Day 20

4am. A series of strobe lights flashing into my room wake me up. There is a massive roar and a series of explosions. I wake up groggy, thinking that FARC guerillas have invaded us. But, pulling off my earplugs, I hear the lashing sound of rain. I walk out of my room and am awestruck by the most ferocious storm I have ever seen. The lightning seems to be right above us and the thunder rumbles all around. The ground shakes, the frame of the house trembles. Because the lighting is so frequent, the thunder is a continuous sound. I am transfixed. I do hope that lightning doesn’t strike any of the houses. The storm carries on at an incredible intensity for three hours.

At breakfast Maria says that she had a waking dream where her wood spirit made her swallow something. He was all eyes and had a small face.

The river is a rage this morning. Driftwood practically sprints down. They could also be crocodiles looking for a quick eat-and-run. We are out of flushing water in the house and have to draw buckets from the river.

There isn’t one particular rainy season here. It cycles between periods of dry and wet.

Bernie is running a pattern-cutting workshop this morning for the women of the local Guna cooperative. It would be good for them to design their own clothes other than just traditional wear.

The heartwood is pointed because it was used to hunt, as a weapon.

One of the boats nearly floats away. A few men have to wrestle it back from the grasping current. 

Now I get why people were tying their boats up at the house last night. They knew something massive this way comes.

Luis and I manage to tidy up our four songs and record them. Luis and Veronica help me to translate five of my poems to Spanish. I’ll display them later along with my objects.

Jagua is out of stock everywhere. Brigida, who runs the women’s cooperative, has one more seed that she is hoarding. She offers to paint a line on everyone’s face. Nobody takes up the option. Would that be an instance of appropriation? Ignorance and innocence.

The chicha house still smells of chicha.

If the sea is too rough on Thursday, we will load the luggage in the boat and walk to Puerto Obaldía, which should take just over an hour, but the weather seems to even out into a mild day. My clothes smell of river and sand. There is still no running water and the river is brown with churned up silt.

At three, we scramble to get the open studio ready for a select group of visitors.

The schoolteachers, the sahilas and a couple of women who are community leaders attend. We speak in English, Luis translates to Spanish and Nacho translates to Guna.

I open with a spoken word piece that Luis has beautifully set to music.

The Arms of Armila  

The beach of Armila is a woman with open arms. We sing to her, praise her curves, swoon at her shore. There are treasures in her body, the pleasures of the sea. We sit at her feet and contemplate the lifted brow of sky, the ocean humming miles of roar and murmur.

She lifts her voice and we hear her call. We wear the geometry of her seasons, live under the bounty of her thatched roof. 

we dance to you, to the rhythms of your tide; we dance until the night recedes and the frogs have stopped calling and we see glimpses of that tree of old, the one that fell and out spilled the world, and from that seed came all your beauty. 
The ocean is a patient grandmother bringing gifts for her daughter. 
And you, Armila, you take it all in
Driftwood and bursting diapers
Coconut husks, fallen feathers
Bottles of rum, fragments of shells
FM radios, bicycle bells 
Seeds that rattle, broken turtle eggs and styrofoam like bits of a fallen sky

may you not weary of the plastic bottles that line the hem of your dress. They hold the colour of the clouds when you walk. May you lay abandoned deck chairs on the shore so you can drink in all of the sunset. May coconuts open their tenderness to you. May children lose and find themselves each evening in the golden hour. May you always turn your face to the light. 

I will sweep the sand between your toes forever.

I then explain the poems I have been working on, two sets of twelve poems. One, Plastic Ghosts, is about plastic objects from the beach while the other is a response to 12 small installations from found objects. I show the one plastic object I have saved, a dice, and six of my installations. An insight, among many, that I have gleaned from this residence is that there is no art without community and no community without art.

Berenike presents instant photos and a journal with leaf pressings and various clothing designs for women to work on such as hats and kimonos! She has an eye towards line and color, simple yet striking.

Caroline says that life in the US is like the Armila river – fast! and it has been great to be able to slow down to observe and represent visually what she has seen. Caroline’s colour palette is amazing, delicate yet full of detail. She’s working on an illustrated journal, and concludes by saying that the world is really lucky that the Guna have preserved their land, their culture and their spirit, because they have so much to share.

Verónica’s piece de resistance, still in progress, is a gorgeous carving on a tortuma of the twelve months of the year with Guna names and symbols in it. Her work is detailed and delicate, tinged with a natural inclination to form, function and beauty.

Maria made a traveling altar; her practice is based on meditation. The pelican bones she found features in it.

Charlotte has a wide selection of drawings and installations. She is interested in how things affect each other and the collision between animal, vegetable and mineral. Her work is a relationship between found things, laid out as object or in loose associations. It’s far more subjective than the ekphrastic space I occupy, as there is a sense of determinism to my poems. I like how all of us present multiple ways to see nature.

Nacho leaves right after the open studio. He has to catch the boat to Carti, a massive seven-hour ride. From there he will hop onto a bus that will take him to Panama City overnight. It’s a tough trip and the boat takes a long while to navigate the waves. In fact a small posse of helpers help the boat out of the river and turn it around at the critical point where the river meets the sea. They swim back while the boat starts its engine and does battle with the waves. Half the village is out watching. When the sea is really high, boats aren’t able to leave and Armila becomes cut off by sea, leaving only the overland route to Puerto Obaldia open.

Everyone is in the river having a shower because the water is still out. Caroline and Maria decide to give it a go. Almost immediately, Caroline loses her grip on her soap but Maria manages to hold on to hers. Soap, like hope, floats.

Veronica has managed to find someone with jagua! We all take turns to get something drawn on us. I ask for a mola of a frog on my right forearm. The jagua is potent and smudges easily.

Going to the mountain – a phrase that functions as an everyday rural excuse for being absent from the party or from work.

A Last Supper joke:

“Waiter, a table for 24 please?”
“Why? There’s only twelve of you.”

Charlotte’s web is thick with the spiders she abhors. It seems that every day she sees a spider in her room or one in the wild. Today, though, she lets out a shriek while I’m packing. There’s a giant black spider in her shoe. It looks pretty dangerous. I sweep it out with the broom. Hopefully it doesn’t return.

Today is Angelique’s birthday. We sing her happy birthday in Spanish several times throughout the day. It never gets old for her. Caroline says that the ‘happy birthday’ song was copyrighted by Sony until just four years ago. So restaurants had to always come up with their own rendition of the song.

Starfish is a colour.

Random thoughts from Luz doing a reading of Caroline’s birth chart on the ascendant. The aim is to be connected with the body, with its desires, to control and deal with it.

Too much lime takes away the enamel /animal in you.

Luz has bought presents for the kids, and she got a solar system mobile for Zlatan. He’s super stoked about it. 

Dog caught his girlfriend cheating with another dog. He couldn’t do much about it, though, just stood around and growled.

We talk about small pets we’ve had. Rabbits with tumours seem to be a thing. I remember Fuzzy and Buzzy, two white mice that lasted about a year and succumbed to massive tumors half their size. They were cute things that pooped everywhere. Luis remembers caring for chicks as a kid with some friends but when they got ill somehow they decided that the best way was to burn them. At the age of six.

Author: Marc

Creative educator. Sometime photographer. Fiddler of words.