Luke's South American Diary
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June 1997

20 June 1997

Recently Elena has continued to amaze and astound us with her precocity (I imagine all parents go through this), and by pulling out of a hat phrases like "Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls" (did she see it on television? I certainly did not), "Supermaaaan!" (in response to a similar-looking cartoon character on television – I have not seen Superman for years: how come she has?), "Go round the other way, so I don’t get too dizzy" (OK, I am sure I have told her that on numerous roundabout rides, but to me it seemed an advanced concept for a two-year-old), and the long-suffering "Come on, Daddy, it’s 10 o’clock. Time for Baby Gym" (I looked and it was!).

Photo: Cowgirl Elena, Caracas, Venezuela. Jun 1997.
Cowgirl Elena, Caracas, Venezuela. Jun 1997.
And she continues to amuse us with her antics, like when she decided she could not reach the moon, so she went to fetch the big stool to stand on, or when she got very confused playing Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses with both myself and Maritza, which necessitated alternate lines of Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses in English, and A La Rueda Rueda (the Spanish equivalent). According to her, every book she looks at (and luckily she still loves her books) starts with "Once upon a time... ", even ABC books and magazines!

I recently had another week looking after her on my own (arguably I am almost earning my keep now!), when Maritza was mysteriously called away to Colombia. The story was (although we have never actually been able to confirm it, it sounded plausible enough) that her son, who is at a university in Valledupar in northern Colombia, was included among about thirty students who were kidnapped by guerrillas, with two of them actually being killed. If true, she must have been frantic, although with Maritza it is as difficult to tell if something is true, as it is discern signs of emotion.

30 June 1997

Another flying weekend visit to Colombia, and we made the decision as to where we are going to be living in Bogotá - a new apartment block (which brings its own set of potential problems, but also its advantages), in a so-called conjunto cerrado, with security on entry into the private estate, and more security in the building itself. We have had to make do with a tiny third-floor terrace instead of our lovely garden, and although the communal gardens are pleasant enough, and include the essential swings and slides, we will sorely miss our swimming pool (and the weather which makes such things practical in Caracas). The building does have a gym and a squash court, however, so I will have no excuse to continue in my current bloated condition, and it is also the only building we have seen in Bogotá which has central heating.

We came to no firm conclusions on which car to buy, although Julie will probably plump for the swish but practical Chevvy Blazer for her work car (a tank of a 4-wheel drive for the Bogotá pot-holes, but with all the bells and whistles of the top of the line). She has been advised by all and sundry to get it bullet-proofed and "securitized" (what are we letting ourselves in for?), but I think I would probably prefer a smaller, less ostentatious car, (like a Vitara, which still has the advantage of four-wheel-drive for those Bogotá roads), and use that as my main deterrent. Julie has also been advised to employ an armed driver/bodyguard, and it seems as though she will have to toe the line, at least in the short term, to placate her paranoid boss in Toronto if for no other reason, and review the situation later.

We attended the Canadian Embassy’s Canada Day celebrations in Bogotá, (the informal family barbecue contrasted sharply with the Embassy’s formal cocktail in Caracas – I know which approach I prefer!), and met several Canadians and Americans, who did not regale us with horror stories of muggings and murders, and generally put us even more at ease than we already were. Everyone was enjoying the beautiful weather, hot and sunny, with blues skies, and just a hint of freshness in the air. Probably the best advice we were given, however, was not to get too complaisant about the place, as, although very few people we spoke to seem to have encountered major problems there, it could still turn round and bite us at the least likely moment.

Julie’s replacement in the Caracas office has arrived from Canada, with her homebody husband and two-and-a-half year old daughter (with whom Elena gets on very well), so I have been doing a certain amount of helping them acclimatize, in an attempt to smooth over those frustrating, chaotic and stressful first weeks, which I still remember quite well from three years ago. Paradoxically, we seem to have made several good friends recently in Caracas, mainly those with young children, and we have spent several agreeable weekend afternoons around the pool, with the kids entertaining each other to a large extent, (which is how it is supposed to be, and, up until now, never has been), and with Elena scaring the pants off people with her alarming, but perfectly serviceable, swimming and diving techniques.

Elena recently started three mornings a week at a school as well. It is very small and informal affair, where two teachers hold sessions in someone’s house (luckily very nearby), and just six kids all around 2 years old, doing drawing, songs, letters, that kind of thing. But for us it is a great half-way house, and gets Elena accustomed to being away from us (and from Maritza), as well as hopefully learning some better Spanish (the teachers are Peruvian sisters and speak very well). Elena loves it: the first day, she cried her eyes out, but only when I collected her at noon, and told her that we were going home and not on to another school. The teachers are also convinced that Elena is very intelligent (and "intellectual", which seemed to me a strange word to use about a 2-year-old), as well as being impressed with her dancing and singing.

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