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But Things Just Get so Crazy, Living Life Gets Hard to do

In honor of Naman’s birthday, this is something I wrote about him while I was in Cuba earlier this summer. 

Naman in the Dominican Republic in 2011.
Naman in the Dominican Republic in 2011.

It is inconceivable to me how much harder it is to be here after Naman.  I plan for all the times I will miss him in America.  Graduation, awards ceremonies, memorials, fundraisers, whatever.  But Cuba?  I didn’t expect all of Dominican popular music to follow me here, which I suppose was naïve.

I guess I just didn’t count on it.   I didn’t count on him.

I never thought Havana could surprise me again.  Or at least, I thought it would continue to surprise me in the same sort of ways it always has.  But instead Havana had something new in store: memories of something old.  Of someone who will never grow old.

He was never even here, but now I see him all over the streets of Havana.  I think of him more than the residents of the Real World house, more than last year’s Cuba kids, more than all the Cubans I have left behind.  He’s in the music, the conversations with the people.  The boat rides and palm creations and children’s hand stands.  The silly things the students do, the choppy Spanish and the Harry Potter references.  Accio memories.

I suppose in this way, he will never grow old and will never go away.  He will keep traveling the world as I do, as we all do.  He will show up in Ghana and South Africa, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.  He will be there at every Best Buddies race, and every SEI event.  He will be there whenever I hear Prince Royce, eat a cheap taco, or sing karaoke.

No llorare, no llorare.  No, I won’t shed a tear.  Porque sé, que tu estás junto a mí. 

They Came for My City

IMG_8728Boston has always been my city, just like it has always been my mother’s city and her mother’s before that.  The only place my family has ever been from, other than Boston, was Ireland.  I was born at the Brigham and spent some precious early years on the South Shore, just outside the city limits, in a place so deeply entrenched in all things Bostonian that it has always felt more intensely Boston than many of the tony neighborhoods within the city. We got our passports stamped and moved to the North Shore.  The ultimate freedom for my friends and I was to take the orange line in and wander around the city, unaccompanied by adults or reminders of how suburban we all were.  When it came time to pick a college, I knew I didn’t want to be anywhere else.  Sometimes friends or family back home made the mistake of thinking that the proximity of my parents’ home to Boston meant they would see me often, or that the two places were alike.  Neither presumption could have been more wrong.

IMG_8915This city, which I more often call a town, has given so much to me.  While others lament the unreliability or rising price of the T, I find freedom in my ability to hop on a bus or train and discover whole worlds opening up before me.  I feel liberated by the knowledge that no matter which train or bus line I get on, I will never truly be lost.  I love the MBTA, I just don’t think it necessarily loves me back–especially the green line.  This city gives me more knowledge, art and culture than I could ever hope to consume in six lifetimes.  It has hidden parks and delicious food and close-knit neighborhoods.  It has given me beautiful libraries and fantastic librarians who instilled in me a love of books that will never fail me.  The city has a rhythm and a personality that I find comforting, and a skyline that welcomes me home every time I run away.  It protects me from harm, and never ceases to show me a sign of beauty or humanity when I need it.  I am a product of my town, with that chip on my shoulder and fire in my heart.  I am proud and loyal and brutally honest, I am vulgar and stoic yet heartfelt and kind.  I am what Boston has made me, and I love the people that Boston gave me.

IMG_8872This is part of why it has been so hard to feel so helpless.  I’m upset that I wasn’t there to be productive, to help.  If I hadn’t known it would have been an inconvenience to those responding to the bombings, I would have gone down to Copley right away.  I feel strangely isolated out in Brookline.  My family feels disproportionately far away, large groups have been discouraged, and there has been an overall inclination to hunker down.  I went to Northeastern’s vigil, which was really rather disappointing, and somehow missed the news of the vigil down on the common, which looked nice.

I don’t really wanna talk about the shitty news coverage.  If you pay attention, you should have already known that the New York Post is a rag and that CNN has lost all credibility in the last year or so.  You should know that lots of US media coverage is racist, and you should know the difference between an eyewitness report, a rumour, an official report and well-sourced journalism.  If you can’t tell the difference, you should definitely not repeat the things you hear, and you should maybe devote a little time to media literacy.  But beyond that, we get what we put in to our news.

IMG_3610I had good coverage because I knew where to look: twitter feeds for the Globe, Boston.com and a few individual journos I trust, and local news on 7 and 5 (WHDH and WCVB) when television finally started covering it 15-20 minutes after I first heard about the bombings.  When something like this happens, we need our familiar faces anyway.  I wanted Ed Harding, not some stranger.  I kept waiting for Menino.  I mean the president is the president, and I like him, but he’s not a Boston guy.  Menino knows us.  He gets us.  He’s met a staggering number of us in person, and he has devoted himself to us and this city.  No one else can help us like he can right now.  It seems like as his health has been failing him we’ve needed him more than ever.

IMG_3619As soon as my roommate heard, I hopped on twitter and facebook.  Only one person had mentioned it on fb, my cousin who works right at the finish line but was safe.  There was some chatter on twitter, and I latched onto that.  I called my mother, who had not yet heard the news, to tell her I was fine.  I texted my brother and his girlfriend, who were both at work.  I put up a quick summary of the facts (as verified as I could get them), and a notice that I was ok.  I then entered a bit of tunnel vision for the next 5 or 6 hours of locating friends and family, consuming as much information as possible, discerning what was credible, and posting as much helpful information as I could.  I couldn’t run down to Copley like I wanted, so the only helpful thing I could think of was to make it easy for people with smartphones as their only news source to find what they needed.  And I tried to fact-check what other people were posting, and like every helpful link I saw so it would be propelled to the top.  Because what else can you do?

IMG_3568It’s entirely possible that I shouldn’t have (or continue to) consume the hundreds of articles and reports and thousands of tweets and statuses I’ve seen so far.  But I can’t help it.  I am who I am, and that is a person who obsessively consumes information.  And when there’s a crisis, I try to be helpful.  And when something upsets me, I feel an obsessive need to read every detail repeatedly.

Scarier than the knowledge of the bombs was that feeling when we realized there could be more throughout the city.  The feeling that someone was coming for us and there was nothing we could do but hide in our homes. But mostly, it has been numb.

IMG_3587It is the strangest things that can finally get me to cry.  Seeing the national guard and cops in the t stations caught me off guard, even though I knew it was coming.  Knowing that it was the safest smartest thing to do, the feeling that their presence is necessary, that is the scariest and saddest of all.  I feel like a bit of a cliche, but I lost it watching Yankee fans singing Sweet Caroline.  They even remembered all the crowd participation moments–I wasn’t sure if regular people did that or just us.  There’s just something about the idea of people in Yankees gear doing a Sox thing that just says oh: it must be that bad.  We must be so bad off, they must feel so sad for us to be willing to do this in Yankee Stadium.  Especially considering we chant “Yankees Suck!” at all moments of celebration, including ones totally unrelated to baseball.  I cried when I saw the barricade at Boylston and Mass Ave.  I carried my camera around all day today and couldn’t bring myself to take a picture.  I took my glasses off at the gym so I wouldn’t be able to see the tv.  Sometimes it’s too much of the same information, over and over again.

IMG_8818I don’t understand why more people aren’t upset.  I don’t understand how people could instagram their margaritas last night or post inside jokes.  I don’t get why not everyone is hugging every time they see people, why we’re not all talking about it.  I don’t understand why the rest of the country doesn’t seem to care as much as they did for 9/11, for Newtown, for Sandy.  Is it because it is fewer lives?  Or because they weren’t all children?  Or is it because the rest of the country strangely doesn’t consider Boston to be a major city?  I just don’t understand how people are doing anything other than healing.

I know that a lot of this isn’t sensible or measured or fair.  I’m sure the transplants and college kids are offended at the idea that their attachment to this city is any less than mine, and I know that it’s considered petty to differentiate amongst grief.  I also know that the insider/outsider dynamic is pretty quintessentially Boston, and that it has become harder and harder to find locals in the schools and neighborhoods that are competitive and safe.  It’s actually pretty easy to spend years here and almost never interact with an actual Bostonian.  And yes, it has occurred to me that many of the people who appear to be just fine probably aren’t doing as well inside.  I realize that I probably seem fine to strangers and friends, and I know it’s a strange trick of trauma to delay the grief in some but not in others.

IMG_8864But I really don’t care.

This is my home and somebody attacked it.  If that doesn’t bother you enough to interrupt your daily life, then let’s not talk for a little while.  If you wanna talk to me about Syria and Iraq, I’m sort of curious where you’ve been for the rest of my life because I basically always want to talk about that.  But not right now.  Right now I’m too tired to even think about a response explaining why no, some of us just do NOT have the energy in this moment to be upset about both.  There is only so much emotional bandwidth in a person, and if you have enough to deal with that right now go for it, but I just don’t.  This is my home, and it has always been my home.  No matter how much I travel, it will always be my home–I don’t care to live anywhere else in the United States.  It is not a temporary place or a place for the Best Years of My Life.  It’s a place for all the years of my life.  It didn’t take me a few minutes to find everybody, it took me like an hour to even get my brain on track to think of everybody, because almost everyone I have ever known or loved lives here.  This is not just my city for now, it is my city for always.  It is my home and my family’s home.  It is birthdays and Christmases, first kisses and the prom.  It is crappy summer jobs and life-changing concerts, elections and award ceremonies.  It is funerals and births, terrifying illnesses and big nights out celebrating.  It is sleeping on the ground for post-season red sox ticket, watching local bands rise to national fame, getting soaked in beer at a bruins game, and running into Gary Tanguay after watching the C’s kill it.  It is local beer and Colonial reenactments, holidays other people don’t understand and listening to tourists and college kids make fun of the accent I don’t really have.   It is the entirety of my real life and the real lives of the people I love, and someone wanted to take all that away.  And I am just too tired for all of that.

If this seems far too dark for you, my schmaltzy thoughts can be found here.

The Cat that Ate the Canary

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Over our fall break, my friend Kathy selflessly took on my duty shifts so I could go away for a few days.  I spent a glorious time sneaking off to Cairo and getting reacquainted with one of my favorite cities in the world.  Of course, when I say I “snuck off” I mean all my coworkers and students knew where I was and friends at home and in Cairo knew of my whereabouts. What I was really sneaking away from was the stress of NUin and the worries of everyone related to me, all of whom were in the dark until I was safely in a cafe in Cairo.

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As soon as I was in the cab I felt a relaxed sense of calm, even though the ride was long and jerky.  I knew he was scamming me and complementing my feeble Arabic for a tip, but it still felt nice to flex those muscles.  I had spoken in Arabic on the plane but the Greek flights attendants looked at me like I was crazy until I addressed them in their own language or mine.  The entire trip was marked by an unloosening of the spine, and unclenching of the fingers and toes, a relaxation of my mind.  I didn’t look over my shoulder for students or staff, I didn’t have to think before every word I spoke and every feeling I experienced.  I didn’t pause before hugging or dancing or kissing.  I slept when I wanted to, drank when I wanted to, and dressed how I wanted to.

I loved seeing the overwhelming pride in all things Egypt.  Trees that had once been naked or painted white were painted for the flag.  Most public surfaces were covered in graffiti calling for freedom, celebrating the people, and calling for religious tolerance with the symbol of the cross and crescent.

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Something that was missing this time was the firearms.  In 2009, men in white uniforms (or black, depending on their purpose) were on every single street corner in Zamalek, in 2s or 3s.  There’s a slow, eroding unnerving that happens to a person when they see so many men with guns as part of their everyday landscape.  It was nice to see Cairo unmarred by so many guns.  But make no mistake, word on the street is that for the first time, regular Cairenes are starting to carry guns to protect themselves.  And the lack of law enforcement on the street corners doesn’t mean that there are no soldiers or that they aren’t dangerous—we saw them marching in formation toward the US Embassy, and their handiwork is all over Tahrir in the form of injured, abused and sexually assaulted citizens. 095The whole trip was beautiful and made me feel simultaneously light and so much more like myself.  Something about Sarah and Cairo makes me feel like my course has been righted, like I’m not wasting my time, like I’m home.  When it comes down to it, Sarah is one of the people who is home for me, and everyone in her life opened themselves up to make me feel home with them, too.  I can’t express how thankful I am that I was able to have conversations about politics and play with kittens and drink wine and eat reese’s pieces and088 snuggle in a giant bed with four other people.  Cairo was like one long exhalation, like one big hug you’ve been waiting so long to have.
Until next time, Cairo,
Ma’salaama

Protest

I knew that if there were any demonstrations while I was in Egypt, I was going.  Absolutely, 100%.  So when

Ever wonder how everyone has face paint on for the news?

Sarah got the call to cover a march to the Maspero Building, where 27 people were killed and about 300 were injured just a week and a half ago, I was excited.  We started at Tahrir Square, somewhere I went a lot back in 2009, and a place that became the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution.  I photographed some demonstrators and signs, and Sarah conducted a few brief interviews. She annotated the entire thing for me. translating a speech here, or pointing out the photo of a martyred blogger there.

We came upon a Salafist demonstration.  I was surprised by how many families I saw, and the carnival-esque atmosphere.  People were selling food and painting faces.  I was embarrassed to admit it, and maybe it was just all the years of training from Western media, but when I saw so many people jumping up and down chanting “Allah u Akhbar” it made me nervous.  And the more Sarah told me about the Salafists, the more comfortable I became with that reaction.

At Sarah’s direction, we (Sarah, myself and her brand new intern Hayden) walked toward the Maspero building.  What was happening at Tahrir was interesting for me to see, but was not newsworthy.  Sheff says there are protests and demonstrations every friday, and that they’re overusing Tahrir.  It took a lot of waiting for Maspero to heat up, but it did.  Music, chanting, and watchful law enforcement.  In Sarah’s attempts to get interviews, we suddenly found ourselves between the Egyptian version of swat (2-3 large vans) and the protestors.  It’s weird the way a crowd takes on a life of it’s own, and moves in fits and starts.  I was glad our position made Sarah nervous, because it made me nervous too.  She was very protective the entire day, holding my hand in crowds and shepherding me around.  I kept getting lost in my lens and not noticing the crowd movements around me.

Joey and Manarcalled and we decided to meet up for dinner, somewhere downtown.  Joey reported through

At the Maspero Building

the Lebanese civil war in 2006, and had war reporter training in DC.  He started Bikya Masr, which makes him Sarah’s boss.  Manar is an Egyptian and also writes for Bikya.  She reminds both Sarah and I of our beloved Alex Chapman, with their calming demeanor and purposeful nature.  We waited in Tahrir for them, and I snapped a few more pictures.  Suddenly Sarah yelled, “do you have your camera?” and we were all running, but only a short distance.  I didn’t even know what I was getting; I just kept clicking the shutter.  An ambulance went past, and apparently the coffin of Essam Atta, but I didn’t see it.  By the time we met up with Joey and Manar, Joey had texted again because he heard someone was shot.  Sarah and Hayden asked around but everyone just kept explaining how Atta died (he was tortured to death by the Egyptian military using water hoses.)

Back at Tahrir, Essam Atta’s coffin passes by for the first time.

After that everything went quickly, but with big lulls in between.  At some point I came to know that someone had been killed, but not right in Tahrir.  He had argued with a cop, and the cop had just shot him. He was 19.  The coffin came back around and with it came crowds and chanting.  We were at high ground, on the edge of the grass in the middle of the square (which is really a circle), but we were still surrounded on all sides by over a thousand people.  After going around the square with the coffin again, the crowd headed off, but no one understood their aim.  We eventually set off on foot, and realized they were going toward the American Embassy.  Just the night before I had been to the Halloween party there, drinking Western alcohol and watching adults make fools of themselves.  As we followed behind, Joey kept checking to make sure we had escape routes, and were at a safe distance.

We were crossing another, smaller square when we heard gunfire.

I think it was just one shot, but I read after that there were multiple.  My heart went double-time and I moved away while looking in the direction of the noise, without thinking.  All five of us were, although Joey and Manar seemed entirely in control of the situation.  The weirdest thing is that we were the only ones doing this.  When we realized we were far from the gunfire, it had ceased, and no one was moving toward us, we stopped to watch Egyptians run toward the sound of a gun at top speed.  I think it takes a lot for a person to run toward the sound of a gun at top speed.  I have a feeling they know by now that if they don’t go investigate something for themselves, they will likely be lied to about what happened.

It turns out the Egyptian military shot into the air, probably blanks.  We got closer, and watched protestors try

Atta’s coffin

to climb over the barricades to get onto the street where the US Embassy resides.  Did I mention we oddly ran into several members of the Egyptian army the evening before, marching in formation down the (closed-off, barricaded) street of the US Embassy?  Strange days.

I was thoroughly nervous and uncomfortable at this point, which is when Sarah started telling me Joey’s credentials and asking if I was alright.  Manar spoke a lot with an older woman, and filled us in on what was going on.  Apparently, this portion of the demonstration was in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, which is in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street.  For those who don’t know, the police in Oakland took violent action against protesters a few days before this, arresting some and using batons and tear gas to break up the peaceful camp.  Joey seemed to also be a bottomless pit of knowledge.  He shared such gems as, “don’t rub your eyes if there’s teargas; use coke,” and, “it was just like this with Maspero, but then out of nowhere the army killed a couple dozen people.”  Smart guy, but not the best for quieting nerves.

Onlookers from an office building as we followed the crowd toward the US Embassy

Eventually it became clear that nothing more would happen that night.  We went to an internet cafe so the reporters could upload and post.  I felt all jangled, and jumped about a mile when the men behind me cheered the soccer game on tv.  I couldn’t believe that just a few streets over, children were laughing and playing with toys.  Someone had been shot, a 19 year old was killed, and Cairo didn’t even blink an eye.

Manar went back to listen to Atta’s mother speak, but we couldn’t find her.  We went to find where the man (boy, really) had been shot, but we deemed it a long walk for no pay out.  Just before we turned around, though, we saw young men running as fast as they could back toward the square, dragging the metal barricades with them.  They opened up the square to cars, making the hundreds of people gathered there vulnerable.  We were all a bit stunned by that move, and kept looking back over our shoulders, waiting for screams or scattering.

In the end, we went home, feet aching.  I was keyed up, but for Sarah, Joey and Manar it was another day at the office.  For Hayden, it was the first of what will be many days at a rather unusual office.  The three journalists went to work spreading truth, and I drank tea and checked facebook.  Later, we put on Halloween costumes and drank beer and partied by the pyramids like nothing ever happened.  I updated my status, like that was the most important thing I could do with what I saw–turn it into and experience on a list, a fun fact, bragging rights.

It was strange being with journalists.  They were much more calm and controlled than I was.  They didn’t raise their voices or pick up signs, and they didn’t allow anyone to paint flags on them.  I was with Sarah, so out of respect for her I followed suit.  To some extent, I had this weird thought that my camera would protect me, that being a journalist would protect me.  I know that’s not true, but it felt like a pretty good get out of jail free card, the way my little blue book used to make me feel.  I also know that I’m not a journalist, not even close.  I put myself at the center of every story.  I apply motivation when I don’t necessarily know it to be true.  I am not in any truly dangerous situations.  I don’t write on any kind of deadline, and these days I don’t write at all.  I don’t even particularly write about anything that matters.  Watching Sarah work made me feel small and incompetent. She compartmentalizes her thoughts and opinions, she is thorough and efficient.  Her Arabic has improved greatly, and the articles she writes get the facts out to a population of Americans who would otherwise not read the truth.

Through it all, I saw so many little acts of civic duty.  People directed traffic, or helped us and others to cross the street.  They protected each other, like the man who stood in front of an open man-hole so no one would fall in.  That’s what he did, he just stood there while we all rushed past, nervous and following the growing, quickening crowd.  Any one of us could have easily fallen in and snapped an ankle at the very least.  People helped each other up onto structures and walls for better vantage points, and so many Egyptians beckoned for me to take their photos.

I’m glad I went to Tahrir.  I’m glad it all became real to me, instead of a liberal pet project, one that is so easy to support from a safe room thousands of miles away.  Feeling the terror of just the noise of one single gunshot, and then feeling the insignificance of that compared to those who have witnessed murder in the street, those who have heard hundreds of gunshots with live ammunition, those who were at the Maspero building and those who suffer in the prisons.  It’s so easy to say that there are things worth dying for, that we should stand up for democracy and freedom no matter what.  But to see a minuscule fraction of what “no matter what,” can really mean magnified for me the true courage of Egyptians and freedom fighters all over the world.

The Climb

Jennifer and Octomom goofing around pre-climb

Before we ever put on hiking boots, we had heard the worst.  “If your students have asthma, or weight problems, or smoke, or aren’t fit, or complain, or have ever had injuries, they should just stay home.”  Uh, what?  “If you even have a cold, stay home.”  In the pre-trip meeting, students were asked to raise their hands in front of the group if they have any health problems, something that would never be asked of them in America.  Even after all this scaring, we were then told that children make the climb in flip-flops.

My day started out pretty rough and rushed, since there was an incident the night before and I found out just before leaving that I needed to write it up and turn in an incident report.  That meant no time to buy tall socks, which meant I didn’t wear my hiking boots.  Despite that, my flat feet did alright, and didn’t ache until Day 2.  I didn’t even have sore joints on the hike down.  I didn’t eat breakfast that morning, either, and we couldn’t eat lunch until we arrived at the lodge, some time around 5pm.

Group shot at our starting point.

The “fast time” for Day 1 (the Easy, Everbody-Can-Do-This Day) was 4 hours.  We didn’t even climb the first third of Day 1 before I was wheezing and couldn’t catch my breath.  I felt like my throat was closing, but mostly I felt like an idiot.  I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make it to the first lodge, that I would slow the entire group down, and that I would have to somehow get home even though the bus was gone. Of course that only made me panic more.  Roxanne was awesome and kept offering to stay back with me, but I didn’t want to hold her back.  I could tell she was loving the rustic setting and the chance to expend some energy, and I had to pretty much beg her to go forward.  My fellow “slow” companion, however, had no such offers, and little to no concern from her groupmates.  Just some comments about how can she not be in shape when she’s so skinny (meaningful glance at me, disgusted look at her).

Despite that weirdness, we slowed to a livable pace with two guides who treated us great.  We listened to some Nordic death metal, took in the breathtaking scenery, and climbed steadily.  The last 20 minutes made me feel like I would die, but in spite of it all we made it to the lodge in 4 hours.  Hmm, wasn’t that the “fast” time?  Why yes, yes it was.  The main group had made it up in 3:20, with many a radio call back to us to see if we couldn’t hurry it up a bit.  I’m still unsure as to why time was so important that day, since daylight lasted for several more hours after we reached the lodge, and especially since we still made it in the previously-allotted time.

Once we got there, I was more than happy to snuggle into all my dry layers and eat some food by the fire.  We made forts out of the beds, wrapped ourselves in blankets, and got up to all the usual camping shenanigans.  Hot cocoa, hot lists and talking about our lives before NUin.  There were some ACT high schoolers who showed up, and I was so glad our kids didn’t behave like them.  Dancing on tables, breaking glasses, getting drunk, and taking pictures with strangers when they weren’t paying attention.  We, on the other hand, listened to someone play guitar, enjoyed the view, and took nose-dives off of bunk beds.  There’s something relaxing (and freezing) about high altitudes, long days and early bedtimes.

Lodge Map of our trails

On the second day, despite my previous misgivings, I got ready to go.  I was then told that I would lead the group, so that everyone else could go, “as slow as [me].”  Great.  Another, more forgiving staff member said, “it was a nice sentiment, but it felt a little awkward in action.”  But it wasn’t even nice in theory.  The idea was that myself and another girl were the weak links, and if we insisted on joining them, we would be at the front and the course of the day would be our fault.  After ten minutes of climbing an unclear path (I was ahead of even the guides, and one seemed so annoyed at my confusion over the barely-marked trail), I had had enough.  I felt like an idiot for stopping, but I knew I couldn’t take it.  The sad part was, it wasn’t the climb that was getting to me.  It was the clicking noises, like one makes at a horse, that a guide made to encourage me to go faster.  It was when they tapped my heels with hiking poles if I paused to catch my breath.  It was the groans and eye-rolling from the impossibly skinny girl (a stranger) who kept calling me Sweety.  The idea of spending so many hours that day feeling like a fat, slow weight around their neck was more than I could take.  While the other “slow” girl and I conferred, the group started cheering and clapping for us, a misguided attempt to encourage us.  Instead it felt condescending and put me even more in the spotlight than I wanted.

Sunrise

On the one hand, I’m the kind of person who hates to admit defeat, who hates to be anything less than hardcore.  But I also don’t think it was a failure.  I climbed Mt Olympus, or at least part of it.  I really dislike the attitude that if you’re going to be slow, you should just stay home.  Or that if you can’t do the entire hike, you shouldn’t bother to even do half.  That idea that failing, or not being outstanding, is worse than not trying at all is terrible. The discouragement of all people who are not thin from exercise, and the oft-expressed need to lose 5 kilos, even the disparaging, “well by your American standards I’m thin,” all sent my body-privilege sensors into overload, in a way I haven’t encountered face to face in a while.  I’m just glad that none of my students were treated the way I was.

I know some of my fellow climbers felt bad for me, but in the end I got what I wanted.  I spent one day hiking, and another in a warm lodge playing backgammon and reading a good book.  I listened to music, got closer with some students, and had a break from the city.  When it came time for work on Monday, I was able to walk up and down the stairs without a problem, and my cold, though worse than before, was not as bad as it would have been if I had stayed outside the second day.  I got some beautiful pictures and saw a great sunrise.  I completed a grueling climb, even if some people see it as incomplete, and I’d like to think I helped make the weekend bearable for my fellow climber.

Evening in Havana

Aliesha's camera 246After a long day at the beach, watching backflips and swimming to sandbars and eating little cajitas of fried chicken and potato chips for a CUC, we would climb the fourteen floors up to the penthouse.  A shower and a Cuba Light*, dancing along to Otis Redding, the Hold Steady, Lady Gaga or perhaps all three.  We didn’t even fight over who got the shower first, because nobody wanted hot water on those days anyway.

batista weekend 158There’s something wild and liberating about drinking in the shower.  It’s just enough outside the norm, just strange enough.  Like life really could just be fun forever.  And on a sunny day, after a lot of laughs and swimming, it’s the perfect way to wash off the salt and sand.  It’s days like this that made me love the cool showers.  And the precarious genius of Tomatina parking her laptop in the bathroom.

A cajita of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten.
A cajita of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

After a shower its time for the balcony, for reading and writing as the sun slips below the malecon.  There’s a
balcony right off my room, and I usually got it and it’s perfect breeze all to myself.  The advantage of having your own spot is that everyone knows where to find you, and the company was always good when it came.  Somehow writing feels special if it’s from a balcony in Havana.  From there I watched the floods, the fights, the niños skating, the guys rolling up to see which chicas would come out that night.

week 7 and 8 190On these perfect days, these three-day-weekends-every-week days, these relaxing in Havana days, these full and content days, the food was somehow always good.  Rice and beans, meat that didn’t look creepy, or the occasional pizza or even sometimes POLLO NIGHT!  Fresh fruit juice, rolls AND butter-like substitute, and yuca french fries. If there were shortages on those days, I didn’t notice.

batista weekend 122
These are the days that keep me up dreaming of Cuba, that have me re-creating our playlists, and wishing Havana Club wasn’t illegal to import.

*our very own creation, a Cuba Light is rum (usually some clear anejo havana club aka the cheapest good thing) and water and crystal light mix in a dasani water bottle.  for a variation on a hot day, throw it in the freezer and it’s a Cuba Ice.