Sunday, September 21, 2008
I come the issue of trying to understand what is at stake in the Bolivian crisis late in the game. My hope is to bring an outside observer’s truth, my long-time experience of thinking out to the future and not just today’s expedient summary– which for those who haven’t worked with me is capsule of my eternal professional battle in the corporate sector. The situation in Bolivia is already way past go, and what I am reading and hearing is of such divergent reality that I feel like I will need to stay centered and rational. My own understanding of this culture – the understanding that comes from being born into an ethnicity that you cannot dissemble away from is still a child’s filtered by living a lifetime here in the US. It is my best friend and I walking over the Queensboro Bridge from NYC, through deserted streets on a Sunday – every Sunday in a certain August -- in the heat of summer to eat Salteñas at a Bolivian Restaurant called El Illimani that we had heard about – walking I don’t know maybe an hour or two in the reminiscing of great friends towards the taste of something that would remind us of those children we had been in that city called La Paz. That may have been the extent of my ongoing link -- that certain summer walk -- to a city now divided within it’s own periphery and from half of the country it is battling.
What will I find different from the great learned pundits of the BBC who while commenting on one of the most historic moments in Bolivian history intersperse their analysis with talk about the colorful “indigenous chola” with the derby and how they cured their altitude sickness with – gasp and titter -- “COCA LEAVES, we know what they are used for don’t we?” What can I offer that is going to be different than what you will read in simplification? The simplifications that are being offered up everywhere everyday like the simplifications we see daily in our own papers where the past few daily headlines read ‘MC CAIN VOWS TO FIGHT WALL STREET CORRUPTION! Below the headline is a smiling McCain/Palin nicely airbrushed for posterity. I wonder where is my candidate Obama? Why is he buried below the fold and why do I have to read the whole article to find out that what the paper was really saying was that McCain can’t fight corruption because he has been part of the system all along. I hope to help get myself to read the entire article and below the fold.
What is driving this revolution? Who is leading the people who want to derive their livelihoods from natural gas fields to sabotage their own infrastructure developments? How did the people who have nothing, I mean nothing, appear suddenly armed with machine guns when yesterday they were fighting with rocks? How can you vote for a constitution that will divide up a country into 37 nations and expect good governance while you ignore a historical dialectic that has been moving for 500 years – say like taking back DC for the Powtomack Indians to rule? How did you have a forced vote for a new constitution when a huge majority can’t even read it, when it says that you will no longer have the right to leave a legacy behind will that be incentive to prosper freely? Was this constitutional Communism fully vetted or voted on by fraud ? Is this just the same old same old the right --old wealthy white elites trying to tamp down an Indian movement before it can really blossom? Is this movement completely pure because it supported by my favorite NGOs and some lucid world leaders? If you have read this far you know it goes deeper and wider than that. What I do know is that so so much is at stake and it about so much-- it is about struggle for resources, ethnic understanding, constitutional rights, economic parity, geopolitical hegemony and so much more that it dizzies the brain.
Stay tuned because I am now confirmed on Tuesday out of DC after the U.S. evacuated non-essential personnel flights were cancelled and I have been on a hold pattern ever since.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
One of my favorite writers of all time hung himself on Friday night. Like a modern day telegraph I learned about it on Rick Peabody’s Facebook Status line. I am stunned at this loss, but I know from my own life how dark the curtain can fall and what one will and won’t do to make it go away. We fans don’t know the people we love most dearly as “real” people but we think they would like us and understand us – DFW was one of those beloved. I will never know what went on in those sad eyes daily and why he liked to wear that Bandana all the time! Hell, I would have asked to see his long hair more often!
Reading him was one of the most fun things I ever did – if you are a reader you know the can’t go anywhere now please leave me alone can’t let it go but how the hell am I going to understand this even though I want to understand it how does he know all this shit how could one person know all this shit and know what I am thinking EXACTLY-- reading Infinite Jest was one of the most incredible “reader” experiences of my life partly because of the sheer brain power I had to access to get through one of his great run on sentences and the time I would have to spend just understanding the endnotes and footnotes well like being in a GENIUS brain!. Like a school year that’s how long it took me and honestly I’m still not finished which will tell you about my pea sized intellectual pretensions! The people in his fiction or his own insanely funny real life exploits that he wrote about like the cruise ship or to the county fair were like me and my friends. Friends who are eccentric to a fault, have finely honed bullshit detectors and will shout that out, who are sometimes too brilliant to exist in normal time, who often talk late at night on how hard it is to fight off the even darker nights that come even to the most faithful. They like to live in the moment like we did one night in a river next to a graveyard at St. Mary’s College -- where we went swimming fireflies and phosphorescent algae and stars coming together and only poets could have made that up but it is a real place and real time and in that moment we were all happy and dizzy with life. I hope, David, you are somewhere safe like that
Recommended: Infinite Jest, A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again, The Girl With Curious Hair, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (I’m sure the stuff I haven’t read is also right up there.)
Saturday, September 13, 2008
News bleary, I am tired and on edge over things that are really out of my control like Hurricane Ike, global economic disaster and continued civil unrest in Bolivia. I’m thinking about a conversation yesterday with a Bolivian friend preparing for a State of Siege. She tells me her psychosis – the national psychosis -- is a permanent state of preparedness. She is prepared for a nuclear war and every contingency in between.
I think about how here in America, I myself have begun to act the way my mom did when I was a child and we lived with frequent Coup d’Etats. We were always ready for a revolution and curfew and periodically the two Peace Corps volunteers who lived with us would come home through the rooftops of the city rather than face anti-American violence on the streets. At the ready were 100 lb. bags of flour and rice and sugar. Big wheels of cheese and beef jerky would come from my uncle in the Beni who was a rancher. Baskets of grapes and fresh fruit in season would come from a friend who had a vineyard. We weren’t people of means, but had a network that we could count on. Nothing ever was lacking for us --even as I was acutely aware that somewhere very close people had so much less than us in their small mud homes and that the violence necessarily reflected a desire to change that equation. I was still a child and thought Superman's United Nations ideal would come to pass -- something I still wait for.
Plus ‘ca change. These days I have Costco and my favorite Halal meats and one extraordinary friend who likes to bake. I’m mostly preparing for inflation, because in my own particular circumstance I feel it. I’m deluded, but I think today’s expenses will be valid -- my tomato paste won’t go to waste and I will be able to feed all the people I love to entertain with countless rice pilafs. The worse will never really come because in some ways I have already faced some of the worse and was resilient enough to be here talking to you.
Yet, the issue of preparedness haunts me. I may by sheer luck of the draw be able to take my proscuitto along to the end of the world but that’s not guaranteed. As the struggle for global resources is intensifying and the “Mad Max” world may come to pass, the Bolivian crisis is a timely reflection of what is happening everywhere as we struggle to fairly share the resources of our planet.
The sages say to do what is within your reach. Today I will take that advice and go harvest my fig tree, which I had been leaving to the birds and squirrels. I’ll make my famous figs in cardamom and see if a friend or two can come to share the bounty that through much grace is mine.
The revolution will come and I still plan to witness and act!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Today is “Patriot Day.”
That first 9/11, I had rushed to my mom’s house after a distraught call from her about the 1st plane crashing. My little cottage was just a two minute drive from hers and as I walked in I saw that my stepfather had plugged in the portable TV in the kitchen and was blasting every communications device plus his five ham radios in that crazy way that was his alone. We watched dumbly quiet as the second plane came and then the towers crashed and people flew out windows like so many bits of paper and ash. We were a short way from the Pentagon and had heard the crash. I remember buckling down to the floor and crying the kind of tears that hurt your nerves and heart because all I held dear was under attack! Everyone did that. I thought we will make it through this– we were Americans and anything we put our minds to would be accomplished! America was strong we were American!
What comes next could never have been foretold – a story of hope deferred, of broken promises, of lies, of avarice, gluttony and greed, of just plain self-destruction and implosion. What more can come to haunt America for our lack of rightful action following that day?
Today of all days – coincidentally -- I find myself symbolically without a National Identity. Living a Kafka novel. I cannot enter the country of my birth because planes cannot land there and I cannot leave the country I chose as mine because I cannot prove I am a citizen!
I was supposed to take off today for La Paz, Bolivia, the city of my birth – where I am going to seek medical treatment because it is more financially viable – while putting myself in the path of impending civil unrest. No planes are being allowed to land in Bolivia today. The U.S. Ambassador, Phillip Goldberg – who had been assigned as Ambassador to Kosovo during the Serbo-Croatian war –has been kicked out as a persona non-grata and the five states in the southern regions of the country declared autonomy and are assuming administration of the public agencies while risking military reprisals. I knew some of this would come of course and that was part of the reason I was going, to see it first hand and see a moment in history that could prove to be definitive. What I had not counted on was that before I left I would find that a U.S. passport is no longer considered proof of citizenship when you have been naturalized as a citizen. Chilling thought -- the need to carry all the proof of who you are wherever you go in case of whatever may happen!
This is not a story of devious people trying to subvert my life; it is a story of bureaucracy post 9/11. It is the story of everywhere that you can’t get mad at a customer service person because ultimately all the hoops are not of their making after all they are just working at the match factory. I was asked to do some disability paperwork prior to leaving the country, which required proof of citizenship, so I’m not implying some foul play in requiring an “ORIGINAL” naturalization certificate. I am now just more acutely aware that more than ever in this world it becomes incumbent on every citizen of the world to not take your identity for granted and to understand your rights and privileges as a citizen. As a Human Resources professional, I have been complying with immigration (I-9 ) regulations for years and using passports as the one solid proof of citizenship. To my surprise this is no longer sufficient! Now I am faced with an endless nightmare of paperwork to prove who I am even though I have a valid U.S. passport!
I’m a child of divorce with a hyphenated name that belongs to both my father and stepfather and not my husband. Who I am is in those names. My mother remarried and took her citizenship with her new husband’s name. As an underage child I was according to the regulation of the day allowed to gain citizenship through her. In the 70’s you were required to submit your paperwork to the U.S. Passport office and the passport became your proof of citizenship and they retained the paperwork. I will have to do a lot of work to rethread my path – establish who am I?
Yesterday I went to the Federal Courthouse where I was sworn in as a citizen in search of the first threads. I carry one of those giant big hobo purses with about 20 lbs of stuff! I was asked to surrender my cell phone at the entrance and after a five-minute search I could not find it in the purse. I put the purse through the detector and next thing I knew a guard was almost arresting me for “lying” about my cell phone. “There are batteries here!” The phone had slipped into a tear in the satin lining! I walked back to my car 5 blocks to put away my cell phone and returned to a new guard who was so pleasant I forgot the five blocks and the other guard. People do make a difference, although I’m sure part of it was his comparing me to the woman behind me who teetered in 5” bright yellow stilettos and mini micro mini. In my all black matron outfit I was not a prostitute about to be convicted much less the unabomber!
I proceeded to the Clerk’s Office, an open area of cubicles with about 20 people literally doing nothing who looked at me and kept on talking without helping. I figure it was lunchtime with all the talk about deciding whether to go to Chick-Fil-A or Sushi Ko or their children’s games and homework discussions. Meanwhile. a behemoth “real criminal” was about to tear down the glass door with his 5-guard escort and was within two inches of my nose all in a rage at his lawyer. When he left five of the women came and sprayed the whole section down with Lysol hoping to get the “animal” smell out. 10 minutes later a flawlessly dressed woman in white finally came to the counter and told me I could I go into a room she pointed at and look for the record myself. I had forgotten my reading glasses and asked if I could have some help, she looked at me inquisitorially and walked away !
I have been working on a government contract since 2003 where paperwork is protected behind locked doors and no one without a pass gets through and believe records need protection. Here I was, alone, with the Naturalization records of every citizen in the last 100 years that took their oath here and not one person was watching me or seeing what I did. I found my mom and about four of her friends one of whom is a great Uruguayan poet. The cards were green file cards and their innocent little signature blocks swearing allegiance made me almost weep. Driving home on the GW Parkway, I passed the about to be dedicated Pentagon Memorial. It was beautifully lit, an American Flag was projected on the side of the Pentagon with an unusual brightness and coloration that must be some new technology and I thought like I have always thought this is a beautiful flag; our's is!
Once past it I had one of those very “American” moments – I desperately needed French Fries (you know I’m a potatoholic) and some consumer outlet! So I headed to Tysons Corner, where I spent five hours wandering the mall in a daze of fall fashion I want this I want that I can’t have that so I’ll have this! I have to return everything today!
That was day one….tomorrow I go to the State Department for Citizen thread number two….who knows where that thread will lead me!
Day Two: I read in the latest BBC News feed that overshadows Sarah Palin for a moment -- Hugo Chavez threatens military intervention if his ally Evo Morales is overthrown. "It would give us the green light to begin whatever operations are necessary to restore the people's power." Meanwhile, the U.S. expels the Bolivian Ambassador, he has 72 hours to go somewhere but it won't be Bolivia because there are no planes landing there.
Yesterday I was told that civil unrest was heating up and today it is literally exploding!