Poesía en el campo

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Our group headed towards Calca, a small town just 30 minutes away from Urubamba. During the ride we enjoyed the snow streaked and pointy peaks that jutted through the sacred valley with apparent ease. I was trying to imagine the amount of snow that was on these same apus, or mountains, only a decade ago–mucho más por seguro. Elly and I sat in the front of the van with our driver Wilbur, to enjoy the views and avoid carsickness brought on surely by age as well as our windy route. The students and Randall and Frank took up the back seats talking excitedly and looking on with awe as Amado took his first bite of banana ever, a commemorative moment. He seemed to enjoy it!

Our destination and where we spent three afternoons from Wednesday to Friday this week was EcoHuella, a small family-farm a couple kilometers out of the town of Calca, south of Río Vilcanota, the same river that snakes it’s way rapidly to the base of the all-two renowned citadel of Machu Picchu. As we jumped out of the combi we were welcomed by Julio and Aaron who eagerly started presenting themselves and the farm. The first day we were acquainted to the spot. The farm included one spiral garden that, as we soon learned, kept the moisture in the middle and invited frogs and toads and stayed away pests and cold. They also introduced us to the dozens of cuyes, or guinea pigs, raised for eating on special occasions. Google cuy and then Google cuy al palo for the live and one of the famous preparations of the area.

During our first day at the farm we watched a short video about Julio and his dream of liberating campesinos, or farmers from the region, from the burden of needing to rely on anything else but Pachamama, or the land. “Liberation” for Julio, as Livana asked him poignantly to define, meant sovereignty and self-sustenance, freedom and fertility, independence and integration. Through his project, Julio empowers fellow campesinos to use the agricultural practices that have been part of the region for centuries and that have sometimes gotten lost through modern and conventional farming and such waves like the Green Revolution that destroyed the concept of organic farming and replaced it with synthetic and chemical techniques. Agroecología or agro-ecology is what Julio practices, models and teaches that is characterized by a harmony with farming and Pachamama or Mother Earth.

Julio’s definition of liberation farming also means that farmers should have a chance to set down at the end of a hard-day’s work and be able to enjoy a poem. They should have time for this, Julio expresses matter-of-factly. I imagined a campesino reading or even writing some prose while enjoying the last of the sun’s warm rays before shrinking away behind the mountains and beckoning nightfall. It was a pretty site, the sunset as well as the farmer reading poetry.

Our second day on the farm we tried our hand at making a raised bed or zurco. This was in preparation for planting on the following day. Our last afternoon at EcoHuella flew by. Juan, a técnico on the farm, introduced us to bocashi, a composting technique brought over from Japan, and its importance to provide the soil with all the essential minerals. It’s a fermentation of animal excrement, plant waste, and other added minerals like phosphoric rock, magnesium, and calcium to help fortify the soil. The students hesitantly took weathered rakes, shovels, and pitchforks and stirred up the bocashi pile and started gaining momentum as they began shoveling the parts that were warm and broken down into buckets to take to the raised beds. They mixed in the compost with the soil and then waited patiently while Juan showed them how to plant tomato plants and lettuce seedlings into the beds by using the biodynamic method of triangulating.

As the afternoon storm drew nearer and nearer the students stayed close to the beds, squatting and reaching to plant the exposed roots of the seedlings into the welcoming soil.

 

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At day’s end in San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala

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View from Cerro de Oro
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Cerro De Oro
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View from Cerro de Oro
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Afternoon on Lake Atitlán

Today, at the end of the afternoon the rain falls in different stages of grief or perhaps relief and of expression. First, thunder claps loudly and suddenly, although dark patches of clouds have long announced its eventual arrival. Then the skies let loose water that falls without holding back. Finally, the rain comes down softly and gradually; you can hear individual droplets on the leaves of the various trees that occupy space that was once the city’s landfill and where now a jungle of green emerges. The dogs are sprawled out on the covered patio like wet blankets hanging limply and heavily over barbed wire fences to dry—tired from barking, fighting, and playing with random items they find around the yard.

Currently, I’m in San Juan La Laguna with Román. We got here Friday and will be here another day at which point I’ll go to instructor orientation (I’ll be leading another Dragons course in Peru and Bolivia during the fall semester) in Cerro de Oro, another location on the lake and where you might have heard the reference based on the book, The Little Prince, which is one of the author’s inspirations for the elephant of the story: the shape of the little mountain is similar to an elephant.

The other day we made a little visit to San Pedro, the town just east of San Juan and where the reality is totally different. There we walked up and down streets that were very narrow and it was a wonder the tuc-tucs could even make their noisy journeys maneuvering through the tight maze of alleys. Everything by the water’s edge is catered to tourists and they advertise Spanish classes, thermal baths, cooking classes, every kind of coffee drink imaginable, etc. People speak in English and all kinds of popular music can be heard from the bars, cafés, and restaurants we meander by. You can tell it’s the off-season because everything is empty.

As we walk up the hill towards the central plaza we look up and kites are flying in every direction, decorating the skyline with patches of geometrical color. Each kite whips across a patch of sky with finesse and seeming ease. Upon further inspection of the origins of the kite strings, we notice a boy flying a kite from his rooftop, his hands adeptly conducting his kite through the tranquil afternoon winds. Across the street from him, an older boy flies another kite from his balcony. The kites are all flown from different perches of the town, by confident and novice hands alike. Some kites we see have met their demise in the power lines or have crossed paths for the worst and have collided on someone else’s rooftop. A group of boys in from the marketplace look up at the rooftop morosely as they plead with the señor who has access at freeing their two kites. “¡Por fa, señor! Nos baja nuestros barriletes,” they plead. He looks beyond them and over their heads with a knowing grin and seems not to bother with their appeals—at least not for now. He too is enjoying the kites that fly overhead.

Román asks if I know where the tradition of kite flying originated from and I tell him I don’t.  On all Saints Day, he explains, people traditionally fly kites with messages written on their “sails” that are for loved ones who have since deceased. At some point while the kits are flown, they cut the strings loose and these messages went straight to the heavens. It is nice to think that people have various traditions to communicate with and remember our ancestors and what pretty and heartfelt way than with kites and prose.

Barriletes Cruzados

Al parecer nuestras historias se cruzan
como barriletes coloridos en vuelo
recordando los antepasados con prosas
de bendiciones, memorias y cuentos.

Nuestras historias son distintas
y a veces tratamos de entendernos
pero sólo existe el tratar porque
el conocer la realidad del otro
es casi imposible. Nuestros contextos
están basados en el mundo de los
que tienen y los que no tienen.
Y luego, el qué hacer con esos hechos.

Pareciera un cuento de Dr. Seuss
como el de la guerra de la mantequilla—
Un pueblo untaba su mantequilla
en un lado del pan y 
el otro pueblo en el lado opuesto.
En vez de dejar que las cosas
simplemente sean distintas, 
se pelearon—una verdadera guerra.

¿Qué será si dejáramos que
vuelan nuestros barriletes
cada uno por dondequiera—  
alto, bajo o a vientos del medio
con el mensaje a nuestros ancestros
que diga lo que sintamos
con las palabras que queramos?

¿Qué tal si nos dejáramos ser?
¿Qué tal si en vez de querer
algo serio solo pensaríamos
en querer algo sano
el uno para el otro?

¿Qué tal?

 

Thank you

A small child
arms swinging
by her sides,
like windshield
wipers on a
rainy day
wipes away air
to make space

Space for her
slight figure
and that of her
baby doll on her
spirited back—face
white as a corn
tortilla just patted
into shape
before it turns
dark above the
flames that cook
it steadily from
underneath

Tears dampen
her mother’s brown
cheeks when she
realizes our
eventual departure
She believes that her
economic stability is
tucked away
in foreign bank
accounts. She doesn’t
own the key
to her own future

Her uncle’s eyes are
alert and knowing. He
sits on a hand-crafted
wooden and bamboo
box-stool and talks
about reforestation
creando consciencia
about plastic and
grey water systems
and questions the
lack of regulations
for companies that
ship their products
over in brightly
colored packaging
which later dot
the landscapes
with colors and particles
this land has never
welcomed. No home for
waste—make-shift
trash dumps—basureros 
clandestinos are the
only place that take on
the heavy human hand

The child introduces
me to the kitten Tomy
He is small and black
and has a brown patch
on his throat
He meows as the
child’s mother prepares
lunch en cantidades
He was placed
in the kitchen to
hunt mice but maybe
Tomy is a bit
out of place in his
new home full of
food he cannot
rightly partake in
and lacking the
mice he can.
He is underfoot
in the kitchen
like a shadow—
his presence and
his meowing
reminders of his
constant “thereness.”
(Muj is shadow in
Tzutuhil.) “Tomy Muj,”
I say giggling to the girl
“Muj, Muj, Muj,”
her mother
chants and smiles
Sharing upturned lips
like life-long friends.

 

It’s the last day on the summer course. It’s so interesting to hear about what people say of you and what kind of presence you bring to the table. I think even in my 30s it’s hard to come to terms with or just settle comfortably into the person you are.  I guess sometimes I feel like I’d much rather be on the seat of my chair—smart and talkative and always knowing what to say and/or do in any given situation. At the end of the day, I think what it comes down to is being cool with your inner spirit and self. Maybe what I needed to practice and have highlighted this time around was my spirit of kindness, coolness, and grounded energy. I am so thankful for an amazing Instructor team and group of teenagers ready to learn and grow. Los quiero mucho y he aprendido un montón de ustedes.

 

We have journeyed
into a history
as dark as
the depths of Lake
Atitlán—el más profundo
de las Américas
The depths have
felt overwhelming but
necessary as the reminder
of the pain that lives
in each of our bloodlines
the bones that hold us
up like a ladder
are dense with the
memories of time
and are buried
in the soil we
occupy with strong
and reaching raíces.

Roots we need to
continue to explore
in all directions.

We have ventured
into the verdant lands
of Guatemala—land of trees
and like the Lorax
we must be careful
of the greed and power
that run like currents
of flames in our
nation’s veins
We must tell the story
of deforestation, of
pollution, of dwindling
natural resources before
it’s too late
We must plant the seed
that will revive the
forests and inspire
the birds of the
trees to keep on singing
We must care
and maintain the
precious seedlings
of our siembra and
never give up.

You are the seeds
of the trees that
will grow into
grandes problemáticas
or soluciones transformativas.
We want to sew
the fruits of our
labor of love
During our adventure
the garden of love
has been planted
let’s see what it’s
beauty holds and who
will hold it up to
the light that
illumines dialogue
and understanding,
patience and tolerance,
caring and challenge.
Raíces profundas y duraderas.

 

This is a note for the families and friends that have journeyed with us, albeit from afar (and especially to the parents). We would like to thank you for lending us what is most precious to you so that your son or daughter could learn what the stories of the land of Guatemala had to teach them. From the people that inhabit this remarkable corner of the world, rincón del mundo, and the numerous native languages, struggles, hopes and injustices that each student experienced first-hand. The story of Guatemala is one of conquest, of bitter memories, and difficult realities that cannot be swallowed whole, sino poco a poco. In its same right, Guatemala is a land of a people that inspire. They are resilient to the constant change in tide.

Thank you for planting the seed within your child that gave them the openness, desire, and grit to keep on learning and to begin to grow roots of difference and change against corruption and injustice and the destruction of the Earth. Keep watering them and we hope they will grow into that aguacatillo we learned about at Chico Mendes. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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La cosecha

Susana’s shoves her third leg, a stick that she’s picked up on her way to and from the cocal or coca field, under the seat of the stripped down navy blue comvi. The engine shudders at each hill and idles patiently when we stop for passengers. She and another elderly woman whose mouth is crinkled at the seams from so much use:

Saboreando

Hablando

Acertando

piles in as well. Their voluminous polleras take up most of the middle seat and we bounce up and down the dirt road. The sweet smell of just-picked coca leaves mixes with the soft yet noticeable musky sweat of the women who have been picking coca all afternoon.

Our time in Tocaña has been spent visiting cocales where we have learned about the livelihoods of the Afro-Bolivians living in San Joaquin, Tocaña, Mururata, Santa Ana, and Chijchipa. The Afro-Bolivians were brought to the Yungas with the intention of having them work in haciendas in the sugar cane, coffee, and coca plantations. Previously they had slaved-away and all perished in the mines of Cerro Rico, Potosí and then the Spanish thought that they could get better “use” of the African labor by working in the Yungas, a couple hours northeast of La Paz. The climate here is more like the one they were used to in their African homeland. This is a history that many times goes forgotten and unrecognized. Sometimes even Bolivians have no idea that they have fellow country-folk  have once been enslaved.

Most of our Dragons crew (what we call our students from the courses I help lead) also got to try their hands in the coca fields. One day while in Tocaña the majority of the students went to pick coca in the cocales. For most it was a tiring and taxing day. All day under the hot sun trying to decipher which coca to pick, or weeding the coca bushes of the pesky maleza that grew up a los alrededores de esta planta sagrada. These kinds of experiences give us a window into the reality of many people’s day-to-day around the world. In fact over two-thirds of the people from the world’s developing countries work primarily in agricultura. Conversely, less than five percent of the population in rich countries break ground to plant crops. Working in the fields helps to build empathy, understanding, and recognizing the meaning of hard work.

***

Compro poesía en la calle como si fuera un diario. Y como un viejo amigo empiezo desde donde habíamos terminado nuestra última conversación. Y comenzamos de nuevo retomando hilos de telas de segunda y hasta tercera mano. Vamos deshilando hasta lo que nos queda es la esencia de todo—el capullo de algodón pizcado bajo el sol caliente del Chaco, Argentino.

Una camisa de mangas largas cubre sus brazos fuertes y un sombrero su tez, rostro sombrío pero sonriente. Un originario de las tierras del Sur, con manos morenas, más oscurecidas aún con tantos días en el sol. Pero la sonrisa parece ser la misma a través de los años, solo desgastada con el tiempo y un poquito más perdurable. El campo de algodón se asimila con el cielo y sus nubes. Un campo abierto e interminable que nos ayuda a volar y aterrizar a la vez.

***

A veces visitábamos las chacras del pastor Don Pedro. Él tenía un campo grande de algodón y a veces mientras nuestros padres cebaban y tomaban mate y comían pan casero al horno de barro, nosotros corríamos por el campo y veíamos cuanto algodón podíamos cosechar en los sacos de arpillera donde uno de nosotros se podía esconder sin problema pero que normalmente guardaba los capullos algodonosos. Nuestros manitos inexpertos dejaban una hilera cosechada a medias.

Nos cansábamos e íbamos a pesar en la báscula grandísima que quedaba a la entrada del galpón. Días de semana, los camiones se acercaban para poder cargar el algodón y luego hombres pisoteaban la nube blanca para abajo, abajo, tratando de llenar el camión lo más posible.

Pero nosotros jugábamos nomás.

Si cosechábamos un kilo estábamos chochos de haber tenido la experiencia nada más.

Luego corríamos a la casa para tomar agua—jalando el balde del pozo que estaba en el medio del patio y tomando hasta que nuestras bocas asemejaban las paredes de piedra del pozo profundo—fresco, oscuro y mojado con la humedad del agua.

Y luego regresábamos a nuestros juegos, esta vez en la sombra, aunque siempre parecía que nuestra energía era interminable.

***

Mi papá es un científico de suelos. Alguien que estudia la tierra—la Pachamama. Todo lo que nos sostiene. Yo sé que su perspectiva es una distinta de los quienes cosechan lo que nos sustenta. Pero también sé que él se une con ellos quienes son los dueños y dueñas de la tierra porque la trabajan—dejan respirar y florecer y siempre están empeñados a seguir este proceso, el proceso cíclico de la tierra.

Gracias por ser amigo—

hermano de la tierra—

cuidándola para las generaciones

que siempre vendrán después.

 

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Cocal-coca field
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Campo de algodón-cotton field

Metas de cumpleaños: Birthday goals

Peonies of May
These flowers were some that my friend Daniela gave me last year for my birthday.

¡Qué raro esto! De nuevo estoy dando la vuelta al sol y parece que el último cumpleaños ya fue hace una eternidad. Digo una eternidad porque han pasado muchas cosas de hace un año. Ayer recibí un mail de una estudiante del semestre pasado en Perú y Bolivia. Su cumpleaños es el 28 de mayo. Me dijo que había pensado en mí durante su santo porque yo cumplía años el día siguiente. Ella es muy buena pastelera y de hecho, este semestre que pasó estudió cocina con una boliviana y su experiencia, en sus palabras, le ayudó a darse cuenta de las cosas que le daban placer. Parece que se le había olvidado hasta que la oportunidad surgió de nuevo para poder hechar una mano, o dos, a la masa, por decir.  En estas transiciones de la vida creo que es importante echar un vistazo para atrás y también otro para el futuro para ver que nos pueda esperar. En esta forma, así como mi estudiante, la María Ren, podemos ver qué es lo que nos da placer. Al fin y al cabo, ¿qué intención tenemos para nuestras vidas? Y ¿Qué nos importa?

This is a strange thing. I am once again at the tail end of my trip around the sun and it seems like the last birthday I had was an eternity ago. I say an eternity because many things have happened during this past year. Yesterday I received an email from a student that I worked with during the Spring semester in Peru and Bolivia. Her birthday was the 28th of May. She told me that she had thought of me during her special day because I was going to be turning a year older the following day. She is a really good baker and in fact this past semester she studied cooking with a bolivian and her experience, in her own words, helped her to remember and revive the activities that she most enjoyed in life. It seems like she had forgotten about these things until an opportunity arose again to put her hand, or two, in the dough. During these transitions in our life I think it’s important to look into our past and keep an eye to the future to see what we can look forward to. In this way, just like my student, María Ren, we can see what it is that gives us pleasure. At the end of the day–what intention do we have for our lives and what really matters to us?

Time to check in and see how things are going.

Currently, I am in Panama visiting a friend and I was lucky enough to have my sister and her roommate Miguel come visit me for a week right before my birthday.

Una pegajosa y húmeda noche de viernes, como suelen ser las noches en general en la Ciudad de Panamá, Hannah, Román, Miguel y yo salimos a tomar algo y hacerme un brindis para la vuelta que iba a cumplir unos días más tarde.

A sticky and humid Friday evening, like the nights in Panama City tend to be, Hannah, Román, Miguel, and I went out for a drink to celebrate my almost completed trajectory around the sun.

I asked folks what their goals had been when they turned a year older on their last birthday and each one had a very different answer that ranged from professional to personal from cultural to enlightening. For me, if I remember correctly my wish for the past year was for community. This came from a desire to connect with myself more intentionally and also develop a community around me of loved ones. I think I even wrote a blog post that I will go back to and read and cite here if it applies. On a more professional note, I was embarking on a new job–something that was totally outside my comfort zone and I knew it was going to be challenging in and of itself so no need to put too many goals on that side of things. I did have, though, specific goals for each of my semesters (during a Peru 6-week course I was focused on learning the tricks of the trade and trying to be as helpful as possible in terms of working with my two other much more experienced colleagues, during the Peru/Bolivia semesters I had a couple different goals: I wanted to be able to connect more with my student groups and learn to be more patient and work harmoniously in a collaborative environment).

En fin, yesterday was my birthday and I want to be able to clearly articulate what my goals are and what I would like to accomplish this year until May rolls around again. Sharing it with you all is an exercise in accountability, but more so in creating a culture of understanding and solidarity around what it is that drives us forward, al ritmo de cada uno, at the rhythm of each of our drums.

First of all I’d like to carry on my intention from the beginning of this year which was simply to love. To love myself and others more and in general to seek out love as much as possible.

Secondly, I know I am a person that is highly adaptable but sometimes this adaptability comes at high costs for those around me because I like to do things a mi manera or my way. That said I would like to be more flexible and see more perspectives and practice not only seeing but exercising different ways of doing. This also comes in the way of tolerance and acknowledging that I might have a way of doing something and it may be very effective for me but not necessarily for someone else. Live and let be and be more fluid in the process is I think what it boils down to.

Thirdly, I don’t know what this goal looks like yet entirely but developing community is still something I am striving for with every step I take. I don’t know what this looks like more concretely but I think my previous year’s goal still stands of connecting to myself and others in intentional ways–not just casually and this goes for work and play alike.

Very important to me is my writing…Maybe this is not entirely evident on this platform because I am not posting as regularly as I would like, but I am writing for myself and it helps me to process and reflect on very important things. I would love to be able to publish something. During the summer and maybe even fall (if I decide to lead another semester group) I would like to implement much more of a writing component in our itinerary and curricular flow. This could take the form of writing simple haikus to experience the simplicity yet powerfulness of nature. Guided meditations and some yoga accompanied by writing about specific experiences, identity, place, spirituality, etc. There are infinite directions this particular goal could take and I would like to think about it a bit more.

Professionally, I’ve identified, with my boss and co-workers this past year, some goals as well. I would like to give other people (colleagues, students, local contacts) space and trust that they will get the job done. This goes hand-in-hand with my second goal listed above, but is a little different because it is in a professional environment and focuses on the other and not myself. Additionally, most people see me as an organized person. This organization sometimes translates very well into work contexts but with my particular work leading travel abroad courses, this has been something that I would like to lay down further in working with my colleagues and with students. This is something that I would also like to adapt to my goal of creating an income in part by contracting out my services. I am pretty sure this has a lot to do with organizing my time, ideas, and contacts in order to get something off the ground. Lastly, I would like to get to better at the personal versus professional balance that is sometimes really hard to figure out given this line of work (education abroad and being in the field). I think one thing that will help significantly with this is maintaining friendships and support systems outside of my work circle.

In conclusion, I’m laying out my goals as the following:

  1. Love
  2. Live and let be (an exercise in becoming more fluid)
  3. Inter(connectivity): focus on community
  4. Writing (maybe publishing and definitely using this passion as a teaching tool)
  5. Room for Accomplishment and Failure  (giving space to others to do things for themselves)
  6. Share ideas for organization and structure
  7. Balance work and play

These are purposefully not very clear because I am trying to live by the quote by Wendell Berry that situates doubt and uncertainty front and center in the song of life:

It may be that when we no longer know which way to go that we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

There’s my lucky seven that will hopefully keep me singing this year. What do you like to do on your birthday? Any rituals or goals that you practice?

 

Bread and Butter Pickles

I was just commenting to a friend the other day that I am able to show love for someone best with giving them my time. For my mom, if I had to guess, it would probably be the same. Her love is mostly measured by her time in the kitchen. An avid maker, doer and shaker, we have much to learn from women like her.

Today, her birthday, is a perfect time to remember her and pay homage to the time she has spent on me and all her loved ones.

In the middle of Cochabamba
I am reminded of you
bread and butter pickles
como entrada
What a surprise!

From a relative’s recipe
scrawled in ubiquitous Ford handwriting
the circular section of the cursive “l’s”, “q’s”, and “g’s”
are long and slender like great-grandma’s fingers
The cucumbers lay waiting in the garden
with white bellies face down
protected from the harsh sun
smooth yet bumpy to the touch
You gather them in a bucket casually
then cut the green vegetables thin
with a newly sharpened blade
onion slivers follow
slender as the last phase of the waning moon
salt, sugar, vinegar
celery and mustard seeds
sprinkled into a Mason jar
like a snow globe

My frenzy in the kitchen
directly contradicts your
calculated and anticipatory approach
NPR is my mother’s soundtrack
as she moves through
different stages of myriad dishes
Her hands work in concert with
a recipe as if she were reading
a piece of music
her cookbook the sheet music
the counter her music stand
her inspiration:
anything she tries and likes
She travels the world
retraces her roots
remembers her ancestors
respects the land
all in a movement of love.

The red box

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I know I have been kind of absent on my blog recently so I hope this serves to let people know a little bit of what I am doing right now. I am leading another group of students through Peru and Bolivia and just this past Sunday we made it to Bolivia. Specifically, to El Alto and a theater company called Teatro Trono.

As an interpreter and translator for the group for much of our time in Teatro Trono I have found that it is a good way to “profundizar” or go deeper into the material we are learning. Nuestros dragones have had the opportunity since Sunday to be immersed in an art collective known as Teatro Trono or COMPA (Fundación Comunidad de Productores en Artes or the Community Foundation for Artists).

Iván, partner to one of our beloved Dragon’s instructors who is currently leading Group A in Andes and Amazon, welcomed us with a smile that made us feel right at home in Trono, a building, that also serves as café, gathering place, theater, and home and which was envisioned and designed by Iván himself. The building is a work of art and has many old relics and antiques and scraps from all over La Paz and El Alto that Iván has collected for years. Parts of old buses, historical balconies, windows from all across the city in various sizes and shapes make up the building façade.

Iván’s personality matches the building in part because he is a gentleman who is not only charming, but at the same time has a depth of personality and purpose that one cannot help but admire and want to get to know.

He tells us, as we tour Trono, that the house pays homage to the miners that are the populace of El Alto, one of the most socially and politically important centers across the Andes. In 1985, El Alto, perched just above La Paz and the capital’s eyebrow, was officially founded. Home to migrants from all across the country who have mostly come from mining backgrounds, the city’s population has exploded to over one million inhabitants. The mine shafts that are in the basement of Trono help to enact an important story of Bolivia of mining and also serve to make sure that Trono stays close to its roots of mining and struggle. At the same time, the rooftop of the Theater is where the artists wings can take flight. One can enjoy the view of the snow-capped mountains that wrap around La Paz and El Alto in a giant embrace, if the day is clear, and imagine all one’s dreams taking off into literal thin air, at 4000 meters.  

In his “charla” or talk with us Iván stars as the protagonist, although he apologizes in advance that he has to tell us his story. On the contrary, I tell Iván, “qué no te de pena, queremos escuchar tu historia,” “don´t worry, we want to hear your story”. And he starts to tell us about his life, born in La Paz. When his dad died in the second guerilla of what was the movement that Che Guevara started in Bolivia for independence, Iván too wanted to live his life for something–he wanted to be a revolutionary, a “guerrillero” with a clear purpose.   

Iván’s dad was pursued because of his involvement in the guerrillas. He therefore had many trades so that he could remain out of reach of anyone looking for him. He was a painter, welder, boxer, football player, plumber, etc. For all these trades he needed different instruments or tools so he had a red box full of whatever work element he might ever need. When his father died in `70 he left behind a widow and three kids as well as his red box full of tools from his various trades. Iván’s mom, Doña Elba, started selling the things inside the box, one by one, in order to provide food for her family and little by little everything in the box disappeared.

Iván, started using the red box as a play toy. He would hide in there and also use it, as his dad did, for storage. Whenever he would come back from the street he would stash different doodads in the box: pieces of wire, leather, glass, little trinkets, whatever he could find lying around outside. His mom would periodically empty out the box. He later realized that it was because there wasn’t much room in their house to have so many things, they lived in a 3 x 4 meter room after all. The years went by and the red box eventually disappeared.

Now, Iván has us Dragons, sitting around in a circle in his house, look around us. We are surrounded by every kind of trinket, antique, and thingamajig imaginable. Posters, frames, paintings, wall hangings, cover the ceilings and walls, and an eclectic mix of rugs lay obedient under our cross-legged feet. We take it all in for a second and then he says. “That red box is long since gone, but that same red box is now my house, where we find ourselves. We are all in that red box now.”

Aside from the red box that serves as the backdrop for the story of Trono’s mission. Iván started the theater company with 7 young at-risk homeless youth and it has grown since then. Next year Trono will turn thirty years old. Iván tells our group that after finding theater he had no need to be a “guerrillero” because theater is a revolution in and of itself, a tool used to transform people into better versions of themselves.

We can only hope that as dragoncitos passing through the door of Trono, we too have become better versions of ourselves. Through the workshops we have had that got us out of our heads and acting with our bodies and our hearts, we have found another way to interact with the world and ourselves. Un trabajo bello e interminable. A beautiful and never-ending work.

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Un recuerdo que me acordó la calle

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Hoy, caminando las calles y avenidas de La Paz, Bolivia, tratando de cumplir con un pequeño trámite me topé con una tienda de antigüedades y en particular en la ventana había máquinas de escribir de todo tipo. Me acordé de un bello recuerdo y mil disculpas a los no hispanohablantes por ahí porque la memoria me vino en castellano así que tendré que también escribirla así. Quizás, si me reclaman, la traduzco al inglés. ¡Avisen no más!

Muñequitas con canastas

Recuerdo haber tipeado
Con la máquina de escribir de mi padre
Cubierta siempre cuando no se usaba
Con una mantita que hizo mi mamá
Con su máquina de coser

Tipie una invitación
A la fiesta de mi cumpleaños

Estás invitad@ a mi casita
Para el día 29 de mayo
No hace falta traer nada
Solo una sonrisa y calzados confortables
Vamos a jugar juegos y divertirnos mucho
¡No faltes!

Y antes de haber tipeado ese pequeño mensaje
Yo y mi madre nos íbamos a la librería
Para comprar la cartulina
Color rosado fuerte
Y luego dibujamos un bosquejo de una muñequita
Señorita con una canasta de flores
En sus manitas

Trazamos docenas de esta maqueta
Y con tijeras corté detalladamente y cuidadosamente
Los bordes de la tarjetita
Y de ahí puse las tarjetas
De a una en la máquina
Y con mucha perfección tipie cada invitación

Por último colorée las invitaciones
Cada uno con un patrón distinto
Para que cada invitad@ se siente especial

A veces quisiera regresar a esos tiempos
Donde hacíamos las cosas con propósito y para la gente
Que se siente especial al recibir algo
Hecho con mucha intención y amor

Quisiera por lo menos abordar el presente
Con el mismo empeño del pasado
Para poder regalar el amor
Muñequitas sosteniendo canastas de gran valor.

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My aunt asked if I could translate so here goes:

Today, as a I walked the streets and avenues of La Paz, Bolivia, trying to take care of an errand I ran across an hole-in-the-wall antique store and in particular a window displaying typewriters of all kinds. I remembered a beautiful memory. It sounds better in Spanish, but that is the reality of translated art.

Dolls with baskets

I remember having typed
With a typewriter belonging to my dad
Always protected when it wasn’t in use
With a little cloth that my mom made
With her sewing machine

I typed an invitation
To my birthday party

You are invited to my house
The 29th day of May
You don’t need to bring anything
Just a smile and comfortable shoes
We’ll play games and have lots of fun
Be there!

And before typing that short message
My mom and I would go to the craft store
To buy poster board
The color of dark pink
And then we would draw a doll pattern
A little woman with a basket of flowers
In her tiny hands

Then we traced dozens of little dolls
And with scissors I cut with care and great precision
The outline of each card
And then I put the cards
One by one in the typewriter
And with much perfection I typed each invitation

Lastly, I colored the invitations
Each one with a different pattern
So that each guest would feel special

At times I wish to return to these times
Where we would make things for people with purpose
So that they would feel special upon receiving something
Made with love and intention

I would at least like to approach the present
With the same degree of resolve as the past
To be able to gift love
Little dolls holding baskets of great importance.

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

 

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.