the other side of the room said hi to me and I said hi back. I do not remember what the teacher said to me, but after that she continued teaching. I looked around and I saw a few people paying attention, others on their phones and a couple putting on make-up. After English class, I was told there was going to be an assembly. I had no idea where that would be, but my buddy took me and introduced me to her friends. They were all welcoming and we sat down somewhere on the ground. I was just sitting there so I decided to text my friend. As I was trying to type, “Where are you?” my phone suddenly got taken away from me. A stranger, I assume a teacher, told me I could go get it from her after school and walked away. I do not think she knew I was new, but I do not blame her because nobody knew that. Luckily, the group of people I was sitting with told me where her classroom was. The reason we had an assembly was so that we could vote for our student council. The only person I knew was my buddy. I voted for her and three other people I did not even know. I never actually thought about my first day of school until now and I just realized how odd it was. It was also the first time I started school after it already began. The end result of my life in Colombia is still pending. I supposedly still have two more years, but you never know. My thoughts as I look back at all of this. One thing that is hard about moving all the time is the rest of your family: uncles, aunts, grandparents and cousins. I never grew up with my cousins. I would see them for two months every year and then lose all contact with them. The rest of my cousins see each other often the whole year and have all these memories together and then my sister and I arrive and it is us against the rest of them. It can be intimidating. I had learned to deal with the fact that I will never be as close to the rest or be someone’s favorite cousin, but when I was younger and one of my older cousins told me that she liked my other cousin better than me it was very heartbreaking. I spent that whole day trying to get her on my side. Unfortunately, I did not succeed. Traveling as much as I have, I always wondered how it would be like to live in one place. Not having any international experience, having the same friends my whole life, knowing everyone who lives near me and lastly, never having to say goodbye. I am not going to lie; I sometimes wish my life were like that. You never have to worry about 158
being the new kid, starting school alone or living in a completely different country you know nothing about. I guess that is part of the whole experience. I am grateful for my lifestyle. It is very rare and I always feel interesting when people ask me where I have lived. I can tell a story about each place, like I just have, without thinking too hard. I think of one topic and all of a sudden a story pops in my mind. If I were living in one country or one town, I do not think I would have stories about going on safaris or simple things like the weather. Whenever you move, you have a sort of adrenaline rush go through you. You are excited to start at a new school, look for new houses, meet new people and living in a new environment. When you sit on the airplane ready to leave, there is a strange feeling you get in your stomach and you know you are excited to begin a whole new life. You have an opportunity to start from scratch.
An Open Scar I woke up like any other day. My dad and brother were in a hurry because they had to be at the Polo Club by 11:00 a.m. It´s 10:45 a.m. They are clearly not going to make it, so why keep rushing? They leave my house with their belts on their hand while my mom and I are eating breakfast in bed. I wasn’t hungry. I was unsteady and felt butterflies in my stomach. I think it were the nerves I had for my horse jumping competition final. But why was I nervous? I practically learned to ride horse since the day I learned to walk. It’s been more than six years that I’ve been competing nationally and internationally, so there’s no reason for why I should be nervous. On the other hand I was competition at a lower level than I usually do. There’s no way I could be scared, so I just though the unsteadiness was due to the fact that I wanted to win. I finished getting ready and headed to La Caballeria with my mom. We decided to get there early so I wouldn’t have to get my horse ready on last minute. It was around 12:30 p.m. when we got there and we were pretty much the first ones. Since my coach wasn’t even around I decided to go get some coffee and just seat at the benches while 159
they build up the jumps I had to do. A few minutes later my friends started to arrive and we just gossiped about last night party until we had to go memorize the course of the jumps. I finished walking the course and headed back to the benches were all of our friends and parents were seating. They asked me if the course looked hard or easy and I said easy, since it wasn’t that high and it wasn’t complicated. I was going on number 21 so I was allowed to see the first ten riders perform the course. I was supposed to concentrate on watching the ten riders, but I instead decided to mess around with some friends. One of my friends was messing with me saying that horseback riding was not a sport, that anybody could do, and that if one fell performing that course it will mean that we were really bad at it. I just laughed out loud because he clearly had no idea what he was talking about and I´m used of people telling me that the horses are the ones that do everything. As soon as the 10th rider entered the course, I got my things and headed to the paddock were my horse was waiting. I got up on my horse and warmed him up for a few minutes and then hooped off and helped my teacher get on him. My horse is still a little boy so I prefer for my coach to jump him before I go preform the course. I feel less nervous and safer going into the course if I know that my coach finished warming him up and calmed him down. One minute before I have to go in is the time where the most nervous I get and I become really pale. My coach always likes to say that I have the same color as my horse, which is white. So I go in and show most of the jumps to my horse so that he wouldn’t be scared of them. After walking him around I started jumping the jumps without any complications. Without even noticing I finished my course with 0 faults! Right now I was tied with six other riders in first place. Duplicate the nerves I had on the morning, with the ones I was feeling warming up my horse for the second time. I had to perform a similar course with 0 faults and do it as fast as possible. The fastest rider will win the tournament. Not only did I had the pressure of doing 0 faults, but I was also the last rider to compete. On these kind of competitions the ones going first are the ones with the most faults and the ones going last are the ones winning. I wasn’t scared of falling down or anything like it but I was nervous because it had been a long time since I was so close of winning an important tournament. I was walking towards the course when my coach tells me that between the first and second jump I should do 4 strides instead of 5. This way I will earn a lot of time and maybe be the fastest rider. At first I disagreed with his idea because I believed it was too dangerous and risky, but he and a friend encouraged me to do it. They told me that my horse had no trouble on jumping a bit farther away. So I thought of it for like ten seconds and agreed to do four strides. This might have been the biggest mistake I have done in a very long time. I enter cantering the course feeling a little scared and nervous about my decision. Even though deep down inside I didn’t wanted to do it, I wanted to win the tournament. A lot of people were watching this final, there was even a cameraman filming us for TV. I jumped the first jumped perfectly and headed straight to the second jump and before I could even realize it I was on the floor with my horse on top of me. Even though I was aware of what was happening all the time I only remember a few things from the fall. I 160
remember slowly falling with my horse to the left side and seeing how the rails of the jumps and the grass were each time closer to me. I remember putting my left arm on the ground first and then when I looked up I was only able to see the back part of my horse going over me. I don’t remember what happened in between and only after a few days after the accident I was able to understand what happened exactly. As soon as I felt that nothing was on top of me I sat down and started crying. I can’t exactly explain what I felt in my left arm, but as I wasn’t able to feel anything it was also painful. When I realized that I couldn’t feel my arm I grabbed it with my other hand. The moment I grabbed it I felt something wet, so I looked at my right hand and find it all covered with blood. Not only was my hand all covered with blood, but also all the left side of my white pants. I started screaming for help and without even realizing it, I was surrounded by a lot of men. Out of all the men that were standing there and trying to help me I was only able to recognize my coach and a friends father. I few seconds later my mom arrived and told me to calm down that they would be taking me to a hospital in any minute. As I was still sitting on the grass screaming about my arm and asking for help, they were trying to put me a brace neck. I insisted that my head and back were fine and that the only thing that was hurting was my arm. But I ended up with that thing on my neck and laying down on a stretcher. As I was freaking out for all the blood I saw, and screaming for help, a man that was carrying me just keep saying “you poor girl have an open fracture.” His commentary just freaked me more out because I imagined having my bone outside my arm. As they were carrying me into the ambulance, I lost of sight of were my mom was. There was no chance I was going alone to the hospital without my mom so I started screaming for her while my coach said that she was grabbing her purse and that she would be back with me at any second now. I was on the ambulance with my mom and I was still crying and I realized that I was shaking. I asked the man on the ambulance if I could have some dolex or advil for the pain. He said that he wasn’t allowed to medicate me with anything and that we were only a few minutes away from the hospital. As I was trying to calm myself down I could see my mom trying to call my dad but he didn’t answer because he was playing polo. So my mom immediately called my aunt who would eventually arrive to the hospital with my dad and brother. I could see how nervous my mom was through her eyes, I’m pretty sure she was trying not to cry. We got to the Santa Fe in less than five minutes and my mom had already been able to contact my father. I was still crying when they got me out of the ambulance. I was crying more because I was scared rather than for the pain. We went inside the hospital and they send us to three different places and each time a new nurse would ask what had happened to me, but without really helping me. It wasn’t until my mom got really mad that they took me to a small bed where doctors and nurses started to get around me. The first thing they did was tear off my jacket and shirt to look at my arm, clean it up a little bit, and then covered it up with bandages. They then took me to take some x-rays to see exactly what had happened. This was the most painful part of all. At this point my arm was hurting really badly and they made me bend it, extend it, and put it in different positions. I kept screaming at the lady that I couldn’t move my arm and that it was very painful. The lady didn’t seem 161
to care and just kept doing her work. I think I´ve never being so mad with someone in my entire life. After around 15 x-rays of my arm, I had to do it all again because they wanted to double-check everything. I just kept screaming, screaming, and screaming. I could see the desperation in my mom´s face because I knew how badly she wanted to help me, but there was nothing much she could do. No matter what she would do, the pain wouldn’t go away. They finally took the last x-ray and took me back to my bed surrounded by curtains. I lay down and a nurse came to put me morphine and take some blood samples. I hate it when they take blood out or put me a vaccine, but this was the first time I didn’t even realized or cared what they were doing to me. I just wanted to get out of the hospital and for my arm to be fine. The results of the x-rays came out and they came with the good news that the only broken bone was my thumb. We were all really relieved and quite didn’t understand what had happened to my arm. None of the doctors understood how my elbow wasn’t broken. Even though it wasn’t broken, I still had to go into surgery because my wound was pretty big. It was now around 4 o’clock and I was going into surgery until 9 p.m. because I had drunk a coffee and had to wait for eight hours to pass. At this time my dad and brother arrived to the hospital and came right away to see me. The first one I saw was my dad and I could see that he was really scared and that he was also trying not to cry. He, just like me, hates hospitals. He saw that I was all right and went outside, where all of my friends were waiting, to tell my brother that he could come in to see me. He came inside my “room” crying and with his eyes really red, but he managed to say that everything was going to be okay. We talked for a while and he then left. My mom came back to my “room” and I told her that I really had to go to the bathroom. So she called a nurse and she said it wasn’t such a good idea because I might get dizzy and maybe faint. I told her that I was feeling perfectly and that I could manage to go to the bathroom and make it back to my bed. So I stood up with the help of my mom and walked to the bathroom that was like thirty steps away. When we started headed back I started to get really dizzy and I started losing sense of my hearing. I could barely hear my mom asking for help because I was fainting. Luckily there was a chair a few steps away and I managed to sit there until I felt better and had the strength to walk back to my bed. When my colors came back I told my mom that I wanted to see my best friends. So they each came individually and I could see how worried they were. It actually meant a lot to be that all my friends came to the hospital to see how I was doing. After being with my friends, my coach came in to visit me. I had never seen him so pale. Even though it wasn’t his fault that I fell, I knew that he felt some kind of guilt because he insisted that I should do four strides when I wanted to do five. I also talked to him for a few minutes and just like the rest of the people, he told me that everything was going to turn out okay. I kept crying because I didn’t knew anything about the procedures of going into surgery, I didn’t now what to expect. I kept asking for the time like every half an hour. I didn’t even realize it when a nurse came in to say that everything was ready for the surgery and that it was time for me to go. I freaked out again and started crying. I 162
didn’t want to go into surgery, I just wanted for my arm to get better by itself. As they were taking me to the operation room I started shaking a lot. I was so nervous that they had to give me some tranquilizers before going into surgery. They took me to a place where there was a red line on the floor that meant that only doctors and patients could go beyond that point. I guess I was a little calmer because another nurse came to get me. I said goodbye to my mother and she told me that everything was going to be okay and that she will be waiting for me outside. So they stared taking me to the operation room and the last thing I remembered was a man placing a blue mask on my mouth and telling me to breath deep and slowly. “Andrea, Andrea, Andrea wake up,” a man started telling me. I started hearing his voice before I could even open my eyes. The moment I realized that the man was talking to me I opened my eyes and saw that I was still in the same surgery room. “I am cold,” I told the nurses around. “We know, it will go away in a few minutes,” they responded. A few minutes later they took me to the recovery room, where I realized that I was the only patient. A few seconds later my mom arrived with a smile on her face, and then my doctor arrived and said, “Andrea, you’re doing great.” And he then just left with my mom. I was so tired that I didn’t even realize that each time I was breathing less and more slowly. That’s when a machine started beeping and a nurse came to put me and put me a weird thing in my nose and told me that this would help me breath. My mom and dad came back and the first thing that I asked was “Is my arm okay? Can I go home now?” My mom, who was very calmed said, “Your arm is fine, but the wound is more complicated that what we expected and you have to go to surgery again on Wednesday.” I was so tired and sleepy that I just accepted that fact because I wanted for my arm to be fine. I then realized that I had a big cast with a lot of bandages around it, but the worst part was that I had it hanging from a long pole so that my hand wouldn’t swollen more than what it was. I have never felt so thirsty in my life and nobody wanted to give me any water. Half an hour passed when they finally gave me a really really small cup of water. I have never appreciated water so much. I’m not sure how many minutes or hours passed until they gave me permission to go to my room. When I arrived to my room I asked what time it was and they told me it was 11:30 p.m. Wow it had been a long day. I went to sleep right away as my mom got her bed ready. She stayed with me 24/7. The next day I woke up really early and so did my mom. I don’t remember much about the first days at the hospital and I guessed this was to the fact that I still was shocked at my accident. I never imagined having to have two surgeries for an arm that wasn’t even broken. That morning I asked my mom what had exactly happened to my arm because I was really confused. My mom started explaining that they had to relocate all the muscles, tendons, and nerves and at the same time they had to put some stiches to close the wound. Doctors use the term digloving to explain this kind of accident. It is so rare and dangerous that they don’t even have a name for it in Spanish. What I most recall from the first days was that all of my friends came to visit me. Each time they came they brought me some kind of present. They all brought me cookies, candy, cakes, movies, stuff animals, balloons, flowers, and posters. The presents that I most 163
liked were the posters, balloons, and flowers because it gave my room a special touch. It looked happier and this way I wouldn’t have to stare at the white walls all day long. Even all of the nurses liked to come to my room because they said they’ve never seen such a decorated room. But the things that they most liked were the posters of the hot guys that I had on my walls. They will stare at them for a while and then ask me who they were. I found this really funny. Nurses kept coming in an out of the room because I had three different antibiotics and the machine kept beeping all the time. While my friends kept me entertained my mom would be talking to different doctors and she even considered taking me to the United States. I was told about this a few days ago because they didn’t want to worry me. It’s until now that I was told that my accident was very severe and if things didn’t turned out as we wanted I could have lost the movement of my arm. Am really thankful that they never told me how severe it was. I knew I had a big chance of infection and that it was complicated, but I never knew that I could have lost my arm. I wouldn’t be by myself any minute during the day. I would either be with my family or friends. I was really tired all the time because of the painkillers that they gave me like every 6 hours. Still as I would be taking a nap, somebody else would be in the room with me. All of this support helped me a lot get through this really rough time. The days were long and boring. Not only was I bored all day, but also the hospital food was really bad. It smelled bad, looked bad, and tasted bad. Even though it was disgusting I had to eat a little. One specific nurse, which I never learned her name, came everyday to my room to make sure that I was eating all my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The part I liked most of going into surgery was that I had to skip one of the meals. Imagine how bad the food was. It was Tuesday night and I was no longer allowed to drink or eat anything because I was going into surgery Wednesday’s afternoon. Next morning my doctor came in and said that we will be going to surgery at 5 o’clock. I think this was the worst time that they could’ve had picked. Not only was I nervous and unsteady for the entire day, but also I was really thirsty. At around 4 p.m some of my friends arrived to visit me and wish me all luck for my surgery. Even though they help me take my mind of the surgery, I would still be moving my right foot back and forth. I was really nervous and I really wanted for this entire nightmare to be over. Before I realized it a man had enter my room with a stretcher saying, “Hi Andrea its time for us to go.” I started crying immediately and I kept telling my mom, “I’m scared, I don’t want to go downstairs again! I just want to go home.” I was way calmer than three days ago when I had my first surgery, but still I was really nervous. So I got on the stretcher took me downstairs at an elevator and once again left me at the entrance of the operation rooms where there was a red line on the floor. At this point is where I would get the most nervous because I knew I was only a few minutes away of going to surgery. This time it took them a really long time to come and pick me up at the red line. Even though I think I only had to wait for like ten minutes it seemed like eternity back then. Finally some nurses came to pick me up and took me to the same surgery room I had been three days ago. Again they followed the same procedure. The put me on a different stretcher and placed the blue mask on the mouth. Without even realizing it, I fell asleep. 164
“Andrea, Andrea, Andrea, wake up,” I heard the same man calling to me. This time while they were waking me up I felt how they removed some tubes from my throat. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to wake up. Now I just wanted to go to the recuperation room so that I could warm up and they could tell me whether they were able to close up my wound or if I had to go again to surgery. My mom arrived at the same time with me to the operation room and told me that there was no infection in my arm and that everything seemed to be going in the right direction but they prefer to take me back to surgery on Saturday. I was really pleased with the news because the only thing I wanted, apart for going home, was for my arm to not have any kind of complications. After this second surgery my arm started to hurt so I asked the nurses if they could give something for the pain. So they decided to give morphine, which was a really bad idea because it got me really dizzy. Not only was I sleepy from the anestisia, but also now I was dizzy from the morphine. Without even realizing it, I once again started to breath really really slowly and the machine next to me started beeping. This time they just put me an oxygen mask for a couple of minutes. They took me back to my room, but I was still feeling really bad from the morphine. I didn’t sleep so good that night. But to make things clear, I didn’t have one good night at the hospital. The nights were long because the machine keep beeping and they had to be given me the three antibiotics every now and then. For the next two days my friends kept visiting and everyone kept bringing me presents. But for me each day become longer and I was each time more desperate. I just wished that I would ad follow my instinct the day I fell and that way none of this would have had happened. I just wanted for all of this to go away. Saturday finally arrived and I was going into surgery at 12, which meant that they would come pick me up at around 11:45. I spend that morning talking with my mom, dad, and aunt. I wasn’t as nervous form before and that was probably for the fact that I knew what was I comforting. There was nothing new I should be afraid of. They came up to pick me and as I was going down the elevator with my mom I started crying again. I cried all the way to the same surgery room. This time there was an old man who was really nice and caring and was able to calm me down as they put the general anesthesia. Following the same procedure as before, I woke up by feeling the tubes being removed from my throat. Why couldn’t they have done that while I was still asleep? The moment I was conscience of what was going on I felt something in my neck and I started screaming what had happened to me. They nurse immediately said that I shouldn’t worry about it that it was only the little tube that was put directly into my vein so that my antibiotics could go inside my body. It was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever felt. While they were taking me back to the recuperation room I saw my mom and she was giving me a thumbs up! That meant that they had finally closed up my wound and that I was probably going home in a few days! So she came close to me, and she indeed, gave the good news that I was probably going home on Tuesday. I was so happy and excited and I actually thought that those last three days were going to go by really fast. 165
I was so wrong. The last days were the ones that I was the most desperate and wanted so badly to go home. Like the previous days my friends kept coming to visit me. Knowing that my arm was each day better and each day I had a smaller percentage of infection, calmed me down but I still just wanted to go home. My back and the rest of my body was hurting very badly for being in the same position for so long. It finally came the day where they where going to take off the cast and bandages to see whether I could go home or if I had to stay for little loner. It was a Tuesday. I was really anxious because I wanted to go home and because I was afraid of looking at my arm. The doctors came into my room at around 8:30 and started right away to uncover my arm. At that moment I decided that I wasn’t going to look at my arm, so I got my stuffed animal and placed on my head. My arm felt so weird without any bandages on, it didn’t feel good. As they were cleaning my arm my mom came close to me and said, “It looks great, its all going to me okay.” I was really relieved to here that and it helped me to calm down. They finally finished cleaning my arm and putting on some new bandages and that the doctors said in an excited voice, “Andrea, you’re doing great I think you can go home today!” I don’t have the words to describe how happy I felt at that moment. I had waited for this news for such a long time! I really don’t know what would have happened if I had to stay in for a few more days, just like I cant describe my happiness at the moment, neither can I describe the desperation that I felt for the ten days at the hospital. Right away my mom and dad started packing my room. They took off the entire posters, packed all the clothes, stuffed animals, and movies. I was even trying to help pack. The faster we cold get out of that place, the better. As we kept on packing a nurse came in to take off my tube that I had on my neck. Once again I was nervous because I didn’t knew if the stiches and the rest was going to hurt. It took the nurse like five minutes to remove that tube, it didn’t hurt but it was uncomfortable. I could finally walk around the room without having to take the beeping machine with me. The doctor finally came back with the order that said that I could go out of the hospital. We were done packing and my dad went for the car to come pick us up. A few minutes later a man in a wheel chair came to pick me up to take me to the main entrance. Apparently it is mandatory to leave the hospital in a wheel chair even of you have enough energy to walk all the way to the car, which I did. I had such a big smile on my face as they were taking me down to the main entrance. I couldn’t believe that this nightmare was over. What I didn’t know was that only part of the nightmare was done, it is quite not finish yet. Things got way better when I was home. The first few days that I was home I just slept all day and I started doing some homework because I knew I was way behind in school. Then on that weekend I decided to go to see a horse back riding competition because I wanted to get out of my house. So I went with all my friends and had a great time. The only boring part was that I had to tell my story over and over again to all of the people, which was practically everyone, who asked me how I was doing. Before the completion even ended, I went home with my mom because I was exhausted. It was my first time out after being at the hospital and my house.
Then on Tuesday I went back to the hospital so that my doctor could see how my arm was doing. This time they took off all of the bandages and left like that. I kept insisting that they should put at least one bandage but they said that the skin needed to breathe. This was the first time I looked at my arm. It looked really bad. It was all purple and black. The moment I left the hospital with my mom I started crying really badly. I couldn’t believe that my arm looking like that could ever look normal and pretty again. That same day I went to a new doctor that would help me gain my movement back. By the time I reached her office I was still crying and I kept crying as she cleaned my arm and made me do some movements. Through out all this time I tried to look at my arm the least amount of arms. And even though my arm was the one that looked really bad, my doctor was more worried about my fingers that were all purple and really swollen. She made me do some exercises that would help them get back to normal. After my session was over, I went home and kept crying. As I cried I just kept saying to myself how stupid I was for doing a stride less on my horse jumping final. If I had followed my instincts I wouldn’t have been where I was. That day the only reason I stopped crying was because I was given permission to go back to school next day and see all of my friends. This way I would be getting back my life. I was so excited to go to school. With the help of my mom I took a shower, got dressed, and cleaned my arm. When I was all ready and packed I left my house with my dad and brother and headed to school. When I reached the amphi all of my friends were there and they came running towards me and they all gave a big hug. They were all so excited and happy that I was finally back. Everyone kept asking me how I was and asking me to explain him or her what exactly had happened to me. It meant a lot that everyone was so worried about me, but at the end of the day I was exhausted, my arm was hurting, and I was tired of telling the story over and over again. My mom picked me up at two and I went straight to bed. It had been a good first day back of school. The next few days were pretty good, except for every morning and afternoon that I had to look at my arm. I hated this part, I couldn’t bare look at my arm because every time I did I would get scared and start crying. What is next? How is my arm going to end up looking? Do I have any risks of infection? How much longer until my arm feels as it used to? Is my arm going to look pretty? These are all the questions that cross my mind every time I stare at my arm. Even though it looks better each day I’m still scared of what’s coming next. The future scares me. I do think that I have grown as a stronger person because in a few weeks I have gone through a lot. It has probably the hardest experience I have been going through. My arm is each time better, but I believe I have a bigger wound inside of my. Its been really difficult for me to accept the accident I’ve had. Even though everyone tells me how strong I am and that I didn’t all by myself, deep inside I know that it is not like that. Am supposed to feel stronger, but there are times of the days were I feel so weak that I don’t even think that I’m going to get through it. I am getting through all of these thanks to my doctors, family, and friends. They have been with me through out this journey and they have all been really helpful. Specially my mom, I don’t think I would have made it without her. Not only has she been taking care of me every single, but also she gives me courage everyday. It’s because of her that I am right now where I 167
am. I still cry most of the days because I am constantly feeling my arm. I still can’t stretch it or bend it for completely and it’s uncomfortable. It hurts and at the same time my skin feels like a cardboard. Every second I am reminded of my arm and of my accident. I haven’t had a break this last month because when I am not worried about my arm, I am worried about school because I feel that each time I am more behind and that I’m never going to catch up. On the other hand I miss out going to parties with my friends and most of all going horse back riding. Even though I’m allowed to go to parties and everything I don’t usually feel like it and the few I have gone through I am only worried about my arm because I’m afraid some one would hit me without realizing it. So instead of enjoying the party I am unsteady and nervous about my arm. I sometimes feel like am missing out of many things. Also its been a month now since I last rode my horse. I miss it a lot. Many of my friends ask, “And are you going to ride again? No, right?” And I’m like off course I’m going to ride again, it’s my passion and I’m not going to stop riding because I had a tough fall. Even though I say that I am not scared I don’t know who scared I will get the moment I get on my horse and face a jump. I really don’t think this is going to be the case because I couldn’t live without riding horses, but what if am wrong? My friends and everyone at school have been really nice and caring about my arm. Everyday they ask me how I’m doing and they help me out with everything. They take my bag from class to class, take out my notebooks, and do stuff that I can actually do. I love that everyone at school has been so on top of me, but I feel sometimes that they feel sorry for me. I don’t want for anyone to feel pity for me. What happened to me was severe but I am getting through it. I was at a huge risk of losing my arm, but I managed to get through it. I want for them to treat me as a normal person again. I’m in a phase when I can start using my arm again so I want to help out in class without everyone doing it for me. The more the people help me the more useless I feel and it reminds me more of my accident. I really appreciate what everyone has done for me and thanks to them I’ve being able to get through this rough patch, but I sometimes get thinking that there are people actually dying who never had so much support as me. There are people who I’m sure are going through a way more complicated path, so I have to give thanks for surviving this. I’ve come a long way now and even though I feel like giving up many many times, I’m not going to do it. I have gone through a lot and through the hardest part to give up now. I know that I’m still a long way of having my arm back to normal, but after all I’m hoping that this experience helps me grow as a person. And it´s surely one that I’m never going to forget.
The Mummification When I was born I didn't cry much. The doctor instantly thought I couldn't breathe so he started taking my pulse and my heart beat he then realized I could breathe perfectly. I was simply a really calm child. My dad says that I stared everywhere in amazement, that I was like a kid who had just seen spider man or super man, I was calmed and amazed by life. My tranquility continued through out my life. Once, when I was 4 years old, I got lost in Disney World. Everybody panicked and looked for the four year old who had gone missing. My Mom cried and my Dad nervously asked people around the whole amusement park if they had seen me, yet two hours had gone by and there was no sign of me. My dad contacted the park officials, who said that there was no sign of me and that the park was going to close in thirty minutes. Of course, my parents thought the worst, how I might have left the park and I could be walking through the highways of Orlando. Or had been kidnapped. My dad continued to look for me everywhere he could. After a long time, when the park was about to close, my dad decided to sit 169
down and think about what he was going to do. Sitting in a bench, elbows on his knees and desperately thinking about a solution, he raised his head only to find me walking in a calm and soothing way in the middle of the crowd, as I stared at the fireworks with awe. My mom quickly pushed through the crowd towards me and cried as she hugged and kissed me. My dad, expecting me to be scared and crying, was amazed to find me strolling through the park like any other tourist. In another occasion, I was walking up the stairs of my house and suddenly tripped. I fell down and my face slammed the steps. One of my frontal teeth had perforated my front lip and my mom, who had witnessed the whole scene, was just about to start screaming when she saw me calmly get up, go for some toilet paper and start cleaning the blood off my lips. She couldn't believe it I was only crying a bit, but I was calm. I wasn't even screaming, I was simply saying “mom it hurts”. They took me to the to the doctor and they had to get surgery. It all went fine, but my mom still can’t believe that I did not panic. Time passed, I continued to be a really serene and tranquil child. One day we came back from a trip to Paipa Boyaca.I felt really sick so my mom called the doctor and described my symptoms to her. The doctor said I had a virus, and that I should stay home for three days. I did as she recommended, stayed in bed for couple of days watching movies and having soup. However, on the second night, I got a really strange feeling: I couldn't sleep, felt a kind of desperation like claustrophobia, and for some reason, I couldn't stop thinking I was in danger. I finally fell asleep and woke up like at 10:00 am. The feeling came back, I felt like a deer out in a field just waiting to be shot. I tried playing gameboy,and sleeping, but nothing helped, I simply couldn't stop feeling threatened. I finally concluded that it must have been because I was sick and therefore decided to look for an adult. I got up from my bed and felt a sudden impulse to start running, but I didn't. I took a deep breath and said to myself “there is nothing to be afraid of” and stepped out of my room. What happens next is hard to describe. I felt a big and strong hand grab me by the neck and press me against his chest. I thought it was my brother who was bothering me, but then I realized that my brother was in school and that the hand was black and way to big to be my brother’s. I turned my head around to see a huge black guy who was grabbing me with one hand, and in the other laid a .357 magnum revolver. The guy quickly screamed to other who were in my parents room “Hey what is this?” and he pointed the gun at me. The guys in my parents room started swearing a lot “why is there a f**king kid in the house? This was not supposed to happen.” “What are we going to do?” One of them simply gra bbed me and duct taped my mouth, hands and feet. I couldn't move, I was wrapped like a mummy. They proceeded to push me into my parents’ room, where I saw my driver and maid, who had also been mummified in duct tape. My maid was crying and my driver was about to, but for some reason, I was calm and laid there on the floor, praying to God to keep me alive. There were seven guys, two of them downstairs, who were guarding the door. I could hear them talking through radios with some other guys “don’t worry, everything here is under control. How are things going over there?” There were also five guys upstairs. One of them had a tech 9 machine gun and he 170
constantly pointed it at us telling us to be still, to not move an inch or that he would kill us. The four other guys were basically wrecking the house, looking for anything of value. I saw them take jewelry, cash, and even some pens my dad had. I still laid there, on the floor praying to God to keep me alive. I thought to myself that if I was to die, it wouldn't be that bad. It would be a shot to the head and I would instantly be in heaven with my grandfather. I thought of all the possible ways somebody could die and concluded the worst ways of dying were being burnt alive or drowned. I then thought about the guillotine, it was a pretty fast and painless death. I wondered which one would be worse, a head shot or the guillotine. The guys continued to wreck the place as they opened every cabinet they found. They even tried smashing through a wall. I was learning so many new bad words. They swear at everything and everyone. I wondered what their mothers would do if they heard them swearing this much. My mom would definitely kill me. I realized they were robbing an apartment, swearing was their moms’ smallest worries. What about when these guys were my age? . Could we have been friends? What team would they like ? Most importantly, could I have beaten them up in a fight? I was lying on the floor calmly. I kept on thinking about very simple and stupid stuff. Will I ever have a Mcdonalds hamburger again. Would I be on the News once these guys left ? Would this mean I would have to go back to living in miami ? I thought about my first grade teacher from Miami Mrs. Hassun she was Cuban you could tell it all over her accent how ever she told everybody she was from Miami. I continued to think of hamburgers and how they were made.My brother loved hamburgers, I wonder if he could beat these guys up. My wondering was interrupted as one of the guys punched the wall and said in really loud voice. “If I don't find more than twenty thousand pesos in this cabinet I am going to start “lifting” people up”.” I had no idea what he meant, was he going to make us stand ? was he going to beat us up ? was he going to kill us ? I really had no idea. I started praying again for this guy to find twenty thousand pesos but I knew he wasn't going to find them he was looking in my moms night table there was only a bunch of pens and some make up there. I never found out if he found the money or not he simply got up and made my maid get up he then insulted her a lot and asked her were the safe was.He pointed the gun at her and she instantly started crying and repeating “I don't know I don't know”. He then looked at me and he grabbed me by the arm and lift me up with only one hand.I couldn't believe how strong he was. H e then screamed at me and asked me for money.I could not talk because I had tape all over my lips. I really don't know how he expected me to tell him. I pointed my head towards my room and he pushed me into the room, I hit my head against the floor but for some reason it didn't hurt even though it would leave a bump. I then tried speaking and murmured to him were my wallet was it had about thirty two thousand pesos.The guy put the the money in his pocket and then asked for more.I pointed at my football trophy I had won while I lived in miami I though it was real gold and that he would gladly take it. How ever he didn't even look at it. Again he raised me up with one hand and through me on the bed like If I were a sack of potatoes.He then pointed his 171
357.magnum at me he pressed it against my cheek.The reason why I knew it was a 357.magnum was because it was one of my favorite weapons to use in Grand Theft Auto it was a really good gun because it killed my opponents instantly. I simply had to lock on and press x and my opponent would die.This guy was locking on to me and about to press x.The gun felt really cold against my cheek.I prayed as he repeated over and over again “were is the safe ? were is the safe ?” I didn't answer I had no idea were it was. I looked at a poster I had on the wall, of Camilo Zuniga a soccer player from Nacional. I wondered if I would ever see him play again he was really good.He pressed the gun harder against my cheek and then let go he walked out of my room and left me lying there again like mummy. Now I was really scared I thought about my mom my dad my sister my brother.They wouldn't like going to my funeral. If I died who knows how they would live the rest of there life. I couldn't die even if it was a quick an painless death it would leave a lot of pain in my family.I prayed and prayed. I looked at the clock in my room and it was 1:00 pm they had been there for nearly three hours. I continued to pray but then I got really scared and I started to cry. I stopped crying because they opened the door and they put my maid in front of me.Then they said they were going to leave.They started arguing about how they should leave. One of them said they should lock us all in a room and simply leave, the other quickly replied “are you stupid the are going to leave in a second” another then said “lets just kill them all” the other one quickly replied that he wasn't going to do it. Then one of them opened my door got in and grabbed me and said lets take this kid. Nobody will try doing anything if we take him. One of the other guys added ‘they will give us a load of money for him”.Then they told my driver to get up they said “Ok you are going to take us out of here and in the car with the kid.” My driver refused over and over again he said “you are not going to take him”.They pointed the guns at him they screamed at him they slapped him he continued to refuse. Finally they gave up and they put all of us inside the bathroom of my parents they locked the door of the bathroom and then locked the door of the room. Me my maid and my driver staid there for about an hour. My maid would start crying and my driver would ask her to be quite and would tell her that everything would be ok. I noticed that my necklace was broken and I got a bit mad. It was so fragile and it broke so much every time I got in a fight with brother it would end up breaking.Time passed and I thought about how my grandmother had given me 32,000 pesos but now they were gone.Then after a long wait I saw Maurico manage to start taking the tape off.Once he was not a mummy any more he helped Nelly get her tape off. She cried and cried. He then started taking my tape off it hurt so much but I just wanted to move my arms and legs again. He then got up and walked around the bathroom for a while he was really mad.He asked if we heard he started kicking the lock on the door on till it swung open. He then tried the phone in my parents room but the r obbers had taken the battery off and they had thrown it out the window.I was really calm for some reason I felt protected by him like if no body could even look my way. He then started kicking the door really hard but it didn't open.Then he took a coin and I don't know what he did but he opened the lock. They had put lots of tape on the door and it wouldn't open. He kicked and kicked at it on till it finally open. He carried me and went running down to the lobby of the building. He then told the receptionist to 172
call the police.He asked why and what had happened ? Mauricio got mad at him and started screaming that we had been robbed. He called the police. Mauricio asked him ‘how did they leave ?”.The receptionist said he didn't remember.Then after a while he said “o yeah they had a car parked right in front of here and they wouldn't let anybody pass. Maurico raised his voice and said “ you didn't find that any bit suspicious did you ?” he nodded his head and called my dad. After twenty minutes of waiting one police motor bike arrived, on it was a skinny police man with an old revolver.I thought to myself that the robbers who were much stronger, more and had better weapons would have killed this guy in a blink of an eye.Then my Dad arrived he was really really mad he started screaming at everybody and he called the police and made them search the whole house for finger prints. He then took Mauricio Nelly and the receptionist to the police station and had them questioned and go through a lie detection test to see if they had anything to do with it. I was sent down stairs into my neighbors apartment she had me watch disney channel. I ordered Pizza and everything seemed fine. My brother and my sister got from school and I told them everything. My sister started crying and my brother thought it was the coolest thing ever.I told him everything about the guns.Then we went back up intoour house it was filled with police man and one of them talked to me.He started telling m e how everything was going to be ok and how they were going to catch the guys.I wondered were the guys were I imagined them in a beach spending my 32,000 pesos. I watched a movie in the disney channel.Then my Dad came into the room he hugged me and told me that I was really really brave and that he was really proud of me. My mom was traveling but she flew in that same night and she hugged me and she cried. That night I slept with my parents and next day I went to school. My parents told me not to tell anybody what had happened so I didn't. But in class it was really hard to concentrate I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened so I would ask the teacher permission to go to the bathroom and I would walk around school so that I could calm down. That night when I tried going to sleep it was really hard. I couldn't stop thinking that it was in this same bed that the guy had pressed the gun against my cheek. I would look at Camilo Zuniga and think to myself “God I was so close to dying.” Then they started taking me to the physiologist.I didn't really want to tell her anything she would give me toys and ask me to create a story I knew she wanted me to tell her what happen through the story but I didn't want to tell her so I simply invented the craziest stories and played them out. After a while they stopped taking me to the physiologist. However I had to go back because I was having a lot of night mares and I couldn't go to sleep. I would imagine those seven guys in jail planning there revenge against me. I imagined what would have happened if they would have kidnapped me. Most of all I would imagine what would have happened if that guy had pulled the trigger. I would go to sleep and wake up crying for some reason. I really did not get it but I was extremely tired and I wanted to sleep how ever I simply couldn't fall asleep. I would always end up taking a sleeping bag into my parents room and sleeping there. At first it was ok and my mom and my Dad didn't really care. However after a month or so my parents were tired of me sleeping on there floor and they told me I had to try to sleep in my room. I tried really hard but nothing happened. I simply would not go to sleep and before I 173
knew it it was already 3:00 am and since my parents were all ready asleep I would sneak into there room and quietly set up my sleeping bag. Then before they would wake up I would snea k out of the room. This worked for a couple of nights but then they started noticing me. They would not let me sleep in there room. One day as I tried sleeping in my room I got extremely scared and I took my sleeping bag and set it up in my brothers room. I slept perfectly there and I found the solution to my problem. My brother didn't really care if I slept in his room as long as I didn't make a mess. I slept perfectly in my brothers room for about a month and half till one day we had fight over watching a movie. He wanted to watch a movie but I was playing playstation he told me if I didn't hang the remote control over I would have to sleep in my room. Without a word I gave him the Tv and I went away. My brother discovered he could make me his own little slave. So he did. “Pedro if you don't do this your not sleeping in my room tonight”, he would say. “Pedro go get me a glass of water.” “Pedro go ask mom if we can go to the movies.” “Pedro give me your candy.” He made me do a lot of embarrassing stuff. He made me dress all in pink sometimes. He made me take my shirt off and give my mom a guitar concert. It worked like this for about five months. On till one day after I had done just about a million things for him he asked me to do something and I refused so he kicked me out and I had to go into my room. That night I could not sleep not one bit. The next night I tried to sneak into my brothers room but he caught me and he kicked me out. I had to sleep in my room but I simply couldn't. I was really afraid and I would spend all day thinking about what I was going to do when it was time to go to sleep. One day I played soccer in my garage, then I checked that every door in the house was closed and then I said good night to my parents and I went to sleep at 8:22 pm. For some reason I slept perfectly so the next day I did exactly the same thing and I went to sleep at exactly 8:22 pm. So on the next day. I developed a routine that I executed every single day. I c ontinued to sleep at 8:22 for everyday on till some day that I still can remember I simply changed and I stopped doing the routine. One day my sleeping problem was suddenly fixed and I could sleep perfectly. However it had lasted for three years and it had caused me a great deal of pain. Once my sleeping troubles were over I had really started to get over the robbery. Or at least I thought I had.Little by little I started discovering how my famous tranquility started to disappear. I would worry about everything. I would stress a whole lot before soccer games and and math exams.It was not normal for an eleven year old to get so stressed about a soccer game or a math test. I would train for hours alone in my house just kicking the ball against everything and imagining plays. I would google professional players that played in my position and I would try to imitate there every move.However when games came up I was so scared I would get really bad head aches and I wouldn't play as well as I could have. I would spend hours and hours studying for math tests. I would take tutoring. My tutor would constantly tell me that I understood things perfectly. But when the test would come up I would get extremely nervous and I would forget half of what I knew. I would do half as good as I could have. 174
With time I became really claustrophobic for some reason I developed a really big fear of having no exit. On one occasion in our school trip to Barcihara we went into some caves. When we were in the middle of the caves I panicked I started thinking about all the bad things that could happen to me. I started thinking about how the cave was going to crumble down on me and I was going to be left trapped inside.I suddenly panicked and started breathing really hard. I started screaming and I started pushing people over I simply wanted to get outside. Teachers and staff would try to hold me but I would start screaming at them and so one of the staff members had to tell me to close my e yes and hold her hand. She then took me out of the cave and back into the light. When I came out of the cave I noticed my knees were all scrapped and My hemlet was really damaged. My hands were full of cuts. I hadn't even noticed it all I cared about was getting out of the cave. Then I developed a fear of flying in airplanes. It wasn't falling I was scared about. I was simply scared by the fact that there was no way out that I was trapped in a flying object for an amount of time. By the time I entered eighth grade I was probably the most nervous kid in school. I was voted most likely to cut the wrong cable on a ticking bomb. I almost dropped out of the soccer team because I couldn't take the pressure any more. One time during a math test I was really stressed and one of my friends told me to just squeeze my ruler really hard. It ended up breaking and flying all over the class. Being such a nervous person was definitely not a good thing. I ended up getting sick. Not just any kind of sickness like a flu. I developed two gastric ulcers in my stomach. I had to be hospitalized and operated two times. Doctors searched for a million reasons why I could have developed such a problem. They all came down to the fact that I was simply nervous.
The Fall Few people have had to experience a broken bone and even fewer have had to deal with appendicitis. I, with my luck, was able to experience both of them when I was 7. But it doesn’t stop there. These torments were both due to one precise moment. At that time I was living in Houston where I recall learning the difference between a keyboard and a piano and stuffing my face with pizza at every birthday party since they all took place in the kids’ definition of heaven and the parents’ definition of hell: Chuck E Cheese. However, there was a place that was a kind of family favorite. It was a little park that was near our neighborhood that, thinking back on it now, was probably like a meter tall. Nonetheless, it was close and, more importantly, it was free. My dad would take my younger sisters (five and three at the time) and me to the park every weekend to dangle like monkeys so that we would stay still at home, a tactic that was proven ineffective from what I recall. It was in this park that in one cloudy Saturday (It probably wasn’t a Saturday but just go with it) that it happened. I was happily climbing one of those circular ladders that lead up to those suspended platforms that usually have poles, slides and whatnot without a care in the world when, suddenly, my youngest sister who was passing by blocked my entrance to the little platform where I 176
could slide on the little slide but have enormous amounts of fun for some reason. I was unpleasantly surprised as I did not see this coming despite this being when I could still see without my glasses. In my state of shock I flinched backwards and fell dramatically enough to have had “Bittersweet Symphony” playing in the background. Now most of you must think that this playground had simple dirt as ground since it seems logical. Dirt isn’t necessarily expensive and it is convenient for making the ground of something. It is what was chosen for most of the earth anyways. But whoever designed this park (if there actually is a job for that) thought that dirt was too mainstream and decided to make the floor out of rocks as he was adjusting his Raybans. You might have noticed my word choice there. Rocks. Not pebbles. Rocks. Now this might not be completely to scale as we are talking about itty-bitty tiny me, but, for me, I might as well have been falling into a floor of spikes infested with moths, spiders and cooties. Now excuse me while I get a bit technical. As I accelerated downwards I built up downwards momentum. Upon coming in contact with the floor, I get the full blow of the equal and opposite reaction on my seven-year-old arm. Being pushed up by the ground and down by the rest of my body, my left arm found itself in a type of crusher that was too strong for its low resistance (I didn’t drink much milk) and was shattered near the point of the elbow. Dust brewed up around me as I found myself in pain in the bed of rocks. Take in mind that all this happened in approximately a second, and if it was recorded it could’ve been material to upload to the Internet for everyone to laugh at. However, I didn’t find it very funny as I was crying on the ground and my father ran to pick me up. Upon arriving at the hospital I was checked on by a doctor who made took an x-ray of my arm and showed it to me. I remember that he said that I was lucky that the impact hadn’t been actually on the elbow since that would require screws. I thought screws were only for tables! Alas, a simple cast would do and, since I was a kid, I was able to have a choice on which color I would want for my cast. I picked blue since that’s the color of the cool kids. Also orange wasn’t available. After getting my cast, I was able to go back to school and show off my awesome new cast. However, the fun ended there as I had to actually do the schoolwork. Now, one would think, “You’re in kindergarten. How hard could it be?” Well, you try doing arts and crafts with a brick as an arm. Boy was I lucky that it was my left arm which was broken. I was still able to write while my left arm proceeded to throw all my utensils on the floor. Then came the dilemma. If I write using only my right arm/hand, my paper would move all over the place and nothing would get done. In the other hand (pun intended), if I used my overly awkward left arm to hold my paper in place, I would end up covering the paper up completely. In either case I lost. It was a lose-lose situation. No one showed any compassion for the poor little Mexican with the broken arm. Not even Taahirah O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal’s daughter (That’s right. I took kindergarten with her. I even got a free copy of Shaq and the Beanstalk signed by the big man himself. You may now proceed to drown in envy due the fact that I got a free book and you didn’t). All my classmates had their own little quirks. There was Kidd with his obsession with Thomas the Train, Alizay who wouldn’t stop telling me about that one time she found a snapping turtle, Neik with his identical twin Rod, and Raymond Chee, the overly happy Asian kid. And then there was me with my blue weapon of an arm. At least it worked as a good object for show and tell. Luckily, after a month my arm free again. The cast was cast open allowing my smelly, 177
skinny arm out into movement. I was ready to show all my friends that I wasn’t onefourth brick wall anymore when things starting going downhill again and fast. I was joyfully feeding my starving Neopets on my father’s computer taking full advantage to my fully functional left appendage when my stomach started aching. The little sprout of full health that had just blossomed was crushed by the size 15 cleats of excruciating pain. Anything that found its way into my body was immediately regurgitated and disposed of. Even a glass of water would be too much for my frail little insides as it was kicked out as well. After the fifth time this happened my parents realized that it would probably be a good idea to take me to the hospital. Of course this would’ve been great if the entire Houston medical department hadn’t turned into a bunch of idiots for two hours. “Were does it hurt, kid?” “Here, under my belly.” “Is that so? It must be something in the brain.” What? Apparently all the pain I was feeling, all the times I had to run to the bathroom headfirst was just in my mind. Now, this would’ve been hilarious if, you know, I WASN’T DYING! At least my parents had realized that the credibility of these doctors had gone down the drain along with my dinner and decided to transport me elsewhere. The hospital, realizing that there might be the small chance that they were wrong, had the decency of allowing us the use of the ambulance for transportation and we were able to arrive to our destination quickly. Upon arriving, I was immediately taken to the emergency area. Somehow, the doctors were still unsure of what was happening to me. It seems like the extreme pain that I was feeling in my stomach was no clear indication. Anyways, I had to go through another examination. I remember that this one seemed strange to me because the first thing that they said about the procedure is that it was the same one used on pregnant women for them to see their babies. My poor seven-year-old mind was boggled by what the doctors had just said. I’m not pregnant! What the heck! In anyway, the doctors smeared that weird fluid all over my abdomen while I was perplexed by what was happening. Eventually, the doctors found the problem. “You seem to have an infection on your appendix.” When I was a kid, there were five organs: brain, skeleton, stomach, lungs and muscles. How was I supposed to know what the appendix was! “It’s a small organ that’s attached to your large intestine.” Well that helped. However, I was in too much pain to be worrying about what I had learned in science class. “We’ll have to remove it.” That very fact haunted me for many years. I am going to be incomplete for the rest of my life. Everyone’s going to be happy with their wicked appendixes while I cry over my lack of one. Little did I know that the appendix is the most useless organ of the human body with the single purpose of getting you sick. In that case, I guess that my appendix was a little less useless since it did the one job that it had. Of course, in order to remove an organ you’re going to need surgery. I was put on one of those hospital beds and was pushed just like in those dramatic hospital scenes in the movies. What happened after that is kind of hazy. That is to be expected since I was drugged out of my mind with anesthesia, so forgive me for not 178
remembering an event that would probably have traumatized me for the rest of my life. Upon my awakening, I found myself in a white room. I quickly determined that it was a hospital room since I was pretty familiar with them as my father ran into the room. The surgery had been a success. Well, obviously it was. I am writing to you right now aren’t I? Anyways, my dad showed me a picture of my appendix after the surgery. It just looked like a dirty bean. I could hardly believe that such a small and insignificant thing could have brought my precious little life to a close, and what a shame that would’ve been. Then, I noticed a patch that found itself in the lower left of my abdomen. That’s probably where the appendix was extracted. I feel incredibly tired after the surgery and decide to go to sleep. When I awake, my dad is there. Since there really isn’t much to do in a hospital room, I became bored pretty quickly. That’s the reason behind my dad’s consideration as he bring his laptop so that I could play games and have a little bit of enjoyment as my wound healed. Back when I was seven, there was only one place to go on a computer: the Disney web page, mostly the Playhouse Disney section. There was an endless supply of games which were probably all terrible but were masterpieces in the eyes of kids. I remember that my favorite was Out of the Box. You would be able to build stuff and that’s pretty much it. Call of Duty’s got nothing on this game. However, even as I make fun of it right now, that game is probably one of the things that helped me get through my hospital days. I could play for hours until I fell asleep due to exhaustion. After a couple of days, I found myself with my first challenge: take a shower by yourself. This would normally be a pretty simple task, but the fact that doctors had opened up my body not too long ago made it a little bit more difficult. Mostly, I was afraid that my patch would become loose, wash off and leave my open wound allowing it to spew my insides all over the bathroom. Alas, this would not happen as my doctors showed that they could be skillful at times. The patch remained still and that weird surgery smell was washed off my body. To you, this seems to be a fairly quick process. Well, It wasn’t. Keep in mind that my seven-year-old mind was afraid that the patch would fall of and decided to reduce the chances of this happening by showering as slowly as possible. Don’t make any sudden or abrupt movements and the patch should be fine. This policy actually stuck with me for a while as nearly all my showers in the hospital after the surgery were done with the same pace. However, this would not be the only challenge that I found myself facing during my stay at the hospital. After a week of hospital life, a nurse came in to make me take a blood test. I had a pretty good history with tests. I was a fairly smart student, so I would get pretty high grades on all my tests. In a blood test, however, I would always seem to fail. Now, you might be wondering how one can fail a blood test. Well, if you do like I did, you probably deserve an F. The nurse pulled out the needle, and things immediately went downhill. I became nervous and my hands started to twitch. The nurse would ask me to stay still as she extracted the blood from my right hand’s index finger, but I would fail to do so. My finger would twitch and make the needle stab the wrong place. Apparently, there’s a limit to how many attempts of a blood test you can make on a finger as I would repeatedly have to switch fingers. By the time that the nurse finally got the blood test, 179
I had two red dots on both index fingers, two on my right middle finger and one on my left middle finger. The nurse saw the successful attempt as a victory (which she must have considering that it was her seventh attempt) and left clearly annoyed but a little bit satisfied. As the days kept passing, the schedule didn’t really change. It was still the same room, the same people and the same actions. I would wake up in the hospital room, play on the computer, take a shower and go to sleep. It was a fairly simple lifestyle. It was also incredibly boring. I grew annoyed with my hospital life as things didn’t really change. Anything in excess becomes tiresome. Even doing nothing applies to this. At least I had my father to keep me company during these days or else I probably would’ve lost my mind. My sisters would occasionally visit as well, but they don’t really matter. All I would hear is comments about how much fun they were having without me and how Madeline had gotten appendicitis too. Well, that’s nice to know. These visits proved to be completely pointless. They would simply visit because they were probably forced to do so. This realization wasn’t the best for my morale but I didn’t really care. I had more important things to worry about in life. Among these was the fact that there was still a hole in my lower left abdomen that was a result of an occurrence that had the possibility of killing me. However, trivial things were still able to find their way into my troubled mind. Among the days that I stayed in the hospital was Easter. Easter would always be a big family thing where we would enjoy smashing confetti eggs on each other’s head and occasionally acknowledge the religious meaning behind it. Well, I can’t really do that if I’m stuck inside of a hospital room. As a result, I had to miss out on that year’s Easter celebration. My dad was kind enough to film it and show me how much fun everyone had while I was stuck in a hospital room, but that didn’t really help. If anything, it made me feel worse. I felt like that one kid that is always seeing his neighbors playing and having fun through his window while he is stuck in his room, alone. That is probably exaggerating a bit. I was probably sad for about ten minutes before I opened my dad’s laptop and enjoyed all the happiness and joy that spewed out of it. Why smash eggs when you could drive a motorcycle in the computer. Why run around when you could explore a mythical land full of strange creatures. Why play with friends when you could play with complete strangers that have a moderately high possibility of being very sketchy. This is how I tried to convince myself that the hospital life didn’t suck (it did). I had some hope that this tactic would be successful (it wasn’t). But things would soon change. After a long and tedious couple of weeks, the patch that kept me together was finally removed. However, it left behind something: a scar. I, being seven years old, was impressed by my scar. This basically made me cool. Sadly, for this scar to be shown, I would have to be very close to flashing my audience making a very impractical scar to show. Nevertheless, a scar is a scar and one that would not leave me for another five years. For the years to come, If I was not showing off my scar, I was showing off my lack of an appendix. At one point, my class had to do a life-size drawing of our bodies having to glue on the organs. I proudly gathered all my peers as I showed them the action of cutting off the appendix with scissors stating that it was what the doctors had done to me (if only it was that simple). In order to make it a bit more realistic, I would probably have put the project away for a month before finally presenting it with a tear in the middle. However, that wouldn’t have been very helpful for my grade. Then 180
again, missing out on two months of class isnâ€™t very beneficial either. Imagine my reaction when, after two months of being in the hospital, I was greeted by a fifty page packet of the work that I had to make up. Keep in mind that I was in kindergarten at the time and probably half of the packet was number lines and number trees but it was still a lot of work for my seven-year-old-self. Add to this all the questions that I received from my fellow students about my surgery. To them, I simply disappeared one day and turned out to have some kind of weird sickness that none of them had heard of before. I was basically a celebrity by daylight and a slave by moonlight. This was not the kind of comeback that I was hoping for after a long and exhausting recovery process. Ironically, the rest that I was so sick of during my stay in the hospital became what I would grow to desire when I finally recovered. And to think that I had to go through all this trouble, all this pain and all this boredom due to one short moment and one quick fall.