The van life is built for pandemic-infused summers; outside, away from crowds, and a parking spot next to the upper Miño to watch the birds and fish.
It’s my Saturday today. I’ve been out on the terrace, watching the fig tree away with the breeze. There are more insects buzzing, snails crawling up the stone walls, and birds darting between the electrical and phone lines that surround our house. I’m also playing around with the vintage camera app Vooravo for some retro-looking photos around the house. I’m bored of photographing the same trees from the well-worn paths of the monte.
This is one of those weekend mornings that reminds me of my years in Sierra Leone; the unhurried day, the privilege of watching time and life of the village pass by from a veranda, the warm sun on my body, the ability to read as much as I want to.
Grateful and guilty, which has been a recurring tension during the lockdown. Grateful to have had the privileges and opportunities to organize my life in this manner, and guilty knowing that not everyone is so lucky. But I know I’m in my head a lot, and that guilt will lead to paralysis or unnecessary suffering.
I misread a quote from some article a few weeks ago. In my head in went something like;
The best safeguard to life under late capitalism is withdrawing from it.
But it actually wasn’t that, at all. It was a critique, that the privileged ones, the ones with an inessential, work-from-home job are the ones who can safeguard themselves from coronavirus.
I recently talked to a friend, a madrileño musician from West Africa with a similar practical philosophy. He mentioned the protests in barrio de Salamanca and the incessant material desires that nag certain classes of people in the capital. It feels foreign, otherworldly. That wasn’t always the case, but a product of half of my life, maybe started after they extubated me. Who’s to say. But I think it’s possible that most can come to the conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is illogical.
We can thread the needle, withdraw from the capitalist mentality without completely withdrawing from society like Christopher McCandless; plant a garden, reduce costs and discourage consumption habits, prioritize immaterial experiences, read books, go for walks, re-valorize the countryside, or enjoy voluntary frugality in the city. Flatten the curve of coronavirus and of climate change by socially distancing and driving less, flying less, removing animal products from my diet, eating seasonally and locally. Prefigure a better world by thinking, talking, and planning other ways of organizing life and social relations. Want less, need less, and perhaps work less because of those priorities and that organized withdrawal.
For now, I’ll “do praxis” by non-participation, as much as I can, and theorize by writing into the void, ruining conversations with family and friends by talking climate, and reading Bookchin in my hammock. And I’ll never forget to enjoy the conference of the birds on the phone lines.
My dog is a big hit with some of my students. One in particular asked me when his birthday was a few days. We found him on the street near in a small town near Colca Canyon in Peru, so we’re not really sure of his exact age. Not wanting to confuse her, I told her the day we found her, which happens to be two years ago today. She replied that she hoped all his friends would come his birthday party, but “the little green men are everywhere and might get them sick”. Smart girl.
We had arrived back in Cabanaconde from a grueling hike down the canyon the previous day and we saw him again; this skeleton of a puppy that had a camouflage dog shirt on that covered his patchy brindle fur and rib cage, paint or something else stuck to his nose, and head bowed.
We didn’t plan to bring him back with us. First, we just wanted to get him food. After buying some tuna and talking with a store owner in the plaza, we confirmed he didn’t have a home anymore. He slept soundly in our hostel room, hardly making a sound and smelling like garbage. We brought him back to Arequipa for a veterinarian visit. The journey included hitchhiking a ride on a semi-trailer truck out of town to the Andean condor spot, another hitch on a moto with a small cargo bed on the back, and finally a bus. We learned there that he had moquillo, canine distemper and had no more plaque on his teeth, hence his stinky breath.
Since the beginning, Alqo has always been a road warrior. There’s a tiny space down by our feet that he can fit in? Done. A long walk around town to find a “dog-friendly” hostel? Okay, cool.
He enriched our trip by making us slow down, getting into extraordinary situations, and sleeping in interesting places. Instead of ending in Argentina, we stayed put in Peru for the next five months.
Happy adoption day, Alqo. I think you are lucky to have bumped into two bleeding hearts animal lovers back in that plaza, but we are even luckier to have you as our animal companion on these three crazy continents, making us laugh at your stinky breath yawns, your yoga positions, and how much you love to run when we go to the monte.
This guy is usually pretty cute. But not when he whines to go outside, ‘knocks’ seconds later to come back in, then repeats.