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Posts Tagged ‘children’

Small survivors of the January 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

These pint-sized survivors were rescued from the general hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti where they were found abandoned after the January 12, 2010 earthquake which reduced an entire wing of the public hospital to rubble.

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By the way, If you want to read about my experience doing relief work in Haiti you can read my posts City of Displaced Souls about my first two weeks in Haiti after the earthquake and The Broken Heart of the Caribbean written as I was leaving Haiti, after 6 weeks.

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A brother and sister sell flowers in the streets of Montevideo to earn their daily bread

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I find myself in Bolivia at last. The people seem far more timid than the Argentinians but very kind once they warm to you. The food is much better than expected although I’ve been sick in some way almost every day since crossing the border – alternating between screaming headaches and a nauseous belly. My discomfort is owed primarily to the altitude which is an absolute bitch.

The first few days we spent in Tupiza where I came to terms (painfully) with the initial jump in altitude (to about 3000m) and did a bum-smacking short horse trek. Now, after much umming and ahhing over which company to choose, we set off on the much-anticipated and very famous 4-day jeep tour of southern Bolivia which culminates in the bizarre Salar de Uyuni (the worlds largest and highest salt flat). This part of the country ranges from 3500 – 5000m AKA bloody high!!

I jot notes in my journal in stationery moments or as I am bounced around the back seat of the jeep:

Day 1
6:30pm. Day one of the tour was a mix of breath-taking scenery, struggling-for-breath altitudes, and gut-twisting cold. We arrived in San Antonio about an hour ago and went for a short stroll around the tiny pueblo as the sun set. The town consists of a handful of mud-brick houses with thatched straw rooves at the base of an impending snow-capped volcano, 6-hours drive from nowhere.

Forgotten Daughter, Bolivia

From the central “plaza” (nothing more than a small dusty square of street) a loudspeaker barks information periodically. This is the only mechanism for communication with the outside world in a town without telephones, newspapers, or even electricity.
The children are friendly and grubby, with frozen-snot noses and cheeky smiles. They have such age in their eyes, in their faces – it’s disarming. One boy in a turquoise sweater and roman sandals shyly approached as we chatted with his outgoing young friend. He must have been no more than 13 but somehow looked closer to 40 – his eyes were knowing, his skin aged.
A delightful family of hermanas let us take their photo… for a price of course. I have never before met such charming hustlers.

Day 2
11:08am. I am sitting in paradise – Laguna Hediona, in the deserted bottom end of Bolivia. I sit on a shore of tiny volcanic rocks looking out across the small, perfectly formed lake to snow-capped peaks and rose-coloured mountains. Flamingos congregate in the shallows.

The shore of Laguna Colorado, Bolivia

This landscape is epic. It makes you feel utterly tiny and yet completely a part of this magnificent planet. I feel as if I am seeing the world for the very first time, wondering at the exquisite beauty of it all. Like this morning, when the world was frosted in the most magnificent jewels. Whole mountains sparkled. The ice shines like diamonds, all the more precious for their impermanence.
12:44pm. I have a killer headache, from the altitude. It feels as if my head is about to explode. I am chewing coca, a leaf that is very popular with the locals. It tastes like grass, unpleasant to say the least, but seems to help.
4:34pm. Mobs of hot-pink flamingos dancing across a ruby-and-white swirled lake, skirted by emerald and gold moss banks, and watched over by earth and rock mountains. …

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Young girl in San Antonio, Bolivia

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I was in Buenos Aires in 2006. It was 30 years on from the military coup that changed the collective Argentinean consciousness forever and, being a part of it, I felt my own consciousness (and, indeed, conscience) shifting. Looking back this experience was a huge turning point for me, being there has led me to be me.

Never Again: Prohibited books

I was in Buenos Aires for the massive concerts and protest marches that marked the 30 year anniversary of the military coup on March 24, 1976. That coup marked the beginning of 7 years of military dictatorship in which around 30,000 Argentinians were murdered or forcibly disappeared by the Junta for holding dissenting political beliefs. The Dirty War (as it became known) cut deep into the body of Argentina, and the wound is still raw. These demonstrations were Argentina’s way to never forget, to stay passionate, and to inspire the new generation of advocates for freedom.

Standing tens of thousands strong in the Plaza de Mayo amid awed silence broken by valiant cries of “nunca más” (never again) we stood at revered attention as we bore witness to the suffering of a whole generation by watching a half hour documentary on the recent political history of Argentina, jostled periodically in the waves of emotion as the crowd reacted to their story. After the documentary finished to pained applause a frail looking old woman in a white headscarf approached the microphone. What followed was the most rousing and impassioned speech I have ever had the honour to witness. Here she was, one of the “Mothers of the Disappeared”, a group of women who protested weekly during the dictatorship and were integral in the eventual swing back to democracy. The catch cry of her speech, and the protests, “nunca más” resounded not only throughout the night but also appeared on innumerable walls around the city. The city, the country, was so political, the people so impassioned by their beliefs willing to speak out and to act on them. It was profoundly inspiring.

Nunca Mas! (Never Again!)

From Buenos Aires I wrote home to friends:
“I have been in a really introspective space of late, a space that travelling seems to inevitably create. I really feel, already, like my experiences, conversations, and encounters here have changed my world view, and I anticipate that change becoming more and more profound as the months pass. I have always been a very idealistic person, outspokenly so; and yet I have never made the hard calls, never really followed though on my beliefs. I see that now. I was lazy, scared maybe. Being here, in a place that is so abuzz with politics, I realise that I need to take action.

“For now I am trying to learn to experience people more fully, to open my heart more, and to feed my hunger for knowledge with big ideas from profound thinkers (be they famous or hidden, living or passed). I am reading a lot. I am watching a lot: how people interact, how people respond to their circumstances, what people do in (real) hardship, and contemplating the way I have responded in times that I thought were hard. I have been writing a lot, getting inside myself, trying to be truly honest on the page (which is harder than I could have imagined) and in my encounters with people. I have been thinking, theorising, and also feeling. Sometimes I get sad. Like 2 days ago when I met a young boy begging on the street (by pretending to play the accordion), he was so hard for his age, his life had been so hard.

The Accordion Player: a young boy begs on a Buenos Aires street with a musical prop her cannot master

“It can be really hard to take, you know? There are so many people here who cannot look beyond the next meal. Their future and the futures of their children are totally bleak, and they know it. The most disconcerting thing about it is that many of these people were middle class citizens just 5 or 6 years ago. It makes you realise how powerless we really are in the face of the machine of economy, and how fragile our little lives are in the hands of greedy and (oftentimes) ignorant politicians. We choose to live in a way that totally disempowers us, we choose ignorance and dependance. It’s frightening.

I know all that sounds depressing, and sometimes it is, but the truth is that my eyes are opening, and I am grateful for it.”

My eyes continued to open as the months and years of travel wore on, with every new friend I made, with every child I saw begging in the streets. This world is imbalanced, but it doesn’t have to be. I like to think I am much more active in my life these days, I have moved my life to be more in harmony with my values, and I continue to do so. This was a life changing moment for me, one of many.

I would love to hear about your own life changing memories, if you are willing to share.

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Us writers must be power-hungry freaks, right? Here we are, night after night, scribbling away in notebooks, penning masterpieces (we hope), creating worlds on the page. We create characters out of thin air and ink, dictate the paths along which their lives wander, choose their lovers, their careers, and even their names. When we tire of them we may even terminate their inky existence with a flutter of fingers or a tap on the keys. The power is, well, total.

They say that with great power comes great responsibility. I’m struggling with my responsibility.

What to call you, what to call you, damn it!

Today I have been trying to name my key characters. It’s harder than you may suspect. You don’t want to give them anything too obvious, too ordinary, too out there, or too obtuse. I don’t want the other kids to tease them in the playground. I don’t want the readers to taunt them with cruel nicknames. I don’t want to call them Mary or Bill (sorry to the bazillions of Mary/Bills out there). I feel like an expectant mother… it feels like just maybe all the success (or failure) of the operation could just hinge on the perfect name.

I thought about naming them after favourite characters I’ve read, but Raskolnikov is perhaps just a little too Russian and Lolita carries such a connotation these days. Maybe I’ll save those gems for my real-life kids.

I thought about naming them after great historical heros but meh.

I tried to think about the connotations of names and tie them to the character traits of each player. It’s not that easy to do. Maybe I should look at a book of names and their meanings…

Does anyone have any good advice for naming characters?

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