Thursday, September 12, 2013

Third World Green Daddy 52: Comings and goings

By 6:30pm there is no trace left of daylight; night falls rapidly, pitilessly here on the Equator.  Tonight is chilly, like all nights in our high-mountain town, but the humidity in the air keeps the cold at bay, like a nappy grey fleece blanket that folds into rolls, never flat.  It’s not like the piercing nights following brutal sun-spicy days, when there are no clouds overhead nor moisture in the air to hold onto the day’s warmth.
I stumble home through narrow streets, most of them busy with chatty people returning from a good day’s work, then across the town’s wide-open tiled plaza, and finally down lonelier lanes to my house.  I say stumble because I have dined at the town’s only British-style pub, with artisan-made beer and diverse plates breaded and sautéed in said beer.  Since I drink about once a month, the half-pint of black porter I’ve had tonight has me reeling, floating like a college freshman in September high on newfound freedom and $5 all-you-can-drink parties.  It’s put me in a fanciful, literary mood.  In the pub I was one of LeCarre’s gloomy over-the-hill spies, mulling over complex webs of fact and deception at his local dinner club, and now I’m a Hemingway-style expat hammering out hard-nosed prose at the helm of my typewriter.
This all in the context of an empty house as I prepare to leave Colombia for a new job in the US.  My wife and son left today for Bogota in a suitcase-laden car.  And two nights ago Carlos, the young man who has lived in our unfinished back area for the past few months, moved back in with his brother in more decent digs.  I have stayed behind an extra day or two closing up house.  Caro has spent the last week packing up our things, some to come with us on the plane, some to be shipped by boat, and some to bide our absence in a crawlspace closet in our house.  Yesterday the moving company came to do a preliminary recon, and today I’ve been filling out paperwork for them.  I have also put to sleep my rooftop greenhouse (which was already mostly dead and dried-up after my two-month absence this summer), fixed nagging plumbing problems, organized my tools and our general storage area, and tomorrow I hope to get done about four big projects that I never got around to while we lived here.  In short I am trying to leave the house in better shape than it’s been in before, though I’m leaving some other repairs to my brother-in-law, who will take care of the place in our absence.
I wish I could say something romantic, like that on my walk home from the bar I thought through four years in half a mile, but that’s not quite true.  I haven’t been looking back much on our time in Colombia on this the eve of our departure.  I don’t know why that is—I am normally a very nostalgic guy.  In part it is perhaps because I already had a sentimental spell three months ago, as I prepared to leave for Chicago, knowing that by September we would have come back to Colombia and then left again, this time for the foreseeable future.  Another factor is surely that I’ve been so busy with last-minute preparations that I haven’t been able to ponder the implications of our going.  But probably most of all, it is because I don’t feel that we’re really leaving.  We will most likely not live in Colombia again for a few years, but for now I still feel like this is our home, this is where we are based.  We have our house here (which I finally painted in June, in a manic last week before I left for Chicago),


I’m slowly establishing a coffee plantation here (this is the hillside marked by green and white flags every ten meters where I’ll plant shade trees in December),

which I intend to be the first piece of a larger, integrated farm that we can eventually live off of. I have become an adult in my time in Colombia, started my own family here, and while I truly feel that my family is my home, such that I don’t mind moving around the world as long as they are with me, Caro and I seem to tacitly understand that Colombia is our geographic base. I guess that’s why I don’t feel too bad about leaving.  I'm still planning projects here, still thinking in the present tense about our life in Colombia.
Aside from that, of the four and a half years we’ve lived in Colombia, about two have been a chaotic whirlwind of moving, physical separation, construction, debts, and transitions of many types.  We’ve had deaths, taken on new members of our household, followed these young adults through joy and triumph and struggles with drugs and school and the ubiquitous violence that plagues our small town, and eventually sent all three of them off to college.  Only since January of this year have I felt that Caro, Sam, and I are really settled as a stable family unit, such that my “official” memories at this point only go back about that far.  Given this, tonight I did reflect on Sam’s leaving his school here, where he’s only been since April, the projects we’ve undertaken and finished on the final leg of our house rehab, and Carlos’s stay with us since January.  Yesterday I picked up Sam from his preschool for the last time.  The teachers were a bit teary, and Caro couldn’t even face the prospect of going there.  Sam’s teacher Andrea handed over the portfolio of his work this year, which includes the homework assignments he did with us and Carlos at home, as well as a few handicraft items he did in class with his teacher.  As Andrea showed me each perfectly-executed rattle or painting or model made from toilet-paper tubes, I exclaimed to Sam, “These are really great!  Who made them?”  To which he replied, “Andrea,” though upon further probing he did allow that he helped her.  This was better than the cover of his portfolio, a pristine glitter-and-cotton-ball bas-relief of Santa Claus, which according to Sam’s conversation with Caro was Andrea’s doing, with no help from him!
That leaves me here on my last night (or second-to-last, depending on how far I get with tomorrow’s handyman projects).  I am excited at the prospect of a new life, a new career, and I feel that I’ve left a decent legacy here in Colombia.  I’ve worked on jobs I believe in, I’ve gotten to know the state of Boyaca very well, and I’ve convinced myself that I really can relate and work with farmers in a culture not my own.  I've even figured out how to coax fruit from recalcitrant pineapples, and even to get them to send up new little shoots after the first harvest.  

And I've finally finished the Melissa fence I started some months ago while thinking of a recently-departed friend
Last weekend as I stumbled down a muddy track on my father-in-law’s farm (stumbling this time due to the dark and the rain and the steep terrain, and perhaps fatigue from hours of lifting sacks of ground limestone), I marveled at how far I’ve come. Just over ten years ago I was stumbling down similar tracks in a similar climate in Haiti, my first bewildering exposure to the agrarian, tropical world outside the bounds of my US homeland. Everything in Haiti was so new, above all the plants, which had little to do with my knowledge of corn and soybeans and Midwestern weeds. But on my recent nighttime walk back to the farmhouse, I realized that in ten years I had learned a lot about the rural tropics. This night I was coming back from tracing terraces for a coffee plantation, confident in my ability to manage the acid tropical soil. I was dressed unironically and un-self-consciously with the essential Colombian rubber boots and a machete in its scabbard hanging at my side. In the daytime I was able to identify on sight the different trees and crops and weeds I passed, and at night to remember where they lay in the darkness. This land was no longer alien to me. I was a part of it. Maybe that’s why I’m not sad at leaving it—it can never leave me now.

1 comment:

  1. Thinking of you all, hoping all is well with the new babe, and that settling in to the US is going well. This is a beautifully written piece. Give a holler if you come to Massachusetts (and you are always very welcome!).