I was cleaning up my old blog site and dusting it down and I found the last unposted blog I wrote before we were publicly attacked and hounded out of the country. We were stressed and with the feeling that the state and the corrupt people were closing in on us. Rafa was hardly sleeping and we did not know who to trust with our fears but as usual we were surrounded by a lot of love, just as well when we discovered what was about to happen.
so here is the last blog I didn’t publish, as by then I realised how interested everybody was in me!
I have no air con in my car, but at least my car is back on the road so I should be thankful for small mercies. However most of my journeys are short so I never get to build up enough speed for effective ventilation, and I seem to arrive everywhere red faced and sweaty with my hair looking like a bad 1980s blow dry. I have also stopped kissing people since I got quite badly splashed with sweat they other day by two overweight and over cooked diplomats, and I fear I could be giving people the same delightful treat.
We have been very busy in the last few weeks. Our good friend Stephen against all the odds managed to direct and stage a great British play Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall, translated by a friend of ours and performed by some great Cuban actors. We went to the opening night and I made it to another night with a different caste. The theatre was full every night. I felt as though Cuban actors had met with the great tradition of British theatre, all under Stephen’s directing expertise as a Meisner coach. The money for the play was raised the old fashioned way with a lot of hard work and determination from Stephen and the caste with some help from the film school.
We organised a fundraiser auction of donated art in our house and friends generously donated through the 100 club (100 cucs each), and also got to buy some great art. A lot of our good friends here in Cuba helped with promotion and their personal generosity was amazing. Paulo and Nico were outside offering to park and clean cars. They made 9 and 7 cucs each and I had to admire their resourcefulness although I am not sure how well they cleaned the cars, especially as it was raining!
The play was a headlining event in British Cultural week. The British Council had helped a lot and brought over a couple of good films but the rest of the British week was a bit of a let down and seemed to be made up of a bunch of Cuban musicians and DJs getting dressed up in comedy Union Jack garb. Not one British DJ or band or any music from what I could see in the programme that under duress was sent to me by email. My requests for posters and flyers for the film school was ignored and Rafa never received an invitation to the inauguration of the film week, making the British embassy the only one that fails to invite us. How uncool! I live in hope that things may change next year but the British Diplomats always seem a bit out of touch and haughty in that very old fashioned way.
The film school has been going through some hard times and the last few weeks have been very tough for Rafa and the whole family. Not much sleep and a lot of stress. The school has lost a large portion of money that was coming from the Cuban state (long story that anybody unfamiliar with the creativity of Cuban funding would never understand) and like the whole of Cuba it has to learn to grow up, and grow up fast. Becoming more sustainable and self sufficient by looking for international money when the world is still gripped by a global crisis, is not easy and in the meantime sacrifices will have to be made.
When the axe will come down it looks as though salaries may have to be cut a long with some of the great projects the school is involved with. Production and post production services need to be sold internationally if the Cuban state will allow it. In the area of international workshops there are many plans to expand and grow. The film school has always been the island on the island, and its chemistry of international and Cuban culture means that it is worth fighting to help the project to survive and keep its philosophy, and not be allowed to fall into mediocrity or be institutionalised rather than reaching out to the tres mundos.
In the meantime the boys are nearly out of school for the summer and both did fantastically in their yearly reports and evaluations. We may be a bit poorer but our children are at least a bit smarter! I am planning our trip to UK and France. Now we are 5 in the family there are not too many places we can stay. A good friend is lending us her boat in London and we will head down to Devon to stay in my mother’s new holiday pad and then to France to stay with friends in the Dordogne and take in a bit of Paris on the way back. Looking forward to getting away with the family for the first proper holiday in a long time, we certainly need it!
I was supposed to go and see a Cuban band on Saturday night, but in the end did not make it, my heart wasn’t in it. Rafa flew to New York the next day for the Icaro film festival that he founded in Guatemala many years ago, and I found myself with the children in a beautiful park in Nottingham, where by chance I got to hear a great local band reminding me of how much I love our cool urban edgy multi-cultural music. As I looked over to my 3 little ones contentedly devouring their mister Whippee icecreams, I felt strangely contented too. As I swayed to the music, Paulo gave me a nervous glance. Mummy please don’t start dancing, he said.
Just as I didn’t expect to be leaving my country pregnant 10 years ago, I didn’t expect to be arriving back here unplanned with my husband and three children a couple of months back, but here I am living in middle England …… literally!
We had planned a holiday back to the UK and France for a month but ended up with 5 huge suitcases and 2 small ones like shell-shocked refugees on our friend’s boat on the Thames in London. But just as we had left Cuba surrounded by love and support we arrived to the same in the UK! Thanks to all our wonderful family and friends who were absolutely there for us, listening to our crazy tales of another world that was beginning to sound more and more like something so weird and wrong that it was fading fast.
Then we headed down to Devon, finding it difficult to enjoy our stay on the beautiful Jurassic coast with grandparents, as we were still being bombarded with lies and libel online from people who should have known better. But when Rafa finally got chance to write his document telling the truth, they all shut up and really should be totally ashamed of themselves. But as I have realised in the last few weeks, some people have no shame. But we splashed on the beaches, ate ice cream, cream teas and fish and chips, found fossils, visited donkey sanctuaries and really did our best to salvage some kind of holiday. The children were unsettled and anxious, and I still felt angry about how their lives had been turned upside down by a few deeply vain and selfish people. But as the days passed I stopped waking up with a knot in my stomach that had been put there by so much injustice.
Next we moved on to Nottingham, my old university city and where I had spent many happy family Christmases in my aunt and uncle’s beautiful house. We decided to stay, as my wonderful aunt and kindred spirit had a little house for us to live in and we had to start looking in earnest for schools to bring some normality back to my children’s lives. We bought a car, spent a lot of time in the school admissions department of the council, met some new friends, had lots of fun and lovely dinners with my aunt as we waited for our house to be fixed up for us. The children were still anxious and naughty and would not sleep ……….. but bit by bit everything fell together. But it was weird to be the one in charge, the Brit back in her own country and language.
Now we are in a lovely little house, Saskia has a free nursery place at the end of the road, we are registered with a doctor round the corner, have found a dentist for the first time in 2 years and finally at the last moment the boys got a place in a school less than 10 minutes drive away. We found some old carpet tiles in a rubbish skip, Rafa cleared out the cellar, carpeted it and we have installed the boys a Lego den downstairs. Second hand Lego from Ebay helping the healing! The children are amazingly happy in their school and have friends from Afghanistan, Somalia, Jamaica and a few from England. We enrolled in a beautiful little public library 2 minutes away, so they are forgetting about all the books they left behind too! I still have the odd pang when I see something in someone’s kitchen that I used to have or the children ask me where something is and I have to say, Mummy couldn’t fit everything in the suitcases …..
At times during my ten years away I worried that my children would never know what it was like to be British, so I say thank you to serendipity for this unexpected but strangely welcome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. Not long to go until Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night (a truly British event) and maybe my children will get to see snow this Christmas, something I’ve been promising them for many years.
So now I feel like a middle England Mum, enjoying the wonders of British supermarkets, (Aldi we love you), pootling around in my little car listening to Radio 2 (how ucool is that!). Everyone has been very gentle and friendly to us in Nottingham and we have discovered the delights of the alternative cinema and the new Contemporary arts centre, bumped into Latinos in parks and Ikea, and the boys are already playing football in the street with their Indian neighbours. How long we will be here, or where we go next we do not know yet, but for the time being we are safe and happy in Nottingham. Nobody can keep the Rosal Wilkie family down for long and we are having a well-earned breather until the next adventure begins.
Just off to browse on line for my first winter coat in 10 years …….. hmmm.
It is always tricky dipping back into England every year but this year it was particularly hard. We were homeless, in limbo and I think we all felt disconnected and confused. I always go for a month but by 3 weeks I am on my knees.
The intensity of trying to catch up with a year of family trials and tribulations can be emotionally exhausting. Dashing round and trying to spend some time with my oldest friends is great too, but usually demands a bit of drinking and bad parenting (i.e too much TV and bad food to keep them quiet while I chat, no baths or teeth cleaning and every routine goes out the window). All this usually leads to lots of bad behaviour and two cheeky boys fighting and refusing to sleep.
Last year I went without the boys and just with Saskia who was 5 months old. I only went for 2 weeks but after the first week I was missing the rest of the family so much it felt strange but was certainly an easier and more relaxing visit. I even managed a great little trip to my beloved France to visit Saskia´s godmother, which really did feel like a holiday. Great food, wine and chat and swimming in a pool surrounded by ancient oak forest.
This year for the first 3 weeks we were staying in a cottage in a beautiful Cotswold village close to my mother and sister full of smart well-preserved retired people. I had ordered a USB internet connection, which did not work and always have my mobile phone reconnected (which had no network coverage). I had happened upon a village that had communication problems that rival Cuba. I had so many things to do and so many people to call and catch up with on the phone but could not do much more than try to get through the days without one of my children spilling food on English carpets or waking up the neighbours during jetlagged nights.
We climbed up to Broadway tower with Paulo´s godmother and watched the boys chasing sheep trying to catch them and stroke them in their red El Che T-shirts.
They became experts on CBeebies, rude English words and fruit pastels, maltesers, Fruit Shoots, Hula Hoops and all the rest…….. I was so sad when they didn´t like cherries!
Before Rafa arrived ……… just trying to work out all the appliances, recycling and the TV and get them all in the hire car every day to shop at Budgens was enough. And having the elderly couple, who owned the place pop in all the time to remind me of the various recycling collections. Phew………..
By the time I managed to get them all up and fed in the morning Saskia was ready for her morning sleep and I had to put the TV on to keep the boys quiet and feed the pay phone, then it was lunch for the three of them and maybe a stagger to the park to see if I could find a corner of the playground where my phone might work whilst keeping my eye on three children ……….. not easy believe me.
I was supposed to be sorting out all the admin of my English life: banks, credit cards etc, shopping for the whole family for a year (no shopping in Cuba and 3 growing children and things as ridiculous as bath plugs and car parts, deoderants and low sugar Ketchup, tampons, toothpaste, digital radio).
We spent a wonderful half an hour in John Lewis with a fantastic Indian mama who kitted us out with footwear for the children for a few months. I dragged my non-consumerist man into New Look to get a wardrobe for Cuba in a 20 minute Sunday Summer Sale power shopping session before hitting the amazing Salisbury Cathedral. That was after a 20 minute Stonehenge stop off.
My boys had their first taste of surfing on a Devon beach and ate fish and chips and sausage rolls. We buried them in the sand of the dunes and experienced every weather in one day. Typical English seaside stuff.
When Amy Winehouse died it hit my hard. A strange thing when the death of a famous person feels close and personal. It was quite a shock and I hadn’t even been living in the UK for her rise to fame but I loved her voice, her style and her vulnerable irreverence and never read all the tabloid rubbish about her life. Maybe there is a bit of Amy in me, or maybe it was just the moment.
Then the riots ………….. a sociological disaster that will be discussed in newspaper columns for years. At this point we were all staying with a friend in London close to the action and the police sirens were going off all night. It felt quite strange to be with my Guatemalan husband in London during the worst social unrest in 26 years, But such is life ………
So my beautiful England I do love you, but I am not quite sure I understand my old world so well anymore. But thanks to all my family and friends for making this trip so wonderful despite the challenges of being on holiday in your own country, you always make me feel so welcome and loved.
I would like to begin this post by telling anybody who stumbles on to my site by accident that you should visit La Antigua Guatemala. It is a unique, incredibly beautiful and special place. When I am an old lady, and still relatively mobile, I shall return to spend the winter months here and potter around the colonial cobbled streets hanging out in my favourite places with a few of the wonderful people that became my good friends. Also you can´t beat the amazing volcanoes that surround the city.
View of Antigua
I arrived in Antigua in October 2003 and already had a good Guatemalan contact through a friend in England. Through him, I met a handful of good people who have remained in my life on and off over the years. But that was in the early days when I had come for a 6 month adventure, and not to settle down and have 3 children, which is ultimately what I ended up doing.
Antigua is certainly not representative of Guatemala. It is described by some as Disneylandia, and in many ways this is true. You can enjoy a certain kind of life here that you cannot find in most of the rest of the country. Smart restaurants and shops on every street corner. A McDonalds, a Burgerking, 3 or 4 overpriced delis, travel agents, gift shops, silver and jade shops, art galleries, clothes boutiques, every kind of hotel, millionaires who have come to live like kings in this paradise, lost in the last centuries. And most importantly, it is a wonderful place to stroll around with or without children. There are not many Central American towns that can rival its beauty. It boasts magnificent plazas, bougainvillea and jacaranda-lined streets and easy going, smiley people who have mostly accepted the ex-pat invasion here for better or for worse.
Life is not always stimulating but it is an easy life and a lot of people get stuck here for that reason. Unfortunately, not all of these people are the most talented, although many of them, God bless them, really believe they are. When I lived in Hong Kong there were some wonderful expressions for the passing ex-pats. As condescending as it gets, my favourite expression was FILTH. Failed in London try Hong Kong. A friend commented that people come to Antigua because they are wanted or unwanted. Wanted by the law, or unwanted by everyone else. After she introduced me to this expression, I went through a period of meeting some of the weirdest characters of my life and developed my own expression. The 3 Fs. The fakes, the freaks and the felons. People come to Antigua and they reinvent themselves in more ways than one. The small fish in a small town can easily become a big fish with the right amount of bullshitting. People acquire more servants than they ever dreamed of and something else happens to them, the princess complex. The fact that they have more control over other people can make them a little deluded as to their own importance, and then there really is no going back.
Although I appreciated the ease and beauty of Antigua I can´t say it was ever my kind of place. Brought up in another beautiful small town in northern England by 18 years old I ran from small town life. I was drooling for the city, the gritty, the glamourous, the ethnic minorities, the underground music scene………
I like to be a small fish in a big sea, lucky enough to bump into some big fish worth listening to and I suppose when I left London my life reflected that. I was a few years down the road into a new career path and although I still hadn´t established myself I was meeting some big players in my field. Writers, researchers and visionaries that were inspiring. I was even lucky enough to have found a couple of mentors who were benevolent enough to give me their time and wisdom. When I arrived in Antigua to take a 6 month break and carry on with some of my own research I was still buzzing with these ideas and it was my research that led me to meet my husband on that fateful day 27th February 2004. But I met my husband in Casacomal in Zone 10 in the City and discovered that another world existed outside the slightly fake one in Antigua. The world of my husband and his friends in film and art and embassies. My spanish was still rubbish and it took a while for me to join my husband in his social life in the city, so Antigua was my goldfish bowl.
During my first few months in Antigua, pre motherhood, although I was having fun, I actually felt repressed, limited, frustrated. I couldn´t always be myself and I would have to escape for a few days to have my adventures. I felt as though I had made a mistake. I was too old to hang out with the freshfaced backpackers, to fall for the charms of the young Guatemalans who wanted me to buy them drinks, or even less so for the sad old guys that had come here to pick up women. Too old and cynical for this trip. I was bored out of my mind with the guitar playing, sad faced guys in shabby bars. I missed the cosmopolitan underground of London and my other favourite haunts. Ironically just after I met my husband I already had a flight booked to Buenos Aires as I thought I would go crazy if I spent one more week in the one horse town. Little did I know …..
( Incidentally Buenos Aires delivered everything that I was looking for when I arrived in March 2004, but that is another story ….. coming soon).
Suddenly I had a new life and finding myself back in Antigua in a completely different guise as an accidental (serendipity) mother of a Guatemalan from the city, meant my loneliness drove me to look for things for my children and myself to break the domestic grind of two baby boys. My enthusiasm and openness led me at times into a bland world where I would find myself at the usual Antigua events but feeling as though I was having the blood drained slowly out of me as my eyes glazed over. I was becoming a zombie!
A large proportion of people have come here to keep on living a life of suburban gringodom. La Antigua can wrap you up again in a safe blanket of ignorance which, lets face it, is what most people want. And if I let slip that my husband was an ex guerrilla it would ruffle feathers. My husband had warned me, but at times I would think why do I have to keep it quiet like a dirty secret. I am not ashamed of him, in fact the opposite. When his film came out, I admit I was a little worried that old hatreds die hard but when you watch Las Cruces you find a balanced film more about philosophy than politics.
We now live just outside Antigua and I have given my 3 children the first precious years of their lives in this beautiful place and that has been my mission, to share with them the paradise, as seen through their innocent eyes. They know nothing of the reality of the violence, hardships and sadness. Unfortunately they have seen a lot of guns, overheard a few whispered conversations about kidnappings and shootings, and at times witnessed their mother´s alienation and disappointment. Their father, well he is older and wiser and knows how this part of the world works.
My husband wasn´t too happy to leave his cabaña just outside the city and embrace Antigua life. He was a city boy who already had a great social life established around his world of films and culture, and old and loyal school friends. I, on the other hand, needed the beauty and convenience of Antigua in my first wobbly steps into motherhood. I have never regretted the decision to set up home here although at times the small town mentality has driven me crazy, but I have been lucky enough to find the good people living on the edge. But honestly I had to metaphorically lift up stones and look behind hedges to find my like minded people, and I did. They are an eclectic bunch, but all the better for it, my friends.
But on a light hearted note. Come and live in Antigua if:
– you are a man looking to pull. For some reason there are way to many pretty and interesting woman living here that strongly outnumber the good available men. I was one of the lucky ones!
– you enjoy living in a clique! (pronounced like leek not click). Antigua like all small towns has a multitude of claustrophobic cliques with the usual bored bitching and backstabbing that goes along with it. Sometimes you get into one without realising and it is not always easy to get out. Take care!
– you want to get pregnant. The men down here seem to have pretty good sperm! Although be careful good sperm does not always lead to good genes! I got lucky again.
– you are Catholic. Semana Santa and Hermano Pedro put this place on the catholic map and the cathedrals and churches are wonderful.
– you are an evangelical missionary. Plenty of your sort down here enthusiastically wearing T shirts and building churches and schools where they can put the fear of God into people. You´ll feel right at home!
– you want to recreate a certain kind of imported condo suburban life. You can hang out with bland but very NICE people just like you, have more servants, still buy from Pricemart and Walmart and Trader Joe´s, fly to Miami to do your shopping and have cheaper medical insurance, botox and plastic surgery, work less hours, have more servants, drink cheaper coffee.
– you are an alcoholic. Being a drunk is cheaper and easier in Antigua and there are plenty of bars to be thrown out of, but if you have enough money that will never happen. Its a small town so you never have too far to stumble home. If you pass out in your own vomit and pee in the gutter, don´t worry its a regular occurrence, people will walk round you or step over you.
– you are a painter. Its beautiful and peaceful and you can rent studio space cheaply. The colours and volcanoes are amazing. Also you´ll probably get a solo exhibition in no time in one of the many galleries or bars. But you´ll have to deal with the fact that most of the people are there for the free wine and not their love of art!
– you are a bleeding heart or need some work experience to get you that university place. Plenty of opportunity to get involved with niños in the huge NGO industry that surrounds Antigua and Lake Atitlan. You can talk up your good work in the bars around town too if that is your way.
– you are a middle aged pseudo intellectual male. You can hang out in a bar and enjoy the sound of your own voice seducing naive young women, but boring the pants off the rest of us with your arrogant inability to listen. If you can´t bore enough people in the bar you can even write in a magazine.
– you are one of those people who thinks the world owes you something, you can come and beg here, pretty successfully from what I have seen. Beg for a job, somewhere to live, beg for expensive hospital treatments, flights, meals and many free drinks. I do not understand why these people chose to come here and moan about their sad lives, it seems terribly inappropriate if you look at the struggles of the average local but I suppose everyone deserves a helping hand.
– you are looking for a comfortable base to tour around the region. Antigua is the perfect place to wash your clothes, chill out, eat some good food, take some Spanish classes, potter around, watch some films, replenish your backpack with some vital bits and pieces etc, etc. That was my plan, but serendipity got in the way!
– you are a single mother who wants to work from home. Never an easy thing to do but Antigua supplies you with great internet access, great nannies and hired help and everything else that you might need at a more competitive price.
– you are a crazy new age freak. You will find it all here and great prices. You can do yoga, massage, reiki, crystals, love therapy (??!), meditation, Buddhism for westerners and hot rocks can even be thrown at you if you so desire and a whole bunch of stuff including shamans real and fake. You can join the party and talk up your new found peace or like me find the good people and keep it to yourself ……
– you are a millionaire who pretends to be Indiana Jones but really is stealing and smuggling artifacts from a country where corrupt people can feel at home!
or, last but not least
– you are a thirty something London girl who fell for a guy from the big bad City and needed somewhere beautiful, safe and convenient to bring up your children (and find a great nanny).
So thanks Antigua and your people (especially our nanny!) for seeing me through these years and sorry to our friends in Guatemala City that I wish I had seen more. We are leaving but we will be back. Besos y abrazos.