Ssssh. Quietly. Don’t wake me up. Another couple months of sleep… Then I can despertarme in Latin America.
It’s a rather productive slumber though. I’ve added some legitimate words to my resume, and I’m probably in the best physical condition of my life thus far. Granted I can’t run the 12 milesto the top of Higgins Canyon like I did in high school, but going to the gym takes longer now that I sometimes have to wait for the lumpy dudes in tank tops to put back the weights I want.
But I am managing not to identify with these changes. I guess I demonstrated my non-identification with the job when I gave my notice, and as entertaining as the physicality is, I am aware that it will melt off with astonishing speed, most likely before I say a single word in Spanish.
Hopefully what will stay with me are the things I’m learning. For example a few fundamental things to do/be as an English teacher. I wish I could go back to Nepal and be presumably much more productive.
And things I’m re-learning. My brothers, my sisters, I have seen a face of the enemy! It is a versatile threat, sometimes sleek, sometimes hulking, but can almost always be identified by the license plate at the back. Behold! The automobile is no friend to the human species! Perhaps I just lost my US citizenship in saying that, but my tragic affection for Porsche 914s notwithstanding, these exoskeletal beasts of internal combustion mayhem are the death of us, even when they leave our bodies unscathed, and the first thing they run over is our interpersonal humanity and reasoned thinking. The Belgians never saw it coming.
Belgians obey the rules. They wait in line, they pay their bills on time, they vote, save money and respect authority. It’s the underlying reason why the society is so functional, stable, and boring. Yet they drive like spoiled children on their way to the cake table! USdrivers sometimes zip through a light as it turns red, but holy crapola, that doesn’t come close to what they do here. In a class last week I was commiserating with a French woman about how people here keep going through red lights, clogging the intersection with several cars who really should have stopped. Then of course the people blocked from going the other way glower and lean on their horns, then repeat the behavior at the next light. La Francesa assured me, “non non, we do not do zis in France.”
And I don’t want to give my poor mother high blood pressure, so I won’t tell you about the tailgating. At freeway speeds. Are we sure Nascar didn’t originate here?
Even K! My own little evening primrose is far more angelic than some chalk-faced cherub in a church, but if they drove like that in the heavens I would expect a whole lot more thunder and lightening.
Or maybe I’m just a crotchety old man already. (Oh crap, did Andy Rooney’s spirit move to my body? Heaven forbid. Chalky cherubs forbid.)
In fact, I fear I’ve done it again: focus on details that are interesting to me but sound like bitching and moaning. So allow me to be clear: I love Belgium. I have a deep affection and respect for this country and her people. K’s family in particular is a group of people who anyone would be blessed to know. While I will of course miss my family during the holidays, if I am spending them away, I couldn’t ask for a better place to do it. I have enjoyed my year (& a half) here, and would not mind coming back in the future.
That being said…get me the fuck out of here. Two (& a half) more months. Okay, I can do this. I can handle traffic jams. I can pass people with the deep creases of the chronically displeased between their eyes without slapping them and screaming “You have food! Water, shelter, clothing, medicine! No one is trying to kill you! Cheer the fuck up!”
Maybe, if I try real hard, I can even love them as my fellow man, and learn from the epidemic of non-appreciation that infects the West.
When I see some gross example of petty conflict, like road rage at a stop sign or bitching customers, I used to smile or even laugh in an attempt to block the negative energy from touching me, and just maybe helping someone near me keep the same perspective. But now, as I stand at the crosswalk watching people drive like sociopaths, that laugh sounds cynical, snarky and bitter. (Not to mention condescending and obnoxious.) I don’t want that!
So I take a quick dream-trip back to Stanyard Creek, on the islandof Andros, in the Bahamas, in 1998. A couple hundred people in a town so small they hadn’t formalized the spelling, Stanyard, Staniard, however else you liked. There were two dirt streets, one on either side of a tidal river, then a few others that were more like paths dressed up for Halloween than actual roads.
On paper it was sheer poverty: no jobs, no commerce, and most of the food came from gardens and the day’s catch. As far as I’m aware there was neither a doctor nor police (when “Cracker” one of the leathery-faced older guys with eyes blasted nearly colorless by a life of the sun’s reflection on the sea got drunk and knifed somebody, it was a handful of village men who dealt with it; I’m not sure how, but I never saw him take a drink).
People passed on the street with the Bahamian greeting “alright alright,” treating the handful of us white kids the same as everyone else. We were invited to attend the local church if we wanted, with warmth and caring whether we accepted or not. We alternated meals between the one “restaurant”, the one “hotel”, and the town mayor’s house. (Wendy at the restaurant made the best soup, the hotel always had fresh fish, and the mayor made the best conch fritters.) In the evening Wendy would put on music, and the locals would dance with us, without a hint of mockery at our stiff movements. (It’s not entirely our fault, they were great dancers.) We were always welcome to join in the nightly game, whether it was volleyball, basketball, or soccer.
Granted I was 17, abroad, had a huge crush or three, and was swimming in the Caribbean every day, so there may be a tad of golden hue to my hindsight, but the juxtaposition with any wealthy suburb in the world shines clear and confident in my mind.
So the stressed out guy in the Range Rover behind me in traffic can keep his status symbol car, his lifestyle, his bald spot, and his mansion he never sees. I’ll take a bus. I’ll take a dingy hostel room. I’ll take smile lines over stress creases.