Anyone who has traveled at high altitude (and I mean on the ground, not in a pressurised airplane cabin making “oo-aah” sounds at the lovely scenery) will know that it can do funny things to your mind and body.
Landing in La Paz, Bolivia, one of the world’s highest cities, for the first time I thought my head would explode. A friend had once helpfully explained to me the effect altitude has on on the blood vessels in your brain by holding up a potato crisp packet that looked like it was about to explode. We were three-quarters of the way up a mountain at the time and the chip packet had been swelling gradually the whole while. “This is what your blood vessels are doing right now,” she said, gleefully triggering an “oh-my-god-i’m-going-to-have-a-stroke” moment.
Every trip I have done to La Paz has been characterised by a dreamlike quality that is all about the altitude. Sure, the little round women on the street, with their multi-layered disco-coloured skirts, long black plaits and rubber sandals let you know that you are somewhere distinctly foreign. And the witches’ market, crowded with strange ingredients and tiny dried llamas, gives a hint that science has its place, but so does the spirit world.
But the big factor is altitude. And altitude, I have discovered, is a lot like pregnancy. Struggling up La Paz’s steep narrow streets while huffing and puffing is a lot like hauling yourself and your bowling ball belly a few blocks to the shops in the late stages of pregnancy. And altitude and pregnancy both play tricks on your mind, and on what’s achieveable. On every business trip to La Paz I have been under the illusion that my mind was working at its sharpest, that my razor-sharp intellect would carry me through sticky situations. Returning to sea level, I look at my notes and wonder what the hell was I thinking. “Why didn’t I ask that very obvious, and crucial, question?” “What does this half-finished sentence mean?” “Why does that scribble mean?”
With about a month to go before the arrival of Maximum Maxi-Wobble the second, our son, it is dawning on me that my mind is playing tricks on me, in a La Paz kind of way. A crazy amount of work has come my way, and I have said yes to it all. So I find myself flitting between hefty, detail-oriented editing projects, staking out police stations and airports and interviewing small businesswomen in poor, farflung parts of Lima, all with a strange, dreamlike lack of urgency. Deadlines shmeadlines. I’m going through all the motions, but it’s almost like I’m watching myself go through those motions in a film of my life, and I’d rather switch over to that scintillating new series I discovered, Devious Maids. Yes – Devious Maids!!! The shame…
I need to turn back to work now; I just had to get that off my chest. Self-diagnosed pregnancy brain. There is a reason for this wading-through-cement pace of mine right now. I am not losing it, I am just very, very pregnant.
Also, regular readers should know that Lola slept last night the WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH. And yesterday she got into the spirit of this walking business, after racing around for months with the help of a little finger, and launched off by herself constantly. She was doing laps of our living room. Wobbly, drunken laps, but amaaaaaazing to see.