Don Guillermo: Algunos recuerdos de Nicaragua

Don Guillermo me recibió en casa La Rizoma sin mucho apuro. Me saludó con una sonrisa que le pintaba la cara entera y que me hizo sentir en casa desde el primer momento. Me mostró el cuarto dónde me iba a quedar y me enseñó el sistema de como asegurar cada puerta. Cosa importantísima pero, “¡No te preocupes!” me aseguró. Se nota que le es importante la seguridad. Y luego me doy cuenta que quizás tenga que ver con su historia de militar. Luchó para la revolución. Es un Marxista. Es un Guerrillero. Pero a la vez su tratar es de la más gentil y cálida.

Me invita a un café todas las mañanas y mientras sorbo lo calentito, fuerte y rico de café Las Flores, el me cuenta historias de su vida y de la condición del mundo en que ahora vivimos.

Un día hablamos de que el ser humano es bien complejo y en complicarnos la vida no podemos ver lo simple que es nuestro propósito. Agarra un marcador verde y empieza a rayar el pizarrón. Ahí apunta que la humanidad está llegando a la final de una etapa. Está dando la vuelta a la página de la vida. Estamos regresando a la etapa de la Naturaleza, dónde todo comenzó y donde nos debe importar el mundo natural a nuestro entorno más que cualquier otra cosa.

Y como buen académico describe la dualidad de tres cosas claves muy organizadamente

Y yo, como buena estudiante, las apunto:

1. Yin y yang: lo que se puede describir de lo que es compuesto el Tao. Fuerzas complementarias y opuestas a la vez que llegan a la realidad entera.

2. El Masculino y el Femenino

3. El Yo por dentro y como eso traspasa al exterior

En cada una de estas dualidades hay un gran desiquilibrio, me cuenta. Y el balance de las cosas está llegando a un “tipping point” o un camino sin salida y a un momento crítico.

“¡Así es!, concurrí. Y continuamos hablando de la vida de la naturaleza de la esperitualidad y de la literatura.


Shuffling in scuffed Black and White Reebok sneakers Don Guillermo makes his way out to his morning routine.

Feeding the fluffy white Pókhora and Luna he goes about his quehaceres and puts on a pot of Nicaraguan coffee ”Las Flores.”

He invites me to some and he talks Revolution, Marxism, and Religion in the same breath.

Inhaling hot, humid, and sticky air and exhaling the dense, truths that cling to you like dried sweat.

You need a way to wash them off, come clean, and know your truth and that of others in a way that doesn’t invite arrogance and knowing but invites sharing and a compassionate heart.

Guillermo’s ideas dot the air like the droplets of water spraying in the sun

As he waters the garden

the molecules rest in the form of punctuation marks on the thirsty green plants that enshrine the patio of La Rizoma.

La Rizoma is a space for sharing, a center for cultural immersion and way for folks in the community to learn about and enjoy topics of interest.

I’ll leave you with the vision statement that La Rizoma has on its walls. This safe haven in a world where violence and crossing one another to get ahead is the norm, La Rizoma exists as a way to push away the boundaries that create rigidity and misunderstanding and invite fluidity and understanding. (By the way, this is a new intention I have created for myself this coming year).

“el mundo está en un estado perpetuo de violencia. adentro de tantas masacres y eco-cidios es dificil encontrar espacios seguros. la rizoma pretende ser un espacio “seguro,” pero entedemos que esta seguridad no se puede pronunciar linguisticamente (no es tan facil como simplemente “nombrar” un espacio seguro), un espacio seguro se construye a través de las relaciones empleadas por todas las personas que habitan esta casa. Convivir en este espacio asume que lxs participantes respeten y celebren las similitudes y diferencias que se expresen en este comunidad.”

“the world is in a perpetual state of violence. under so many masks and eco-cides it is difficult to find safe spaces. la rizoma aims to be a “safe” space, but we understand that security cannot be pronounced linguistically (it is not easy to simply “name” a safe place), a safe place is constructed by way of relationships working in concert for all the people that inhabit this house. Cohabiting in this safe place assumes that the participants respect and celebrate the similarities and differences that are expressed in this community.”

 

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Guanacaste, or Elephant ear tree en route to the Mombacho Volcano
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When you go up to the Mombacho Volcano you feel like you are in a cloud
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Paisaje del mismo Mombacho
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Some wildflowers and in the distance you can see some of the cays that dot the biggest lake in Central America (365 one for each day of the year)
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Active volcano shooting sulphur with lava beds underneath (Don Guillermo took me here): Volcán Masaya
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El patio de la Rizoma de noche
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La Laguna de Apoyo with Itzá and her family
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Itzá entering a cathedral in Granada

 

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The Season of Soup

One thing that I like about coming back to the States is that I get to cook. Don’t get me wrong. When I have been in Peru and Bolivia for the last 6 months, off and on, I have really enjoyed my almuerzos (lunches) in the mercados (markets) from las caseritas (the women at the markets that sell you scrumptious meals) who are eagerly trying to lure each passerby over with the menu that they shout out persistently until their food that day has been all eaten up. One walks by and smells things so delicious that I wouldn’t really dream of cooking in a place like this. It is a great way to try out new foods and a super cheap and fast option when you are constantly on the move. One of my favorite caseras almost always had a vegetarian option. Her name is Ernestina and she has the kitchen post in the corner of the downtown Urubamba market on the second floor. The first time I met her this summer we chatted like she probably chats with most tourists who stop to sit and dine at her bench…I introduced myself and told her I wanted to be back because her food was spectacular. I did go back, many times, and now I will go see her and enjoy her lunch any time I go to Urubamba.

Since I don’t have a caserita in the States, I do my own cooking. Cooking is an art and a stress reliever for me. It’s something I can also do with my mom and we greatly enjoy making things old and new. Sometimes we follow a recipe, but for a lot of dishes I just kind of make it up as I go and see what is in the season and the fridge.

So, one of my go-to “recipes” for the winter months when at 5pm it is already dark outside is a Curried __________ vegetable soup. The veggies that work well, I have found, are carrots, most any squash, and sweet potato. It’s super easy and fast, here goes:

Saute in soup pot with olive oil

1 onion

as much garlic as you can handle (normally I put in at least 4 cloves)

celery or green pepper or whatever other more bland veggie you have laying around that you need to use up (optional)

When the onions are soft you can add whatever chopped up vegetable you have chosen to be the base of your soup. Following are some examples of tried and true great options!

Dice up small (if carrots you can scrub and peel and dice), with sweet potatoes (same thing) with squash I recommend baking the squash first if you don’t want to deal with having to cut it up into small pieces while the squash fights back hard–as is its nature. Just cut it in two, scoop out the seeds, then brush some olive oil on the inside and place it on a cookie sheet and put in the oven for 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the squash. You can always do this the day before and have in the fridge. My roommate in California always complained that she didn’t like cooking with squash because it was such a hassle, but the thing is that squash is so good, just take the time to do it right and don’t get frustrated–if you get frustrated while cooking you are doing something wrong! Take out some wine and keep at it.

I like to add curry powder, herbs, tonight I added chipotle, or something of spice to anything I make, soup included, so do what you like or try something new.

Add some of your favorite broth or water. The best veggie broth (or meat broth for that matter unless of course you want to make it yourself) I have encountered is “Better Than Bouillon.” It comes in a small glass jar that will yield quite a bit of soup all told. Check it out and be prepared to never go back to those cans, bouillon cubes, or those Tetra Pak cartons that are so horrible for the environment, again.

Let simmer until the veggies are soft but not mushy.

Blend and enjoy!

Some people may like to make it creamier with coconut milk. Another option is garnishing with your favorite seed or nut or something green like cilantro or green onion.

 

Writing fun

I see myself as a somewhat serious, realistic (with a huge dash of idealism), and grounded person who only uses humour when necessary. That said, one of my friends and readers said I might utilize some more fun in my writing. And so, without any further ado, a couple of limericks and a silly poem for this gloomy day in January:

When we go to visit my grandparents I’m always the first to put on my shoes
Although these days the visits are full of sitting and talking the blues
But the time I spend with them regardless
No matter the conversation we harvest
I enjoy, delving up stories of the past, present, and future to peruse


My winter hobbies always experience a rekindling
in the midst of the holiday bustling and twinkling
I stay home and knit, cheery
While I watch a Spanish series
And think about all the gas and coal supplies dwindling


And this one is for my niece, Aliyah. Thanks for the time you spend with me reading fun and silly books and letting me do it in Spanglish!

This winter I wonder what makes me a sluggish, two-legged humaninstead of a squirrel scurrying across a branch in cold akin to a frozen beer can?
I sit and I eat and I wait for a treat. And then I look at my toenail.But doesn’t that make me the same as a creature with a brown, bushy tail?
“No, no, no!” says the barn owl that looks at me de reojo*“You cannot be a four-legged rodent!” he says while he perches with enojo**.   You are a human whether you like it or not,
so get on your feet and let’s see a squat.

*looking at of the corner of your eye
**displeasure

 

Tea a plenty

Shoveling the dusty-white driveway while tingly fingers thaw

I thought the Holidays were about family but that is not the all

I’m feeling a little dead inside with all the flat grey skies

The bone-chilling cold is probably part of my demise

The heaters suck the water out of your body until your skin cracks raw

Though the crackling of the fire-place as it burns is a welcoming draw

But what comforts me the most are the warm drinks that I sip

So it’s lucky that my mother–cabinet full of teas–is fully equipped

Her favorite is Celestial Seasonings, a place she frequents often to flavor all her water

Her pilgrimage out to the Colorado plains usually includes a visit to her daughter

Carting back tea boxes a plenty, she adds various teas to her collection

When she arrives back home she and her visitors have more of a selection

One tea that doesn’t make it into the cabinet is one that is made fresh–Masala Chai

The best way to make this tea is to have all ingredients in your tea supply

A combination of the following is all that you will need

Just do some testing in your kitchen and you will most likely succeed

Combine in a saucepan, boil and then simmer

Ginger root
Cinnamon sticks
Green Cardamom pods
Cloves
Pepper corns
Anise or Fennel

Add

Black tea (loose or bagged is fine)
Your favorite milk
Honey to preference

Let steep for a few more minutes and share with a friend who is adventurous.

Chai it! You’ll like it.

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p.s. If anyone in the continental U.S. would like to try Chai without having to experiment with different spices in the kitchen, let me know (by any means you would like) within the next week and I’ll send you a starter kit 🙂

Everything but the kitchen sink

Not really sure what to write about today. The thing is that this kind of writing challenge is for me to get out some things from my fingertips that have been here, deep down, for quite some time but first I have to brush off the dust.

So following are some musings that maybe shouldn’t grace the pages of the internet, but will, all the same.

I’m currently sitting on my bed in my grandparents’ house. I remember the first Christmas (in memory) that I spent here was in first grade. My family was back to the U.S. for furlough from Argentina and it was our first time experiencing snow and ice, this amount of cold, and everything that comes along with Christmas in the Midwestern United States. I also came back from Columbus, where my grandparents live, with a stuffed doll that I called Ginger–a present from my great-grandfather Bus.

I’m not sure what it is about but I think that the cold brings out the worst in people, but sometimes the best.

I put eggnog in my pancakes.

I don’t want to write about any of these things.

How about the feeling that you get when you are driving on the road and the wind is swirling the snow into such geometric patterns that you feel like you are at sea or smoking some kind of potent weed.

Flannel sheets are the best invention ever.

My parent’s neighbors have a wind chime as tall as their house. I hear it every morning and it is the first thing I know when I get up and the last thing that I hear when I drift off to sleep. The first time that I saw it a couple years back I was appalled that such a large wind chime would exist and it was ostentatiously placed on the tree that is directly within eyesight of my parent’s back windows, or half of the windows of the house, including “my” bedroom. The first time I saw it I simply laughed and proclaimed it ridiculous. This time that I made my visit to my parent’s house I have appreciated the deep and grounding sounds such an instrument makes in my bedding down and waking hours.

Talk is cheap, but I don’t know what else to do when I want to go deep, but it seems like there’s nothing really there to anchor me as I dive.

Yesterday in my yoga class a man was breathing loudly the whole time. At the beginning of class he started making some weird grunting noises and I realized that his partner’s mat was right next to his and I knew that I was going to be in for it. He felt himself at home, being that his partner was right there and there were only two other young women in the class (me and someone else) I’m sure he felt as though he could do whatever he wanted in terms of sounds—grunts, loud breathing, exasperated sighs, you name it. The whole while I was trying to concentrate on what the teacher was saying and I was trying to imagine myself calm and collected no matter what was in my presence. This is what yoga teaches and sometimes I can be really hard-pressed to really take these things to heart. People eating loudly, or more than a little bit of dirtiness in the wrong spot can turn me into an OCD individual real quick. I don’t mean the DSM-IV type, but just in general, I am pretty persnickety when it comes to certain things.

I am learning important life lessons during this small rendezvous to the Midwest. My centering point. Coming back to the fulcrum to then have the pendulum swing right or left again, depending on the wind.

A conversation during New Year’s Eve had me talking about Hoosiers, you know, those people from Indiana. I told people at the bar that one thing that I missed about “living” in California is that people there were a lot more distant, less friendly, they take their time in warming up to just about anyone. I appreciate this about Hoosiers and most Midwesterners in general. It seems as though one of my stereotypes of the Midwest is that its citizens are very conscientious about making people feel at home, they are friendly, they dive right into small talk, and they don’t skip a beat. “This makes me tired,” my best friend from high school comments, “sometimes I wish I could just not say ‘hi’ and simply be on my way.”

“You got to be in it to win it,” says a wise yet very young individual about the lottery jackpot.

And that’s all I have for today, last night rather.

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My Grandparents kitchen sink.

Community

¡Feliz Año Nuevo a tod@s! Happy New Year! I am back (to this writing platform) and wanting to share some musings with you this month. Last year I tried to write for every day of January, and I would like do the same this year. At the very least, write more than the 15 entries I did last year.

I will eventually post something on my past semester in Bolivia and Peru (that’s a way of saying that this will happen this month). That is where I was with my two trusty co-instructors and 12 students for the last three months (plus 3 weeks in Quito, Ecuador to visit my brother and his flia in December). Now that I am in Indy at my parents house I have a chance to sit and reflect. And sitting and reflecting is much easier to do when it is below zero because there is not much else to do.

The few cards that I sent out for the New Year and the messages that I have texted, Whatsapp’ed and Messenger’ed, have included

“I wish you light, love, and courage for the new year.”

In retrospect I might change that to

“I wish you light, love, community, and courage. Ingredients of a successful approach to our current realities. Light and love to encounter the joys and challenges that life so graciously gives us and courage and community to continue this work sustainably and meaningfully. ”

This kind of recipe is one that you can make over and over again. A kind of Masala Chai that requires the combination of spices, brewing, and drinking and then the repetition of the same each time you’d like to take a sip.

Here is a poem that I wrote (through a combination of recycled and new verses) that I wrote and compiled during this past semester. I shared it while I talked to the youth and my co-instructors about my life-story. I think it’s pertinent for this time right now at the beginning of something new and at the end of a holiday season.

Community

Writing a new poem is always a challenge in its own right because it means digging up something from inside that is still unripe
Not matured
Taken from the Earth
poems are like the first crop of the season
The carrot you tentatively pull from the ground to see if it’s ready

So here goes…

Community for me is the expanse you till around you that will eventually grow fruit
if you take care of it well enough and the weather behaves.
It takes work, lots of sweat, and, sin falta, some tears.
The first community that I can remember is one that I revisit fondly in my head when I am feeling lonely

The film is a slideshow of photos caressing my innermost sensitivities
My extended family lived thousands of miles away from me when I was little and so I developed an adopted family:

Tía Milka, Tío José, and La Abuela lived right across the street.

The ginormous tree on the side of our lot spread its branches to the sky
And through which you could see Don Jose’s carefully groomed roses peeking through the slits of light
like red, pink, yellow, and white, Christmas lights

The three of us kids came over a lot.
Any time we wanted to watch TV (our house didn’t have one)
Eat something not too healthy (imagine anything fried or sweet)
Or be spoiled by Abuela’s hugs (nothing like a hug from someone whose soft rounded belly touches your body in all the right places)–
We would show up unannounced yet welcomed each time.

On rainy afternoons
We looked through the windows of our house at the drops of water
Falling from the sky
With certainty and indifference at the same time
We searched for our raincoats and made our way down the well-trodden road to our aunt and uncles’ house
Abuela would be in the kitchen making the dough
Tía Milka, dressed in an apron
With a kitchen towel draped over the apron string tied at her waist,
Serving mate [ad infinitum]
The television buzzing in the background at a volume that was almost indistinguishable from the rain that fell outside, and serving as a reminder of the world without.
“Come in, come in, kids,” tío José said with a relaxed air that mirrored the weather.
And the three of us kids entered eagerly, sitting down at the table, and telling our aunt, uncle, and abuela about how we were and the news of the neighborhood.
Tía started to heat up the oil on the burner closest the back of the stovetop
Abuela cut pieces of dough into small balls,
Ready to be rolled out into circles,
Slashed in the center with a knife so they would fry evenly.
When fried, the circles made of flour, oil, salt, and water are simply delicious
In and of themselves, but
Spreading on dulce de leche made them better still.
My mom and the tíos put homemade kumquat jam from the last harvest on top of the tortas.
And all of us ate, talked, and drank mate until our bellies nearly ached.

And so, my first loving community (from memory)
formed out of pure necessity, love, and dedication.
Then, eight years later I left this community
I felt pulled from the ground that held me steady and comfortable.

Many hugs and kisses and promises of being in touch passed between the gringos and our familia adoptada and my ears and cheeks were red with fear that my community was gone.

Many years later I visited José and Milka
La Abuela had passed peacefully in her sleep the year before
Which reminded me of the time I had shared a bed with her to watch a late-night tennis match between Gabriela Sabatini and I don’t know who else
The match didn’t come in because of bad weather so I stayed awake listening to the storm outside punctuated with the even louder snoring of La Abuela.

The next time I visited Tío José and his floppy dentures were just one more picture in the slideshow.
Tía Milka and I ate dulce de leche and mint-chocolate chip ice cream straight out of the Styrofoam one-kilo bucket and talked about everything and nothing.

Each and every time I felt community, I feel love.

And so what I wish for all of you is more community and therefore more love.

Light and courage are also pretty active ingredients in the life balance.

 

Peru summer 2017

The other night my dad invited me to a reading from someone at the Mennonite church that had just published his memoir chronicling his life from his birthplace in Paraguay, retracing ancestral roots to Russia and persecution there and extending the roots that he himself had stretched into North America at the age of twenty years old. His friends and mentor introduced Erv and then he read a few excerpts of his story. Lastly, he had each of his family members present–children and grandchildren–read stories that they most identified with from his book. I found the whole presentation very touching and an exercise in modern-day storytelling that I had never seen before. Each of the voices took it’s own shape, but through the framework of Erv’s original story.

Our Focus of Inquiry for our Peru six-week course this summer was storytelling and communication. We heard and experienced so many stories during the oh so short time we spent together. Stories of hardship, of trauma, of joy, of love, of privilege, of gratitude touched us from within our group of travelers. And stories with these same themes touched us from outside our group of travelers. Stories have come to us about the magical place called Peru from the high snowy peaks of the Andes, to the dense green forests of the Amazon, to the citadel of mystical Machu Picchu. We learned from people who inhabit all of these spaces, and thus learned a bit more about what it means to be a human in these often broken, bewildering, and besieged times.

I’d like to share with you now some of our time together and I will try to punctuate opportune times with pictures for your enjoyment and increased understanding of our wonderful experience together.

Our adventure began in Lima where, after excited and nervous introductions in the airport, we traveled to our orientation destination in Caraz, a beautiful permaculture eco-lodge called Apu (or Mountain) Eco-Lodge with a view of the Cordillera Blanca. In our three days there, we built a supportive group culture, started learning about Peruvian history and culture, and outlined different course components so that students would be familiarized with our learning goals and outcomes. This course mostly focused on the focus of inquiry outlined above, as well as rugged travel, trekking, home-stays, and developmental studies.

In the map above you can see most of the places we went to. Cities of interest are Lima where we landed. Caraz->Huaraz->Parque Nacional Huascarán->Pucallpa (in this map right next to Yarinacocha)->Cuzco->Machu Picchu
Short walk outside of Apu Eco Lodge one of the crops is carnations.
At Apu Eco Lodge playing a team-building activity.

From orientation we went to Huaraz, where we spent two days preparing for our first trek. We went to the mercado and stocked up on supplies and met with the trekking company and our guide to familiarize ourselves with the lay of the mountainous land we were about to trod. Then we traveled to Parque Nacional Huascarán by bus, enjoying the peaks of the Cordillera Blanca glistening and grand, through the dusty bus windows. Huascarán National Park is the highest tropical mountain range in the world and holds close to 660 glaciers and 300 lagoons. We (instructors and students alike) were a bundle of nerves that didn’t know how to diffuse. So as the bus bumped along the road our nerves jostled along as well and we sat in nervous anticipation of what lied ahead.

View from our hostel in Huaraz.

Upon arrival to Pomabamba we stayed overnight in a friendly and spacious hostal to be greeted the following morning by our three arrieros (Agustín, young and timid, Geraldo, silent and somber, and Zenón, our all-knowing hero), fourteen mules, and trusty emergency horses–Mono and Juan. During our rugged and isolated trek through the park, students learned the basics of trekking, philosophy of Leave No Trace, and how to keep safe (although we did have a few close-calls with symptoms of altitude sickness and some kind of bacteria that most of the group got halfway through our trek) and warm in the high Andes. Students also got the chance to practice camping behaviour by setting up and tearing down tents when time allowed, cooking food, and learning about the park through our guide and mountain enthusiast, Eduardo, and our trusty and steadfast arrieros.  We crested mountain passes over 4,800 meters, enjoyed the cool of glaciers, and looked with awe into crystal lagoons. After hiking for a week we concluded our expedition to the park with a short bus-ride back to Huaraz to relax and recover from our rugged adventure in the snow-capped Andes.

The above map shows the whole Cordillera Blanca. The trail that our group did, Los Cedros, is the red dotted line going up and down on the far left side starting in Pomabamba and ending in Hualcayan.
Meeting our arrieros and mules and doing some last minute preparation for our trek.
First view of the Cordillera Blanca while on trek.

Our first campsite was right at the foot of this glacier. Picture really doesn’t do it justice.
Second night we set up camp right next to an alpaca herd. Here’s a couple of them left in the morning when we set off.

 

One of many mountain passes, highest of which was 4,880 meters.
Laguna Cullicocha

Our last campsite on the trek–Wishcash. And let me tell you, when I rounded the bend and saw this campsite it was definitely a wish come true.

After a day and couple nights in Huaraz we changed our surroundings dramatically during a 20+ hour bus ride to Pucallpa, our entry point into the Amazon. We took a short boat-ride down an estuary of the Amazon to arrive in a Shipibo community called Santa Clara where students spent four days and nights in homestays with families who had only this year been catapulted into modern times through electricity and running water. Many families spoke limited Spanish and the cultural exchange was even more meaningful by the fact that houses were normally built with the surroundings in mind, sometimes only three walls enclosed participants from the forest along with their thin mosquitero or mosquito netting. We partnered with an agency based out of Pucallpa called Alianza Arkana, roughly translated as The Shielded Alliance, that collaborates with many indigenous communities of the area with a particular emphasis on the Shipibo people. One of their main projects in Santa Clara is a permaculture project that will eventually reforest the deforested region around the town and provide one meal a day for the local children that attend the elementary school in the village.

Gone fishing.
Our Shipibo family: Luz, Isabel, Gabriel, and Freddy.

 

Papaya plantation right as you enter Santa Clara from the river.
Enjoying the heat of the rain forest!
Walking on the dirt roads of Santa Clara.
Embroidering with the Shipibo women.

After our short but sweet time in the Amazon, we transitioned back to a bustling city as we made our way to Urubamba, a city in the Sacred Valley that is a stop for many people going from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. In addition to learning about Urubambin@s first-hand from host families, during our ten days in this vibrant town, students took Spanish classes daily, worked with local mentors on independent study projects focused on learning about Andean instruments, Andean spirituality, Permaculture, and Andean weaving.

Our time in Urubamba came to an end and we said goodby to our host families and new community partners as we transitioned into the expedition phase of our course where students prepared for a ‘mini-expedition,’ where they would take on most, if not all, the leadership and logistics. Student leaders took us on the three-day trek of Salkantay a sacred apu or mountain that is one entry point to the Machu Picchu ruins. Our expedition took us through the Sacred Valley where we delved into the meaning behind being a traveler versus being a tourist on oftentime crowded parts of our journey as we headed to visit the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu.  We were fortunate enough to have Favian, a wonderfully joyful guide and spiritual leader.  Favian’s quena (Andean flute) playing floated through the air as we took one step after another on sacred ground. His music was a plea to the mountains to allow us to journey safely, purposefully, and most importantly, to secure an invitation to journey at all.  On the day we climbed from our campsite up the steps to Machu Picchu park and up more steps to Machu Picchu mountain, Favian taught us much about the quickly fading culture through an impactful pachamama ceremony, a blessing and sacrifice for pachamama, or mother earth at the Incan bridge.

Day 1 of Salkantay trek…you can see Salkantay on the right-hand side.
Favian and his quena.
Day 2 of our Salkantay trek.
Favian and my two trusty co-instructors (Jhasmany and Mateo).

We then returned to the outskirts of Urubamba, where we transitioned into our transference phase of program. We continued sharing our own stories and that of our time together and discussed how to translate what we learned and experienced in Peru to our lives back home. These final days flew by and we soon found ourselves in the heart of Peru–Cusco–basking in the light of the full moon as it sat over snowy Ausangate. In the light of the moon we offered praise, gratitude, and appreciation for the people we had met, the lives that had touched us, the places we had only briefly known, and the impact that it already had on our lives. After saying our goodbyes, we were ready to take our individual stories, now altered by the sacred apus and their inhabitants, out to our respective parts of the world.

Our group as well as our guide and arrieros after our first trek together.

Coming back from the place you started from and telling your story is always an interesting exercise that for me never gets easier with time. Hearing Erv and his family read his memoir gave me some hope about how storytelling can be more integrated into our experiences. I’m currently filled with a light mist of sadness because of the people and the places that I always seem to leave behind in a mission to keep moving forward with the tides of time. Sometimes the visibility through that mist is pretty good, but other times that mist clouds my vision and I have trouble seeing at all. I hope that through this account you can see some parts of my story during these last couple of months and I thank you for journeying with me.

April sensible

April first is April Fool’s Day and the first day of National Poetry Month. It is also the day my mom’s birthday falls. One of the things that characterizes my mom is sensibility. Craft is another good way to describe her and hopefully here are some prose that help honor the things about her that stand out to me as memorable and as noteworthy aspects of her persona.

Groggily I make my way down the stairs, through the living room and into the kitchen

Mom is stirring “Bupee (sp?) de Mabele” on the stove and I make a typical teenage “that’s nasty” face.

She chuckles and puts on the lid for the porridge made out of sorghum and who-knows-what else to simmer and cook.

AFT2_Mabele-porridge

Her blue alpargatas, or house-shoes shuffle through the kitchen.

Dressed in faded navy sweat pants, a free T-shirt from a Mennonite event in which the shirt is the only thing you get for volunteering your service, and a flannel over top it all, she has supplies lined out on the counter to make lunches.

Four a day.

Turkey sandwiches with lettuce, mayo (for everyone except for Dad), mustard, cheese.

For me, she separates the tomatoes, when they are in season, in a little Tupperware so the sandwich doesn’t get soggy.

The little baggies she uses for the carrots that she washes, scrapes, and cuts lengthwise, are a yellowy-orange because she re-uses them.

Sometimes I “accidentally” throw my lunch baggies away so my friends at lunchtime won’t see that my little bags are dirty.

“Where are your little baggies, Rachel?” she asks innocently.

“I don’t know,” I respond, annoyed that she would make me use something again. Doesn’t she know that I have an image to keep up.

My favorite part of the lunch, two oatmeal chocolate-chip walnut cookies. A sensible size, of course. She makes these cookies a few times a month. One of the only sweets she allows into the house.

Sometimes, if she makes the cookies on the weekend. I drink mate with her and help mix up the dough and try to make the cookies bigger in size.

“Those are too big!” she says to me aghast.

And I just smile saying, “I like them this big.”

Sometimes she takes parts of the cookies I’ve made and puts them back into the bowl before they go into the oven. Other times she lets me have it my way.

****

Today I stand in front of my own stove-top and stir the oatmeal for my morning breakfast. I look down at my outfit and I have on

some navy sweat pants, not yet faded.

a T-shirt that I got a from a Mennonite grab bag that says “In Harmony with God and Nature” from a Mennonite camp called Camp Amigo

and some “alpargatas” that I got from my last trip to Argentina that have been donned my house-shoes.

Brokenness

A couple weeks ago my friend messaged me that a good friend of hers had passed away just after ten weeks of being diagnosed with cancer. A couple of days later, after my work day had ended, I looked at my phone to see that my sister-in-law had delivered a happy, healthy baby girl(!) Around that same time, my father had messaged us in our family Whatsapp group that my grandpa was taken to the hospital and was in a lot of pain and the doctors were still trying to figure out what the cause was.

I called my friend and I talked to her about memories of her friend. I could hear the grief in her voice so I tried to console her a bit. I reminded her that her friend was once again whole. He had left his broken body behind. He had gone to a place where his body and his mind and his surroundings were complete and lacked nothing. We, humans on earth, are the ones who were broken (with grief and other things). This brokenness, it is true, makes us able to connect with each other and build a life together, but that is just for a short while. Eventually, when our life here on earth is done, we are transformed into something else. Those that stay behind are broken, but we will get through it–we always do. She seemed to take some solace in this.

I called my brother and sister-in-law to congratulate them on the new one, and while I listened to the cries of the new baby, born into a broken world, I couldn’t help but wish the best for her. Of course, we wish the best for those around us whom we love.

I called my grandpa and he was too tired to speak so I talked to my grandma for a few minutes to ask them how everything was with Grandpa and to let them know that I was thinking of them and that I loved them. I told them that I wished I were close by to visit but at least I could think about them in this difficult time.

And so it goes, death, pain, and new beginnings swirl around us every day and make our existence here what it is. Even on the hard days, we must gather our strength and see what it has in store for us. One of my favorite authors, Paulo Coelho says: “If you only walk on sunny days you’ll never reach your destination.” And if you have read any of his books, he also believes, as do I, that the destination, in fact, is the very journey and not the endpoint. These turn of events a few weeks back, especially of Grandpa, made me think about loving kindness and how we move through life and how some people are more in tune with compassion and attention to others than the average Joe.

My grandpa, for example, exudes loving kindness and is always on the lookout to lend a hand. Here’s a poem/memory chain of sorts for him to highlight what I know and to acknowledge my gratitude for him. I hope he feels better real soon!

 

Grandpa, you’re on my mind

It is hard for me to wrap my mind writing about a person that I really admire and one that you want to make sure and write about with precision, tact, and honesty in order to capture the spirit of such an important soul. I feel this way about Grandpa, someone I only see once or twice a year and who, while I was growing up abroad, I didn’t see hardly at all, and my conversations with him were fleeting check-ins, at best.

In Argentina, we would go to the Telefónica a few times a month to talk to our grandparents. We entered the building ceremoniously, the five gringos, loyal customers, ready for the conversation that we would have with each of our grandparents. There were three telephone booths that housed the phones that would connect us to our loved ones back in the United States. The lady at the counter gave us la cabina 1, 2, o 3 al azar. The booth she seemingly picked at random because there was hardly anyone present making phone calls, was carpeted from top to bottom with blue 70s carpeting and the door that swung out inviting the speaker inside, had a long window to see in and out. The seat inside the booth was a little bench, also carpeted. There was probably enough room to comfortably, for a very short time, fit two, very lean adults in that booth. And so, my parents would go in and they would talk to our grandparents, first one set and then the other. Closing the door behind them they would communicate with our relatives, thousands of miles away. My grandparents only ever knew our experiences in the Chaco through these conversations. They relayed on the lens that my parents saw the world to transport them to the faraway land, because they never visited.

Meanwhile, the three of us kids would run, play, and try to stay out of trouble in the uninspiring building built for conversations suspended in air, and not for the activities of lively children. We ventured outside to play as well and came in and out at our leisure until my mom or dad would come get us one by one to say “hi” to each of their parents.

When my turn came I ran into the cabina, which had gotten pretty toasty  because of the close quarters and body heat created by all of us breathing and the energy of our conversations in general. I said “hi” and I probably talked about school, and piano lessons, and what new tumble I had learned in gymnastics, and the ducks, and my friends, and whatever else children talk about. To tell you the truth I don’t remember the substance of those conversations or what I talked about in specifics. My memory serves me pretty well, but the content of these phone chats just don’t seem to come to mind. I do remember the spirit of the calls however, and how my grandparents’ calming voice took hold of you and carried you where you needed to go, like that of a mother cat carrying its young by the scruff of their necks. Grandpa Wigginton never forgot to say “I love you” and that’s all I needed to know–that he was there and that he cared about me.

Besides these conversations, periodic letters and pictures my mom sent were largely how my grandparents got to know us until we moved to the States. And when I did move to Indiana I got to see my grandparents more often and I have to say, that Grandpa Wigginton is my favorite grandparent. Expressing gratitude for you is easy.

Here’s a memory that is of Grandpa when I moved to the States, circa Spring of ’96:

The pancakes he makes are three-in-one

Spraying the pan he pours batter in the center—the head

And then two more little circles to the right and to the left—the ears

Mickey Mouse pancakes.

Flipping the pancakes he leans against the counter.

Sometimes silent,

Sometimes talking about someone in the

Neighborhood,

Family,

Church,

His attention always drifts to those around him,

What they may need, and, most importantly

How he can help.

He shoves the spatula under Mickey’s chin and slides him onto my plate.

“Anyone else want a pancake?” he inquires simply.

Large hands with slender fingers carefully tie his black shoelaces and then he is off to care for someone else.

 

On love

Yesterday I wrote a post on love. Today I would like to write another post on love and experiment by sharing more of myself in a way that I normally would shy away from. It is weird to put out information of your life into the world for anyone and everyone to read, but at the same time, in my commitment to be more vulnerable and open, I think it makes sense to share more of my story, especially around the particularly important topic of love.

Love, when I was a child, was given in the form of time. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and I think this has led to the fact that now, my love language, so to speak, is that of spending quality time with folks more than anything else. In addition to this, as a baby, I was privileged enough to bask in the touch of others, more than I probably would have had I grown up in the United States. I was born in Botswana and spent the first year or so of my life in a rural village with many people around me, not related to me, but part of a close-knit community. Whenever my family (at that time just my parents) were out and about I was passed around like a really interesting souvenir from a foreign land—and as a white baby, I was. Getting exposure to so many sets of laps, arms encircling around me, and mouths uttering baby talk in languages and dialects I certainly didn’t understand, probably set the foundation for the reality that now-a-days I am easily adaptable and can really be comfortable and content in most settings. At the same time, this experience as a baby, more likely than not, primed me for the desire to be touched, even by strangers; if the intention was genuine, I was happy to receive it. This touch however, mostly did come from people outside my family circle because my parents really aren’t the touchy-feely type.

At this point in this short autobiography of the thing I call love, it might be helpful to mention that by the time my family really settled down, my thirteenth birthday had just passed. Before the tumultuous years of teenagerdo[o]m I had lived in many places around the world. (If you are interested in this particular story and timeline of my life please let me know and I’d be happy to write a brief synopsis or just give you the 411 on the many places I lived and homes that were created as a result).

An example of the care and touch that I got outside of my parents is an example from Argentina. When we first moved to Argentina we lived in the northernmost province of Formosa and I was just shy of four years old. We had a niñera, or nanny, named Andrea who accompanied us everywhere and gave us cariños and touch in a way that neither my mom nor my dad ever provided me. She gave us the warmth that so characterizes this region of the world and through her I was able to realize how touch could be a healing, caring, and nurturing force.

On the other hand, with my parents, love was provided in a different way. The way that my parents showed me they loved me was through the time my mom spent cooking a delicious and nutritious meal, día tras día… When she and my father read to me and my twin siblings, noche tras noche, sin falta.

I was reminded of this love and the nightly story-telling this past weekend. On Saturday, my roommate and I went to a Meetup in hopes to meet new people (go figure), experience something a little different from the Bay Area, and to get out of our comfort zones. We went to a story Meetup where people were encouraged to share true stories from their own lives, on stage, with the guidance of a few themes that as an audience we tentatively and timidly yelled out from our seats. A bundle of nerves, my friend and I decided not to put our names in the hat to be called to story-tell but we participated in the warm-up activity before the “show”. Afterwards, we mingled with people and shared stories in a more intimate way with folks.

As each individual’s name was called out of the moderator’s hat, the audience clapped loudly and then the storyteller would tell a pretty good story or a very mediocre story and then the audience would once again clap loudly and the next person would come up. It was a really great way of sharing stories and included totally novice story-tellers all the way to experts in the field.

This storytelling made me think of the tradition that my family had while growing up, of reading stories. Of a totally different variety than free-form but in any case, sharing stories in general is a powerful way of being in community, developing a literary repertoire, using your imagination, and appreciating that of others. Every night before bed, my mom or dad would read to the three of us kids. In this way we read the Chronicles of Narnia, The Little House on the Prairie (and all the books that came after), C.S. Lewis’ Lord of the Rings series, and other lesser known books like Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time and books that we had photocopied and bound with plastic spiraling and pastel colored-covers (it was really difficult to find books in Argentina, especially books in English, at that time, so we would borrow books from other English-speakers or we would photocopy books like the Warton and Morton series).

We were always caressed by the words of short stories, tall tales, and wide volumes of prose carried in the bottoms of suitcases by people coming from the U.S. to visit the montes of the dry, arid, and desolate Chaco—the other province of Argentina that we lived. Riding on the waves of words to faraway seas and submerging in the expanse of love, as big as the ocean, my parents had for me, was something that carried me and washed over me, but the liquid waters left me wanting to explore greater depths.

My mom’s voice, reading to us, would be slightly tired from the other acts of love she had invested in throughout the day, but she would sit next to us and read nightly, like it was her duty. And then, my mom would tuck us in, sometimes offer a goodnight kiss and let sleep take over for the night shift.

My dad contributed some to these literary evenings, although many times he was away on trips and visiting the villages of the native peoples in the region. Because this was the case, when my siblings and I were really little, he would record books for us on tape and then we could listen to his voice at night on the black Sony stereo system, the closest thing we had to a T.V. Gently, yet steadily moving the plot forward with a cadence that drew back slightly at the end of each phrase (almost like that of a rider using the reigns to control the gait of a horse), his voice provided just the right speed to get the momentum for the next phrase. Y así, his canter could carry us through the story-line of our favorite cuentos and we would imagine his presence beside us, protecting us from whatever fear, yet at the same time leaving a vastness for us to be ourselves, however we wanted to be.

And in this way we would listen to stories like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and Tomi DePaola’s The Clown of God. It’s heart-warming to see how these traditions carry on, even though technology is certainly different now. My dad reads to my little niece, him in Indianapolis, Indiana and her in Quito, Ecuador. Her favorite story for my dad to read her is Little Bear. Through Skype, they share in the story, the rise and fall of my dad’s voice is as consistent and constant as it ever was.

And the love of my parents continued this way into my teenage years and now into adulthood…loving me at a respectable distance, never with too much touch except for sometimes a hug here and there after a long time away from each other. I feel like the core of my being, my spirit even, longed for the touch of love and the nonchalance that was provided me when a baby. And when all of a sudden I received this touch as a naïve and immature teenager, I had to learn a few lessons the hard way. And as a more mature adult, I still learned lessons on love in a way that hurt at times. But love always does. It hurts more than anything we have ever known, and it feels better than anything we have ever known. Sometimes all at once.

I think my current definition of love centers around trust. In order to really love someone I have to trust them. In order to really trust someone an emotional net has to be knitted, together, that connects me to them, and yes, this net serves as a way for me to cross from the intangible to the more tangible. From emotion to touch, from the senses to the sensual.  And this crossing develops and uncovers that my vulnerability will be valued and venerated.

image

My sister and I, circa 94′ or 95′ (I believe). Enjoying one of our favorite pastimes together in a hammock strung between two trees. San Bernardo, Argentina