I have been thinking some about a word in Spanish. Dr. Hamilton opened doors in my mind to the wonderings of linguistics; and I cannot turn back. The word is “preocupar.” Most often, the verb is used in saying something like “no te preocupes.” If translated for meaning, it means “do not worry.”
There are days here when I sit alone at the wooden table. Well, not literally alone. Two or three employees sit around me, yet they talk about personal or business things that either I cannot relate to, or my Spanish is not proficient.
Sybil, my closest friend and roommate here, is serving tables tonight in the restaurant. I pick at the pasta on my plate and begin to imagine what it will be like when she leaves at the end of the month. Will the cohesion of our group dissolve? Will a divide grow in between employees and volunteers? Will every evening turn into this? I sip from my “Home Depot Argentina” mug. I am not thirsty, but I want something to do so I can linger at the table longer. I have descended the staircase that seems to present itself only in the evenings—with each stair I carry myself deeper into the preoccupied state of future thought.
And that is just it. “No te preocupes” translated literally means “do not preoccupy yourself.” I need this reminder. My blues comes when I lose my footing in the present and drift towards future worry. The Spanish-speakers have it right. Worry is what happens when my mind fixates on things prematurely. I stand and walk to the only-cold-water sink. The sky is dark. A last breath of day lingers in the pinkish hue of the clouds.
Without fail, there is redemption for nights like these. It is as though I find an equivalent to my late night laps around the Quad.
Here, I go find Sybil and listen to her explain the comic book story she has been developing in her head for a year now. She intertwines the personalities of her friends in a plot surrounding the last hurrahs of youth when dreams mix with reality. She is so French, which makes it all the more entertaining to watch her work to convey meaning in Spanish. Her brow furrows as the light catches her blue eyes and reveals how personal this narrative is to her.
Or I cross paths with Pablo, and before I can say anything, his face gives way to a goofy expression as though to say “you look at me as if I am up to something, but I’m not!” Standing on the edge of town, our heads tilt. We drink in the stars showing off in the new moon night. I introduce Pablo to a sweet southern phrase, “my word!”
Or maybe, redemption is slow-coming. The following afternoon, I prepare the soil for a new bed of zucchini. Astrid has arrived home from her travels. It is as though Grammy docked at Sun Sands. Bahia Bustamante is finally complete. She brings with her friends from Buenos Aires. Young hip blond Argentine guys with scruffy beards and puffy Patagonia jackets. A wispy Ecuadorian girl follows behind them. I cannot help but think of the 180 Degrees South entourage as I tour these new friends through the garden. The Ecuadorian, Isabella, kneels down to plant basil, eggplant, and leeks with me. Astrid passes us Mate and we revel in the “girl power hour” in the garden. At day’s end, everyone finds their way to the garden. I like to think it is the “life hub” which attracts us. Whether it is the life in each other or the life in the growing red fruits, I am not certain. On the western edge of the garden, the wind dances through oversized bushes speckled with blushed-pink blooms. I pull at the collar of my sweater—the breeze sweeps hair in my face as the light pours in—it is golden hour.
my inaugural alcoholic beverage to celebrate my 21st birthday came two weeks late. From a broken glass mug I sipped Patagonian wine. The wind mixed in Patagonian dust to make things extra special. [Sybil, Rosie, Jacob...R and J are from the UK only here for 2 weeks]
Sybil and I went exploring one morning. We walked 9K to the end of the Peninsula.
Mate Mate Mate! I am learning all the tricks to being a "Sededor" aka the one who passes the mate.
We plant with the new moon as the new moon is when roots grow. The full moon is better for the parts of the plant above ground. at this time, the fruits, leaves, and flowers grow the most. call me a dirty hippie.
Another small story from life here at BB--
One of the ongoing conversations here is about ghosts. Pablo the chef and Franco the guide lived together at first. Each morning, Pablo walks in recounting how sleepless the night had been for him. I look to Franco for confirmation and he shrugs his shoulders affirming how it was all true. Franco has experience with the supernatural. He explains even in his first nights here, the electricity would go out at midnight, and as he walked back with the light of the stars he began to feel the heaviness of spirits around him. While Franco may be hypersensitive to these occurrences, it does not seem to bother him. It is just how it is.
I am up to my elbows in flour as Pablo is talking a mile a minute. I press my knuckles further into the risen dough, and listen. He lists the many spooky events of the night before—“tac tac tacs” at the window, “pah pah pahs on the metal door,” and” thup thup thups” up to his bedroom door…a long pause, and then withdrawing steps. His eyes widen as he warns me it all starts right when the lights go out. The poor guy hasn’t slept in days. If anyone, it is the guy in charge of our food that I want to sleep well.
Pablo speaks with Matias, and decides he will move. He now resides in the room next to Sybil and me. I hope the ghosts won’t follow him. Franco and Adrian catch us up on the history of this place. When it served as home to a seaweed-harvesting community, the population was 75% men and nearly all were recently released convicts. Adrian raises his eyebrows—our imaginations figure out the rest. Franco adds, “yeah there were fights and killings all time and it wasn’t like they buried people.” Franco is matter of fact with his accounts. He describes what he hears and tells us he believes it is ghosts. Sybil eggs Franco on--she assumes her natural position…the opposite. Franco remains unphased. “Okay then, come stay a night, you will see who is laughing the next morning.”
I jump at the invitation. This is a new thing for me, but I love the adventure and adrenaline ghost-seeking offers. Thanks Jack, Connor, and Poulin for going with me on our quest for Lydia. “Of course, Franco, we will come tonight!” Sybil gives me the “you are silly…but let’s do it” look and Franco’s grin widens.
For the rest of the day, everyone is talking about how “the girls are staying in Pablo’s room with the ghosts.” Pablo shakes his head—incredulous at how we would choose to sleep in his old haunted room.
After dinner, we sit watching River (Adrian and Franco’s team) play Libertad. With each half hour, people begin to call it a night and head to sleep. Franco begins to discuss the agenda for the evening. He takes this seriously. “Do you want me to walk you to the house? Do you know which house is mine?” Strong, independent Sybil denies all attempts at chivalry. Of course we can find the house. Internally, my heart is already pumping with the adrenaline rush of “what ifs.”
I tuck my trusty, ancient, ¾ size, blue Thermarest under my arm and my sleeping bag under the other. Thankfully, Franco is both stubborn and thoughtful. He has finished his after-dinner smoke and is waiting to accompany us on the 200 meter (meters…I am in Argentina ya know!?) walk to his house. We walk in and check absolutely everything out—every window, door, and light fixture. Sybil wants to be able to pinpoint the origin of every sound. All I am thinking is “oh please, my imagination does not need any more help.”
I unroll my thermarest and situate my bedding. Sybil won’t have it. “You ahr going to zleep on zhat tiny fhing?” Franco stands in the doorway laughing at our antics. I explain how if we hear things I do not want to go outside and back to our room. Sybil interrupts—but the noises come from inside! Franco assures me that if we wake up in the middle of the night he will walk us home. He heads back to watch the game, and promises to announce himself upon reentry.
Sybil launches into every ghost story she knows. A half hour passes, and Franco with his hood up ducks his head in—“soy yo” he declares. He swears off any jokes from now onward. One hand on the bathroom door, he asks if we think we will use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Sybil can’t help herself. With her sarcastic smile she says “yes, I think it is a possibility.” I turn the pages of Wake Forest Magazine (the very best! Homegrown Harmonies was a homerun, no?). All I can think about is the moment when the electricity shuts off—the moment Pablo has explained to me again and again—the moment of the first bang.
From the other room we hear: “If you hear loud snoring, it is not ghosts, it is me.”
Sybil ropes me into another lofty before bed conversation. I reach for the odds and ends of my Spanish vocabulary trying to explain something of the academic structure of Wake and then….all of the sudden...the light sputters and coughs off. I stop midsentence. Even unbelieving Sybil takes in a breath. Conversation is out of the question now. I am caught in between two motives. Do I rush myself to sleep and avoid the terror or do I submit to the tantalizing possibility of a visit from the supernatural? If you have ever tried to rush to sleep, you know how few my options truly were. A loud clang echoes through the house right after the lights went. I write it off as coincidence…could have been a stray dog. I cannot tell if it’s been minutes or more, but Sybil’s breath lengthens and grows heavy. I strain my ears…shoot, Franco snores sound from the room next door. I am the only one awake. The wind storms off the steppe and careens its way around this tiny house. We are enveloped in its wild howling and shrieking. The door to Pablo’s room does not fully shut. There is this tiny crack of possibility that is left open. I imagine a nearly headless man peeking through, still searching this earth for revenge.
I lift my head off my warm sweatshirt and the room is light. Finally. I check my watch…last time it was 4:37am…the time before that it was 3:13am…the time before that… It is now 8:15am. I rouse Sybil and we walk back to grab a few crackers and swig down our coffee. I look over at her to check if our nights match. “Nada.” She says simply.
I walk into the kitchen with an apologetic smile. I didn’t hear anything. Pablo does not care. He slept great for the first time in weeks. Franco walks in and bids me good morning. I look at him hoping to garner a hint to what he is thinking—how he diagnoses the evening. Without missing a beat he answers, “the ghosts were calm last night.”
In meeting these people and working my hands through the wind-beaten earth of this place it is as if I’ve forgotten myself-- In only the best way possible. I am a different person within the confines of the language. Maybe it is because it is not easy to describe my involvements back in the states or even more so, they do not matter here. It is interesting to be fully Sarah, but not the Sarah that is known at Wake Forest or in Raleigh. I hope I am not scaring any of you. No new piercings, I promise. While these people do not know about my love for Mat Kearney or even the shores of Lake Huron, I gain the chance to know them. I hope to introduce you to the people and the place and with this, I hope you come to know some of my favorite stories this far.
The morning starts leisurely as Sybil and I roll out of our beds and cross the path to the old schoolhouse. We use this space as our common room, dining room, laundry, and kitchen. Striking a match, I light the gas stove and fix ourselves a cup of cafe. Here, we use the pour-over method and I am thankful. Conversation is scarce. We have grown close enough—if only in days, to sip our cafe in silence.
Sybil heads with Adrian, one of the two guides here, to the Petrified Forest with one of the guests. It is still early in the tourism season and if there is extra space on these trips, Sybil and I get to tag along. [[I struggle to write all this. I sound pretentious or even ridiculous, but it is difficult for me to find my normal writing rhythm as I have been consumed by Spanish. Hang with me.]]
After breakfast, I cross over and open the heavy blue door to the main kitchen. Pablo looks over; his eyes widen if only for a moment of question, and quickly crinkle into a knowing smile. Pablo is the chef. He is young and likeable. I am always asking him to describe his favorite dishes and he is always returning to the meat portion of each dish which is “rey-bellisimo.” He brings a lot of youth to our group. If there is ever an opportunity for humor in conversation, I always look over at Pablo so we can laugh together.
After collecting the compost for the chickens, I head for the garden. The chickens wait for me. I have a suspicion that with the sun they know how to tell time, or at least meal time. On cloudy days I always seem to surprise them. I have to say it is more fun to speak to clucking chicken in Spanish.
The wind is relentless. It’s been so for two days. I will be short with things in the garden. Although my journal is filled with realizations and ponderings about what I am learning as I work with the Earth, I believe what is life-giving and meant to be shared is the community of this place—the people. So, the garden. Concisely, I encourage anyone who searches for purpose to enter garden gates. There comes an addiction to removing weeds and “watering like a light rain.”
We water the soil that is “resting” too--where no seeds are planted and apparently, it is lifeless. Yet each afternoon, Sybil and I water this Earth generously. We know the promised abundance of the future and prepare readily. I pass along a raised bed that for days has disappointed us. Sybil planted Remolacha days earlier, but still no growth. Maybe it is bad soil? Maybe it was a group of bad seeds? With a final hope, I crouch low and find green beacons of promise sprouting out towards me—beautiful, glory-filled defiance.
I return to the school to find the rest of the group beginning to pass plates for lunch. I cannot help but use Wendell Berry’s word—a membership, as I describe the way we all pitch in gathering utensils, cups, and water. We joke about how luxurious butter is to us now. Sybil and I remain with Franco and Adrian the two guides at the end of lunch. Somehow, we launch into a grand discussion of religion and the plausibility of a universal moral code…all in Spanish. Franco, a blond, sea-loving guide from 3 hours south of BB, fights passionately for the case of a clear good and evil. He worked as a missionary in his teens and while he has written off the religiosity of Catholicism, he believes strongly in people who live for the example of sacrifice. Sybil, a fellow anthropologist from France instigates flaws in Franco’s case. Sybil loves to disagree in the best way possible. She provides us avenues to think and entertain ourselves with ideas. She and Franco are constantly seeing things differently and it provides Adrian and me moments to situate a compromise. Adrian is engaged to Paula (who helps in the kitchen and the office.) It is their second season here.
Finally, we break the debate to wash dishes and head for the siesta hour.
Around 3, I wander down to the coast and catch up with Franco at the “Cruiseta” aka the old beat-up Land Crusier of my dreams. There is extra space in the “Penguin Expedition.” We hop in and pick up Matt, a guest from the UK. Matt enters the car and suddenly, out of nowhere, Franco speaks clear perfect English. I am sure he could see my jaw drop, even from the driver seat. It is as if we are different people in English. I become “myself” and am freed to joke and explain my personality in ways I have almost forgotten. When Matt tells us he is from England, without missing a beat, Franco asks “do you live near Hogwarts?” Franco won all the points then and there. I explain to them both how I taught Sybil my favorite trail game, where you “hide” somewhere in Harry Potter world and we ask yes or no questions to find you. This idea of hiding within Hogwarts leaves Franco grinning. His left hand on the wheel, all I can see are his big blue eyes filled with wonder.
We visit the penguins nesting and fight to walk against the wind. Nearing the evening, we stop at a secluded cove and Franco passes Matt and me mate. I love the sharing involved with this ritual. As we drove homewards, a dusty golden veil drops across the horizon line.
Again, my favorite time of day comes—when we are all together. We tuck in to the big wooden table as Adrian and Franco tell stories of driving the Crusitas. Their eyes widen and hands flail about as they supply an abundance of sound effects and demonstrations.
After dinner, one of us fixes the rest tea and we cross our fingers the wind will die down long enough to watch a bit of futbol. As Franco says “futbol es la religion de Argentina.” Paula walks in and curls up against Adrian. They are both petite, but feisty. Adrian is constantly sneaking food off Paula’s plate and she is constantly giving her fair share of wet willies. They explained to me they work here to get away from the city. I can only imagine how content they must be—to sit together, Paula reading but still keeping up with the score of the game.
Mate and Life Jackets make for a great combination
Home is in North Carolina. But, I take seriously Wendell Berry's imperative, "Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction."