Parties, Cadillacs, potatoes, Valentines ……and blogging

Yesterday was Valentines day.  They call it the day of love here for anybody or anything.  You can even say I love my cow.  I actually prefer this to the sloppy fake romantic rubbish that has been marketed to us for years in Europe.  Everybody gave me best wishes of love all day yesterday but my wonderful husband let me stay asleep in bed, made breakfast for all the children, washed up all the dishes, pans, glasses from a hastily put together slightly drunken dinner with friends the night before …….. and then he had to go off to work whilst I stayed at home, even Saskia stayed quietly watching Nemo for another 20 minutes before she came and woke me up.  How romantic is that?

In the last 3 weeks …….. I have had 2 parties in my house, done a Cadillac tour around Havana, celebrated potatoes returning on the scene, watched a few good films, begun to reupholster my living room suite (or the diminutive 79 year old who is in my living room has begun the job), met a new fun group of Wednesday lunchers, visited an eco reserve in las Terrazas, been back to Hemingway’s house, eaten in a real vegetarian restaurant in Cuba, entertained filmmaker friends from London and grandparents from the Cotwolds, had the best steak of my life, bought an amazing photo of the Malecon by a very talented young photographer, juiced a lot of sweet delicious oranges (its the season!), met a new bubbly Thai friend who is a dress designer (my new beautiful material sent from London will soon be designed into something cool, thanks Amanda!), received lots of wonderful presents and goodies from kindles to cameras, strawberry jam to my new favourite chocolate bar from Tescos, swiss, orange and almond (any Brits rush down there now, you won’t regret it, Thanks Nico!), a whole load of great music, got very frustrated with my lack of internet, repeatedly failed to post photos on my blog, met a Cuban working in occupational psychology in the Cuban social research centre and remembered what I used to do, failed to even begin to think about the English translations of the film school website, and today I made a cottage pie to celebrate the return of the potato. But absolutely failed to write any of this down.  Some of this is to do with living life to the full rather than writing about it or living on line.  But blogging for me has been a discipline, something to make me sit down and share.

So I have made some decisions: I have to write at least something once a day even if it is off line.

Invite people to guest write on my blog!  I like this one, it makes it more fun and interesting.  Not sure if they actually will write anything for me but it might stop making me feel so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I should be writing.

Give up on trying to post photos on my blog and upload them to a related facebook photo page.  I actual do manage to upload pictures to facebook.

Off to swim in the crystal clear sea ……………..


My Unbearable Lightness of Being in Guatemala

I had no specific plans to emigrate from my country and if I did, in my daydreams, it was to my neighbouring countries of France or Spain that I pictured myself setting up home.   I had lived or spent enough time in these countries already, enough to feel comfortable with their culture and lifestyle and more importantly, comfortable with the fact that they knew my culture the good and the bad.  I always imagined that I would stay close enough to my country so that phonecalls and quick trips home for family occasions and weddings and laughs would never be a problem.  But following my philosophy of serendipity I always had a sneaky suspicion that I would not be living in suburban England. And also, maybe more importantly my biggest fear was boredom, of ending up like Lucy Jordan of Marianne Faithful´s famous song.  That awful feeling that you would just get to a certain age and realise that you hadn´t lived and done all the things you wanted.  I had already achieved many of Lucy´s missed dreams including driving through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair . (see note 1)

When I set off for Antigua Guatemala for a 6 month break I had no idea that I was making such a huge step into a completely new life on a new continent.  (check out the archives on this site and you can see how I arrived).  For me the geographical isolation was also a huge physical and cultural barrier in this part of the world.  Two huge oceans separate this continent from the rest of the world.    On my other travels I always felt that I was connected by land and small sea hops from London to Beijing, Paris to Cape Town, Yorkshire to Afghanistan.  Here on this continent it is easy to forget that other continents exist, especially with the empirical mass culture exporters who live right above us.  In Guatemala, such a small country, you can swim in both the Atlantic and the Pacific in the same day, if you set your mind to it or own a helicopter!

Now after nearly 8 years here, who am I?  I gave birth to 3 children, learnt the language and the cultural issues, tried to make sense of the society whilst recognising the history, stopped being Jo (at times) and became Josefina or Doña Jose, my Spanish speaking alter ego!

I know that I will never know how it feels to be Guatemalan but my affection and acceptance of the country that gave me my husband and my children and the last 8 years of my life has been part of a long and interesting journey.

It has not been easy and I missed my country and my continent so much it hurt at the beginning, like a physical pain.  I missed the OLD WORLD, the British sense of humour, the great music that enters your psyche like osmosis, cricket, pubs, Sunday newspapers, delicious apples, the best cheese (700 of them!), from the gritty working classes to the eccentric aristocrat I missed them all.  I got tired of people talking to me every day of dollars, estados and gringos.  I was frustrated that people knew very little or nothing about my culture even the ones that should.  Generally people here view us as all the same.  We are all gringos, white people from the North.  I rarely get any acknowledgement of my own culture.  A poor muslim peasant knows more about Britain than a rich Latina.  How could I explain that this gringa felt more comfortable with an educated Iranian or Bosnian than someone from Idaho who looks just like her.

But I am who I am ……. a foreign mother who does not know if she will ever live in her home country again.  What does that mean?  How do I instill my children with the Britishness that made me who I am?  These days the two older ones speak less and less English to each other as they always used to (mother tongue), their apron strings are now more elastic and Spanish is the language.  Last year I only managed a trip home with my baby girl and left my two boys for two weeks.  They missed out on their little month of immersion in all things British.  Which can be anything from Bagpuss (note 4) to the use of the word bollocks!

I did not flee into exile from my country like my husband and his family but I live in serendipity exile never-the-less and the feeling is similar.  I have never been a mother anywhere else and I will always be grateful for the kindness and acceptance that I have received from the ordinary people of Guatemala.  Will I find it  difficult to be a mother anywhere else now?  Or does the emigre mother live in a different bubble of multi-culturalism which at times feels as though I don´t belong anywhere anymore ……….. just the unbearable lightness of being. (see Note 2)

As the last weeks of my adventure here in Guate are dwindling I wonder how I will live without the volcanoes, the sweet kind humble people, radiant colours of the flowers, the fun of market day and our nanny who symbolically represents to me and my family the best of everything this beautiful and troubled country has to offer. (see note 3)

So Cuba here we come, I hope now I have learnt how to move as an emigre to see the best in the cultures that I immerse myself in.  As my husband said all those years ago (in a wise and reassuring moment) when I shared by deepest fears about leaving Europe.

You are not losing your world you are gaining another.

My family and I will be enjoying a few weeks in my old world this summer with family and friends before heading to a fast-changing Cuba for four years.

Note 1 The Ballard of Lucy Jordan was one of my mother´s favourite Marianne Faithful songs and I listened to it with her as a teenager and the lyrics never left me.  A surburban housewife full of regrets for the things she never did.  I don´t think my mother felt like Lucy Jordan but maybe all of us mothers have Lucy Jordan days!   I was determined to never feel as trapped as she did.

Note 2 I read Milan Kundera´s book The Unbearable Lightness of Being at an early age and at the time I felt the power of his writing and began to understand the importance of identity for people forced to change their lives due to ideological or geographical issues.  One of the characters ends up in California looking out to the Pacific and feeling not the freedom but the unbearable lightness of being as she thinks about her old world and the people that inhabited it.

Note 3 I will be writing more about Juju ………..

Note 4 Bagpuss is classic BBC children´s TV from the 70s