Saturday, July 23, 2011

Re-tracing Your Steps

There’s not a lot of time to think here. At least, not now. Coming from a month of thinking, this change is one I fear to get accustomed to. It is Saturday. And I have been home for a week. Goodbye fresh fruit breakfasts, goodbye work week, goodbye rain. Hello family, even more family, and blistering heat—paired with humidity and overworked air conditioners. 

What always seems to surprise me most is how quickly things change in this life and how knowing this fact does absolutely nothing to subdue its side effects. One morning you’re lying in a hammock in Antigua and that night you’re in a dress and heels mingling with old friends for a wedding dinner hundreds of miles away. The unwelcomed shift from grunge to my take on fashion has never been so accelerated…

Despite this, my last week in Guatemala could not have been better. A final dinner with our host family, an inspirational talk with Mike, the owner at Crossroads Café, and some time spent behind the counter serving coffee, a farewell lunch at the office, a personalized bag made for me by Isabel, my Guatemalan co-worker and friend, a lesson in banana pancake-making and walks by the lake in the morning ensured I would retain memories powerful enough to lure me into retrospective dazes despite all the commotion at home. Add a final trip to Antigua into the list of activities and you’ve got an excellent resume for what qualifies as a sensory/emotional overload.

Even Antigua was a whole other adventure, complete with a coffee plantation visit, a motorcycle ride to the Cerro de la Cruz for a panoramic view of the city, walks amidst the ruins, and a gourmet dinner that included a glass of wine and live music resembling what you’d find on Colbie Caillat and Frank Sinatra CD. So much done in so little time; and although I am appropriately exhausted and recovering (thanks also to my sinus infection), I’m afraid I also miss it terribly. 

Will I ever want to stand still?  

For now, my feet are thanking me. The time has come for a rest on the sidelines, but not retirement. I said at the beginning of this small, rather insignificant diary that you didn’t need to be going far distances, taking long strides or even truly using your feet to make a mark. I stand by that statement, even here at home where things are relatively quiet (I say this ironically in the midst of a family reunion). I’d like to think I left a positive footprint in Guatemala. I worked hard, I learned a lot, and I met incredible people while still pausing to enjoy life and the beautiful moments it tends to sporadically give us. What I must also take into account is the mark Guatemala left on me: its sense of vibrancy and color, its easy-going attitude and natural beauty, its delicacies, but most importantly, its gift of hospitality mixed with love. When Isabel, for example, handed me the purse she had made me as a going away gift, she looked me in the eyes after a month of knowing each other and told me she had made this piece with care, kindness, and love. What a beautiful gift to be given... 

This being said, I think I’d like to take a pause from the feet chronicles and focus on my two and a half weeks spent at home before heading out to Spain, Malaga in fact, prior to World Youth Day on August 22nd. (What a life…) My family is an important part of who I am and who I’ve become. Let’s honor the mark they have and continue to leave on me and celebrate my time here spent with them also in care, kindness, and love.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Handling Life

Now that I’ve questioned following my feet, my hands have decided to have a little say in my adventures, this time with the help of big, smelly leather gloves. These worn in skins covered my hands on their journey down eight ziplines, past plants of all shapes and sizes and along the mountains outside Panajachel. My feet dangled dully underneath me, sulking at their inability to participate in all the action. 

The day started with a breakfast meal at Deli Café…the infamous place in Pana that instigated my affair with banana pancakes and homemade mango smoothies. Knowing this morning would probably be my last full breakfast at this paradise would have normally been grounds for a truly dismal breakup had not my host mother, Dona Angelica, come to the rescue by making the infamous little devils themselves the next morning at home--a testament to prayers being answered. After breakfast at Deli with the group, we went to the Nature Reserve right outside of Pana for the park’s “extreme ziplining adventures” …also known as my parent’s nightmare. (A tangled history with ziplines that resulted in a helicopter ride and neck brace during my high school years may or may not have something to do with my parent’s level of support for such weekend activities...) The past aside, I went to the reserve today and saw the lake and the mountains whiz by me at a whopping 30mph a total of eight times as I shouted my approval of life and got closer to my childhood dream of flying. The fact that it started pouring halfway through the chords in no way diminished my glee. I swear, the number of “adventurous” things I have done in my month here has been so high that I doubt I will be able to compete with this in the future. Practically every day is an adventure. If it’s not stalling in pickups on mud stricken “roads” it’s a freezing shower or cockroach visitation. Nothing in this country is predictable—like the fireworks outside our house yesterday morning at 5am to celebrate my host sister’s tenth birthday. It pours one minute, almost laughing at your stupid rain jacket, and only minutes later the clouds dissolve into piercing heat and stickiness. Oh Guatemala, the things you make me endure…

Meanwhile, I realized also that Sunday was my last “weekend” day in Panajachel…possibly forever. I hate to use that word, but how can I not when I think about the next time I will be back here, in this steamy little town in Guatemala? What I loved about the opportunity to have an internship in Pana was the fact that it allowed me to go somewhere I probably never could or would have gone otherwise. Now that I’ve been here almost a month, not ever seeing this place is almost unimaginable--an injustice. I’ve said it time and time again, but I am surrounded by breathtaking beauty on a regular basis. It’s almost too much, trapped among the green mountains and sequestered by the land’s charm--like some sort of sensory overload; and it simply should not be allowed. It’s bad for our health and future, which is why we’ve been banning nature for years, afraid of its charm. The simplicity of it all will make us too happy…too relaxed…too thankful. Let’s tear it down and make our own cement trees… 

But enough about that. Now that I have successfully demonstrated my stream of consciousness skills, I’ll conclude with a poem that David Nicholls uses in his novel, “One Day.” I feel like lately I’ve had several good ones.

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
-Phillip Larkin “Days”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Following Your Feet

Feet: I gotta apologize. I take you to every place imaginable in Guatemala and back again. You’ve crushed bugs, specifically the three inch cockroach in Monica’s room (…yeah cockroach whisperers), you’ve tapped to live music in cafes regardless of the fact that the band playing featured a fifty-year-old white woman interpretive dancing; and you’ve climbed up and down rock faces amidst windy, beaten “paths” in pursuit of glimpses of Mayan caves and the most gorgeous views of the lake the rest of your body has ever seen—to name some of your most recent adventures. Pick-up trucks have assisted the ascent of mountains while taxi-like Tuc Tucs have helped maneuver Pana’s winding streets. But for the most part, feet, you’ve been on your own. 

Post-cockroach Battle
                                              "Concert" with interpretive dancing
With officially six days left here in Guatemala, I guess my sense of where I’ve been and where I continue to go has been growing more and more attentive. As I followed my feet to the edge of a boulder resembling the Guatemalan version of Pride Rock in San Jorge and stood overlooking the vastness of Lake Atitlan, the three volcanoes, and the sleepy town of Panajachel below, I couldn’t help but be sentimental—reminded once again of the magnitude of the earth and where I stand in comparison. It was a quiet moment—which is saying something for a country dictated by the honking of aggravated drivers, barking of over-populated stray dogs, clucking of persistent roosters, and cracking of randomly ignited firecrackers. No phone. No e-mail. No T.V. Just my feet and me.  Even here, where time blurs and a schedule is hazy at best, it’s easy to get caught up and forget to reflect on the experiences that piece together to form our lives. This moment offered me that luxury.

Soak it in, I told myself. Please keep this in your memory for safe-keeping when you feel down or disillusioned with the world. Don’t let these moments slip away. But feet, I leave in six days. Am I supposed to let you simply take me home? 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kickin' the Cubicle

My feet and I welcome you to the view from our balcony at work. We like to hang out here during the couple hours of sun on most days and, in doing so, willingly attack any advocate of working in a cubicle. This may be the first and last time I will ever have such a gorgeous work backdrop...and I plan on exploiting it. At Mercado Global, most of my work involves my computer (a special thanks Microsoft Word, Excel, and the Internet for their contributions to my assignments). That being said, I’m not stuck at a computer all day either. If you ask me about a typical day here, I won’t have a definite answer. Sometimes I’m measuring bags I wish could be sported on my own shoulders, sometimes I’m organizing scarves and disturbing the dust that has comfortably settled itself on shelves, sometimes I’m labeling and detailing pillows, other times I’m wearing a piece I pretend to own for a couple of hours. Either way, I work at my own time and pace. 

I like that my days here are unexpected. It puts my reliance on a schedule and cramped writing somewhere at the bottom of a chaotic box that I don’t care to organize. Yes, I have embraced Guatemalan time. Every country I visit seems to have its own. So far, I like the pace of the time in the US the least—a fact I doubt is revolutionary to anyone these days. While working at an NGO may not be the most organized or efficient of jobs, I have come to really appreciate my time here and find myself learning a lot every day. I think it’s safe to say I will never work in a cubicle from here on out. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Weekend Getaway

I had some help this weekend, thanks to our driver Salvador, and got my feet over to Quetzaltenango with Monica, Lindsay, Mary and Daniel to hang out for a couple of days. Quetzaltenango aka Xela (Shell-ah) is a bigger city in Guatemala with colonial influence and a young vibe. It’s also a lot colder because it’s even higher in the highlands...something I did not anticipate encountering whatsoever upon traveling around Guatemala. We stayed at a hostel/bed and breakfast called Casa Renaissance run by a man from Holland (Jenny…). The B&B had a big screen with 900 movies on a hard drive, free coffee and tea, warm showers, and the sweetest dog ever. It was definitely a great place for a weekend getaway.

Our days were mostly filled with walking around, getting to know the town, watching movies, listening to live music, and eating. Saturday, however, was insane. We left Xela in the afternoon to try to go check out a volcano crater that had turned into a lagoon and ended up getting to the entrance just as it started to rain. The entrance was a 2 1/2 hour hike to the crater up a steep hill. We would have done it, but we didn't know getting to the entrance entailed hiking, so none of us were prepared mentally or physically. Think sandals and jeans. The rain did not help. After about 20 minutes of everyone grumbling and the rain getting harder and harder, we found a pickup that was going up the hill and decided to take it to the entrance. This was fine for about 10 minutes, until the road turned into mud and the truck started to slip down the mountain, ending up fish tailing a bit and us getting off in fear of our lives. It was sideways on the mud mountain and was about to flip any moment off the cliff.  Mom, stop reading. Let's just say we needed to chill out and appreciate our lives for a couple hours afterwards. That night after dinner we went to a cafe and got some drinks and watched a live concert, which was really nice. I hadn't heard live music in a while.
The rest of our time in Xela was, compared to our Laguna attempt, relaxed. We spent a day at the market and I got fresh avocados, tomatoes, and onion and made guacamole at the hostel while we watched the movie Chicago. More exciting was the fact that a man was selling puppies on the street corner while we were walking around. I considered my options before deciding Scooby, despite his age and sass, still should be the king of our backyard back home. We came back to Pana Monday morning with some new Australian friends and spent a relaxed Fourth of July walking around town and bartering before it began to pour and we found shelter at Palapa, the closest thing to an American bar/restaurant.  My feet were dressed up in red flip flops from Old Navy for the celebration…reminding me once again that life can be enjoyed in whatever attire as long as you’re surrounded by good people. Needless to say, I still missed the craziness of the Fourth in the states.