Curious Escapades

There is a place beyond the place

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329 Plays
Erika Ryann
Darlin' You've Been On My Mind


Darlin’ You’ve Been On My Mind - Erika Ryann

Originally “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” - Bob Dylan

It just occurred to me that I should read On The Road again sometime in the very near future. Sometimes I get so distracted in the city with all of the people in my life and obstacles I’ve been faced with over the last couple months especially that I forget who I am a little. I forget how much I love spinning a record and watching grass grow. How at peace I feel to completely deny the existence of the modern world.

I had one last free day before recently being required to stay in my house (long story) for quite a stretch. A person I’ve known only a little while but whom I care about dearly manages a farm out in Johnstown, Colorado. I think he could sense that I might seriously lose my cool if I didn’t get out of the city before getting what we affectionately call the “rolex” and so invited me to see the farm.

He says the house was built in 1917. There is no shower - only an old bath tub. The floors creak and the rooms echo some when one speaks. The whitewashed front porch looks out on a vast front yard with another chicken coop to the right. He tells me he wants to plant a vegetable garden in that spot, maybe some apple trees, and we agree that every house should have a piano.

Walking in, the foyer had a sweet leather smell and I received an excited greeting from his dogs, Rex and Kormic, while he checked on the hens. In the dark, I couldn’t see much around the farm aside from a couple other old buildings (what used to be a blacksmith shop, chicken coop, and shelter for the sheep) but looking out the kitchen window the next morning revealed acres of green and golden autumn growth. Starlings swarmed one of the giant cottonwood trees in chirping madness, alerting everyone that the sun hadn’t abandoned us. It came back!

He listens to a white-bread, country talk show on the radio when the George Jones cassette ends and makes cornbread from scratch. The 1930’s oven smokes and fills the kitchen with a faint sepia-toned ghost of burnt bread’s past - but leaves the cornbread unscathed. As I flip through his recipe book, he jokes about making himself the Blueberry Boy Bait - apparently he’s hooked… himself. Gets him every time.

We walked the property line. Here he missed a spot night-planting the rye. There he might build a cabin with a wood stove … and a piano… if the landowner moves back. These cornstalks are drying for feed, they use those flowers for an herbal body product. Those must be asparagus seeds, here’s the root cellar - “maybe I’ll just move down there” - wait, where are the sheep?

I learned one of the herbs growing on the patio table by the clothes line would make your mouth tingle if you let it fall apart over your tongue. He was certain that since I cut my own hair, I’d have no difficulty trimming the overgrown locks that stuck out like towheaded straw around his hat. I warned him it was likely to be a disaster but still, in the quiet remaining light in the back yard, I attempted a modest gentleman’s cut.

It’s still crooked. Thankfully he says he doesn’t care.

A swarm of starlings clouded over our heads warning us that the sun was escaping. It’s leaving!

I don’t believe he knows fully how much good that trip did for me. Every time I need to step away from the stale energy of the city, I’m able to close my eyes to a hazy evening, waking from a nap and venturing alone to the front of the property. Peering down the country road that separated his farm from that of the neighbors and wishing I could record the clucking and cooing sound the laying hens made. I will at some point. At the same time, it only deepened my lust for open space, land to tend and time to breathe. I get there someday. I know.

It’s been a long time since I played and/or recorded any Dylan covers. Amazing considering what a direct influence he’s had on my growth and education as a musician and altogether emotionally expressive person. I’ve needed to get this one out of my system for a while now. Something made me pick up and go with it today. Perhaps it was the satisfied feeling I had today after playing a great show last night with my country band. Maybe needed to record something, anything, in the spirit of creating and sharing in wake of Lou Reed’s passing yesterday. Perhaps because I’ve recently taken more and even bigger steps in a chosen direction, away from this crossroad I’ve been standing at…

Or maybe it’s the weather, or something like that.

Anyway, you’ve been on my mind.


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Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. Then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.

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"Do you know how to shoot?"
"No, I’ve never fired a gun, can I hold it?"

"Do you know how to shoot?"

"No, I’ve never fired a gun, can I hold it?"


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Mama oooohooo

I’m sitting on the back of a boda boda as the brisk, but not too cold air rushes past and we arrive on main street in the small town of Kisoro where the buses headed to Kampala have parked. Horizon, Jaguar, and more line the newly paved street (a present from the NRM and Museveni just in time for elections) as I take my seat on the left side of the bus. The left is better when it comes to travelling by coach I have found, there are only two seats on that side. On the right, the three narrow seats never leave enough room for three sets of shoulders to reach the seatback, and the unlucky third is often left to lean forward for the 11-hour drive into the capital city. Likewise the other two make small turns with their neck to assess the way weight will be distributed in the small area.

            Back on the left, the ride is pleasant, besides the fact that the bus takes 2 hours to fill before the journey ever begins. Once we’re off however, it’s the same rush of moving that you get in any vehicle on the open road. Except perhaps with an elevated view of the narrow dirt roads that twist through the patchwork hills of the Kisoro district all the way to the Echuya Forest. Frequently the bus lumbers to a stop on the roadside where four or five members of a family have gathered by the roadside to send off a village member to the city. Excited waves line the buses path onward as a nervous passenger makes his or her way down the narrow aisle and the engine revs again, expelling a dark cloud on the onlookers. Red dust clouds the interior from those seeking fresh air through open windows and my hair takes on a gritty texture as Beck sings about Hollywood in my ear and the sun is rising over the fog that has filled the area above Lake Bunyoni.

            I’ve been struggling with humility the last week or so. I don’t think I have ever understood so fully why my mother was always repeating my grandmothers life motto to me throughout my years in Washington State (everyone here asks, what does the D.C stand for?). I remember reading it on her gravestone when I was a little girl wrapped in flowerful dresses on my way home from church. The ground of a cemetery always felt like walking on a thousand silenced stories. I remember hopping lightly from one foot to the other, sure that if I stepped too hard I would find myself beneath the hallow surface, with those just waiting to trap me below. The grave with my name on it said, “You gotta keep dancing.” I think the motto must have come from Africa.

No matter how thick my head is for soaking up languages there is something to be said for the language of foolery. I get so frustrated with my level of communication and then spend half a day laughing with a few girls in the gift shop by exhibiting yoga moves and attempting to dance like a Congolese (too difficult). I think perhaps I am only really being understood when people are laughing, because the my attempts at African life are humorous at best.

Research in Africa has really just been learning to listen, not only verbally but listen to to body language, to cultural signals, to taboos, to the advice of elders, to the answers of a questionnaire.  Additionally being patient enough to see where that leads is essential, to base one move off of another rather than move with a program of definite action. There is likely not a single day I spend un-frustrated by some element, some issue of control, some commitment at home falling apart, some meeting that falls though, some answer that shifts my entire focus. But when walking on others time it is impossible to charge through a month of research with an extensive schedule.

Instead, I was given the opportunity to dance through a month in Kisoro, and I now know nothing could have prepared me for the ‘breaking’ I was in for. In doing so, laughing at my “rubber bones” and soft hips was necessary, talking about my own heritage (An older Batwa from town council John said one day of my squinty eyes, “I thought my God this girl must be Chinese, I think your mother slept with an asian man.”) about colonization in America, about backwardness, about gay marriage, about…big gulp God. Saying hello when all I got back was MZUNGU HOW ARE YOU? And knowing far too well that I am an outsider, despite the constant inquiries as to when I will be back and why I don’t find a man here and settle down.

            Once the bus reached Kibale it was 9:30 a.m. in a town much bigger than Kisoro (with far more peace corps volunteers and tourists). I made my way to my three meetings with banana pancakes in between and was back in the taxi park by six thirty as the sun was beginning to glow pink sherbet on the hills. The taxis running back to Kisoro at night are cars, the one I found was a van. The driver handed me half of his rolex (chapatti omelet with tomato and onion) as the van went back and forth across town, grabbing passengers and dropping them back off until finally at 8:00 p.m. the car had been stuffed with 11 passengers (not including children). This meant 3 in the back, four in the middle (where I sat) plus a baby to my left, and four men and a baby, with the driver sitting on another’s lap in the front two seats. The back was loaded with some food stuff while the roof was holding baskets tied with string. Back up the climb to the Echuya forest the loaded car crawled, each set of five speed bumps producing moans from passengers as random body parts met and asleep muscles tickled. We hit three rocks, nearly bottomed out in the Echuya due to deep holes and road construction, but made our way to the top of the hills, where the full moon could be seen above the silhouettes of the three volcano mistresses in the distance.

            Before long, by 10:30 we were back in Kisoro, crawling out of the car, a two hour journey like a sardine for the equivalent of 6 dollars a head. Then back on another boda boda, though the little town and back to the house. Where Alfred cried from the door, “I thought you were lost.” No appetite, hit the bed. Another day locked into memory I’ll likely spend the next six months dreaming about. And I have one week remaining, three community visits and two stakeholder interviews, one volcano to climb and a few friends to say bye to before a long bus back to Kampala for a processing session I am sure will destroy my little world.

You gotta keep dancin’ <3


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"Why is it art?" Gerald asked, shocked, resentful.

"It conveys a complete truth," said Birkin. "It contains the whole truth of that state, whatever you feel about it."

"But you can’t call it high art," said Gerald.

"High! There are centuries and hundreds of centuries of development in a straight line, behind that carving; it is an awful pitch of culture, of a definite sort."

"What culture?" Gerald asked, in opposition. He hated the sheer African thing.

"Pure culture in sensation, culture in the physical consciousness, really ultimate physical consciousness, mindless, utterly sensual. It is so sensual as to be final, supreme."

D.H. Lawrence, A Woman in Love (79)

  The characters of this 1920’s classic stand enamored and disgusted by the sight of an African woman kneeling in birth amidst the bohemian decor of a Halloway’s flat. One implies that the rude object finalizes a state of development, that it’s suffering is legitimized by it’s final position of captured perfection.

        Lately I feel like many have the same relationship with development, humanity is at once disgusted and obsessed with the very real and suffering image projected as those in blatant agony. The statue, or the victims of globalization pull at our humanity, captivating us in the “plight” of a life we’re unlikely to truly come face to face with. Yet we are the women in the statue, though we may never be without hospitals and relaxants to ease the pain of birth, though we may freely terminate the pregnancy if our circumstances do not seem conducive to the responsibility of giving life.

  If development could only be locked in place, idolized in smooth ebony wood, to sit in our trendy city flat, then maybe its’ examination would yield new fruits of understanding. In a world removed from the flesh of the strained face, trapped in a moment, we don’t think of outcomes, we don’t think historically, we don’t examine the process, we hypothesize, we project our own ending, we decide. After all, who denies the position of the examiner, the one who controls the options, who dictates the direction of the market? The one who possesses higher knowledge lays ink to page, or saves document to hard drive, but there is no erasing centuries of shame and discrimination.

        Centuries where colonists, anthropologists and explorers prowled the earth with measuring tape and trichometers reporting on the primitive humans of the deep forest of Africa. Centuries of tribal warfare that have spurred mass relocation of people of East Africa. Centuries where “pygmies” were dressed up and brought to the world fair in St. Lewis, then to the Bronx Zoo, to examine the evolution of species. The triumphant conquer of nature by man.

“[…] it’s not just the Big Nurse by herself, but it’s the whole Combine, the nation-wide Combine that’s really the big force, and the nurse is just a high ranking official for them”

Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest


  Here it seems every actor has identified their own Big Nurse, each points their finger in the direction of the source of greatest woe and thus defines their own path to a “solution”. This process, of perceiving by those who posses the power of decision making, has left the Batwa people strung up in a web of dependency.

  Deep rooted discrimination cannot be confused as a matter of simple prescription. It is more than a matter of clean drinking water, or 5 more latrines, or school uniforms, people need to be people in the eyes of their state. When the state continues to treat citizens inhumanely (i.e. removing them from ancestral lands) and refuses to recognize their own responsibility (compensation, opportunity), the Batwa will continue to suffer, continue to face discrimination from their neighbors, taken advantage of by actors with the foresight of a developed nation.

           By talking to the Batwa women, I am learning the relationship of a woman’s identity within her ethnic identity, a relationship between a woman and land, between a woman and her family, a woman and her work, a woman and outsiders to her community. I am watching these relationships begin to knit together a story of rights and how time after time, continued denial of rights has prohibited the possibility of a self sufficient lifestyle.

             “These people are not the same, there is something missing.”

            “Do you have these sorts of backward people in your place?”

            “Why don’t you take one of these pygmies back with you? You could bring them and say, look in Africa there are these sorts of people. Then they would get them land, give them clothes. Eh?”

“Ok, so America is up here,” He puts his hand above his head, “And we (Bahutu and Batutsie of Kisoro) are here,” his hand falls to chin level, “Those people (the Batwa) are down here,” his hand drops a foot. “But things are changing, we are moving, up, up, up, little by little. By the time we have reached America’s level, the Batwa will be where we are now.”

But what about the ever raising land prices, or technology’s tendency to expand? How can the Batwa move up TO a subsistent lifestyle 20 years from now? Can education hold the hopes and dreams of Batwa parents? Of mothers who wish their children would no longer be recognized as Batwa?

“A Batwa is a gorilla, we used to live in the forest, eat from the forest, like the gorilla. Now we can’t go back to the forest. When you go back to America you tell your people that we gorillas still need to develop.” A woman concluded as she tied her baby to her back.

“A Batwa is a begger, dirty, and poor.”

“Maybe my children will get schooled and if we get land and what to eat, then she will not know she is Batwa.”

Identity has become an inescapable burden, an excuse placed by others and self, removing opportunity of mobility. To believe one was put on the earth to suffer is a concept foreign to me. I am struck always by the joy found behind a twisted smile. My identity itself has likewise taken on a new weight. As a woman I can’t be out late at night walking around town, as a host daughter of a district official I ‘m expected to be accompanied by him when I visit the district offices. Here, with such a tight knit community you are never invisible, especially when your skin must produce a glare when struck by the sun. It’s become difficult to find the balance of independence in a society where decisions are a collective process, where it is bad to be alone.

  My advisor elaborated my frustration with prescriptive solutions. Because the Batwa were formally removed from the Mgahinga and Bwindi forests in 1991, many organizations and reports have pointed to this emergence into the civilized world as an explanation for lack of savings capabilities (though many Batwa have been outside the forest for generations and even before were digging for their Irish potato growing neighbors). They have explained the squandering of new funds from tourism on alcohol as a product of lack of money management skills, and enact new programs to provide skills. Thus perpetuating the cycle of supplying products, items, or knowledge they deem appropriate. Thus their screen for viewing development inherently acknowledges the Batwa to be undeveloped and unable to control their newly acquired resources (a reason many NGO’s continue to hold donated land titles in their name). This in turn disempowers and keeps the Batwa, they are unable to take hold of the rights the organizations are supposed to be promoting by continuing to decide the safest measures for forward movement.

       These sorts of programs look to short-term solutions to perceived needs, targeting immediate physical needs rather than assessing the larger structure which has produced such a situation. Savings may in fact be a difficult concept for a hunter/gatherer group to cope up to, or perhaps, “the Batwa drink because their lives are shit, their lives are that way because their rights have been continually revoked since they came in contact with others.”

      Government and neighbors seem to repeat, development is slow because the people are slow and backward. And I say, I am swimming in too many misconceptions, kids are running by teasing my infant Rufimbira language capabilities while my Rwandese mother is preparing the grasshoppers I purchased from the market for less than 40 cents. I started filling out loan applications at lunch, still trying to figure out a place to live and work when I get back to Denver, and extend my days in Europe for a few days of catch up with friends.

But I feel calm as a bomb? And “this must be the place” just started playing?

Oh so much love from Kisoro