Luke's South American Diary
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October 1998

4 October 1998

My period of enforced domesticity has been progressing well enough - so far - and I imagine that it is very good for my karma. I had forgotten just how much I hate washing and (particularly) ironing, and my standards of general household cleanliness are probably far removed from Godliness - I will probably be receiving complaints soon (luckily Julie has been away in Caracas most of the time so far).

My period of father-daughter bonding has likewise been painless enough - so far. Elena seems to realize that I also have work to do, and she is content to play on her own for short periods of time at least. I try to get out of the house regularly for the sakes of both of our sanities (and to do my own errands), and other than her propensity for singing the Colombian National Anthem at the top of her voice in the supermarket or park (which I confess to finding mildly embarrassing for some reason), Elena is usually more or less well behaved, and I have even found myself thoroughly enjoying her at times.

Her favourite game of the moment involves basically telling people what
Photo: Elena dressed up, Bogotá, Colombia. Oct 98.
Elena dressed up, Bogotá, Colombia. Oct 98.
to do, or more specifically what to say, and she will invent complete conversations (usually involving princes and princesses, or little dogs and little girls) in which the other party has to repeat their part verbatim, all of which sounds easy enough, but, take it from me, it can become really wearing after half an hour or so. Her other obsession, that of wrapping all her animals in "blankets" (cloths of any description) continues, and requires less audience participation. She seems to me to be a very obsessive sort of a person, although maybe that is normal. She is also developing quite a sense of humour and a certain incontrovertible logic when it suits her: "We'll share it. You have one, and I'll have the rest. That's sharing".

Elena has also reached the "Why?" syndrome with a vengeance, and so we have therefore reached the "Because!" syndrome. It is very difficult to respect natural inquisitiveness after the tenth iteration, try as we might. It is interesting, however, to see just what questions she asks. For example, she seems to understand instinctively (who knows why?) that rain comes from clouds, but she can somehow not come to grips with why it comes downwards, and without getting too far into the Theory of Relativity it is really not easy to make a convincing answer. She has shown, understandably, an unhealthy and increasing interest in human biology, and I often much prefer her interpretations to the reality (for example, that we all have mouths in our tummies which eat all the food we shovel down our throats - "even Daddies have them").

27 October 1998Back to top

At last Elena has a friend here in our building, her own age and at least as desperate for someone to play with as is Elena herself. She meets with Nicole most afternoons, and they often share lunch, which seems to me a reasonably healthy thing to be doing. The spanner in the works is that the family will be moving away very soon, but in the meantime they are best buddies. She has also been asking if she can bring back friends from school (the first demonstration of the dreaded "peer pressure" which will no doubt rule our lives in the years to come), but that too is such a normal thing that really we welcome it. So far, however, she has not had much luck – her first invitee cried off sick, and the second just cried, not wanting to leave her mother – an inauspicious start, but no doubt things will come together eventually.

The reason we are so concerned about all this "normality" and "healthiness" all of a sudden is mainly because she seems to be suffering somewhat from the absence of Maritza, who has of course always been around for her as long as she can remember. Her suffering has been mainly internalized – the worst kind – and certainly with us she hardly mentions Maritza, but apparently at school she has been mourning her. She now knows that Maritza is not coming back, but from time to time she seems to suppress that thought, and still asks after her. While she will no doubt forget in time, our job is to try and make it as easy as possible for her, although preferably without lying and dissembling, hence our concern about keeping her occupied, especially with friends of her own age.

Amazingly enough, we managed to find a replacement for Maritza within just a couple of weeks, and certainly so far Chirle (apparently a rendition of Shirley!) is working out very well. She cleans much better than Maritza ever did, and she is also very good with Elena. She has adapted to some of our wacky foreign ways well enough, although we are still in the learning process, and we even pay her less than we used to pay Maritza (still above the going rate, mind you – we are still foreigners, after all!). Elena, after an initial honeymoon period where things went swimmingly, has been making her life a misery, however, between her hunger strike and her tantrums. I have also been finding her (Elena) increasingly difficult and frustrating, and at times I have had to just walk away rather than do something I may regret. It has not helped that we have all been suffering from colds or viruses of some sorts, which Elena selects from the many varieties circulating at school. Ah, only fifteen years to go...

The weather has not helped my mood. I imagine that we have been in the grips of La Niña (another niña), because with rare exceptions the weather has been quite foul in recent weeks. There has been one rain storm after another, accompanied by the usual reports of whole suburbs being washed away and major roads completely blocked by landslides. There have also been a couple of repeats of the dramatic hail-storm of this time last year. One in particular was like nothing I have ever experienced before. It shredded all the plants in the garden, and the ice blocked the drains on our terrace, so that we watched the water rising and rising until we realized that we had to act quickly to unblock the drains. Afterwards, the whole of Northern Bogotá was covered in a layer of white, in places upto 10cm deep. Indeed the kids were out sliding and playing in it as though it were snow, and the next day I even discovered a snowman. In places where it had been swept up, it remained for the best part of two days despite temperatures which were far from freezing. Very strange!

Even stranger was that, just a few short days later we spent a beautiful Sunday in the hammock on our terrace in red-hot sun only mildly alleviated by an occasional cooling breeze. When the weather is good in Bogotá it is truly wonderful. We spent another Sunday participating in the annual Terry Fox Run, nowadays a world-wide event, and I was rash enough to run the course pushing Elena in her little-used stroller, which would have been fine were the course not on gravel and sand paths, which made the unaccustomed exercise twice as much of a burden.

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