Monday, May 2, 2011

Secret Agent Man

A lot has happened, and nothing has happened since my last blog entry. I am still here in Sucre struggling to make my next move. But first, an update on my activities since the chime of the New Year:

I spent the month of February on an island in the Caribbean. My girlfriend, Silvia, accompanied me for the first two weeks and flew back while I stayed on for an additional two (the bike stayed at my apartment for this trip). “The Island” had long been on my list of places to visit as all my life I had heard family stories about what had happened there. Back in Guatemala I had bought the appropriate travel guide and started talking to my father about the trip. During our conversations on Skype we would go over Google Earth satellite photos on our respective computers. “Does that look the right place?” “Is that the bridge you remember?” Over a series of calls and sending screen shots of map images back and forth he was finally convinced that he had found the house where his father had died. My grandfather. Dad lived in the house as a 12-years old in 1953, while his father was stationed there with the U.S Army - until the time of this death at the age of 39.

It was an excellent opportunity to talk more with my dad about this pivotal point in his life and learn more about my biological grandfather. I ordered a digital recorder from Amazon so that Dad could reminisce at will and send me his thoughts via email. I was never that close to the grandfathers that I had growing up - I don’t think either of them had ever picked up a baseball, as they just were not those kinds of guys. Though they were loving and had their qualities. As a kid I always envisioned that my “other grandfather” would have been the type to teach me how to throw a curve ball while sneaking in a few bawdy jokes every once in awhile. He would have been that kind of guy.

I was enjoying the conversations with Dad, but at the same time I was in awe of the technology that we were using. Having taken much of it for granted before, I kept thinking about how far things have come in my own lifetime. Not that long ago (okay, quite awhile ago) President Kennedy and his staff were scanning over fuzzy black and white photos from U2 spy planes, contemplating if what they were looking at was a stockpile of nuclear missiles or a truckload of drainage pipes in route to a new road works project. Now, here we were talking clearly, with video, some 8,000-miles away from each other looking at the same maps almost in real time taking a virtual tour of a neighborhood in a foreign country asking, “is that it?” And, it was free!

Once ready, the trip had alluded in Guatemala and once again while in Colombia. I had largely given up on the idea, but then thought my time here in Bolivia would be my last chance before leaving the continent. Finally on the island, and after Silvia had left, I enlisted the help of a local that I had befriended, “my fixer”, and we set out in a 1953 Pontiac taxi to find our key landmark -the long defunct dog track. From there we walked towards the creek along the main double lane boulevard stopping once to ask for directions, showing my Google Map print out, crossed over a small bridge and walked up a typical residential street. There it was, after so many conversations and daydreams about finding it, there it was right in front of me. A house.

Outside of my quest to find the house, I had never really thought about what I was expecting to get out of the experience. Maybe I thought it would bring me closer to something that I had always felt cheated on, or maybe feel closer to my dad, but standing in front of the house I felt nothing more than if I had been standing in the front of the house next door, or if I were to turn around and face that house. I waited, but nothing came. Sure, I envisioned my young father and uncles playing in the creek, or riding the horse that kept in the vacant lot, but no parting of the clouds or bolt of lightning occurred, just a mild sense of accomplishment.

Walking away I noticed a woman sleeping in a rocker on the upstairs porch next door, obviously into her 80’s or more. It was the house were all the kids, my aunt and uncles, were taken when my grandfather collapsed of a heart-attack while loading a moving van - they were in the process of moving to a new house cross-town. Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope of a personal connection. I had my fixer friend Vivian ask the younger man, assumingly the son, in the driveway how long they had lived there. “Only two years. Why?” Never mind.

It was meaningful project and I am thankful that I was able to go through with it, but it was also another example of the journey outshining the destination.

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