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?

 

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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.

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

 

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.

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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.

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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

A cliff, a mountain, an ocean

I know this post should have been up yesterday, but I am just writing it now because I have allowed the feeling that was woven through the love-filled day to really sink in and mature just a bit.

My roommate and I have been watching Mozart in the Jungle. We like classical music, but we also really enjoy the eccentric and easy-going persona of Gael García Bernal (playing in any role, but his role as the Maestro, has us enthralled every single episode). In one particular episode he talks about trust and how it is the highest cliff one can fall from. Or in Francisco de Quevedo´s own words: “El mayor despeñadero, la confianza.” Quevedo, a Spanish poet and writer from the Siglo de Oro or the Spanish Golden Age. This particular quote stuck with me and upon meditating on it, it has come to me that it may not be, in fact, a cliff that we fall from, but a mountain that we climb. The mountain of trust that we climb by ourselves, with others, on our own two feet, being dragged, limping, whatever. And we never quite reach the top of the mountain, we are always climbing, we are always building trust, and the higher we get, the more difficult the climb becomes, but the more experienced we are. So in falling, if that were to happen on our expedition, we know what to do, we know who to turn to, we have our first-aid kit and are able to take out the supplies we need to nurse ourselves back to health. Then, we can eventually regain our footing and keep climbing.

I think this idea of trust has much to do with how we cultivate and engage in love. And for me, the idea of trust via getting out of your comfort zone is one of the qualities of love. Below is a rough sketch of some of my ideas on love, including another nature metaphor.

 

Love

Is all-consuming

An energy that fills us and depletes us.

Like the very air we breathe.

We pour our energy into loving others and this energy sometimes leaves us saturated and heavy.

Or empty and incomplete.

We are filled, we are depleted, and the cycle begins again.

It is unpredictable and sometimes unrequited

It makes me think about the last time I was in love

Six months ago,

With someone that enjoyed his own company more than my own.

And then that love dissipated, although the love lesson remained.

Love

Is simple

A thoughtful hug from a friend that cares about us

A call from a loved one that makes us feel like we matter

A smile from a stranger in the middle of winter

on the first day in a while that feels like spring.

Love is a student as well as a teacher.

We teach ourselves how to love and we have to teach others

What we need, what we want, what we don’t yet know.

It is a curious force that takes us out of our comfort zone

And plops us down outside of our zone of proximal development

And then we must sink into it or swim back to safety.

I want to sink into love and uncover its infinite depths

One meter of ocean at a time.

 

Love is many things…and sometimes dichotomous things. A poem by Quevedo, in Spanish, that is entitled Definición del amor also alludes to the yin and yang of love. Maybe you’ll enjoy this poem too. I won’t try my hand at translating it because it is a Petrarchan sonnet and I don’t want to screw up the rhyme scheme or meter.

Much love to you all!

 

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My hike up to the peak of el Rucu Pichincha en Quito, Ecuador this January 2017.
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View of Cotopaxi, a volcano, on the hike up to Pichincha.
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On the way up. View of the top of Pichincha.