Saturday, February 18, 2012

Third World Green Daddy 28: A Lonely Normalcy

The morning after my wife got back from her work trip, thus ending my stint alone with Sam, I had to get back to our small town for a new work week. It's always difficult leaving my wife and my son, especially at that awful early hour to catch the bus in time for a 3-hour trip and a 9am meeting. But this time was even worse than normal. I'd gotten used to spending all day with Sam over the past five days. Playing, reading, changing his diaper, sitting him on his pot to piss and poop, congratulating him when his diaper was still dry, fighting with him, feeding him, putting him to bed, preparing his bottles. And now I was to have no contact with my son for five days, save abortive phone conversations in which he shrieks a bit and then hangs up.

So I left Bogota with a heavy heart, though I was soon enough jolted into the work routine. I had my morning meeting, then work in the office, and this began a week of work, meetings, supervising the house rehab. I was back in the routine I'd established before Christmas. Since December I'd interrupted this basic pattern, what with holidays, family visits, Sam's baptism, the trip to Peru, and finally my week in Bogota as Mr. Mom. Now I was back in the swing of things. I think it helped me to not dwell so much on my being apart from my family. I also enjoyed what have come to be my comfort foods when I'm here working. Every evening I dine on saltines accompanied with either canned tuna, cream cheese, or something like that. Eating so much packaged stuff is hard on my body, but it's something I look forward to now at day's end.

There was one thing that kept me a bit on edge though, not entirely settled into my normal work life. For the past few weeks my computer had been in and out of the shop. First the battery conked out, so I took it to a guy in our town that fixes computers. I liked this guy because he was willing and able to fix things that other technicians wouldn't have bothered with. Instead of throwing away a finicky plug adapter and telling you to buy a new one, he would replace a few transistors or something in the adapter box and have it working again. Instead of recommending a new keyboard, he had in the past fixed damaged keyboards with some sort of conductive sand. Anyway, he'd told me there was nothing to do but get a new battery, but he did do me the service of cleaning the inside of my laptop. However, he somehow messed up the keyboard such that my space bar, m key, and back arrow didn't work. It's amazing how three little keys can render a computer practically useless by their absence. Hence during the following week in Bogota, I'd taken the computer to Unilago, an amazing computer mall of small stalls, each specializing in one type of part or component or service. There in the mall, they sold me a new battery (of course throwing away the old one), and put a replacement second-hand keyboard in my computer. I was happy, but then the battery went crazy again. It was't charging, and the computer wasn't recognizing the full charge that the battery had.

So my first normal week back in our town again, I took the computer back to the repair whiz. Despite his technical capacity, he is not a well-organized man, and my computer remained, untouched, in his workshop the entire week. This meant that I had no personal laptop to work on. During the day I could work at the office, but in the evenings I couldn't advance on anything. Also, any documents or links I found at work for research on the maravilla root (Tigridia pavonia, an amazing plant I'll write about sometime soon) stayed at work, and I couldn't add them to the final document I'd been working on on my laptop.

This meant that my first week back on the job was still not quite the normal, satisfying routine it might have been. I was constantly tense, and felt like despite my long hours at the office, I didn't accomplish much. Worse than my work troubles was my profound loneliness. In the big, usually-empty house that my mother-in-law has been generous enough to let me stay in while we're finishing work on our future home, my only lifeline to the outside world is my internet connection. The house isn't even in the main part of our town, so there's nowhere to walk to, to buy groceries, nothing. Aside from my frequent phone calls to my wife, I had no contact with family or friends except at work, where I was reluctant to spend too much time online.

I watched a fair number of movies from my father-in-law's excellent collection. The first night back I'd been tempted to watch Brokeback Mountain, which is one of my favorite films, but that movie always makes me want to cry in a fit of existential loneliness. I didn't want to see its effect on me when I was already weepy and missing my two loves. So instead I watched The Wind that Shakes the Barley, about the Irish Civil War. Bad choice. It is a well-done, well-acted film, but the scenes of lovers separated by war and circumstance had me depressed just as much as Brokeback Mountain would have done me. The next night I tried for something without too much character development or attachment, an action or suspense film. I went with Ripley's Game, but it too ended with death and loss and sadness! Finally I watched the first hour of The Aviator, which was an interesting depiction of an age and a person I knew little about. It was entertaining, but I think I did well by just working quietly my final night of the week instead of watching that or another movie. I just watched the rest of The Aviator tonight, and it's probably best that last week, in my fragile emotional state, I hadn't watched the scenes of Howard Hughes freaking out with attacks of obsessive anxiety.

Finally after a somewhat rocky readjustment to my old routine, I got back to Bogota late Friday night. My wife, son, and I spent an amazing weekend together. We visited a park with a playground, which was Sam's first real, conscious experience with playing on that equipment. He loved crawling through a short fiberglass tube. He would look at the curved ceiling above him and just marvel at it. I'd never seen him so delighted and intrigued by something before in that way.

Being at the park with my wife and kid made me realize that up to now, Sam hasn't had certain standard experiences of a stable, middle-class life. Before my wife moved to Bogota, we were always in the house doing little projects and working from home. Now that she's in Bogota we're constantly running back and forth between our town and the capital. I think once we get our house in our small hometown finished, and Caro and Sam are back here with me, we'll have a more normal, bourgeois life. Mom and Dad will go to work every day, Sam will go to his nursery school, and in our free time we can do things like go to the park together. It's as if after passing through a home-based, peasant cottage industry economy, then a migrant-to-the-big-city scenario, we can settle down to a more stable situation. Before the age of two Sam will have lived through all the steps of a developing country in rapid social transition! I guess it's good he's exposed to so many different experiences, and I'm sure we'll look back at this time in our lives with nostalgia someday, but I'll be glad to have a more sane, stable living arrangement, and to be able to provide the same for Sammy.

This weekend we also took Sam for his one-year vaccinations (a month late, which earned us a rather useless, superfluous scolding from the nurse). He was really pissed off for maybe 20 seconds after each of the three shots, but he showed no bad reactions or signs of discomfort thereafter. I was impressed, but I guess it makes sense that once you get to a certain size and age you don't get too sick from vaccinations. I just didn't expect that moment to be so early.

My wife and I also went to the movies on Saturday night. It was our first time in a movie theater since before Sam was born! We discretely snuck out of the house while the baby was distracted, leaving him with his grandmother, and saw The Descendants, a new (for Colombia) George Clooney film. It wasn't a huge production or anything, but I think the movie did a good job depicting many real human experiences and emotions. The death of a loved one, relationships with your kids, family decisions about inheritance. In this it was much like a European film, quiet and simple, centered on conversations and relationships instead of obnoxious, obvious jokes or big, loud action. It was at once difficult and reaffirming to watch, because some of the themes touched on in the movie were things we'd gone through as a family in the past year. The life-supported coma and inevitable death of a loved one, a rebellious teenager who turns the corner when she takes responsibility for a younger sibling. Caro and I have lived a lot this year.

After a wonderful weekend with my family, and before another heart-wrenching departure, I almost lost my marbles Sunday. I was working on something urgent on my laptop, and guess what? The m, space, and back arrow keys stopped working! I felt defeated by the universe. I constantly was struggling to do things right, but it sometimes seemed as if I were doomed to problems, obstacles, frustrations. Caro remarked to me that perhaps technology these days was not made to be fixed but simply replaced, despite the attempts of enterprising Third World technicians like my small town computer repair guy. That might be the case, but aside from my moral objection to throwing things away that still can be made to work, I don't have the money to be buying a new computer every year or two.

I looked forward glumly to yet another week of feeling unproductive and separated from the world as my computer sat in the shop. Furthermore, I no longer was keen on taking my computer back to my typical guy. On Friday when I'd picked up my laptop, another disgruntled customer whose monitor had been sitting unattended for three weeks got in an argument with the repair guy. They almost came to blows, with the repair guy grabbing and cocking back a hammer to hit his friend in the head. In the end they settled with a nonchalant, "Okay, come by tomorrow and we'll square up accounts for the monitor and the hard drive," but I didn't want to be involved with that computer guy anymore.

So after a near nervous breakdown, I concluded that the best thing would be to repair the keyboard myself. It was obviously some contact problem, since it affected only some keys, and the same ones every time. I removed the keyboard, jiggled around the ribbon with the wire connections, and got the thing working again! I quickly went from the deepest despair to the most exultant, self-congratulatory joy. Still though, I felt something I've often experienced before--a mix of pride at my own resourcefulness, and exasperation that I should be the one to fix the problem and not the expert. I mean, I don't even like computers. Why am I the only one who ends up definitively fixing the problem?

Furthermore, I realized that I'd spent $25 on the replacement keyboard, when I could have just jiggled my first keyboard and gotten it working again. The laziness and lack of imagination of both computer technicians I'd consulted had led me to spend money I shouldn't have. I was especially let down by the small town computer guy (he of the hammer-weapon), because it had always seemed to me that, unlike the spoiled Bogota technicians, who were accustomed to having replacement parts readily available, he was always resourceful because he had to be in a small town with few or expensive replacement parts. I think it was really his poor time management that had led him to hurriedly tell me he couldn't fix my keyboard. Likewise, his advice had led me to get a new battery in Bogota, when in the end it turned out that the problem was an internal control, and not the battery. Again, I'd spent $90US on a new battery when all I'd needed was a decent, well-considered repair job (which the small town guy gave me after his initial hurried neglect).

Now I'm back in my town, functioning computer in hand, doing pretty well with my work obligations. I'm still lonely without my family here, but I'm getting along fine. And I'm finally catching up on blog posts like this one, which I'd been hindered from writing by the hectic circumstances I've been dealing with lately.

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