Monday, 17 Jun 2019

Kuwait Shorts

Adriana Paramo


The House in Jabriya

When my husband and I first moved to Kuwait, we lived in a fantastic new house located in a Shiite neighborhood. Right in front of our place was a construction site where a palace-like house was being built. According to our real estate agent, the over ambitious Kuwaiti owner had chewed off more than he could bite, ordered the construction of a house bigger than his wallet, run into serious debt, and the project had been on and off since before the Iraqi invasion. A couple of months before we moved in, the project was on again and a flurry of Pakistani workers busied themselves with the construction of a majestic archway towering the three-story house.

Our en-suite master bedroom faced the street, giving us a full view of the construction site from the bathroom. I could take a bubble bath and either admire the tub’s garish faucets the owner had imported exclusively for this bathtub, or look out and up across the street to the construction site and admire the Pakistani workers’ craftsmanship. I found the faucets repulsive. I chose the workers. It looked like the plot of a bad porn movie: naked housewife/voyeur watches sweaty construction workers while taking hot showers.

The house was well lit and expansive, it possessed the two elements we thought would fix our broken marriage: light and space. The four-by-four one-way glass windows gave us all the privacy we needed. The bathroom’s window panels were heavily tinted making the outside world a bit gray and grainy. We did away with curtains.

A couple of days after we moved into our new house, the construction workers and I seemed to have fallen into a synched routine. I took a shower, they took a break. The first day, they squatted in a circle to chitchat and sip tea; the second day they sat on the edge of the concrete slab on the second floor of the construction, looking straight down at my house, their legs dangling in the air. I couldn’t clearly see their facial expressions, distorted by the heavily tinted window, but I knew that they were extremely curious about us, the American family now occupying the house across the street. They had seen the white husband, the brown wife. We were a novelty. Whenever we went in and out of the house, they stared unabashedly, like we were exotic artifacts they had never seen before.

The second week into their new routine, I saw them carry an old couch upstairs. They placed it on the second floor near the edge of the slab. Now instead of sitting on the floor, the five of them elbowed each other until they huddled on the couch, their five bodies, long tunics, turbans, and a teakettle that they passed to one another, always staring down at our house as if at the movies. I grew restless. One night after the construction workers left, I turned the bathroom lights on and crossed the street to offer the Pakistani watchman a flask of hot tea. I climbed the stairs, walked towards the couch still at the edge of the slab, looked down at the house and realized in horror why everything I had seen through the window was distorted. The glass had been either tinted or installed backwards. While neighbors and passersby might have missed the naked woman taking a shower in the new house, the second floor of the construction site offered a fantastic vantage point for the workers. I thought about their expressions as they looked inside our house. They looked enthralled. If they were aroused, they didn’t show. If they were scandalized, repulsed or offended, they didn’t show it either. They had simply sat and stared at a naked woman. The new neighbor on the block. The wife who cried in the bathroom whether she took cold showers or steamy bubble baths.

The crazy brown woman married to the nice white man.

The Filipino Guests

The tedium of a desert summer took me to the lobby of the swanky Radisson Blu Hotel. I ordered a strawberry ice cream and ate it nice and slow. Killing time. Wishing something important would happen. An earthquake, a stampede, a devastating tsunami, anything that would rescue me from my unemployed oil housewife role. The stifling heat made my body and mind sluggish. The impressive eight-ton Kugel ball in the lobby of the hotel floated quietly on a thin bed of water. I wished it would bounce off its base and crash against the spotless floor with a boom. And what about Saddam Hussein’s threats to invade Kuwait again? Couldn’t the man get his act together and do something that would snap me out of this stupor even if it meant replacing lethargy with fear?

The heat had caused my feet to swell. I loosened the straps of my sandals and noticed an attractive Arab man checking into the hotel. He stood tall and regal in his immaculate white dishdasha, constantly rearranging his headdress, flipping his prayer beads left and right. The strawberry ice cream melted in the tall glass. I played with the curly waffle. A taxi, still running, waited outside. I assumed his wife was in the air conditioned car, checking her mobile, maybe retouching her make up. A few minutes later, the handsome Arab walked to the revolving entrance door and gave someone outside a nod. Out of the taxi came three Filipino teenage boys wearing tight jeans, fringed crop flannel shirts, and platform shoes a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. They snapped pictures by the Kugel ball, each of them pushing it gently in different directions. The boys sat loud and flamboyant at the table next to mine while the Arab man walked into the magazine store next to the bistro. The boys giggled at something. I took a bite of my mushy waffle. The Arab man dialed a number on his Nokia; one telephone rang at the table with the Filipinos. The youngest of the boys picked up the phone, one of his friends slapped him on his arm, he slapped him back. The boy stood up, fixed his gelled hair, rearranged the buckle of his belt—a soft moss of abdominal hair peeked through the fringes of his shredded shirt—and he waved his friends good bye with a delicate curl of the fingers. His wide Filipino cheek bones glowed with pink blush and his Geisha eyes fluttered their unnaturally curled eyelashes as he applied a dab of gloss on his adolescent thick lips. Effeminate yet determined, he walked to the magazine store, received something from the Arab man, and walked, scratch that, skipped back to the table, holding something against his chest. After some teasing, he revealed to his friends the contents of the little white envelope: a room key. A few minutes later, the Arab man left the magazine store, gave the young boy another nod and walked to the elevator. The young boy went with him. The elevator stopped on the third floor. My heart sank. The sweet of the strawberry, as if by alchemy, transformed itself into something bitter and unpalatable.

The two Filipino boys left at the table, passed the key between each other, play-fighting over it, giggling like two school girls on recess. An overweight Arab man walked into the lobby. He wasn’t handsome or regal. He had a stubbly beard, as if he hadn’t beent home for a few days, his feet were cracked along the edges—the feet of a man used to walking barefoot in the desert— and his dishdasha was far from immaculate. He went straight to the elevator and before pressing the button with the upward arrow, he looked at the two boys over his shoulder. The boys fell silent, as though this was not what they had signed up for. They looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders as if to say, oh well. The three of them got into the elevator.

I looked at the Filipino receptionists searching for a clue, anything that would indicate that this was not commonplace, that they were as outraged as I was, that this event was a sickening exception to the rule, that the sexual exploitation of underage Filipinos—their countrymen—was a repugnant behavior they openly condemned. I saw no reaction in their friendly faces. They had understood that their job was to check guests in and out, not to indict them. They smiled and waved in my direction, because like me, they had accepted that we couldn’t change the world, that for the right amount of money we were willing to turn a blind eye to despicable crimes, that our silence made us as guilty as the perpetrators of the deed, and that, to be honest, we were just fine with it.

The Resistance

They say that the troops that Saddam Hussein sent to invade Kuwait were not made of real soldiers but feral things who were half human and half beast. They say that the Iraqis marched into Kuwait defiling women, beating up men, terrorizing children and elders. They say the Iraqi soldiers didn’t know the difference between a television and a computer and when they barged into office buildings, demanding that the computers were turned on so that they could watch TV, they shot anyone who tried to convince them otherwise. They say that the invaders looted palaces and family homes, pillaged the gold souks and small businesses, burn oil rigs, and destroyed museums. The Iraqi soldiers were not soldiers at all, but untrained peasants, illiterate country people armed by Saddam Hussein and sent to conquer Kuwait with the guarantee that they could keep anything they got their hands on. They say that the Iraqi invaders were a horde of monsters, one of the seven signs of the apocalypse, riders of the second horse.

They say that many Kuwaitis fled the country, leaving behind their maids and their drivers to fend for themselves. These Kuwaitis took their families to the safety of their houses in London, Madrid, New York, Paris, while their servants barely scraped by and the cats ran stray multiplying at an exponential rate. They also say that many Kuwaitis stayed behind and formed the resistance movement, the backbone of which was made of bidoons—stateless people who were denied Kuwaiti nationality at the time of independence more than fifty years ago and therefore, couldn’t leave the country. They say that on the 11th of August, nine days after the invasion, the resistance went on the rooftops and chanted Allahu Akhbar in unison and the chant grew harder and more defiant as the night hours passed and more and more people joined in the a capella until their praises to Allah could be heard from the other side of the globe. The relentless chanting drove the Iraqis crazy because they couldn’t see anyone, so they shot their rifles in the air, out into the dark. They say that some of the bullets rained down hard and killed innocent bystanders.

They say that the Palestinians, who so far had been the force driving Kuwait into a new technological age, aided the Iraqi invaders, shared their companies’ secrets and aligned with Saddam Hussein’s plans to rule over Kuwait. They say the Palestinians did it out of spite, because they were tired of being mistreated by Kuwaitis, of being overworked, underpaid and voiceless. So when the allied forces marched in during the Liberation of Kuwait, ousting Saddam’s men, many Palestinians were executed. They were declared traitors, enemies of the country, and treated as such. They say that after liberation, there was a mass exodus of Palestinians and those who chose to stay had to endure the stigma of treason.

That’s what they say.

The Bunker

The house in Jabriya had a bunker. At least that’s what the real estate agent called it, but in reality it was nothing more than a dark spandrel under one flight of stairs. It was semi hidden in the basement and maybe because of this, it was considered the safest place for us to be should we fall to another Iraqi incursion. After the first invasion in 1990, many houses added bunkers, stocked with canned food, water, flash-lights, gas masks, the works. Even weapons if there were any available. Our bunker didn’t have a bathroom, ventilation, lighting, or an exit. If anything, it was a trap, one in which we would undoubtedly die from cold, or heat, or asphyxiation, or hunger, or thirst or simply from being crushed by the weight of the floor above us.

All the expats working for British Petroleum were required to register their names at their embassies: the Americans with the American embassy, the British with the British embassy. As a Colombian citizen, in the eventuality of an invasion, the American embassy would not protect me. Mid-February 1997 came with rumors of Saddam Hussein toiling his troops along the border with Kuwait. Everybody panicked. We stayed at home creating a folder with passports, recent pictures, next-of-kin information, and every piece of paper that we deemed important in case of being caught in the crossfire of another war. Throngs of people rushed to the supermarket to multiply their already abundant stash of batteries, matches, chocolate bars, and walkie-talkies. In a matter of hours, even the best-stocked supermarkets had emptied their shelves. The economics of collective panic. There is money in war, or the prospect of one.

Whenever there were rumors of Saddam Hussein moving people close to the border, we Western expats were advised to keep a low profile, a recommendation that never failed to make me chuckle a bit. The “we” didn’t include me. The “we” meant white westerners. In any case, how was a group of tall, white, blonde, blue-eyed, English-speaking people supposed to keep a low profile in an Arab country?

On a few occasions the threats of an invasion were real enough to warrant the evacuation of BP families. The wives and the children left on the first available charter plane. Every time, I chose to stay. The way I saw it, Saddam to me was nothing more than a greedy dictator with a ridiculous looking mustache to whom I refused to grant power over my decision making processes. It was a juvenile reasoning triggered by the lack of control I had over my personal life at the moment, but a choice that empowered me, a decision that made me scoff and roll my eyes at the flustered faces of panicked Americans.

At the school where I had just started to work as a teacher, we ran random evacuation drills, always trying to reduce the time it took to get three floors full of students ranging from kindergarten to high school out of classrooms, bathrooms, prayer rooms, basketball courts, swimming pools, and hide outs to the dusty parking lot across the street. After one such drill, when we had nearly broken our previous record by a couple of minutes, I asked the principal why we would consider taking the students out in the open in the event of a gas attack. Wasn’t it worse? Would they not be more protected inside a building even though our school didn’t have a bunker? Then again, what would we do with them inside? Make them duck under their tables? Have them do the stop, drop and roll technique? The principal had a meeting with the owners of the school and apparently it was decided that it would be safer to gather the students in the auditorium. From that day we debriefed all evacuation drills in the inadequate hall located in the basement of the building. Then again, the auditorium wasn’t big enough to hold the whole school, it didn’t have natural light, and in case of being under gas attack, the teachers along with the students were more likely to die of asphyxiation than inhalation of poisonous gasses. So we ran both scenarios, both drills, and sold our students the idea of safety. Just stop, drop and roll. We’ll be alright.

The Mercenary Upstairs

His name was Taylor—not his real name, he told me—a cowboy from Montana. He lived in the Bush Tower, an apartment building rumored to have been a present from the Emir to George W. Bush senior as a token of gratitude for kicking the Iraqis out of Kuwait. Taylor was a shady character who disappeared from the building for months, and whenever he was back in town, he’d hole up in his apartment day in and day out, without talking to anyone for weeks. Then he would disappear again. My friend Walter told me this. He lived downstairs from Taylor in a swanky apartment overlooking the Persian Gulf. Walter had a wife and children back in the USA, but in Kuwait, like many other American personnel I came across, he was for all intents and purposes a single man. And because he was a single man, he threw fantastic parties, where he liberally shared his extravagant alcohol allowance with pretty Lebanese and Syrian girls, all dreaming of a visa to the USA, all young and naïve enough to think that Walter had the power or the intention to take them to America.

Officially, Kuwait is a dry country. Unofficially, it is one in which there is a party every day, one bacchanal after the other, where booze is always available. The alcohol—a word derived from the Arabic word alkohl—fermented grains, fruits, or sugars that form an intoxicating beverage—flowed wildly at private parties hosted by deployed Americans, each of whom was entitled to a more-than-generous monthly allowance of it. The excess—what hadn’t been consumed at the end of the month—was up for grabs, sometimes free of charge, sometimes at reasonable prices and available in the black market, and sometimes in exchange for sexual favors. Alcohol was a hard currency in Kuwait.

I met Taylor at one of Walter’s parties. That evening he had on white linen trousers, an electric blue silk shirt and a gold chain around his neck, a combo that made me think of Hollywood pimps and the Italian mafia. He downed shots of Johnny Walker with something else he sipped from a leather flask. Taylor leaned against a wall next to the counter where he had his own bottle of whiskey and didn’t move, like he was standing guard, until I approached the bar for a drink.

“I hear you’re Colombian,” he said, visibly intoxicated. I nodded.

“I’ve been,” Taylor said.

“Have you?” I said absentmindedly while I waited for my drink.

“Yep. Giving your shitty government a hand.” He drank two straight shots of whiskey. “Well, hunting, really, if you know what I mean.”

I turned to face him, mildly intrigued, as I had never heard of anyone hunting in Colombia.

“Whoa, whoa,” he said, both of his hands up in the air. “Don’t shoot, okay? Don’t shoot.”

I pretended that I hadn’t heard a word. Instead, I waved at the bartender, told him to hurry up with my drink.

“It’s people like you I go hunting in your backward country.”

“Excuse me?”

“Excuse me?” he said, mocking my voice.

He went on a rant. He seemed possessed by hatred so sharp and so raw that for a second I thought his slurred words would make me bleed. He knew Colombia very well. He had been “assigned” tasks in some regions known in Colombia as zonas rojas, or combat zones, where military and leftist guerrillas had been at war for 50 years. Drunk and filled with disgust towards anything Colombian, he told me that he had been in my country during the 80s on a secret mercenary mission. I looked at him. He certainly didn’t fit my idea of the stereotypical tall, macho-looking mercenary. Taylor was short, blondish, with leathery suntanned skin, and a little Chaplin moustache that made him look like a cartoon character. I wanted to punch Taylor square in his pink nose, but I also wanted to hear the rest of his story. I chose the latter. He related one of his most memorable hunting trips, which he said had taken place in Cimitarra, a northeastern town known for its violence and lawlessness. Later in the story, he changed Cimitarra for the plains, and the plains for the jungle.

“I got me seven commies in one night. Boom!” he said aiming his index and middle fingers at my forehead. He mumbled something about having been in a swamp for three days and two nights, not moving, not even to drink water, getting eaten alive by mosquitos the size of helicopters, covered in muck and putrid leaves, stealthily stalking a group of guerrilleros, his prey.

“I took them all out. Seven. And ain’t talking deer. I’m talking two-legged commie fuckers.”

At first, I dismissed the story. I reasoned that if he were a sniper, a mercenary, he wouldn’t be disclosing this to a complete stranger. That’s the funny thing about Kuwait. It had a special effect on some people. It made them want to reinvent themselves, to fabricate pasts they hadn’t lived; manufacture brand new presents, write their own novels where they chose which character to play. Maybe Taylor or Paul or Bryan or whatever his name was, did just that: recreate a past life that belonged to someone else and roll with it at parties. Yet, he told me the fragmented story with such flair, such utter conviction in the truthfulness of his recollection that grudgingly I had to accept that maybe he was telling me the truth. Walter’s voice interrupted my thoughts. He put his arms around my shoulder and told me not to believe a word that came out of Taylor’s mouth.

“This motherfucker’s full of shit,” Walter said. Taylor told him to fuck off. They play-punched each other and I left it at that.

The next time I saw Taylor, it was at a function in one of the embassies. That day he was sober and polite. I asked him to tell me more of his adventures in Colombia. He looked confused.

“Colombia? Never been,” he said, before disappearing into the crowd.

Almost Colombian

Another party. I don’t remember who invited me or whether I knew the host or hostess. It was just that, another party with married marines passing for single men, pretty Middle Eastern girls who seemed to appear out of nowhere, a group of young British teachers who put on a drunken flirty show, and a few local men. My friend Connie, a teacher at the same school where I taught, introduced me to Linda, a heavyset Texan married to Kamal, a down-to-earth Bedouin who had never set foot outside Kuwait.

“You’re Colombian?” Kamal asked me after we were introduced. “I was this close,” he said, squinting, framing a tiny space of the air with his parallel index and thumb fingers, “to being Colombian a couple of months ago. Wallah.

“What do you mean?” I smiled, slightly confused. Linda came to my rescue.

“He’s a biddoon. Have you heard about them?” I nodded. “Only in Kuwait, right?” she said, pulling her husband to the dance floor.

The term biddoon—short for the Arabic phrase biddoon jinsiya, meaning without nationality, refers to longtime residents of Kuwait who although entitled to nationality by naturalization had not been granted it. Kamal’s ancestors had migrated to Kuwait from Saudi Arabia during the early 1900s, but over time had lost effective links to and nationality there. Kuwait had been their home for almost a century; however, due to their semi-nomadic origins, Kamal’s family could never prove continuous settled presence in Kuwait from 1920, as the Nationality Law of 1959 required, nor could they prove a country of origin.

As a result Kamal was one of the over 100,000 biddoon residents in Kuwait without travel documents, employment, driver’s licenses, or any of the rights granted to Kuwaiti citizens. The situation of the biddoon had engendered a black market of bogus passports from countries little-known in Kuwait such as Colombia, Bolivia, Belize, and even Swaziland. Kamal had been making enquiries in this black market of travel documents for religious reasons: He wanted to do the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The government offered those biddoon interested in doing the pilgrimage the issuance of travel documents on the condition that they renounce their right to return to Kuwait.

“May Allah forgive me for not doing the hajj,” Kamal said, his hands open towards the sky.

“We’re not going anywhere. Kuwait’s been our home for almost 20 years,” Linda said, wiping the sweat from Kamal’s forehead. They would’ve told me more stories had the DJ not played a popular song by the Egyptian singer Hakim. Linda walked to the dance floor ululating a Bedouin zagareet as she moved her enormous hips right and left. Kamal winked at her from the men’s corner. He looked as smitten then as, I’m sure, he was when he saw her Austin-sky blue eyes for the first time twenty years earlier.

Connie stood next to me and together we watched Kamal clap to the beats of Linda’s hips.

“They stayed here during the Iraqi invasion,” Connie said, whiskey in hand. “While thousands of Kuwaiti citizens hid their asses in other countries, Kamal grabbed his shotgun and defended this country with everything he had.” Connie was caught in a fit of tipsy hiccups.

“Every Kuwaiti man will tell you that he stayed and fought. Like every one of them is a fucking hero. Hero my ass. The biddoons, my friend, the biddoons were the ones who fought.”

The music grew louder. The speakers blared Sheola Shaila, a popular song by a Kuwaiti band called Miami. Soon, Connie and I were doing ridiculous hip bumps to the infections song.

“Hey Kamal,” Connie shouted across the room towards the men’s corner. “You’re the real deal, my man.”

Kamal looked at Connie, put down his bottle of water, pointed with his index fingers to the sky, and placed both hands on his chest.

“Alhamdulillah,” he said. Praise God.

The House in Salwa

After my husband found out about the affair, abandoned me, took away the car and emptied my bank account, I moved out of our grand house in Jabriya; the one with cathedral ceilings, Italian chandeliers, and gold-pleated faucets and rented the only place I could afford with my teacher’s salary: a basement in a rundown housing complex called The Spanish Villas, a misnomer for a group of apartment buildings, not villas, which had seen better times. A combination of harsh weather, a recent war, poor management and neglect had erased any trace of past elegance, if there was ever any to be erased.

The lower ground apartments were cheaper than the rest, but even then I had to bargain with the manager. My school teacher salary wasn’t enough to cover his asking price plus the rest of my monthly bills. He agreed to reduce my rent if I paid six months upfront, cash, all without a receipt, as this practice was illegal. I had no option but to trust him.

My new home was a shotgun style flat with an ample living room illuminated at night by the blue light from the communal swimming pool, giving the apartment a false air of swank. The master bedroom where I slept had an en-suite bathroom and a little uninviting patio dwarfed by walls as tall as the building itself. Maybe because the basement had been vacant for some time, the tenants from the floors above had turned my patio into a communal dumping ground, their rubbish covered by a thick layer of sand.

Soon after I moved in, I started seeing roaches. One here, one there, nothing a few rounds of insect killer couldn’t control. Then I started seeing more. Overnight, I was sharing the basement with an army of gigantic roaches. I complained to the landlord to no avail. He argued that since he had lowered my rent, I was not entitled to maintenance.

In a few days, the roaches claimed my bathroom. I found them in my toothbrush, the loofah sponge, the folds of my towels. Then they were crawling across the living room. I found them in the pocket of my sweater, inside my shoes, and flying across the kitchen with whirring wings. I knew this roach infestation was getting out of hand when I realized I was avoiding walking anywhere at night because the odds of encountering a family of them were high.

I took their invasion as my penance for cheating on my husband.

I pleaded with the landlord again. He said he’d look into it. In the meantime, I tried everything: sonic deterrents, roach traps and sprays, poisonous powders, and when nothing worked, I combined them all into a lethal concoction of chemicals and sound waves. But the roaches came back full force.

Home became a battle ground, a place I entered with a broom and a flip-flop in hand, mentally prepared to fight the powerful enemy squatting under my roof. In the evening, I’d take refuge on the couch, feet curled up under me, roach spray at the ready, eyes darting left and right across the room, paralyzed by fear of having a flying roach land on my head. If I dozed off, I had nightmares. In one I was Gregor Samsa, late for work, unable to move or communicate. I lay in bed and much to my horror, I discovered that I had a flattened body, a small head with long flexible antennae, and mouthparts on the underside of my head. I had become a cockroach. I was getting to an obsessive point. I contemplated placing hairbrushes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and hair products in the fridge.

This went on for a couple of weeks.

I began to leave the lights on overnight, a useless defense against roaches highly adaptable to light. I was exhausted. Not only because of the messy divorce, but also because the roaches started crawling on me in my sleep. I hit my breaking point the night I was jolted awake to a roach crawling across my arm. In the morning I shook one from my hair. It was absurd that I was living like this.

Sleep-deprived, broke, and desperate, I threatened the landlord with calling the local housing authority on him. That afternoon when I came back from the school, three pest control Indians in full overalls, paper masks, and disposable shoe and head covers were waiting for me outside. First, they fumigated inside: every corner of the apartment was soaked with poison, the air heavy with chemicals. Then, they moved outdoors where they soon discovered the insects’ nest in the patio. No sooner had they lifted the drain cover than hundreds, literally hundreds, of cockroaches were scampering away, climbing on walls, on the workers, their fumigation equipment, everywhere. The insects flew frantically, their wings making hissing noises that morphed into a loud chirping chorus. I shut the door horrified by the prospect of having angry roaches fighting for their lives in my bedroom.

The workers killed them methodically, poisoned their nest, and shoveled their dead bodies into plastic bags. I watched the last insect crawl out of the hole with unsteady legs and flaccid antennae. It wobbled in a daze and then died. After the workers left, I went around the apartment sweeping dead roaches. The more I swept, the more death I found, the more desolate I grew. For a second, I wanted it all back: the husband, the insects, the workers in their paper overalls. The basement grew eerily quiet. I dialed my husband’s number. I hung up before he picked up. I sat on the couch, leaned on the broom like an old woman, and from that vantage point, I spotted a dying roach under the dining table. It was belly up, the poison working its way across its body, sending its legs into a frenzy of spasms. The antennae moved wildly, and the whole thing slid across the floor on its back as if gasping for air. I don’t know why but I began to cry. The more desperate the cockroach grew, the harder I cried. I stayed there for a long time, unable to move, watching the roach die, and I mourned, not the end of my marriage or the life I had thrown away, but this being in front of me, this formidable enemy with strikingly shiny wings. Another thing I had managed to kill.

Adriana Páramo is a cultural anthropologist, writer and women’s rights advocate. She is the author of “Looking for Esperanza,”and “My Mother’s Funeral.” She is an active member of the travel writing workshop of VONA—Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation—a community of writers of color. She keeps a travel blog at: