Where I Live / 1

Sonya Butler

Where I Live / 1
I live in a memory; in a place that is green. Where it is warm but not too hot. Where rain makes a brief appearance each afternoon.

In this place the people are friendly. I don’t look like everyone else here. I’m a little different with my blue eyes and my freckles. I’m called princesa, reina, corazón, mona, and niña. These names make me feel good.

There are street vendors. They sell everything imaginable. They sell mango cut into fingers like french fries. They sell freshly squeezed orange juice. And pineapple juice and guava juice and passionfruit juice. I will never like juice from a carton again. The vendors called artesanos sell jewellery they’ve made with their own hands. Hemp. Seeds. Metal carefully twisted and turned over and over to make intricate chains. They have dreadlocks. They’re patient with me as my Spanish comes to life.

In this place there are noisy, brightly coloured buses with wooden seats. When they’re full you can ride on top. This is a rush – climbing on top, greeting other passengers, ducking below branches as you bump along listening to the music blaring from below.

There are waterfalls - like you see on calendars: surrounded by jungle, pooling at the bottom and inviting you in. The water surprises with its coldness. If you’re lucky you will see monkeys.

My memory is selective. There is tremendous poverty in this place. There are families displaced by a war that I never see and they sleep on sidewalks. There are men, everywhere, wearing camouflage and carrying rifles and it surprises me how quickly I grow accustomed to seeing them. But that’s not where I live in my memory.

I don’t take many pictures in my two years here and yet I still see it clearly in my mind’s eye. They say the only risk in Colombia is not wanting to leave. They say when you leave you will carry it in your heart. And I do. I live in a memory of Colombia.

Where I Live / 2
I live in another memory; in another green place. Only here it’s not warm and the rain goes on for days. And days. I live in a city that charms me. Here I know where to go to see Flamenco and Spoken Word, and where to go for good Indian food and where to go for good (and cheap) sushi, and where to go to buy used clothes. And in this city I know how I can get to all of these places on my bicycle.

It wasn’t love at first sight for me and this city; it was more gradual than that. But when the sun would break through, I would fall in love all over again. It’s a city with which I’ve maintained a long distance relationship. Every summer it calls me back for a celebration of music and friendship and I dance in the grass, smile at strangers, and wish my life could be one long festival.

I live in a city that nestles against the Pacific Ocean and is surrounded by mountains. I live in a memory of Vancouver.

Where I Live / 3
There have been other places. There are other memories. These days, foremost in my mind is Japan. When I was in my twenties I lived in Fukushima City for nearly two years. No-one had heard of Fukushima then. I remember having to look it up in the World Book Encyclopedia after being offered the job, as this was in the days before the world wide web.

I taught housewives, university students, businessmen, and 'office ladies'. They were ever so kind to me.

There are a lot of memories crowding my mind but among my most favourite were the days, and nights, spent during 'ohanami' - when the whole city would turn out to have picnics, sing karaoke, and drink under the cherry blossom trees.

Where I Live / 4
Now I live in between. I live in between jobs. I live in between memories. I live in between homes. I say, “I’m in an in-between time”. This lets me feel like there is something good just around the corner. No, I’m not a substitute teacher. No, I’m not really living with my parents. I’m in an in-between time.

Where I Live / 5
I live with my parents. This embarrasses me. But only when I let it. My parents are great people. Not only do I love them, but I like them, too. I didn’t mean to live with them, though. Not now. Not at forty. But it’s because I’m in an in-between time. I sometimes remind myself of the places I have been, the things I have done, and the friends I have made scattered throughout the world, and these reminders help during the long winter months in a small town.

Where I Live / 6
I live with my nephews , too. They fill me with love. Sometimes so much so that my eyes well up and my chest hurts. Here I read books about dinosaurs and sharks. I play hide-n-seek. I can be a princess or a pirate. I snuggle on the couch and watch cartoons. Here I am Aunt Sonya, my best name of all, and although I live in memories and I live in-between, I also live right here and know that I am lucky.