Welcome Back!

I flew in on a Sunday night, and left Guatemala City before the crack of dawn to arrive at work on time for Monday morning.  Then, this.  What you see above is probably hour two into a nine hour wait on the highway due to protests.  Add that to the three hours it generally takes to get home, and there you have it- 12 hours between Guatemala City and Xela.  Was it fun, especially with the lack of foliage to use the bathroom?  Not exactly, but the sun was shining, and that's good enough for me.

I would rather have been at work, preparing for the new staff and workshops, but in some ways, this was the perfect "Welcome Back," along with the earthquake later on in the evening.  There was no pretending that I was still in the states, just at a different office.  Oh, no.  When you're stuck for nine hours, you have plenty of time to process that this is nothing like where you were and the transition band-aid has been ripped off in one fell swoop.

I'm back.  Its easier than I thought in most ways, and I'm thankful for the grace that exists in the rest.  I've made my rounds, looking for the kids in the park.  Dagny is back home, a couple pounds heavier, but nothing that a little boot camp can't fix.  And I have found a rhythm again.  We went to our annual "welcome" service at the Episcopal church this morning, where I caught up with the usual suspects.  I spent the afternoon in Terminal, digging through clothes piles with Kylie and enjoying an afternoon off.  I've also been practicing harmonica (more on that later, and why), but Dagny either loves it or hates it and keeps howling along, which isn't ideal.  I knew I was bad, but it can't be that awful, right?  I feel like the punchline of a joke.

I say it, and have had a hard time following through, but I will be back.  I have several projects I'm excited to share- both in photography and life in general.  I also have a handful of embarrassing stories- like the time I almost unintentionally kidnapped a woman at the airport.  So, stay tuned.

I hope you had a great weekend.

Like everything came back to me.

It would seem that I am in a constant state of packing and unpacking.  I am thankful because it means that I went home for graduation, and spent time with my family.  It means I went back and watched my students graduate as well.  And it means that I've been bouncing between Washington, DC, New York, and that I've finally landed in Minneapolis.

My dad took the photo above at the cabin, while we were fishing on Sunday night.  The fish were biting all weekend long, which is a godsend for people like me, with the attention span of a toddler (and for those who have to deal with us).  I can't remember laughing more while at the lake.  My mom, casting in the opposite direction of my chair, yet somehow her line ending up draped over me.  Me, casting over my mom, then dropping everything when I see her bobber go down, pulling up her fish hand over hand, dividing my focus between bringing it in and not peeing my pants from laughing.

We had unexpected visits from old friends, saw family, and spent time reading.  My mom and I weaved vines through her fairy house and I relearned how to fillet like a pro.  I caught up with my childhood by retelling stories with one of my dearest friends whose memory is the steel trap to my pathetic leaking sieve that can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

"...what does love look like"
to which I replied,
"like everything I've ever lost came back to me."

I've always loved this quote by Nayyirah Waheed, but felt like I finally touched it this weekend.

If it gets better than this, I'm not sure how.

Relief.

In this moment, I feel like my whole body is one giant sigh of relief.  Dramatic, I know, but its real to me, okay?  I finally graduated.  Finally.  My seniors graduated last night, taking one more thing off my plate, and the school year is officially closed.  Finally.

While I was away from the blog, rainy season began with an early vengence.  We had more rain in the first eight days of May, than in all of May in years prior.  The reality of this looks like torrential downpour and flooding in zones 2 and 3.  Thankfully, damage was minimal and everything is back to a lush green.  Little known fact: I prefer rainy season to dry.  In Guatemala, I will always take vibrant green to dusty brown.  I also enjoy rainy afternoons, provided I don't have too many pressing errands.  Dagny, on the other hand, despises the rain.  She spends what feels like an eternity sitting on the front stoop, waiting for a break in the weather to run out, use the bathroom, and then dive back under the blanket from whence she came.

I'll be back to blogging on a more regular basis now that some of the busyness has calmed.  I'm looking forward to starting my length "to do" list now that all the fires have been put out.  Today, we are heading to the coast for a nice, relaxing barbecue by the pool.  Dags will likely take a little swim, and rest will be had by all.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. To the gentlemen asking for advice on your upcoming road trip (RV, etc.), please email me again and I'd be happy to help.  Somehow, I lost your original email between switching phones/computers.

 

 

Taking five.

I've been absent, dealing with the hack and life.  Again, to those who offered encouragement, thank you, thank you, thank you.  It is violating and frustrating and incites an explosion of profanity in my brain when I think about someone invading my life in that way. 

In light of everything- trying to graduate on time, and finishing out the school year well, and deciding where this blog is going, I am going to take a break.  Its not forever, just a month or so, until I graduate and have a minute to catch my breath.  In the last few weeks, I've loved taking photos in little villages, hosting Easter dinner, and actually feeling like I took a Spring break- focusing on things just for me, and its exactly what I've needed.   

Until I return, feel free to continue to ask questions about Guatemala, I'm always happy to help. 

Take care of yourselves, I'll see you soon.

Hacked.

Hey gang, we've been hacked.  It'll take me a day or two to work this out, so if you receive any strange emails from the account associated with the blog, or from someone strange, accept my apologies and disregard them completely.

Thank you for your patience.

Update

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To those who have emailed, asking if I am okay, thank you.  I honestly forget sometimes that someone other than my mother reads my blog.  Saying that I've been busy feels like a cop out, and to a point, it is.  I've been trying to keep my priorities in line, succeeding when it comes to the students, and inevitably failing in other areas.  Its been fun playing with the kids and feeling engaged in their excitement for learning and life.  I have still been playing catch up with grad work, and am looking forward to the moment when I no longer feel like I am drowning.  It has been a roller coaster of "Yes, you can graduate in May," and "No, you don't have enough time," which is exhausting.  Some of the delays are my own doing, and some rest on others.  I am learning to take deep breaths and mentally preparing myself for receiving an answer I don't like.    

I currently have three extra bodies in my apartment, as Olivia, Laura, and JaNahn arrived last weekend.  I feel like we have been running non-stop, in the best, most tiring way possible.  They are currently on a tour and likely in the hot springs as I type.  We leave for the lake tomorrow, and then its back to Guatemala, and off they go.  I  found myself shaking my head at how tired I am today while sitting in my office.  Olivia and I have the tendency to stay up talking far past my normal bedtime, and while I wouldn't trade it for anything, it makes me wonder how we did this as kids, staying up at slumber parties until two and three in the morning.  I think this means that I might be getting old.

The next few weeks are going to be hectic.  I am trying to finish the last two chapters of my dissertation in short order, leaving little time for anything else, but I'll try to hop on and say hello.  Until we speak again, know that this blog is still alive, just a little quiet for the time being.

Priorities

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This week made me feel like I was running on a hamster wheel, willing my feet to fly, but getting nowhere.  The accreditation process has been a marathon, a valuable one at that, but time consuming doesn't even begin to describe the odyssey it has become.  Belly-aching aside, I appreciate the commitment to academic rigor and the changes that are surfacing that will ultimately better our students and community.

Today was busy with discipline and revising documents for our internal review, meeting with student council about spirit week, and taking one last look over the literacy week schedule to make sure we're ready for all things reading and Dr. Seuss on Monday.  The icing on the cake was a surprise meeting with the local Rotarians about our microfinance non-profit, making the entire day  feel cramped and rushed.  Yesterday, the little girls in third grade came into my office, proudly carrying a large water can.  They planted little trees for science, and are faithfully maintaining them.  Last week, I trekked out with them to check progress, and though it is dry season, their trees are faring well.  Back to yesterday, I told them to be sure and let me know when they plan on watering, and I'd go with them, as it is at the far end of campus, too far for the recess supervisor to see.  Wouldn't you know that they chose today, ten minutes before I needed to leave for my meeting.

Impulsively, I wanted to tell them that they could wait, that what I was working on was more important than what are essentially twigs, strapped to sticks so they don't fall over.  Thankfully, my brain and my mouth didn't connect, and what came out was, "Perfect.  I need a break, let's go."  We talked about the surprising things they've learned, like the fact that trees need nutrients, and that cow poop makes all the difference.  One of the little girls ran off and started rolling down the slope, shortly after covered in dry grass and dust, and I was reminded that she was me, not long ago. 

I made it to my meeting, and we spoke of more pressing issues than trees.  We talked data and evaluation and bureaucracy, and while it was important, I wished I had stayed to goofing around with my kids.  Balance has been tough to come by lately.  Documents and artifacts are important to this school improvement process and so are schedules and curriculum mapping, but they drag us away from the kids that inspire us to come back every morning.  My priorities weren't on track this week, so I'm writing this and confessing, with the intention that next week will be different, and that you'll check in with me to make sure my head is on straight, and that I'm covered in dry grass, playing.

Checking in.

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Long time, no see.  Bronchitis hijacked my lungs for a couple weeks, and that set me back.  My doctorate is also time consuming, though not enough lately, and I need to get back on my game.  Work has been great, but stressful, and busy.  We are going through the accreditation process which is about as exciting and tedious as it sounds.  However, the silver lining is that we are finally going to be updating our website, and I get to take the photos.  It has been refreshing to bring a hobby into the 9-5 (or in my case 7-4), and take pictures of my goofballs learning and playing.  What a welcome relief from the hectic.

I'll be back in no time, and by that, I mean Friday.

Update: Mario and Victor

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Back in November, while working on the Darkroom Project, a couple of our boys were taken into police custody for sleeping on the street, remember?  We've been trying to keep up with them as they get passed from one facility to the next, one city to the next- and stay informed of their various escape attempts en route.

Melanie, from InnerCHANGE, told me yesterday that the boys were given a court date, and  after, released to their families.  How long this will last, we don't know.  Will they be back on the street?  Probably.  Are they this very moment?  Likely.  Have we figured out a short-term or long-term solution for safer housing?  No.  Does this make me feel like we are failing them?  It does, yes.  Do I know how to move forward?  I don't. 

It is easy to get stuck in the hard questions, and feel overwhelmed, and unhappy that I am not doing enough to actually change anything.  The hard part is that I don't even know what a solution would look like at this point.  A place to live isn't a future, it just meets an immediate need.  It feels like we are in constant triage rather than building something that lasts.  The idea of "best case scenario" was done away with, as we are forced to make do with what we have to meet needs now.  This isn't a solution.

But, let's celebrate, as we fight, because the boys are back.

Devin and Nikki

Sorry for the downer post yesterday.  Violence happens everywhere, not just here, I realize that.  It's just that it was in front of me, in a place I love, which makes it personal.  I could also envision something similar happening to one of the boys we worked with for the Darkroom Project, and brought up memories of the kids being hauled off by the police, which adds another layer of meaning.  I hate that we treat each other with such little value. 

To brighten the mood, take a look below.  I took Nikki and Devin's engagement photos last weekend.  They were great sports as we raced around Totonicapán, trying to squeeze in as many photos as possible before the sunset.

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I wish you all a beautiful weekend, full of sleeping in and lazy Sundays.

Fire on the Mountain.

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This will be brief, as I am in the middle of writing my comprehensive exam, but it was worth noting, so here goes:

I'm finally settled in and in rhythm again, and that feels good.  Grad work took over and forced me back into a schedule that I do not love, but that I can deal with.  Today, I was just thinking about how quickly things can become mundane, even living in the wild that is Guatemala.  The work day was normal, the kids are selling Val-o-grams, and we had a staff meeting, as always with the first Wednesday of the month.  And then on my way out, was the scene above.  The neighbors were burning their land, and all of a sudden, its our land, and the mountain is on fire.  And then nothing feels mundane anymore, and its all wild again.

On my way home, I saw someone get pistol whipped as I was stuck at a red light.  There are guys here who run around at lights and wash windshields for a quetzal or two, but this afternoon, instead of washing windows, they were having a water fight.  I had just pulled out my  phone to get a photo, because it was a sweet moment of silliness in the middle of the city, when a driver got out of his BMW, and shoved one of the kids.  They must have splashed his car?  And then he took his gun and hit the boy in the face.  And then the light switched to green and he was back in his car, making a left turn like nothing happened.  The boy, holding his broken face, was helped off the road by his friends.  It was horrifying, but it wasn't shocking, and I hate that.  I hate that violence is now routine.  It has been bothering me all night.

So, I've snapped out my complacency.  Nothing feels mundane anymore.

Here we go.

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We are now closer to February than January, and I have no idea where the time has gone.  I said that I wasn't going to make any resolutions because if I cared, I would have made changes before the New Year began.  And then, I talked to Sara, and Laura, and heard about their resolutions, and then I bought a juicer and started feeling super healthy, and thought, "what the heck," and made one of my own-  and then broke it immediately.  Nothing like the feel of instant failure, right?

I decided that 2014 would be the year of balance.  I made juice and lists, and was feeling pretty good about myself.  I was then asked to consider taking a position that will inevitably tilt me into a rut, and I said yes.  As if school, and work, and The Darkroom Project weren't enough, I just couldn't say no.  So, now instead of this being the year where balance was reached, it will be the year of saying yes to what is right, and yes to focus.  It may also be the year of saying no to happy hour and sleep and painting.  The idea that sometimes saying one yes means a thousand nos has already taken hold in daily life, as I excuse myself with, "I wish I could," and "maybe next time."  The idea of research that leads to progress is fulfilling and worth the loneliness it may carry, we hope.  That being said, I can't wait to dive in.

Clearly, in the resolutions department, I failed.  How are yours coming along?

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The weekend was beautiful.  Dagny had a chance to chase lizards and sleep in the sun while I worked on my comprehensive exam and played cribbage.  After a hugely disappointing week, it felt like a sigh of relief to soak in the sun, focusing on nothing but the way it felt on my skin. 

This week has been better, though incredibly busy.  On the dissertation front, my surveys are out, and I'm just waiting for responses to begin data analysis, which is really exciting.  I also found out that Laura and Liv are coming down, and once everything is confirmed, I'll break into a happy dance.  I can't wait.  They've both been here before, though not with me, and I'm already making an itinerary that will be a blast.  They are both teachers, so it will be fun to bring them to my school and have them around.  It already feels refreshing.

The sunsets were nothing to speak of this weekend, but the sunrise, oh the sunrise.  Isn't it amazing how something so simple can bring you back to life?

Thank you.

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As usual, I'm late in getting around to things, but I wanted to say thank you.  In December, you were lovely enough to go through the tedious process of voting for my entry on expats.com, and in result I won!  For those of you who have not read my rationale on why I feel Guatemala is both terrifying and amazing, here you go:

When people ask me to describe living in Guatemala, I usually start my explanation with some variation of a story describing adventure.  The rendition is entirely based on the audience- there are things that my mother, and grandmother for that matter, would rather not know.   Most days, living in Guatemala feels like paradise, and I catch myself wondering how I got so lucky.  Other days, however, when people are passing me on a one lane road on the right and left, it is like we landed in Mad Max, and I get concerned about what life choices I’ve made that have led me to this point.  It sounds like a punch line, but it’s real.  I don’t have enough fingers and toes for the number of times I’ve wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.  This top list is dedicated to those moments, when Guatemala is equal parts terrifying and amazing.

1.       Transportation

In Guatemala, if you are willing, you can get anywhere for next to nothing, which is amazing.  There is always a willing driver that will let you stow in the bed of his pickup, or a Chicken bus, or tuk tuk nearby.  That’s all well and good, but listen- before you hit the road, you need to make sure that you are right with Jesus.  As I drive through the mountains, either to Guatemala City or the coast, I think, “Wow, there is nothing more magical than driving through the mountains as the sun begins to set.”  It is usually at that moment that I get passed by a chicken bus on the left, or the right for that matter, and on a curve- out of nowhere.  People here are not afraid of oncoming traffic.  If you are on the highway at all, your life will flash before your eyes.  I have seen people literally soil themselves. 

Stats Observed and Experienced From the Last Ride in Chicken Bus:
Stops - 18
Pickup Soccer Games - 11
Most People in a Seat - 5
Violations of Personal Space - 3
Violations of Bus Manufacturer's Safety Policy - innumerable
Waterfalls - 2
Buttons Fastened on Driver's Shirt - 3
10 ft Confederate Flag - 1
Make Out Session in the Seat Behind Us - 22 mins
Men in Girl's Jeans - 3
Bags of Charcoal on Lady's Head - 7
People Crammed into the Bed of 4cyl Datsun truck - 32
Teeth in the Mouth of Drunk Guy Yelling at a Tree - 4
Spectators for Ayudante's Indecent Exposure - 76
Craps Given by 8yr old Standing on Top of Chicken Bus Holding Nothing but a Rope- 0

2.       Enjoying the Great Outdoors

Guatemala is thrilling for the outdoorsman.  We have hot springs, and two coasts from which you can enjoy the ocean.  We have mountains, rivers, and valleys, and the list goes on.  If you are looking for the land of eternal Spring, where temperatures are around 60 degrees everyday by noon, come to Xela.  If you want to sweat out all hydration and become a raisin, go to Zacapa.  We literally have something for everyone- paradise found.

I, myself, am a hiker and pass my weekends in the mountains, or hanging out at an abandoned beach.  It is an amazing feeling, realizing that you will not be bothered by the sight of another human being for hours- or days if you wish.  I live the introvert dream.  But in the same moments where you breathe in the fresh air, and think, “I can’t be bothered with a call because I am in the wilderness and have no service,” terror strikes because you realize your setting is basically the beginning of every horror film where brains are sucked out, or action film where folks are kidnapped pronto.  If something goes wrong, no one would find you.  Not ever.  I oscillate between awe and terror so quickly and often that I’m lucky my heart hasn’t given out.  I’m like a little kid that screams when they are surprised but keeps asking for more. 

3.       Street Food

We have tacos and garnachas (said to be made of dog), and hot dogs, and cotton candy, and basically everything else delicious sold on the street.  It is amazing, because anywhere you are, you can probably walk ten feet and find a snack.  For those of us who have low blood sugar and lean toward the hangry side when we have the munchies, it is ideal- and delicious- and cheap.

However, “animalitos” or amoebas in your stomach are not, and they basically catch a free ride on everything here from mangos to garnachas to tacos to exactly-what-you-are-craving-at-this-moment.  And should you escape amoebas this time, rest assured that some kind of fungus has taken root in your gut.  Eating the greasy food is not what is terrifying, nor taking the risk of amoebas and infections.  It’s the symptoms that get you every time- and you’ll probably be on a chicken bus.  Need more specifics?  Envision projectile everything.  Everything.

4.       Logic

Finally, while living in Guatemala is at times, reminiscent to being dropped into Mad Max, it’s also like living in a version of Alice and Wonderland where up is down or whatever you please.  I find that the only times I get really frustrated, is when I am expecting people to be logical and act accordingly.  “But it makes sense,” isn’t really regarded as a reason for doing anything, especially in a more efficient manner.  This is amazing, because you can basically talk anyone into doing or making anything for you, without in depth questions or details.  Anything can happen in Guatemala. 

However, the lack of logic is also terrifying.  Case in point, there are walking bridges over the highway, which people choose to use as a means of shade for when they run across the road.  There’s the guy riding on the top of a tanker with the “warning: flammable” signs, smoking a cigarette, and the chicken bus companies that invest in pimping the bus with LEDs rather than fixing the brakes. I think my favorite though, is the clusters of electrical wires that hang precariously low to street in webs that look as if they were spun by a spider with a serious amphetamine addiction.  They are especially exciting during earthquakes as they spray spontaneous fireworks.

Living in Guatemala is an amazing, terrifying adventure.  You will not regret visiting the country where nothing works, but everything can be fixed.

I hope you have a relaxing weekend.  My week was everything but the uneventful I wished for on Monday.  I will be heading out for some R &R, and uninterrupted time to work on my comprehensive exam.  Also, I will be streaming season 3 of Sherlock.  Tell me you aren't obsessed.

if being clean
means judging the dirty
broken people,
then cover me in mud
cover me in filth
paint me black and blue
with the colors of invisibility
and shades of abandoned love,
take all that i have if you have to,
as long as
i am still
loving
while dirty.

-Amanda Helm

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I did not get everything I listed done this weekend.  My concept of time is deeply flawed in that I imagine each day having several more hours, leading to disappointment when I can't fit one more thing in.  

I am planning on posting some photos of the sailing trip to Belize when time permits.  I am also trying to rock through my comprehensive exam and a few other tedious items on the doctoral front, so we'll see what happens. 

Currently, however, the picture above is appealing to me, as I imagine gargling salt water would be soothing.  My throat feels like it has been used in place of a scratching post by herds of cats.  Could it be strep?  Maybe.  Am I hypochondriac?  Also, maybe.  So, I am going to give it one more day before buckling to antibiotics.

Welcome to the week, uneventful and monotonous would be ideal.

Before I forget...

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Laura and I were headed home from Northeast and then this.  I gasped and pulled over and snapped this shot that does not do that moment justice.  Life begins to look different when you realize that nothing is guaranteed and this sunset, this beer with a friend, this silly smile from a student, this afternoon stuck in writing a paper is a gift and cannot be taken for granted.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend.  My feet will be planted in Xela, with lots of school work on Saturday and a new project on Sunday.  I would love to squeeze in a long walk with Dagny in the hills, take a crack at cutting my own bangs, and try a few recipes, but we'll see how it goes. 

Happy Friday, friends.  The first week back was rough, but we made it.

Sunday Routine

 I write you fresh off the plane from the states.  The transition this time has been tough, and I dream of just one more day to find the people I missed and hug and re-hug the ones I found. 

After flying in late on Friday, having a lunch with the lovely Swedes on Saturday, and finally making it home Saturday night, spent, I needed a serious dose of routine.  The combination of sleep deprivation and rapid transition is hard on the best of us.  On Sunday we ate crepes at Sabe Delis as normal, chatted about education with Isa and Sam, hit the market for groceries, then proceeded to cook all afternoon, which mostly looked like me trying out my new knifes and mandolin I received for Christmas.  I took special attention to maintaining my fingers as I sliced the carrots, but other than checking they were all there at timed intervals, I slipped into a comfortable rhythm of banter and cooking that felt right.  After about an hour, I involuntarily smiled and sighed and with it came the realization that I was going to be okay.  Life doesn't just happen in Minneapolis, it happens here too.  Cooking happens here, laughing happens here.

Before you is a salad of carrots, lime juice, and salt.  It sounds obscenely simple, but it is delicious and fresh and shouldn't be underestimated. Shred your carrots, or slice them, or chop them, or whatever.  Add some lime, then a bit of salt.  That's it.  Welcome back to the blog, friends.  I'm not sorry for my absence, I was having too much fun to consider writing.

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Heading home.

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Excuse the poor picture quality.  I snapped it on my phone as we were driving over the bridge.  This should be in our sights tomorrow morning, then we'll head to Guatemala City, and before you know it, I'll be landing in Minneapolis.

If you haven't yet, would you be so kind as to hop over and vote for my entry on expatsblog.com?  Today is the last day for comments and input.  Here is the link: ttp://www.expatsblog.com/contests/753/the-top-4-reasons-living-in-guatemala-is-amazing-but-terrifying

I hope you have a great weekend.  The next time we speak I'll be stateside, and I can't wait.

ON MY MIND...

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Even though I am technically away, I can still promise you that the following things are on my mind:

- Suzanna and her two little brothers, running around the park, selling candy.

- Mario, Victor, and Kevin as they adjust in Guatemala City.  Will they stay or will they run?

- Our story.  It was just one of many that occur on a daily basis, and I want to know why, and what can be done, and what my role is in the solution.

- I am thinking of my family, and how nice it will be to spend some quality time with them as we celebrate Christmas.

- My friends that I will see when I return.  Will they be different?  Am I different?  How much was lost between us in the time I was away?

- Any goals or resolutions I have for the new year.  None, on the principle that if it mattered I would already be doing it, but its still up for consideration.

- Liv and wondering how she and the family are doing and wishing I was there help and make her laugh.

Anything on your mind?