19 Aug 2010

Maldito Zonda

Zonda is--- hammer of heat and pressure that explodes out of the mountains wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of the dessert plains below.

Zonda affects everything. Interactions with others are difficult- curt and aggravated at best. One’s body feels unfamiliar, ones head dull and heavy. I have an overwhelming earache, a sensation I last remember having at Disney World when I could not have been more than seven or eight years old. With this hollow pain sucking at my ear cavity, I was unable to enjoy the attractions. I remember finding my only solace in the lap of my mother who squeezed my head between her warm hands, temporarily relieving the pain.
Now at the ripe age of twenty-two I want the same comfort. I want to disappear into a round ball in the corner and sleep until this Zonda leaves me alone.
If an outsider was interested in proof that this Zonda phenomena takes place more than in just my own mind, they need only observe my kitten. Slingshotting from room to room, inside to outside, wall to wall, Kuka darts around like a virulent loose cannon. Her desire for movement is insatiable, her temperament uncharacteristically harsh and mercurial. She moans, a piercing and throaty moan, then latches onto the screened windows, a blanket, my sweater. She moans again than runs off, quicker and more impossible than a shadow.
The good thing about the Zonda is that it enables one to blame nearly anything that goes wrong on its existence. Oh, you got in a fight with your novio- zonda, oh your car won’t start - zonda, oh inflation inflation -zonda, oh I failed my test- zonda…etc etc. In particularly severe cases, schools close, public functions cease, children and the infirm are locked firmly behind closed doors. Hot dust fills the air and rips through the deserted streets, cracking the limbs of trees, uprooting new and frail plants, rattling windows and homes. When the wind and the heat finally cease and the air clears, a bitter and dry cold envelops the city. Temperatures drop twenty or thirty degrees overnight. The cold, however, comes as a relief, as it brings with it a change in air pressure that enables all to think and breathe clearly once again.
Perhaps the Zonda was at the cause of my particular grief today, although I fear that immigration policies will not, like the temperature, change overnight. A perfect and wonderful job opportunity is slipping through my fingers because I am stupid and failed to do the right paper work before arriving. No, I told myself like the conceited and naive American that I was, it will be easy as pie to get a Visa, who wouldn’t want to hire me, legal or otherwise… Well, it turns out, surprise surprise, that most places where I would want to work, legitimate and respectable business, do not want to hire illegal workers. After waiting in line in a migration office for several hours early this morning only to be told that I lacked five out of six important documents required in order to obtain a workers permit, I am filled with jaw-grinding frustration. It could be worse, I think, I could be trying to get into the U.S.

16 Aug 2010

I am looking for a job but...

Not just any job, I try to explain to Jeremias’ brother Lucas. He counters me saying that if I smuggle clothing across the border from Chile I could make as much as 6,000 pesos a day. “In one day!” he emphasizes dramatically. Or I could sell coffee near Puente Oliva where there is not a cafetero (bicycle-bound coffee vendor (jeremias’ occupation) in sight. Or I could learn how to make tortas (typical Mendocino roll seasoned with cow fat) and sell them seeing as Lujan lacks a real bakery, everyone says so. I could make thousands, in two months I could buy myself a motorcycle!
Jeremias, Lucas, and their father Javier are seasoned professionals at working the streets. “Hay plata en la calle” [there is money in the streets] they insist. They learned a long time ago that working laborious hours at jobs that compensated them less than a living wage was futile, unfulfilling and plain stupid. Jere explained to me once that he was fed up “haciendo rica a la gente” [with making other people rich]. Instead, they have each carved comfortable niches for themselves in the streets, making more money in one day than they could have in a week working for the man. I admire their smarts, their savvy and their creativity all born under the weight of the heavy hand of necessity. But how can I explain to them that it is not the kind of life I want, and that it is the kind of life I have the very real privilege of opting out of.
God damn liberal arts education. Fill my head with reckless and irresponsible creativity. Every thought should be thought! Every thought is wonderful and good! Now you expect me to join the work force and humdrumdrumhumhumdrum…. Just forget it all. Retarded. I’m beginning to understand the popularity of blogs. Hundreds and thousands of people finally have the opportunity in public, to contest the world that their lives are not as bland as the equation of their boring jobs and their unfulfilling relationships. In a blog one can scream and shout, “I know what it looks like but actually I am an interesting person!!”… Here, the notion of liberal arts, of learning just for the hell of it, is unthinkable. Here, before enrolling in any class you pick your major which is not just a major but which also gives you the credentials for some kind of job in the real world. Imagine that!
How do I explain to Lucas then, that I will feel unfulfilled, spiritually and emotionally depraved, empty and hollow without some kind of job that challenges my brain, stimulates my creativity, and not necessarily one that fills my pocket. This is a sentence that will remain untranslatable not because of language barriers, but because of hurdles of class and culture, that make it unintelligible to them and that equally make their lives—lives that I will never ever live no matter how long I stay here beside them— unintelligible to me.

11 Aug 2010


Mother says that I should be writing these things down.
But it is much easier not to write in the same way that it is easier to float than it is to wade; much less friction. Time rolls by, not too fast nor too slow, but always unquestioned and unremembered.
But mother says I must write, and she is probably correct as mothers, with the benefit of hindsight often are.
Maybe Ill start with two days ago painting by new/old apartment. Jere and I had since moved out, but due to a series of misfortunate happenings with our new landlord, we were left with no other choice than to return to our first rented abode. Searching for a new rental not only made time and energy evaporate, but we simply couldn’t rent most places within our price range for lack of paperwork. “Trabajando para mi cuenta” (self-employed) the phrase Jere used incessantly to try to placate landlords that, yes in fact, our payments would make it to their damp and anxious fingertips the first of every month, was an unacceptable substitute for government issued documents testifying to one’s employment, and others that declared that friends and family owned property. Landlords would smile and nod with a guise of sympathy promising us they would speak with their lawyers and their lawyer’s lawyers to see if we could work something out, and then would delay responses to our calls curious about the outcome of those meetings, then would stop answering all together.

A cocktail of frustration, desperation and what felt like destiny led us back to our first rented apartment, feelings which doubled when jeremias (after another failed attempt of getting his full security deposit back) discovered that our old abode now had hot water and a third room, two critical details which demand examination. Hot water—I of realized was far from universal. I had assumed however, that in the kinds of places that would lack it, firm indicators would be present —roofs made out of corrugated metal, dirt or cement floors, and walls or fences collages of found materials. Although our apartment was not by any stretch of the imagination luxurious, it was part of a larger house with fairly permanent architecture, and despite jeremias’ disclaimers that we lacked hot water it was still shocking to arrive in the dead of winter unable to bathe comfortably. While Jere had warned me of this first shortcoming, he had failed to mention that the bathroom also lacked a shower (or had the remnants of one—two knobs and then above them a gaping hole of clay and cement from which the water should have emanated), and that even if we did have hot water we wouldn’t be able to clean ourselves like regular humans. Our first weeks were spent bathing and washing clothes in the homes of friends and family, and washing dishes rapidly so as not to freeze our hands.
The second detail that drew us back was the extra room. How, you might ask, does an apartment magically gain a room after only a matter of weeks? This is also a rather curious circumstance. The apartment was part of a larger house where a sizable and loud family inhabited. As a means of supplementing their monthly income, (Pa peddled DVDs in front of one of the town’s grocery stores) they had divided off part of their house with a Styrofoam wall in order to rent it out to unsuspecting and desperate tenants- they did not require any form of documentation or proof of employment, just cash. At first the apartment consisted of a kitchen, a bedroom and a bathroom (a misnomer considering that it lacked a bath). The far wall of the later was thus plugged up separating our space from that of the family. When Jere returned to the house for another fated attempt at collecting our cash, the wall had been removed and the bathroom now opened onto a room twice the size of the other two, and for a mere 150 pesos more a month they could all be ours. The family, for a little extra cash, had usurped the privacy of the senile grandmother living with them, the previous owner of the house, forcing her into one of the bedrooms with the six children.
Jere returned from this visit mesmerized. The fact that he was not selling well in the city and was going to have to return to lujan to work, combined with the troubles our new landlord presented us with, left us really no choice but to move out, and unless we wanted to move in with his mother and his siblings (which we didn’t), we didn’t have anywhere else to go. Hot water and an extra room was the only convincing we needed. Within a few moments of discussion on the possibility of returning there, and without really thinking much through, Jere was on the phone with the drunkard man of the house Facundo, explaining our decision and offering to pay fifty pesos more a month for him to secure our claim. In the typical slurred speech that accompanied the later hours of the day Facundo denied Jeremias’ offer of an increased sum and insisted that the apartment was ours because he knew what kind of people we were and that he would rather have trustworthy people living under his roof than strangers. This endured Facundo even more to Jeremias, who insisted that the poorer the person the more open-hearted, and that those with the least to give are the most generous. Our experience with our second landlord, where we were currently living served as a counterpoint supporting this same thesis. Our rich landlord, owner of eight or more houses, and part of the lucrative mining industry, had proved to be a tight-assed and stingy son of a bitch on a variety of occasions, but most notably when he nearly broke into a fist fight for a matter of thirty pesos that he refused to pay our friend Pato who had wired some electric sockets for him.
And so as we counted down the days until the end of the month, where our new old apartment awaited us like a flaming and ferocious beacon of how comfortable and wonderful our life would be. Attached to this hope emanated all of our hopes and dreams; I would find a job, and Jere would begin to make money again, and we could have a garden where I could grow my flowers and cactuses and jere his hopeful marijuana seeds, and we could invite friends over whenever we wanted, or come home at five or six in the morning without worrying about whether the security locks on the inside of the door were bolted shut, and our cat could come back to live with us, and we could shower for fifteen or twenty minutes before the water began to cool off, and, and and, and.
A quick visit to inspect the new room and solidify the details of our re-installment immediately began to melt my illusion of the perfection of my future life. Dodging children and small heaps of trash through the patio towards the entrance to our apartment, I began to remember some of the qualms I had had in the first place that extended beyond its size and the fact that it lacked hot water. Paint and bits of cement flaked off the walls, the shower remained dysfunctional, and bellied up cucarachas littered the corners from a intense chemical attempts to eradicate their obvious infestation. The new room, though quite large, was in treacherous condition from years of use by a poorly cared for senile old woman. A thick odor of excrement hung in the air and the mysterious stains all over the sadly faded pink walls confirmed that odor’s origin. I spent a day dousing the walls with bleach and scrubbing vigorously, eyes closed, in an attempt to eliminate the very concrete remnants of the room’s previous inhabitant.
And so only after my scrub could we begin the urgent task of painting the walls of the three rooms. I knew that only after we had painted could I begin to feel some kind of claim on this space, that it was mine and that I could make a home for myself here. And so we began the at times dull, at times, therapeutically repetitive task of painting the walls. We were in the living/dining room which was sandwiched by the kitchen and the bathroom on either end. Through the bathroom, you may recall, lay the bedroom. On the second afternoon of painting, our meditative strokes were interrupted by a shuffling coming from the bedroom. Although our space was right next that of the family’s, so that we could, nearly twenty four hours a day, hear some kind of noise—whether that be muttered conversations, an angry mother reprimanding her babies, or a desperate couple making quick and excited love on the patio—the shuffling we heard now was unmistakably in our apartment, not coming from the surrounding environment. I might interject here that there was still a door connecting our bedroom with the rest of the family’s house, so it was not at all unlikely that a lost child or pet might wonder through it. We stopped our painting and both turned to face the bathroom door awaiting curiously whomever, or whatever might come through it.
Dressed in nothing but a t-shirt and a diaper, grandma appeared cautiously emerging into the bathroom from the room that was once hers. Her legs and knees nothing more than knotted and leathery sticks, supported what remained of her body by force of habit. Her form was ghostly and gaunt, her eyes hollow and dark. She held up a twisted finger to her lips and ‘shhed’ us, hoping that we might not notify her family that she had escaped their less than watchful eyes. Part frozen with shock, I greeted her kindly and perhaps foolishly, “Hola,” as if this was not the first, but one of many old women I had seen in diapers, demeaned and stripped naked of any dignity that remained in her old age.
Jere, on the other hand, sternly told her to go back to her house, that we were painting and she would stain herself. Obediently and without fuss she bowed her head, turned around and hobbled off. In reflection on this event I realized that each of us treated this woman in the same way that we would respond to an infant. Me, with exaggerated and demonstrative kindness; Jere with firm and foreboding authority.
For weeks after this event, Jere would, after a nap or in the mornings, waddle out of the bathroom, half naked and press his fingers to his lips shushing me.
Yesterday was the first of the month and we have, for the most part, moved into to our new/old apartment. Already we have encountered several different kinds of chaos. Just this morning, for example grandma walked into our kitchen (using the designated entrance this time) and slyly attempted to swindle us of a loaf of bread that lay on the table. The wailing of children, a wide and wrathful matron shouting Cumbia tunes at the top of her lungs, heaps of misplaced trash and excrement, a confused old lady, a hopeless drunk, sporadic electricity and hot water. These are the kinds of things that color my living experience. While we may not have a balcony, a huge garden and a patio as we had in our last room, we have much more here. Privacy, freedom and three colors we chose to paint.