Friday, November 9, 2012

By Soul and Soil We are Connected

How do you describe a feeling, a sensation? Words are inadequate to describe the connection between you and those who came before you, those who share the building blocks of your body, psyche, soul and the land that spawned you.
I had arrived in Scotland at 9 PM and found it pitch dark unlike the city I live in here in the USA. It was cold and we ran from the bus to the hotel for more than one reason. The bus engine was about to throw a bearing and even at the lowest idle, it can go right through the engine and any nearby bodies.
The hotel had kept dinner hot for us though for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was, just that there was an awful lot of it. I trudged up to my waiting room expecting to spend a night under my coat on a hard bed reminiscent of so many foreign beds that have sought to make my nights a misery. Much to my surprise, I found a spacious room, really hot water, a real heater and a soft bed. Scotland definitely had England beat or perhaps the contest wasn't that fair as my bed and breakfast was owned by Colombians.
The next morning came early and they stuffed us to the point we lucky ladies with purses were stowing a hearty lunch in them. If you had food left on your plate, you got the evil eye. Then it was on another bus and the prerequisite castle. That island is littered with the darned things. Generations must have spent lifetimes building nothing but castles and at this point, they really did all look alike.
But they weren't alike. The English had kennels and displays of leashes and collars. The Scots had a graveyard honoring the dogs that died protecting their owners. They had monuments to their dogs. The English had stained glass ceilings depicting the crest of every royal family, pretty novelties to remind us of our station. The Scots had monuments and memorials to the men who died in their wars, every day men forced to be mercenaries after the royalty of the English starved the country economically into servitude. No, this castle was not like all the others. It was a memorial to the memory of the struggle of a people to survive.
After a good time during which no one bothered to herd us about but left us to find what each needed to see, we returned to the bus and headed toward the town square for some shopping and lunch after which we could find our way back to the hotel. Naturally we were nervous as we Americans simply were not prepared for how small a major city like Edinburgh really is and wanted maps, detailed instructions and preferably someone to hold our hands. We were assured anyone could point us in the right direction and if we got on the bus going the wrong way to just wait and it would circle around to the right direction and leave us off at the hotel. What we didn't know was there was only one main street with shops on it and it wasn't that long.
As for me, my memories were blurred with my vision as I watched the tourist traps whiz by and tried to memorize the way back to pick up trinkets for stateside friends when I felt the bus lurch to a stop. I braced myself to exit as I am and have always been the outsider. No one ever looked like me where ever I lived. I expected the curious stares and sneers. I expected to be last one waited on, the last one admitted and the last one trusted. That is the life of one who simply doesn't belong in a big way. I had learned my lessons well, lifted my chin, smiled and stepped half way off the bus only to freeze on the bottom step. Everyone looked just like me. The next person in line finally gave me a gentle shove off the bus and I stood on the narrow sidewalk, completely disappearing within the thong of locals. I wandered a bit, completely amazed at my new anonymity until the lure of shopping was too much and entered my first shop.
Everyone wanted to help and quickly shunted me to the proper clan tartans though I had not managed a word as to what clan I belonged. Until I opened my mouth, they had no idea I was not an out of town cousin on a shopping trip. A few blocks away I was welcomed into a local restaurant for a lovely lunch amid the locals. Finally I found a suitcase and convinced a Japanese store owner I wasn't a local but a pretty savvy American, so he could cut the crap and give me the best price on the cheap suitcase he was trying to sell as top of the line. I think he said he'd rather deal with the cheap Scots, but I cut my bargaining teeth in Latin American markets.
I sat in the park for a while just looking at the people, each could have been my brother or sister, and marveling at everyone smiling at me and saying hello. I belonged. I wasn't an outsider. This was where I came from at my most basic genetic level. These were my people.
I discovered the bus trip to the hotel was a whole 3 blocks I could have walked but they were accustomed to Americans being weaklings. It was cold and I admit I have never felt colder and I have been at the top of Andes in the winter, but the chill filled me like an old friend I had not seen in a long time. As night fell, I sat in my windowsill and looked out at King Arthur's seat...a low hill by Scottish standards but I had been guaranteed, a climb I probably couldn't make. I was raised in West Virginia part of my life. I already knew distances in the mountains are deceiving. I had carefully opened the window to take advantage of lazy wind that doesn't bother to go around you, but cuts right through you, as I had been told. The chill spread through every inch of my body and my blood sang with a song older than my body as my soul called to the mountains, lochs and heather and they answered. We were one and I was home.
It was this feeling I recalled today in the chill of an early autumn in Florida as I read the newspapers. The Latino vote had shifted to at least 67% for a president that didn't insult them by trying to wear brown face on their TV channel. But as I read the article I came to the Cuban vote, barely hitting the 50% mark as old men still fight a lost battle with a ruler, 50 years older and just as strong as the day I stepped off the two engine plane into a sweltering country, palm trees everywhere heavy with coconuts, and people speaking a language I barely understood having picked up my smattering of Spanish in Mexico. My mother was clinging to my hand, scared to death of the line of men with rifles held at ready hand as we walked to customs and then, they took her pound of coffee. Yes, they took her coffee and explained, we grow it, we have much better than Maxwell House here and anyway, you can't bring food into most foreign countries. She was livid but they had guns. They let her keep the coffee pot. Even a Latino man with a gun knows better than to push a red head too far.
This was my home for the next almost two years. There were orchids, something we had never seen before. Lizards abounded everywhere unafraid of humans and reducing my mother to squeals. I think they deliberately tortured her. Birds sang in strange songs. Everything grew with a lush vengeance. During the rainy season, the water fell in torrents at 3:05 PM to 3:35 PM every day as if Mother Nature had a wrist watch accurate to the minute. Then the steam rose and it was almost as if the rain was falling back up into the sky. By dusk, it cleared and everything prepared for the cooling breezes as it dried, and preened and paraded its newly cleaned colors. A whole new world of insects came out. Spiders as big as dinner plates stalked their dinner which could one of the multitude of peeps or tiny frogs and toads that came out to sing in the abundant puddles and pools. With little ambient light from the city of Havana, the stars papered the sky like a child gone mad with glitter and the night blooming flowers perfumed the air. There was always music somewhere. Someone was singing and someone was dancing as the old men traded their dominoes to assess the young women seeking true love under the watchful eyes of their grandmothers or aunts. And then there would be quiet except for the calls of wild and occasional drumming and sleep came easy until they started shooting at me, anyway, it was nice while it lasted. The whole island had a perfumed smell to it. The humidity clung to your skin but didn't really wet it and make you uncomfortable. Everything moved a slower pace because life went on and was more important than time, business or politics.
And because of old men and old wounds and older stupidity, generations have not and will not ever know what I felt in Scotland on my 40th birthday. They will never truly feel like they belong. They be a demographic on someone's chart. They will be disconnected from the land they live in always feeling a bit out sync with everything around, yearning for something they cannot describe and knowing for certain it is missing.
My only question to those old men keeping hatred alive and voting against their own best interests just to find someone willing to pay lip service to waving a saber around is: Is it worth it? Is it really worth it? Look at your children and your grandchildren who will never know their native soil and many of their relatives, think of the children born and the parents buried and answer that question with your soul. Is it worth it? Is hatred ever worth it?