Monday, August 29, 2011

Waiting for Irene, yeah, the hurricane

10 am:
During a morning playdate I find out that the city has marked forced evacuation zones, and we are about a block away from one of those lines. My friend is skipping town. I call another friend who survived the earthquake in Haiti to see how she is dealing with this oncoming natural disaster ok. She is fine but definitely more prepared than us, which is easy because so far we have done absolutely nothing to prepare for Irene.
escaped for a coffee run and decided to buy the princess monkey shiny nail polish so that maybe she’ll stop biting her nails. The lines at the convenience store are ridiculously long so I decide to pass by again on my way back. On my return, caffeine having kicked in, I realize the cause of the lines is the incoming hurricane. Water shelves have been emptied, flashlights and batteries are sold out on most convenience stores. The fact that there is an actual hurricane coming starts sinking in. I buy as much water as I can carry back, which isn’t much.

Somewhat anxious I report back home where both my mother in law and my husband concur that I am totally over reacting, and that nothing is going to happen, even though the authorities are evacuating over 130,000 people.
Go for dinner to the old hood in Manhattan and drink my first Cosmopolitan in 6 years, which I dutifully regret the morning after. (this part is not related but hey, thought I’d rub it in). Was meaning to look for flashlights in the big bright city but totally forget.

10 am:
wake up to our neighbour using a staple gun to lock down the garden furniture. Hubs is MIA getting his US drivers license, so the neighbour and I proceed to clear the garden and bring indoors all the small stuff that can turn into projectiles. I start feeling uneasy about the fact that we have nothing other than a few bottles of water. Still being treated like a lunatic at home. None of the flashlights we locate work. The kids are using the garden pots to bury the dinasours.

strong winds and it’s raining pretty tough. MIL has finally understood that there is an MTA wide shut down, that people are being evacuated and that there is an actual hurricane coming. She goes into a panic and calls hubs with famous last words:
“you left two women and children behind to fend for themselves!”
hubs remains at driving lessons for another 4 hours.
two sets of friends send SMS offering their apartments for us to ride out the storm. Unconvinced I thank them but pass.
Although there's no warning yet in place, it has been raining pretty steadily all day and children have been on lock down, so are now attempting feats worthy of spider man. MIL and myself are getting suicidal so we decide to venture out. Now that MIL is on board we join the frenzy and buy non perishable foods, candles and batteries, and then stop for ice cream and scones before the real shut down begins. Unfortunately we get kicked out as the pastries shop has decided to close early so everyone can go home before the subways and buses stop running. Around us shops are starting to close and cover their windows. The streets are still pretty crowded. Still raining.

hubs waltzes back into our lives and we realize that everything we own is sitting in a container on a NY port that is about to be hit by tidal waves and a hurricane (admittedly the two things are unrelated).
tornado watch warning arrives. We look up in Wikipedia the definition of a tornado. What can I say, we are from Europe.
heavy winds and rain have been ongoing for several hours now. The large tree my kids climb up and down all day shakes back and forth. The light from the street is orange and eerie. Everyone goes to bed early and I slowly begin simmering and panicking, mostly regretting not being better prepared. We don’t have a battery operated radio nor do we have a car we can use in case of emergency. The downstairs neighbour, whom we’ve know for 2 weeks, has kindly given us his mobile number in case we need anything. I start doing a sloppy mix of go and emergency bag in case we do need to run. MIL has hers ready by the door.
We have filled every container in the house with water, taped the windows in case they break, closed all the shutters, charged all the phones, used towels to cover the holes around the aircon units.

Before going to bed I fill up the bathtub with water and check the news one more time. Two children have been killed by falling trees while they were inside their homes (RIP). The tree my kids climb up and down suddenly feels like this incredible menace sitting just outside our door. MIL is sleeping against a wall, hubs and I are protected by shutters while the kids are sleeping next to a large window that gives to the lovely trees on the street. I make makeshift beds on the floor of our room with the sofa cushions and drag their sleeping buts to my room.
I can’t sleep. I have this animal urge to stay alert to protect my babies should anything go wrong, and at the same time, I don’t want to miss it. The wind outside is wild, the rain hard, the light unusual. For someone who loves the rain like I do it is a beautiful site, but I can’t enjoy it fully out of fear that it might all go wrong.
Eventually, sometime past 3 am I drift off. I’m woken a few hours later with an automated message from the city emergency line warning that a tornado warning is in effect for Brooklyn and we are advised to go as low as we can and stay away from windows. Everyone around me sleeps and I hesitate for a minute…. Then of course I wake them all.
Turns out the alarm had been sent out at 4am, too tired none of us had heard the phone until 8am when everything had more or less passed. We hear nothing from the authorities so are reticent to leave the premises. The TV channels are struggling to make news out of nothing. A bit of flooding here and there, the people are out in the streets in Manhattan, even the tourists. The sun is shining.
After a couple of hours we venture out. It’s still raining lightly and there are soft gushes of wind. We come across a couple of fallen branches. The neighborhood kids colonize them while photographers snap shots of the little damage around us. Fallen leaves and branches all around. The shops begin to open.

Turns out Irene’s bark was much worse than her bite. I’m grateful even if I never hear the end of it for “over reacting” to a hurricane. I think the authorities did the right thing to prepare for the worse. I think that is their job.
But as it turns out, waiting for Irene was the most exciting part.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

please don't say it'll all be alright

I don’t know about you, but when the shit hits the fan, when it all goes pete tong, when the world comes crumbling down I don't want to hear you say it's all going to be alright.

I know you mean well. I know there is really little else to say, but what I really want to hear is:

“shit, that sucks big time”

is it that hard?

I know I will survive. I know there are children dying of hunger in Africa and I know that my woes pale in comparison. I don’t want to hear that. It’s bad enough that I know it, you don’t need to remind me.

Just bear with me. Listen to me. Feel sorry for me.

And please, please, whatever you do, don’t belittle my feelings. Don’t say it’ll all be ok.

Even thought we both know it will be

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The house is built on the woman- book excerpt

I've had no time to write. My well feels dry, I've slept 15 hours straight and the weight of the move sometimes feels too heavy to bear. It reminded me of the many times we moved as kids, and of this passage from the book I am working on "Crossing the River", so I thought I'd share it with you all.

There is a beautiful Colombian saying that a house is not built over the earth, but over the woman. And this I believe to be true. At least it was very true in our house. As the years passed we all changed and evolved, even our Pilipino nanny who had arrived being almost a child herself, after seven years with us moved on with a child of her own. But like in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, very much like in One Hundred Years of Solitude to be precise, it all revolved around my mother: the wind, the breeze and the tempest.

She was the tree we held on to when something went wrong. Where we all went for shade. She was the roots to our family, and it was under her protection that we flourished. For years she would even translate between my father and us, who insisted on talking to her when referring to one of us, even if we were present, as if we did not speak the same language. And to some degree for many years, especially when the girls hit adolescence, we did not speak the same language. A common conundrum of third culture kids that move to more “developed” or liberal societies. It is well documented that under these circumstances it is the women, the mothers, that are more able to adapt, while the father’s often recur to raising a blind eye to the situations that arise, being able to understand rationally that the culture they live in has different norms, but unable to accept it emotionally.

As a child it was difficult for me to see what role my father played. I knew he worked, I knew he provided, but those are very abstract things to a child. With time I have come to appreciate the other roles he played in our little garden. I think now that he was the earth. My mother held us and him and everything together, but in return he was the one that held, fed, and nurtured her. He provided her with the strength to withstand it all, he was her reference and our north. I have not met a more noble or honest man. Hardworking and ambitious in a good way. And with his quiet example he taught us right from wrong.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

on a certain porcelain doll

I know a girl much like a porcelain doll.

Her beautiful face, her black hair is long

Her short limbs are thin, her dark eyes shine on

She is delicate and calm, her half smile is fixed,

She studies at night, weaves time and her hopes

She walks brisk and fast,

as if she was dancing to the tune of a quiet song

This little porcelain doll works hard.

Gets up with the sun, plows quietly ‘til dawn,

lies down with the children to tell stories of old,

The stories she’s been told, which haunt her at night,

Will remain untold.

She’s perfectly dressed, clean, proper and pure.

She prays when she must,

she does what she’s told

I’ve know this porcelain doll for some time,

She’s young yet she’s old,

She has found yet she’s lost

She cries when she smiles,

She walks all alone

her heart now seems cold, her womb has been dried,

her future was drawn over her hopes on the sand

her whispers are cold, her body abused,

the shine has worn off, she makes money now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I admit it, I'm jealous.... photo post

something about this photo makes me jealous of my 2 month old nephew. I can't quite put my finger on what it is...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

it is what it is (on photography and passion)

I used to struggle with my photography thinking that I had to choose: either do it professionally (at least try) or give it up. and then one day I stopped judging it and accepted it for what it is, a part of me, a part of who I am.

So I stopped trying to put a name on it (hobby, passion, amateur?) and just did, what came from the heart, focused on what mattered to me, not what might have been interesting, marketable or unique.

As a consequence of this acceptance I "came out of the closet" and started sharing with people, even strangers! the fact that I took photos. Funnily soon after I started getting commissions and started working as a photographer.

I still do my "day job," development, and at some point people said I had to choose: I had to be a photographer or an aid worker, and I asked "why?" it is also a part of who I am. it is also something that I would miss terribly.

So often I have to turn the gigs down, but I no longer judge that either because it is what it is, just a part of me, and like every other part of me, sometimes it has to wait its turn.

Monday, August 8, 2011

does New York make my butt look big?

It’s day 4 of house hunting in NY and I'm already walking up to complete strangers to ask if they know anyone moving or renting out. Sounds desperate and it is.
I managed to get to here while still in absolute denial of the whole thing. Picked up a map (well, it took a few shops to find a map, everyone just looked at me and said

“use your phone!”
Except, I don’t have a phone because I’m apparently the first person ever to move from outside the US to NY, and since I don’t have a credit rating or a home address they wont give me one.)
I was saying
I set out to the (dirty and cemented) streets to find us a place we could call home. I felt like I was in an episode of Friends or something, and too old for the damn part.
I kept looking around and wondering “so what’s in it for them?”
them being the monkeys.
Got the wrong end of the stick for one viewing and ended up in completely the wrong part of town. I felt like I was in a movie again, but not one where you could find Jenifer Aniston, Spike Lee maybe. Passed the church with gospel singing, the gardens with plastic grass and American flags, and walked all the way back to where I had started, confirming yet again that in the US 2 blocks up or down can make all the difference.

I’ve discovered that those things that look green on the map are actually made of rubber with maybe one or two trees. They call them parks, I call them piss takes. Wonder what the monkeys will make of them. What I do love is that most of them have sprinklers going on in the summer heat. Probably the closest thing we’ll get to a pool this year.

Stuck in an empty and dirty metro stop that smelled of piss I realized at some point that it was just me and a man that was half a sleep standing up, possibly drunk.

(different man but you get the idea)

I remember being taught as a kid the rule to blending in was to look bored, so I made my best to look local and bored, dragging my feet like I’m late to something and tired of hanging out there, only to remember I’m holding this big map on my hand.
I couldn’t help wondering what it will feel like to find myself in these situations with the monkeys, and how to turn it into a positive worldly experience (remember, that is what they are supposed to be getting out of NY)
Trouble- “momma it smells like pee pee here”
Me- “yes darling, some people pee in the subway. We mustn’t pee on the subway now must we”
Princess- “is that guy dead?!"
Me- “no sweetie he’s homeless”
Princess- “Can we take him home?”
But it’s not all bad. You know how some colors really bring out people’s eyes. Or like when you find a dress or a pair of pants that really hugs you all the right places and everyone thinks you just lost some weight?
Well, apparently NY does that for me. I’m getting a lot more compliments than I've had in years, probably has something to do with the fact that I am no longer surrounded by tall Dutch blondes anymore.
Another thing I have learned this week is that new Yorkers like dogs, like really like dogs, and shops cater to them. This shop sold ice cream but had free dog cookies ... three types.

This other shop advertised that they are a dog friendly shop

And many shops put water out so that the thirsty dogs can drink, which I thought was sweet, but then a lady near me was outraged

Lady- “wahhh da hell is puppy water? Doesn’t even have puppies in it”
In case you didn’t get it either, puppy water is water for thirsty puppies, not water made from puppies.

Then there are the nice things: the man playing guitar on prospect park, the siolouette of the statue of liberty as you take the subway that passes by Trouble’s school (nearly through it as a matter of fact), skimmed milk (which in Holland is unheard of and almost unconstitutional), the woman singing jazz on a Sunday morning, brunch…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On things I'll miss form Holland when I am gone 8_ parks_photo post

There are three parks in a 15 min walk radius from my house, and we live in the old center. And when I say parks, I mean parks.

One is our hidden garden, you have to walk through a passage and at the end it is colorful fun: slides, climbing gymborees, trees, gardens which give plently of berries in the summer.

The second has a little lake and white pebbles the princess insist are eggs, and where ducks and swans swim. It has skateboard play area and a family of deer, seriously, and this is a 5 min walk from the central train station.

Just a bit further you enter what is effectively a forest that goes all the way to a beach. There you have canals, bike lanes, lakes, pic- nic areas but also one of my favourite play areas, the army training ground.

and this is just in the 15 min walk radius....

Monday, August 1, 2011

and on that note...

As you read this I am on a plane over the Atlantic leaving behind Europe and what has been my life for the last 2.5 years, (as well as my kids and my husband, although that should only be for a couple of days).

My soul is resisting this move. Too many moves in too little time in the past few years. As I heard one psychologist put it, we have been going over the entry stage over and over, without ever making in into the assimilation stage. Starting to pack as soon as the last paintings are up, sort to speak.

During my last trip to Amsterdam I kept finding allusions to NY, like this mural of the Brooklyn Bridge in a clothes shop

or this post card at the FOAM museum

(I just had to laugh)

good signs? I hope so. I am sometimes tempted to start getting excited, but something inside of me just blocks it away. I hope I am able to open my heart to this town again. This town where I once lived but have not visited since I left on June 2006. I remember the date well because I was on maternity leave from my 9 to 5 job at the UN, and had a (rather loud) two month old on tow. We lived in the east village then, commuted together to the office in the morning. Now ... all will be different. I have two kids, I work from home, we'll live in Brooklyn which I barely know. Most of my friends are gone, nomads themselves. All will be different, yet New York somehow also feels like home. It always did.

This last photo is of the Hotel New York in Rotterdam. The hotel restaurant here looks to the water, and it is where many a travelers stopped before embarking on their trip to New Amsterdam, or what later came to be known as New York. It still has some old features, like the old elevator or some old luggage, and I thought it was the most appropriate photo to say farewell to my years linving in Holland and hello to my new life in New York.

Wish me luck!