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Rant to Ameliorate My Exhaustion

I had long conversations last night with former coworkers from my current agency about the short term nature of the work we do. In many ways my job is the best fit for me of any job i've ever had. I feel i can be myself; i thrive from the contact and the types of relationships i have with my clients and some of my coworkers; i get along well with my supervisors; being out and about all day is good for my disposition and really good for my seasonal affective disorder in my city's very dark winters. My former coworkers were in the same boat in that they loved the clients and felt really solid about the type of work we were doing together.

And, the way the work is arranged is entirely and completely unsustainable.

If I could work 8 to 15 hours a week less than I do and get done all the things i needed to I could see doing this work for ten years or more, bed bugs in my periphery and drug deals in front of my face notwithstanding. But I spend so many nights fighting with the inevitable headache of having been on for 12 hours already and trying to write one more hour of notes so i don't miss the deadline that will incur (albeit not very toothy) disciplinary action. I have not completed my expenses for at least 6 months because that's the one piece of paperwork i won't either get in trouble for or cause harm to my client's if i blow it off. When i miss a day off of work i'm terrified of everything i have to pick up (the last time I took a sick day it took over a week and probably 8 hours of collective leg work to fix a glitch that happened because of a problem with labs that would have been prevented and taken care of in less than 3 hours had i been there). This week was ultra stressful because the one day off that almost everyone gets means that, first of all, we have to do more with less time. Secondly, the chances that I will have to deal with someone not getting a medication filled by pharmacy, a needed healthcare intervention declined by insurance, or a resourced botched by a government agency is extra high. There are one to three days less to work with in all the various systems we are trying to navigate, and all those systems are already operating at below funtional staffing and resource levels.

Many other things in my life are on hold, and i am more aware than ever of the very finite limits of my capacity. I cannot depend on having energy to think or write, to engage in any kind of activism, to cook full meals. I dropped the idea of pursuing buying a house knowing that if i wait the window of opportunity will surely pass because i simply don't have the mental energy to jump through that set of hoops. There is so much research and development of health teaching materials and processes that i would like to explore for my work and my clients, but my ability to process on that level is so rare by the time i get through all the requisite tasks and paperwork and arguing with insurance companies over absurd nonsense. It's true that i work less than 50 hours a week, but my capacity diminishes after 34 or 36, that much is very clear; I don't know if different priorities and tasks would increase my capacity or if i just need to split my pursuits or have more leisure time to function. I wish i were one of those superhero types who could push and push and still have energy, but i am not.

On the one hand, i am planning on eventually giving in to the wisdom that i need to put my time in for a little while longer and then slowly embark on the process of finding a different job that does not wreck me quite so much. On the other hand i am so heartbroken that there is not a way to engage with the work i am doing in a way that works. It means that my clients, who have already been told they are expendable by so many people and institutions, will have to acclimate to yet another provider on top of the counselors and other specialists who get burnt out by this system. Honestly, very few people stay in these roles much more that 2 years and many leave before the year is out. Don't get me wrong, i'm a shitty martyr, and i have no illusions that i have the potential to be anyone's savior. As i stated before, i'm not one of those very high capacity people. But, i can envision a scenario in which we put enough resources in to systems so that we can be persons of normal commitment and energy levels and be able to successfully support people regardless of their level of trauma or psychosis or history of shitty access to resources. But that scenario is increasingly rare in this country for certain. My certainty that this phenomenon is not a fact of a broken system but rather by design is the topic of another essay.

The fact that our current systems have evolved in the direction of skimming away any slack at all is a violence to all of us. It is endless, and our austerity driven policy makers will continue to move forward even though we have long ago passed the threshold where people have died due to lack of access to simple interventions whose effectiveness is well documented. These non functional models will continue to be industry standard even though many people have already suffered unnecessarily poor health outcomes due to lack of sufficient time and attention of providers. We could easily afford, as a society, to train and staff health care and social services at completely safe and effective levels. Even the rhetoric of public health policy acknowledges that prevention and access to all the things for everyone saves a society money in the long run. But people like me continue to be asked to carry the weight of starved systems which require them to prioritize documentation of numbers and insurance driven data. I've certainly said all of this before, and there's nothing terribly new about this revelation, but i've been thinking about it quite a bit lately so sometimes it's good to take the time to articulate these thoughts. My exhaustion and lack of ability to be as sparkly as i'd like has a name, so it's helpful for me to call it out; that mere act gives me just a little more energy.

The truth is, anywhere i go from here i'll be expected to work within the same model to some extent, it's just that i might be more or less insulated from the constant revelation of how expendable people's lives are by those that have the most control over the resources. I don't regret the choices i've made to land me in this profession, certainly not. I'm grateful for all the forces that have allowed me to stay grounded in the larger contradictions surrounding what i do. To figure out how to act on that awareness in any way available to me is my only shot at retaining and/or attaining humanity.

Also, today i pulled the wilted tomato plants in my garden and it was so satisfying to accomplish seasonally appropriate garden tasks, even if it was an acquiescence to winter.

44 recap: anxiety, bottles, dyett

It's almost the end of another birthday, and the truth is birthdays are kind of hard for me. It seems like such a stupid first world dilemma, what with Trans Day of remembrance, FB streams full of islamaphobia, the inspiring words of Dyett hunger strikers and Black Lives Matters activists at the teachers for social justice event yesterday reminding me of the very complicated structures of violence against black and brown individuals. Looking at the facebook feed and getting all the "I'm sorry i can't celebrate with you, let's get coffee some times" texts feeds all of my social insecurities, which feels so wrong when there are people coming down to adventure with me, help me clean my kitchen while i cook brunch, share part of the day with me. I have been thinking quite a lot about the 5 of bottles (cups in traditional tarot) card. In in there are 4 broken and or empty bottles, but there is one bottle being rescued by a bird. I feel like the random loss of the world around me and my own personal life are four bottles worth at least. I'm a bullied kid; i'm bursting with mostly unhelpful fragility as a result of my not terribly well evolved capacity for empathy, i work in worlds where i see a lot of hopeless situations. Also, there is at least one bottle intact and full, and i really just want to keep my eyes on that rescued bottle. I want to have the strength to wade through all this shit with all the other people who have empty and broken bottles raining down on them. Jitu Brown and others talked so much about solidarity this weekend, in ways that felt real, not coddling or catering, not back patting, not useless allyship, but something charged and hopeful, something i want to aspire to. None of us know exactly what it looks like. But if i'm going to rise to even an shadowy prototype of what that could be, I have to hang on to that bottle and forget about all that other shit. I have to lay easy with the stories about the folks in my life who, with their own social anxiety or untintended judgement or hurt or whatever, trigger my feelings of not being enough in some inherent unfixable way. I have to fix the ideas i have about myself not having the capacity to contribute meaningfully, i have to extend that to active movement away from self sabotage. I have to end this birthday here, alone, with me loving myself, dreaming of and working towards the good shit i have already started with some pretty awesome co-conspirators.

Sudden Decline in the Season of the Dead

I pulled the Death card this morning, on the anniversary of my Father's birthday. That was the final factor that made me take the turn off to go see V, even though I was not required to according to my schedule.

V is so sick it makes me catch my breath to look at them, in and out of sleep, slow rattly breaths at moments, can't get words out. This is not the kind of nursing I do, but I think I could, I just have to settle in to a different mode.

V wakes up, tries to get out words with shocking persistence. The hospital nurse asks questions; she has no idea the extent to which this is not V's baseline. I explain that i can tell even by the two and a half word answers that V understands everything I am saying. I ask V for confirmation of this in front of the nurse and they choke out a "yes". I realize that's the best I have to offer to this person who is most likely sick from some form of neglect, maybe several types added up.

I have worked very hard in the last handful of months to protect them from neglect, to do damage control, to reverse the process. That machine is too big for me. All I have now is my ears. I hope V doesn't die, and if they don't, I hope they recover better than completely. I have been crying a lot thinking about it, I don't know why this particular person has galvanized so much of my grief and fear, but they have. I fear that makes me unprofessional or poorly boundaried. But there are some people i need to step up that extra bit to root for, and my true self is pretty freaking sure this person is one for whom i need to do that.

Happy last day of my own personal season of the dead. V, you have three more hours to go. After that everything will magically change. I'll wake up and there will be universal health care and all those barriers will be gone and you will recover miraculously just in time to get all the resources to keep you well this time. See you in a couple days, yeah?


Samhain 2015

I started to make my list; i should keep an ongoing one because I wrack my brain every year, somehow, i have to remember the whole list, every year. Alysa, Paul, Donna, Todd, Halsey, Patrick, All The Grandparents, Aunt Mary, Aunt Alma, Cathy, L., Yareak, Anna, Loli, Do I include David who i went to highschool with, and Julia who was at SisSub1? How many years past and what proximity? Jackie from TN who i knew by face and sometimes name and hello around the fire but half my facebook feed was memorializing her for weeks. Greg, Regina my formative spiritual advisor. Ha! of course, no question about beautiful Ha!, the hours of flipping through Martha Stewart living and the best game of nature of the adverb I have ever played. Kiss me Vicariously in the After life. Johnny G. as well, who gave me so much love and confidence as i fought LPN school. Blair, whose songs haunt me. Hadley, shit, did she really die? Yeah, she did.

Hadley nursed me through a bad breakup and the accompanying madness while I was staying in her town, the last time i saw her. The last time I busted my own head was in her guest room; this crazy queer ex debutante whom i hadn't seen in ten years, who welcomed me like we'd never missed a beat. And that was ten years ago. She was a beautiful mess, a focal point in my college queer scene, at once opulent, belligerent, and gorgeously irreverent. I watched my first gay pornos in her home right off campus, and rolled my eyes at the drugs and her expensive kitchen ware gifted by her parents, my little straight edged punk self. She credited me for other debaucheries, but, damn, it was so long ago, who remembers? Later I was so grateful for her lack of judgement, her unconditional support in my state of madness. Amelia told me she died and I kind of forgot till I made this list. This is the first time she made this list.

I had another paragraph of generalized reflection or something, but that feels like platitudes, so i deleted them. I hate this list because i never know who i've missed; I'll wake up in the middle of the night with a story at the tip of my tongue, perhaps. Or, I'll just have one of those dreams about my father which haven't exactly gone away in 20 years.

Hit and Run

Of all the things i have felt assaulted by this past week, I think the highest ranking is the Doctor who oh so irritatedly yelled at me for trying to track down him and/or his staff to help me procure the correct authorizations so the client he had discharged from his facility could obtain the insulin (a very common oft prescribed formulation of the stuff) that his insurance and the pharmacy was denying him. It wasn't really the attitude or the yelling but the fact that at the end of the day nobody involved with him or his staff or the facility was willing to do a single thing to ensure that my client wouldn't die over the 36 hour period it took me to rush an appointment with his community doc (who was entirely a different story, btw, thank god for awesome community doctors). It's cool, my client is still alive (again, thank artemis for awesome community doctors). My blood pressure might also be back to normal.

Other assaults include the fact that our being understaffed means we juggle priorities in this horrible way and i feel like i'm riding a string of broken promises to these people who i really want to thrive. But, you know, they live in the less glamorous part of the town served by this organization, and, surely they understand how that goes. (I'm rolling my eyes really hard right now).

So, yeah, then somewhere in the middle of the week i'm waiting at an intersection and i hear a crash scrape bang and my passenger side window goes pop and bounces back. I put on my blinkers and start to get out of the car and the vehicle that just hit me peals away. I repeat the license plate numbers loudly and when i get a pen in my hand write down what i think is the licence plate number on what is probably my clients' medical records. My client says "that was something" and is thankfully unhurt. The dozens of people at the bus stop look at me, is it blankly? I can't tell. I see a police car drive by and think about rolling my window down to say "hey, that was a hit and run", but I don't; the cop hurries off and starts to put his loud lights on and i wonder if there was some other reason why that car was in such a hurry it hit me at a not that congested intersection on a street with wide lanes. My car is definitely a little more battered and scraped, but the doors open. 311 deflected the call which i made in the moment of "oh god i need a police report for insurance so i can get the body work covered" and now i don't know if i want to do the in person follow through they told me they required.

I was rattled for a few and about an hour later my client said "that was something". And i haven't really talked about it since.

And maybe it really is all about who assaults you and why, and why they care less about you than what is going on in their lives at the moment. Maybe i'll just (not so) slowly let my car turn into a beater. But the pressure to let my clients do without insulin, lovenox, ativan, and home health nurses to check on their very infected wounds, and transportation that fits their wheelchairs, and diagnostics which catch their cancer on time, and labs in their neighborhoods which actually send their depakote, clozapine, and coumadin results to the right doctor. The pressure that stems for aquiensence to the violent idea that certain people don't as much deserve to live. That is just harder for me to brush off. So, I think i will just have to nurse that impending case of hypertension with a certain dose of resigned pride.

Madness in Song

The other week my awesome friend Kat put a call out for songs that "best speak to your experiences with mental illness" in a cathartic not-so-much wallowing way. I have found myself listening and building a list ever since.

Today I was driving down south Kedzie ave on the way to see a client and Walking in the Dark by Throwing Muses came on. Not only did it beg to be added to the aforementioned list, I found myself composing a review in my head. So here is me trying to write that down.

The song starts out stark and a little strained, like that aura of overthinking or deep lonliness that comes before a break. Just as the song fills out with only a bit of melancholy piano, the music becomes chaotic, with unframed piano and strings, uncomfortable, ungrounded, unpredictable. When the bass and beat and a bit more melody comes in it does not become quieter, and the more chaotic feeling riffs don't exactly go away, but they suddenly feel framed. The voice still modulates and at times is warbly or harsh, and the tempo continues to shift, but the feeling is dancy and melodic, grounded, it makes a kind of wild sense. At times the more beat heavy and melodic phrases phase back out, in fact the song ends with an unaccompanied burst of piano, but the moments are shorter, and we keep coming back to the fuller composition. During all of it the chaotic riffs don't go away, they aren't hidden, all of that is still going on. But there is a scaffold to hold it, and so the feeling is so different, the breathing becomes regular even as the mind races.

I like this exercise, of noticing this quality in songs, because I've never thought of anything else that better elucidates the shape of my own madness -- and I have spent countless cognitive hours on the subject. I love the reminder of this song, that that madness is always in me, and, even if it were an option, subduing or erasing it would not make me feel better. But adding some element of grounding, of structure, some extra thing which complements those wavelengths, helps me to feel more whole. And I can still vibrate with all the incredible energy that hypomania has to offer.



Oct. 26th, 2015

Last winter I read some case study style books and saw a lecture about trauma by a neuroscientist named Bruce Perry. Ever since then there is so much of it that comes up all the time in my work, my own head, my interactions. He wove a lot of research findings with stories of children he worked with, all of it underlining some basic tenets of trauma informed thought and the ways that persistent childhood trauma deeply change brain development.

One of the more resonant statistics and diagrams of his that I've seen has to do with mapping the average number of small positive to neutral human interactions children were exposed to and looking at later outcomes. Addiction was one of the factors that much much higher in those who had lower incidence of positive interactions, things like being greeted coming home from school, asked about tasks or things of interest or homework, being addressed in simple, human ways. Pleasurable things with higher octane could fill gaps made by starvation of day to day reinforcement of a person's humanity.

I've been thinking a lot about various spaces in the grey scale of this idea. Specifically I've been trying to come to terms with some of the damage of having been a bullied child both out in the world and at home. I am relatively privileged, and though my parents were laissez-faire 1970's hands off parents, I wouldn't say they were neglectful, though we did watch way too much television. There was a normal level of banter and I was told I was loved. Some of that was more out of balance for me because i got many more and louder negative messages every day. I'd be curios to know how that kind of thing shakes out in this mode. In some ways I have a high capacity for delayed gratification. This particular slice of grey scale does not really have to do with addiction per se, but a response i notice in myself when i have access to moments of intense feeling (for me, usually not drugs or drinking, maybe it's connected to states that could be classified as symptoms of mental illness). There are these heightened things that threaten to fill all the gaps in my trust that i can just be safe and ok, and in those moments it's so difficult to have any connection at all to the mundanely pleasurable.

I also wonder how much of this relates to the broader experience of growing and living in a society with priorities almost completely defined by capitalism. The kids who grew up in homes and had no protective repetitive interactions of basic connection are the ones I worry about the most, of course. I work with many of those people who have now become adults; i marvel at their resiliance and recoil at the challenges of their lives. It's important not to usurp that oppression, and that's not my angle here, so I hope it doesn't read that way. I do think it's useful to notice the spectrum that spreads from that experience. Mainly, for me finding some wholeness (and therefore ability to be accessible to people who are fighting much bigger oppressions), i wonder how useful it is for me to recognize those moments when i absolutely can't self soothe without rockets going off in my head as a lesser product of a similar phenomenon. I wonder if there is a way to reopen a childhood pathway and tell some new stories. Over and over and over again.

What does it look like to create a world in which none of us are starved of enough moments of mundane positive contact? Can I use my own little brain as an experiment?
It has been a weirdly painful week in spite of an environment of amazing work happening around me, and, indeed, including me. I feel like the depth of my emotions has been in a lead cauldron since late last November and life has been occasionally maudlin but mostly copacetic, peaceful and productive at the very least. My power to create safe space for myself and refrain from self sabotage has been unparalelled. Until a couple weeks ago when i let my guard down. The verdict is, I'm not fucking ready for that shit. I am swimming in things which prevent me from focusing on everything that I'm capable of doing to realize some effectiveness, beauty, meaning, or power in this world. Somehow I can't pull myself out of a remedial level of emotional complication long enough to be present for the rest of the world. My decently effective self care is not unconditional and I'm going back in to the lead cauldron for a couple more weeks or months, until I can wrap some things around some other things a little better. Temperance card carry me through the rest of my technetium year, please.

On the way from dropping a friend off after the, ultimately good, Nurses for Social Justice retreat I stopped at the Aldi to get Ice cream and berries to bring to a client currently at a care facility very close to where I'd dropped my friend off. The guy in front of me in line was conversing with the clerk in Spanish, trying to figure out if he could borrow a cart for a few blocks or at least leave items at the counter so he could walk back and forth, because he couldn't carry everything at once. On my way out i asked him where he was going and offered him a ride, which he accepted. He tolerated my mediocre Spanish gracefully and then told me he was from a town in Guatemala not far from where i had visited. I rarely meet Guatemalans in Chicago, and he perked up when he realized i knew his region, so it was a sweet reminder that putting yourself out to a stranger is sometimes the best idea, regardless what my stupid culture tells me.

As for the client who i visited on my day off with treats, yeah yeah yeah, professional boundaries, blah blah blah, fuck off. The more i talked it through with my friend the more i realized i did not so much feel guilted or pressured to do it, but knew I'd feel much better if I just took advantage of my proximity and saw this person. I really do feel an inordinate amount of inexplicable unconditional something for this individual, probably because they have not gotten their share in this lifetime. Maybe in my Technetium year, besides random interactions, honoring my clients is the best way for me to maintain my quota of human contact.
I am thinking about a blog post a friend of mine wrote today about her psych rotation, about inpatient mental health workers taking out their frustration on patients, sometimes in shockingly blatant ways.

I have been a psych nurse for 9 years now, and inpatient psych nurse for 7, so hearing that story caused the gears in my head to turn; I went automatically into an inventory of the behaviors of myself and my coworkers. Ultimately, that phenomena described in it's most overt form was a huge part of my decision to leave inpatient psych. I never worked with anyone who outright admitted to taking frustration out on a patient, but my memory is a haze of less obvious but not lesser sins, a stew pot of interactions impaired by the cumulation of petty frustrations borne by the provider. A totally frustrated coworker treated a dementia patient reliving trauma with a heavy limit setting intervention aimed at someone perceived to be acting out behaviorally. I don't think he was conscious of what he was doing, but i do think he must have been so overwhelmed with frustration about other things in order not to notice, because it was so clear. I once yelled "you're gonna get it" to a guy who bit the fuck out of the fleshy part of my upper arm (8cm x 12 cm dark black bruise for weeks) before i realized what I'd said. I was totally mortified and apologized to both the patient and my coworkers. (Sudden unexpected pain can really make you act like an asshole and i'm happy to say there were only a couple times i failed to stave that kind of reaction off while at my job.) There are hundreds of other examples, but as i try to do this mental inventory i spoke of earlier, I can't think of any of them.

And that fact terrifies me. Hearing a story about psych abuse resonates with me so deeply, yet i can't list, i can't name, i can barely remember. To be fair, i feel lucky to have worked in places that were better than most, in which i really do respect the capacity for compassion of at least the majority of the nurses and mental health workers. But the best in a broken system is still broken. Why did i fail to keep a coherent mental record?

I struggle every day with becoming part of the systems i am a part of. Even now, in outpatient, i am firmly embedded in the non-profit/medical industrial complex in a way which ties me to a variety of decisions i can't possibly stand behind. Even in my harm reduction positive agency, I recently was coerced into following provider orders that were decidedly non harm reduction and based out of litigation fear and not the relationship we'd built with the client, which is now, of course, at least somewhat broken.

I truly believe that the "assholes" that admit they take their frustrations out on patients or otherwise engage in obvious abuses are the natural result of a hierarchical system based on fear of and hatred for persons with mental and emotional differences. They are a natural extension of a runaway oligarchical capitalism that underfunds it's social institutions and burdens the providers within so much that there is an endless well of frustration coursing about. There is no time or resources to deal with any of this constructively. I like to think that blatant abusers are less self aware than am I, less proactive, and not fit to be in the field. This is not inaccurate, but also it's part of a much larger story. We cannot prop up this system with good intentions. And sometimes that fact makes my 50 hour work weeks a little hard to navigate, not only for my own exhaustion but for the fear of how that ripples out to the people i am supposedly doing this for.

I still feel connected to my humanity almost every day, and when i'm not i try to find ways to insert therapeutic distance in to my interactions. I drive around in between patients and scream at the top of my lungs. I ask to do a lot of paperwork and call insurance companies or doctors, or whatever. Doing this kind of reflection is a helpful reminder that i can be more conscious about avoiding certain types of patient interactions at times when i know i'm not fit for human consumption.

I think it's most important for me never to forget that I am different from the provider who perpetuates blatant abuse only to the extent that i continue to fight against the incredible structural permission to do so.

I wonder every day if there is not a better way to engage with this work, if there is not a role that would allow me to stand a little further outside it and fight it instead of spending so fucking much of my energy not becoming the monster around me. I reckon I'm exaggerating some, or more accurately leaving out a different aspect of my work. There are things about my every days that sometimes inspire great compassion, or push me to be my best. My current group of patients keep me really fucking honest in ways i can barely contain.

And, also, i am trying to keep sight of the slippery slopes that i live with daily.


From what I could tell, every town has it's own patron saint and every patron saint comes with a yearly Feria, or festival. I went on a small day trip to San Andres Xecul on their Feria day my very first week in Guatemala. It was a short trip and my first time on a "Chicken Bus". We wandered up to the square, oohed and ahed at the bright colored church, paid our pittance and visited the shrine up the hill, watched the dancing to the band in the square for about two songs, then hustled back to the pickup truck that would take us down the hill. There would be more happening later, but the pickups didn't run after dark so we had to get back to Xela, us gringas with our cameras and unusually wide eyes.
Eight weeks later, after I'd spent three weeks in the tiny communities of Fatima and Nuevo San Jose, I got my chance again. The town of Columba, which was the market town of the area, was having it's feria for Cristo Negro. This time we knew folks with pickup businesses, and there was a futbol game in the afternoon. We would go and stay until after the fireworks and get a safe ride back to the school where we were staying.

Xelaju played the Cuatapeque Vibora on the town's futbol field, full size but with about the same number of benches as a junior high field. For five quetzal (40 cents) a piece, people from all over trickled in and filled the seats, then the hillside, then the tops of the walls, the roofs of the vendor stalls, ans much of the standing space at the edge of the fence. Xelaju was a reasonably reknown team, and based on the relative lackluster of their game that afternoon, one got the sense that this tiny town feria was not the site of their most robust efforts. Still, all the kids from their dirty shirts and bare feet to best ruffly dresses and pressed brand new jeans gaggled together; the men with the dry ice pots sold tiny cones of bright colored ice cream, and general excitement ruled. At the end of the anticlimactic game, after the autographs, people poured out into the street, and disappeared for a few hours. We wasted time, then watched the people in their finery head to the church and people-watched in the promenade where kids jumped on rides and vendors sold micheladas with your choice of cheap beer.

There was one big ride, the Rueda de Chicago, or Ferris Wheel. It seemed obvious to me the three of us would have to try it, as the people of the town had been talking about it for weeks. My companions were less sure, but i convinced them quickly, and they never forgave me for this. The ride helpers stuffed all three of us into one seat, intended for two guatemalen adults as far as i could tell. The gate wouldn't lock so the ride worker spent 3 minutes jumping up and down with his weight on it until it appeared to snap shut. To his credit, he double and triple checked that it was locked. It was scary enough going around normal and slow speeds because all i could think about is "who regulates these rides here?" but I let go and laughed. Back at the bottom, the other ride helper looked at us darkly and laughed, "tienes miedo?" he said to each of us ("are you scared?"). An ill considered "si" from my companions caused him to shake the basket vigorously and repeatedly. He said, in spaninsh, "you haven't seen anything yet", then the ride started abruptly and with lightning speed hurled us, backwards, into the sky at speeds i had maybe experienced on roller coasters, but never on a ferris wheel. The town folks in that promenade thought we were the funniest sight they'd ever seen, judging from their points and stares, the ridiculous gringas who rode the Rueda. The ride stopped, went in forward direction even faster, so fast that our basket spun almost 360. But eventually we landed, we would have kissed the ground if all the locals had not beaten the fear of giardia into us.

We wandered dizzily until spiffily dressed Nuevo San Josecos we knew pointed us to the fireworks and then the Marimba in the hall. The pyrotechnics were strapped on a metal contraption build on top of a facade facing the square. When fireworks were lit, sparkling messages appeared, flaming fuses spun wheels and made metal birds fly. I'd never seen fireworks like that, after all the millions of over the top fireworks holidays in Chicago, I'd never seen anything like the fireworks display for Cristo Negro in this small town in the highlands of Guatemala. We only got to see two marimba songs before our late chariot left.

Our spiffily dressed town friends told us the next day they had stayed until four in the morning and then woken up at 6 am (a bit later than usual) to do chores. And this is what was so amazing about the Feria -- one day a year you flock to THE event, and there you see all the people from all the tiny communities that all come out once a year. There were not other tourists, no ads for next weeks big event down the street, no big shiny buses (only pickups and a few chicken buses). Just everyone only doing this once a year. Oh, and the Marimba band had not one, but two marimbas. With one marimba requiring three players, that's half a dozen Marimba players in one band at the small town Feria. They did not mess around.

The next day we told all our friends at the school and back in the community about our adventure on the Rueda de Chicago. It turns out it wasn't the requisite experience i had taken it to be, with many folks very surprised that we had ventured on the thing. One woman who had lived in that area over five years told us a couple folks had died on the Rueda at a nearby feria a month or so earlier. Some of the locals explained they had ridden one once decades ago and never planned to do it again. My companions nixed the idea of a Central American Feria Rueda de Chicago tour. I don't guess I blame them, but I honestly don't regret our naive impulsivity and wouldn't trade that Rueda de Chicago trip for any other experience I could have had in Guatemala.



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