2008 marks ten years since I returned to the USA from living overseas. The anniversary of my return was in March but I have just been thinking about that time in my life now for some reason?
In 1990 I graduated from college and I floundered around a little and then decided to become a Lay Missionary with the Franciscan Mission Service in 1993. "missionary" is a charged word so I usually use volunteer which is really what I did. I worked in the men's prison of San Sebastian in Cochabamba and in every book of poetry I write that place is part of the story. The prison is still there the same I guess and it was formative for me. Men and their families living in wooden boxes in the worst conditions- but overcoming that to have some hope.
Bolivia is a great place. For a morning person like me Bolivia is the best the people get up early and go to bed early and the days are filled with activity and action. I learned to be poet in Bolivia working with the inmates for whom poetry was really important quotes from Vallejo and Neruda came off their lips like sports scores. I could see how poetry could transform a place and it has stayed with me. My entire life now hinges on Bolivia- before Bolivia I was one person and after I changed into the person I am now. After three years in Bolivia I went to Brazil to work- not as a volunteer but as as a business person.
Brazil is everything Bolivia is not. Bolivia is austerely beautiful and conservative, Brazil is sumptuous and outrageous, Bolivia is Indigenous, Brazil is Polyglot. But I fell in love with Brazil and of course I met Traudi there. I spent most of the time from 1994 when I arrived in Bolivia and 2003 working or living with Latin America. I have travelled or lived in over 22 nations and the truth is I feel more at home there than here. After I left Brazil in 1998 I continued to work with South America and to translate poetry and to engage with that world.
So now in 2008 ten years removed from my return in an election year I wonder about the reality of our lives? The truth is that I have allot less when I lived in Bolivia and Brazil and I was happier. Simplicity does often breed contentment and that was true for me. Waltraud my wife an I have committed to return to Brazil to live and when that days comes it will be returning home for me- as much as my return to the US in 1998 was a return home then...