I feel like I’m at high sea navigating in a broken vessel. I
can hear the cracks of the old wood struggling to stay together against the
waves. And there isn’t even a storm. Yet.
Every time one thing gets fixed something else breaks down.
When the water stops leaking into the pantry, then the sail rips. When the sail is sown a window cracks letting the cold air in. It is physically exhausting
and takes all my mental energy. It is also starting to chip away at my spirit.
I feel like the old man from the tale. It is me against the
sea, against the whale. I know the fight is already lost but still must hold my grip
onto that whale. I can’t let go. I wont let go. But the skin on my hands has
been scrapped raw. The salt on my exposed skin is beginning to burn. My eyes
can barely see from the constant exposure to the sun.
Sometimes I close my eyes and then all I can feel is the breeze on my face, the fresh water cooling my skin, the sound of the waves pushing me ahead on this adventure. Then I am grateful for this body of mine
which has the strength to hold on to the whale this ship has become. I am
grateful for every tense muscle, for every unbroken bone, for every deep breath I can still take, and pray. I pray for the status quo. I know
I’ll never get my shiny new ship back, but I pray at least I’ll be strong
enough to keep up with the speed that this ship is ageing at, so that I am
still one step ahead of it and able to fix it.
I pray to keep the status quo long enough to see the sun
rise, mature into a full hot day, and then see it slowly trade its brightness
for the beautiful and complex dance of pinks that is the sunset. Once the sun has
settled and the wind has cooled I’ll be able to let go of this rope. Let go of the whale, and let the
But not before. ‘Til then, it is me against the whale in
this broken vessel of mine.
This last Sunday I woke up to two excited
monkeys each holding a bunch of peonies, my favourite flower. “Happy mothers
day!” they were screaming, (which it wasn’t, not in America, but apparently
dad’s hallmark calendar is jet lagged and really, who cares).
It’s the first time that they get an idea
of what this day means. As the years go by I expect and look forward to getting
all sorts of school organised mothers day gifts. I will cherish the mug, the
cup holder, and everything else they throw my way, as much as the well deserved
lie-in and not touching the dishes for the day.
Then I started thinking about the future,
what would I want my kids to thank me for once they were fully grown up?
It was quite a daunting prospect because
right now I am one notch down from god. I can do no wrong (except when I’m
unfair or when I don’t let them do anything). But really, adults, that
is when judgement day comes, when you
have to accept if you got it mostly right, at least the important things, or if
you missed any big holes.
These are the things I wish my kids
will say on mothers day twenty years from now.
I hope they …
felt I made time for them. At least for the important stuff
that I inspired them to be better, even in some little way
feel they can come to me if the shit hits the fan. That we are like an
imaginary net below them that will soften the fall
say that although my trips were long, my work, what I do and why I do it, made them
that work is important, that whatever you choose to do you must choose to do
well, but that family comes first
to me for advice. The best form of praise
to raise their children like we raised them, at least in some ways
I gave them courage to try and the certainty to know they’d survive if they
they are good enough, and anyone who doesn’t see it that way does not deserve much of their
time, and is certainly not worth crying over.
to dream big, and to put in the work necessary to make that dream happen
everything and are not afraid of being different. Understanding that “different”
is how “new” happens.
I taught them right from wrong. Even if only by struggling with it myself
send me flowers every mothers day, to say thank you. We love you. You didn’t
get everything right but you got it mostly right and I’m a better person for it
…even if it doesn’t quite spell it out like that on the card
I know I already put up the April family self portrait, but I was never convinced by it. I liked the moodiness, I love rainy days on the beach, but for some reason it just didn't work for me. So I went back to the pics from the session, all like 3 of them (because it was raining and because children generally don't have patience for more than that) and decided to take a different one and process it differently. I think it makes more sense like this. I've lost a lot of detail changing it to black and white and with all the filters, but I like that it looks like an old photograph or part of an old movie. It looks like maybe it has more of a story to tell. The sea looks angrier, and the movie is probably not a happy one. Our bodies seem are a lot more uncomfortable, probably because of the cold, and that actually works well with the story that I have in my mind. I would title this one the castaways. Maybe.
This project started in January 2011, mainly because I was never in any of the family photos.
I take one portrait of the whole family, myself included, once a month.
Wherever we are, whatever we are doing.
It was meant to last for the duration of 2011, but I'm enjoying it so much that it has carried on. Every family should do this.
Ok, so I’m not Kate Moss or project runaway (unless you catch me really early in the morning, then YOU might want to run-a-way….) but I like to be professional, and that includes dressing appropriately.
The good news is that my work rarely if ever requires a suit. (I don’t even know if I still fit into most of mine, you get the idea), but it does require ”appropriateness” which is not always easy to nail.
First of all, for any newbie on the development/ aid consultant market, you should know that what gives you away to the locals, and makes the rest of us loose respect for you, (and by locals I am using a very loose definition here, including the expats that LIVE in a place as opposed to those just visiting),
-I was saying-
what gives you away is the shorts, sandals and short sleeve shirt (which, by the way, if it’s got any hoola going you are probably history in any ones’ cool book)
I know it’s darn hot. I know that even with ten degrees less back at home you’d be wearing shorts and sandals, but funnily enough, in most of “these” places people just don’t use shorts, so neither should you. And I know the offices are falling apart, and that there are geckos climbing on your walls, but for the most part, if you look around, everyone else is wearing a summery but formal attire. You wouldn’t wear shorts to an office in NY in the summer, so there is no reason to expect that shorts are acceptable here. Usually if you are having an “office day” and will only be meeting with staff it’s ok to tone it down a little. Pay attention on you first day there, look at what both locals and internationals are wearing, and if anyone sticks out like a sore thumb be sure not to follow that example.
‘Be respectful’ doesn’t just apply to religious principles.
You want to look professional, but you also don’t want to look like Ms. lady ambassador that just walked out of Airforce One and doesn’t want to get her nails cracked, even if sometimes they do, so avoid the heavy jewelry and leave the pearls home.
Then there are the visits to the beneficiaries: the internally displaced camps, the indigenous communities, homes for abused women.... again, I don’t care if its 40 degrees, shorts are usually not only disrespectful, but long pants (or a skirt) will probably spare you the mosquito bites. When in Rome do like the Romans, you are unlikely to find anyone there with shorts, so skip them.
AC/DC t-shirts? I tend to think that if you are going to stay there a while and actually develop a relationship, then you have a right to be who you are, but if you are just visiting, like I do these days as a passing through consultant, then common diplomatic courtesy applies, yes, even in camps.
The tricky part is when you have a mix, and you want to look decent to see a Minister, but not wearing shoes that could pay for a whole months rent of the family you are visiting afterwards in a camp, that's when it gets hard.
It gets even trickier when there are religious issues involved, like the obvious, countries where women use the veil. I never understood why foreigners who didn’t have-to would subject themselves to these attires, but soon after I started working in Somalia I realized it just made my life easier. So I carefully chose a couple of matching top and bottoms, only to discover that you only wear matching when in mourning. I also realized how hard it was to balance the notebooks, the camera and the veil in place. But hey, this is why you get hazard pay.
I also lost my suitcase once while visiting Yemen. You try buying underwear from a bearded man wearing a knife or jahiba on his belt
“please, sir, can I see the pink ones with dots?”
The only decent thing I could find where hippy baggy pants, so that was me for two weeks…. sore thumb sticking out all around.
Being a consultant buys you some slack. You don’t have to wear a suit, but remember you are working, not on holidays, and what you choose to wear says something not just about you, but also about how you perceive them.
Slowly you start building up your basics: Loose long tops; scarves that can double up as veils if need be; thin black slacks that can be dressed up or down; Simple flats, and son on, until one day you find yourself in my current predicament:
This morning I have to go meet with some Ministers, (black long slack and flats, easy), followed by a visit to a Candomble territory, bastions of an ancient traditional African religion brought over by the slaves, which also served as strongholds of resistance and preservation of black culture. According to my "research" black is a no-no in their books, (bye bye black slacks), the hippy loose white top, intended for the field visits and ideal for this scenario seems inappropriate for the first part of the day.
F*ck it, government meeting is with the Secretaria to defend ethnicity and race, so they should be fine with my ethnic attire. I'm going Orisha 'hoola' today