Current mood: Thugz Mansion x 2pac
El abuelo Joso se fue hace 30 años. Era un hombre honrado y muy querido en su pueblo. Muchos lo conocían por las peleas de gallo – hasta la ultima vez que viajé a Manabí , me decían la nieta del Joso porque me paresco a el. Los mayores les gusta preguntarme sobre mi aficion a los gallos – se sorprenden que una estadounidense le puede facinar algo asi.
En los tiempos antiguos de Manabí todos los parientes y la comunidad se reunían en la casa del muerto y se solía hacer un Aguado de Gallina para mantener a los que acompañaban el nuerto hasta por lo menos 3 de la madrugada. Los días de luto no eran contados en esos tiempos.
Jaws was on the television somewhere in mi tio Ecuador’s home (we lived in his 1 bedroom basement at one point and the 2 bedroom 2nd floor at another). I now only remember the loud ringing of the rotary phone we had – the call that broke my mami. . The other memories I have of El Joso have been formed from my cousins and the elders’ memories. He was a migrant farmer and merchant; today we’d call him a hustler. Sometimes months would pass without his family seeing him.
During one sad period – a four year drought – El Joso struggled to make ends meet for his family. Another story I’ve heard time and again is of a snake murdering the horse of El Joso and his children seeing him cry for the first time in their lives. Mi primo Javier told me stories of our grandfather, he “el Joso had huge muscles bigger than my head,” the charlatan of my cousin had said.
It is fair to say that death, grief and mourning are difficult for most people. I’ve suffered tremendous losses that include friends and family killed purposefully by another, in accidents, due to disease and suicide. When I was 9, I learned about the deaths of a friend, Heather, who was shot with her 2 siblings by their severely oppressed and abused mother – I questioned religion starting then. Mi abuelo Manuel died of a fatal fall which was caused by a careless nurse who left him unattended after he suffered a stroke. Kurt Cobain was claimed to have shot himself by pulling the trigger of a shotgun in his mouth with one of his toes. I also learned that the song “Waterfalls” by my favorite group TLC was about heroin sometime in 1994. Liza and I spent hours memorizing Lisa Lopes’ rhymes – I sometimes forget about my elementary school adventures with rap battles.
Between summers of 1996 and 1997 we lived in Spain and I began to piece together death, racism, colonialism there on that strange land among those strange people customs and ideologies that were not our own. Relearning Spanish was such a pain. I refused to mispronounce my sister and our maternal surname in favor of the lisp
‘z’ and ‘c’. Why don’t they know what are aretes ? Why is “la regla” not a ruler but one’s period (which I got that year)? Why is goma eraser and not glue? We grew up pescatarian and pig legs just hung from buildings there – I used to hate the flavor of pig! We were teased for eating animal food (choclo) and yuca, peanut butter and other items were nowhere to be found. I remember my father visiting with suitcases of our food and mailing us platanos. I was called Marroquí as a slur and then Sudaka. My best friend Marcela (from D.R.) and I learned to skip school (school hours were 9am-12pm -> siesta -> 3pm-6pm). Mid year, the Spaniards became interested in my English because I could translate songs for them. The kids were so stereotypical – the males liked rock or punk and Spice Girls for the females. I hated the Spice Girls (still do) but I appreciated the feeling of fame I got, or perhaps power, from deciphering their vapid lyrics.
During that time, at 11 and 12 years, I began contemplating death through music. Tears in Heaven by Eric Clapton and Gone Away by The Offspring were some of the artists whose lyrics I turned to. That fall was when Tupac died and a few months later Biggie was killed too.
I think just after high school, I decided on my funeral song:
We still visualize places, that we can roll in peace
And in my mind’s eye I see this place, the players go in fast
I got a spot for us all, so we can ball, at thug’s mansion
Fast forward: I spent the summer of 2012 in Ecuador just before my big move to China. On a solo trip to las islas Galápagos between bodies of water I learned so much about myself, my culture, and my psyche. I also learned about safe lies. We are instructed to fit in with the culture of Ecuador and try to conceal our gringo ways as much as possible for safety. When traveling it is avised to say I’m from the coast to Inka runa and the gringo-wannabes in the city of Guayaquil because chances are they’ve never traveled to our tierras. During one meal on Isabela, a bar tender asked about my accent and I tried to trick him. I gave him my father’s tiny town (the most remote place I knew), Santa Ana. Serendipitously, he was from there as well – he’d hidden on the Island and eventually made it his home. I regret not spending more time with this gorgeous Manaba!! He taught me about the safety of the archipelago when I took my bag to the bathroom with me.
“Es que aqui no se puede cometer crimen porque no hay donde huir,” dijo el.
On one excursion on another part of the archipelago, I stumbled on what seemed to be an abandoned beach. A guy was sitting in the beach just sun bathing and he offered to let me borrow his kayak for a few bucks. I had my waterproof camera and was excited to capture sharks and other wildlife in the area. Everything was unimaginable – how does one describe heaven to people who only know earth?
Because of the incredible conditions of both Pacific and Atlantic waters meeting in the region, there is an abundance of food that makes animals act favorably, sometimes sympathetic even to humans. My own father and some of my other relatives have stories of swimming with sharks. Still, on this trip I was distrustful of both those shared memories and of the man on his own private, endless beach.
Ain’t no place I’d rather be
Sky high, iced out paradise, in the sky
Ain’t no place I’d rather be
Only place that’s right for me
Chromed out mansion in paradise, in the sky
After a few exchanges, this time I was interrogated about the purpose of stealing from me. Pero que tienes tu que no tengo yo? Then, I got in the bright orange kayak and ventured out to explore. The one must-do was swim over a pool of sleeping sharks. I cannot do justice to trying to illustrate what I encountered when I found them. I lean on some rocks to get my hands in the water to attempt to take pictures. I was terrified and thrilled (a fantastic combination of emotions). As I leaned over, the kayak flipped and I scraped my leg going under. There was no order of event. No real life at this moment. All logic riding in the wind. I kept thinking even if sharks are well-fed and or sleeping, even one drop of blood can make them hungry. Is that correct? Did someone teach me this at some point?
Facing shark faces is my GOD MOMENT.
It was amazing to see different species of sharks swimming in circles
It was also one of the most terrifying moments of my life
I wore -7 and -6.25 contact lenses at the time, and between fearing for my life, trying not to touch the sharks or let them sense me and get the fuck out of the water, I just have fragments of memory, which include trying to breathe again and trying to stop the blood from the cuts on my limbs from dropping into the water. In the moment, there was harmony. A serenity I’d never felt before.
That peace I simply refer to as “god” today.
I thanked my abueles Jose, Manuel, Asturia and Alina (who died April of 2012) that day for helping me stay alive and protecting me through my stupid moves.