lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Intercom Arguments

I always found those families strange, the ones where the kids would get along really well, or even be friends.  Growing up, like most of the other families in the valley, we were always fighting.  We would play together, sure, but there was always fighting: hitting, kicking, yelling... the only rule that was always respected no matter what we were doing was no head shots.  We made up our own ways to deal with and judge fights, like if a hit was thought to be unfair, or a headshot was made, the victim would get one free shot at the offender.  This helped to keep the peace, but it isn't always that simple.

One time my brother had been fighting, I don't remember what about, but it was a serious fight, both of us still being in primary school.  Normally most of the fighting happened when we were alone together for long periods of time, ie. when the folks were occupied down the farm.  But this time Mum was home.  She sent us both to our rooms, not listening - not interested - as we both independently screeched at her about our innocence, blaming the other for the fight.  It's actually the only time I remember both being sent to their room, not that it was a regular punishment.

In my room, I threw myself angrily down on my bed and from underneath it pulled out the old intercom that my parents had given me.  I turned it on and pressed down the button, "It's your fault." My accusation was met with the crackling of static for a moment, before I heard the reply, "It is not! It's your fault!"  My brother had been given the partner-intercom.
"It is not! It's yours!"
And so, the argument contined, until we had both calmed down and were granted release.

miércoles, 19 de septiembre de 2012

Doors To Trinidad

Recently I was travelling through Cuba and had heard many recommendations for the small city of Trinidad.  Trinidad is a historic city that has recently been given a new life after becoming a UNESCO site.  It has the old, huge doors and buildings with high roofs like the rest of Cuba, although here they are all brightly, cheerily coloured.

Despite the prettiness of the city, it did not meet my tastes as the jinteros there are tireless, constantly offering some service.  This is because of the levels of tourism it receives.  When I arrived I was followed for several hundred metres by a woman offering me accomodation, who completely ignored me when I was telling her that I would like to look around by myself and that I wasn't interested.  After doing a lap of the town I accidently ran into her again, and she again began to tell me about how cheap her place was and how good a value it was.  Only after I told her flatly and emphatically, stopping in the street, that I wasn't interested did she leave me alone.  The jintero nature really contradicted the quietness that the small city's old buildings seemed to exude.

I loved the tall doors and how you could open segments of them, rarely the whole door.  I particularly like this picture not just because of the doors, but for the woman, barefoot and dressed with the typical head scarf, writing in the doorway.  It hints at how, sometimes in Cuba, it feels like maybe you have gone back a few decades, with horses and carts, 1950s cars and the trusting and casual attitude that the people foster. As one old man told me - Aquí, nadie se mete con nadie.

martes, 18 de septiembre de 2012

Sneaky Squirrel

This was taken on a recent trip to the zoo.  One of the reasons that I like this photo is for the irony: we had gone to the zoo to see some (exotic) animals.  But this turned out to be one of the best photos of the day: a wild squirrel with free-rein on the zoo, perched in a tree nibbling on his acorn.

viernes, 14 de septiembre de 2012

High Flyers

We had just taken a hot air balloon ride over a small town whose main industry was tequila production.  On the flight there had been my boyfriend and I, the pilot and another couple.  Half way through the flight I looked over to much see the girl gushing hysterically.  I turn to my boyfriend, "Oh god, I think he just proposed."  Though at first he didn't believe me, we soon saw a ring - a ridiculously large ring that I didn't understand how she was supposed to wear.  This ring turned out to be a fake, simply for posing for photos.  Then there was the phone call from the balloon to the shocked family - "He gave me a ring!... An engagement ring, Dad..."

On the other side of the basket, we continued to enjoy the flight, with the occasional snicker towards the couple - why wouldn't he have booked a private flight?  What if she had have said 'no'?  That would have been an awkward trip for everyone.  We landed in a field, a little off course and the workers took the balloon back over to the proper landing site, one hanging from the low-flying basket as it went.  We followed the balloon and watched as it was deflated, while being watched by some local kids in the field.

The very large van that had taken us to the take-off point drew up to us, with a few people walking alongside it.  Suddenly people began to pour out of the van, there would have been 20-30 of them.  They were the family, her family, who had come all the way from Baja California to this town near Tequila.  Then there were speeches, tequila (which didn't go down so well before 8am), photos with the oversized fake ring... while we stood kind of awkwardly on the side and commented on the groom-to-be's over-confidence and cheapness.

jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2012

Barbie Bounced

One summer evening after school I had gone out into the backyard to play, still dressed in my navy blue and white checked school-dress. I headed directly for a tree, feeling the grass tickle my bare feet as I tread, and my new Barbie that I had gotten a couple of weeks ago for my sixth birthday clutched around the waist.  I had never been that into Barbie’s, but this one was new, and was pretty spiff in that her hair could be dyed lurid pink.  The tree I headed towards was the most difficult to climb of all the trees we had, in fact I had only recently discovered how to climb it, as its lowest branch was well, well above my head.  

Having reached the tree, I looked up, blue-grey eyes contemplating the helicopter-style seed pods hung down in amongst the still-green foliage; they hadn’t yet begun to fall.  With my fair hair still pulled back from the day at school, I put Barbie’s waist into my mouth to carry her up with me.  This was serious business, and if she was to come with me, this was the only way.  I moved as close as I could to the base of the tree, and reached up, on tippy toes, until I could securely grasp the branch that hovered above my head.  I held on and bent my back, starting to walk up the straight tree trunk.  The roughness of the trunk pressed into my feet, but I kept walking until I was more or less upside down and could swing my legs up over a branch.  The hard part over, I dragged myself properly into the tree, scraping my legs as I went.  Then came the relief: we had made it, and it hadn’t been any harder at all to take Barbie with me.  I moved around into the canopy until I found a comfortable seat and started to play with my new favourite toy.  

I had been perched in the tree for a while, as the sun continued to sink, turning the countryside a warm yellow, when I heard my mum call out that it was time for dinner.  Obediently I shuffled around to the side I had ascended, pulling Barbie along behind me.  I reached the branch that I had clung to on my way up and looked down.  I threw Barbie down into the grass; she would just get in the way this time.  Squatting over the branch, I tried to recall the trick to getting down.  I had only climbed the tree once before and it was a long way down.  Just then Mum called through the window again that it was tea time.  There was no time to think about it, I had to go in to dinner.  I jumped from the tree recklessly.  My feet hit the grass with a numbing pain, but I rapidly overbalanced, falling forward, my arm out to break my fall.  Instead, it turned out that I had broken my arm.  Lying face down in the grass, crying, with Barbie strewn a couple of feet from me I remembered the trick: you were meant to hold on, let yourself fall, then let go of the branch.  In the background Mum’s calls continued to for me to come to tea.  

A couple of minutes later she came out to look for me.  She stood several metres from me, as I lay there in the grass, crying my eyes out, as she repeated, once again, that it was time for tea.  I realise that she thought that I was faking and just sobbed louder as though to prove my point whilst moaning “My arm”.  She started to make her way closer, with many a “Come on”.  Once she had picked me up and looked at the arm in question it was a different story.  This was far from my first broken arm, and Mum was starting to consider herself something of an expert.  They sat me down on Dad’s knee while Mum poked and squeezed at it, to see if it made me cry any louder.  Following the examination and the conclusion that it was broken, I was made to eat dinner before being taken to the hospital, an hour away. 

 It was a long night, because, being a country hospital, they wouldn’t operate the x-ray machine (I think the operator wasn’t working) unless someone with a more serious injury came in (in which case they would call him in).  So that was how Mum and I ended up sitting in the waiting room for about four hours one school night.  All that I remember of that time was: Mum praying for someone to come in with a broken leg or something, eating Smith’s salt and vinagre, crinkle cut chips from the vending machine and getting a Tazo with a hologram of the little blue alien from Space Jam shaking his head, and nodding off while trying to stay awake in the waiting room by watching the tv lodged in the corner.  Eventually we were lucky (as someone else was unlucky), and a broken leg came in.  We didn’t end up getting home until about one in the morning.  I wasn’t even allowed the whole next day off school, only the morning to sleep in.

And that was the incident that my Mum continues to summarise as: Barbie bounced, Clare didn’t.

lunes, 10 de septiembre de 2012

Mariposas Dormidas

The previous day had seen us catching four buses to the small town of Angangueo, Michoacán, Mexico.  There had been debates along the way between my boyfriend and I as to whether we should continue.  Everytime we had to change buses we would ask for directions and get contradictory and impractical answers.  The buses decreased in size as we went along, becoming more and more for local use.  We reached one small, unwelcoming town and sat on the gutter for about half an hour debating our options.  It was mid-to-late afternoon, there was a chance that we would become stranded in one of these small towns and not be able to make it that night to the destintaion. We weren't sure about accomdation availability, and we were starting to get pretty low on money, not having discussed the finances before the trip.  He was starting to get pretty pesimistic - it didn't make much sense why such a famous attraction would be so difficult to reach without a tour.  While I couldn't deny this, I also still wanted to go.  We moved to sit on some steps, and watched a small store that was selling roast chicken, while my boyfriend complained about hunger.  Eventually we decided to continue, it was starting to get late and the chances of getting stuck somewhere were increasing.

Needless to say, we made it, despite my strong stomach pains, after catching a small, old, US-style school bus up to the Santuario El Rosario. We were greeted sleepily after walking the 50 minutes at 3000 metres to the site of the annual Monarch Butterfly migration.  The vast majority of the butterflies were inactive due to the cold weather.  I like how the sleeping ones look like barnacles on the trees, giving it a surreal touch, while the one butterfly who is awake adds a sense of optimism.

domingo, 9 de septiembre de 2012

Huts At Dusk

On a four-day trip into the Peruvian Amazon, I took this picture.  We (the guide, a Colombian guy and myself) were heading back to camp for dinner at dusk in the long, rustic wooden boat.  It was just starting to rain as we were coming up to these huts.  I found the lighting and the reflection striking, but the darkness does hide perhaps the most quirky aspect of the huts visible in the daylight: they had satellite dishes on their roofs.  Technology: it seems you can't escape it.

sábado, 8 de septiembre de 2012

The Girl Without A Heart

One summer day in my first years of primary school, I found myself in the bathroom.  I was washing my hands in the sink, looking at the girl in the mirror.  She was wearing a navy blue and white checked school dress, with her blonde hair falling out of her pony tail around her freckled face.  I felt something caught in my throat.  Grabbing some of the rough, yellow paper towel from the dispensor, I started to try to cough it up.  It didn't take long before I got it and spat it out into the paper towel I was holding.  There it was, a dark, blood-coloured ball sitting in the hollow of the palm of my hand.  I don't know what I had been expecting, but that was definitely not it.  What was it?  What could be that big?  And that colour?  There was only one thing that came to mind: my heart.  I had just coughed up my heart.  But why wasn't I dead?  You can't live without a heart.  Maybe it would just take a while?  That wasn't that important, what was important was that my death was imminent.  I would most likely die that very day.

I was gripped by a nervous fear: I couldn't tell anyone firstly for fear that they would scold me for having been so very foolish as to cough up my own heart, and secondly, in the case that I hadn't actually coughed up my heart, that it was something else, that they would mock me.  The rest of the day and part of the next I spent in quiet anxiety, awaiting the end when death would take me and everyone would realise that I was heartless.  But as the second day stretched into the afternoon it began to cross my mind in waves that maybe I wasn't doomed afterall.  Repeatedly I banished the thought, not wanting to jinx myself, but gradually as the day passed I was immersed in a sense of peace and relief.  I had spent a day heartless and was still alive, this probably wasn't my end, I was probably safe for now, probably...

viernes, 7 de septiembre de 2012

Afternoon Rewards

I remember one afternoon, riding in the back of the family’s old, red station wagon.  Turned to face the window, I watched the landscape as we passed by.  We were driving through town. It was summer and we had been brought along to ‘help’ Mum with her errands in town.  I always thought though that it was more that they just wanted to get us off the farm for a while, especially while Dad would be working down there by himself, he wouldn’t be able to watch us as well.  Always I had hated these trips.  Unless there was the promise of going to the movies or something of the sort, it was a long, boring day in which we spent a lot of the time in the car in over thirty-five degree weather, driving between errands.  It left my blonde strands sticking to my skin and a constant paranoia at the threat of my fair skin being burnt.

I was watching the buildings pass, unenthusiastically.  Then I saw one building that caught my attention.  It was just a small, dusty, box-like store that looked like it wasn’t earning enough, like the other stores to its side.  This one had ‘Trophies’, written in big, triumphant letters across the front window, behind which gold, plastic figures towered.  At first I think I may have laughed, amused and confused at the concept.  But then I understood what it meant: you could buy trophies.  You didn’t have to earn it.  You didn’t have to compete in any event.  You didn’t have to be the best. You could simply buy yourself a trophy.  For a moment I thought that this was a tempting idea.  I didn’t have to compete; I didn’t have to be the best.  But then I realised that if I could buy it, anyone could buy it.  Anyone could have a trophy; and if anyone had a trophy, no one may as well have one because they would not be worth anything.  What was the value in a recognition that you could buy for no cause?

Life Decisions

From a young age we are groomed, trained, to fit into the societies in which we are born. Societies into which we are arbitrarily born, and so, may not be the ones which we are best suited to, or would choose given the choice.  Social roles and expectations we may find liberating in one society, and suffocatingly restrictive in another.  We are born into a society, a world, with inherent problems that we are either expected to accept, solve, or make sense of.  No matter which of these paths you end up taking, conformity is expected in a functioning society.  A certain level of individualism is expected and even encouraged; for it is through an appropriate level of diversity that the society can reach its maximum potential, although after a certain point, it would result in a chaotic breakdown of the system.

I remember this from a young age.  In first grade, I remember the whole class sitting down, cross-legged on the floor in a circle, and being asked by the teacher, one at a time, what we wanted to be when we grew up.  Instantly I felt panic churning in my stomach.  I always hated being put on the spot, especially in front of the whole class, but more than that: I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I had never thought further into the future than what I would watch on TV when I got home from school.  I don’t think it had yet occurred to me that I would have to ‘be’ something when I inevitably grew up.  Putting my hands on my ankles, I asked myself: what did I want to be?  And was my answer final?  Or was there still the option to change it at a later date?  What if I never was what I replied, would they think I’m a failure?  There was no answer to the question; it just kept coming back blank.  Thankfully we were going around the circle answering, and I was seated most of the way around the circle, so I had some time to think.  I decided that the only solution was to copy someone else’s answer.  I listened to the answers spilling out of the other five year olds mouths as it went around: a fireman, a teacher, a builder, a mum… it was clear that they had thought about this before.  Why hadn’t I?  Why hadn’t I prepared myself for this unforeseeable situation?  Listening to their answers I knew that I didn’t want to be any of those things that they had said, but my turn was quickly approaching.

“A mum,” the freckled, pigtailed girl beside me replied without hesitation.  The time had come.  Everyone was looking at me.  My hair around my face had fallen out of my ponytail, leaving my freckled face framed in blonde strands.  Blue eyes flicked up to the teacher as I opened my mouth to mumble, “A mum,” like the girl before me.  The teacher nodded and looked over to the boy to my left.  The pressure was gone. It had worked, she had believed me.

The truth is that I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.  But the problem is now slightly more imminent due to the unfortunate fact that I am now grown up.  I still don’t want to be a fireman: I always liked starting fires more than putting them out.  I don’t want to be a teacher: learning is more interesting than teaching. I don’t want to be a builder: while I like making things, doing it all the time would be kind of brain-numbing.  And I definitely don’t want to be a mum, maybe it will change, but I do not have the patience or the inclination now.  And let’s face it: I have trouble looking after myself; I should not be entrusted with that responsibility. I have things of my own to do and achieve before I admit that I am good for nothing more than pushing out babies, something half the population is capable of.  I do however know what I want to be: I want to be me, and I want to be happy.  This seems much more important than however I choose to spend my time.  The teacher didn’t seem to understand: no one, not even working adults, knows what they want to do for all of their working lives.  The more important issue is to understand who you want to be, how you want to be.  This everyone should know; the answer should be an easy one.