The Things I Overlooked.

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I’m relearning, and it is happening slowly, but it is happening.  The hours spent writing and revising are now free and finding their way to the people around me.  I didn’t realize how much I was missing when my nose was stuck in my laptop.  I mean, I did.  It is no fun watching people play and feeling like the one sitting on the fence at recess, but you get what I’m saying.

Surprisingly, my camera has surfaced very little in the past few weeks.  With all of this time on my hands, I’ve been practicing harmonica and reading and staying up past my bedtime for late night discussions.  (A side note about the harmonica: you should know before you begin playing that with all of the inhaling and exhaling that you’ll get unbelievably lightheaded and maybe pass out.  I haven’t exactly figured out how to get around this, and I’m generally terrible at this instrument, but time is my friend, right?)

I took the photos above in San Andreas Xecul, a little city not too far from Xela a couple months ago.  We spent an afternoon walking the streets, chatting with little kids who squealed at having their photos taken and demanded to see them immediately after.  The spontaneous giggles and snorts that the kids couldn’t hold in reminded me that there are things I’ve missed in the last year.  Oh, the things I overlooked while being so singly focused on school.  It is embarrassing to admit, and I hate to imagine all the times I kept walking or internally sighed when a child wanted my attention- or a friend.  I never ignored anyone intentionally, but I wonder, who did I not see?  Where was I blind?  What opportunities to love did I miss?  It feels like a failing of sorts, not being present enough to embrace those around me.  There’s nothing to be done, except move forward with resolution.

And so, I begin again- committed to seeing and searching and loving.

The Darkroom Project: Guatemala

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Unbelievably, we're here again.

Every time I think about starting again, I get butterflies.  Partly because its so much to plan in such a short amount of time, with the teaching schedule, meeting with the gallery, ordering frames, creating flyers, printing photos, and the list continues.  The rest of the fluttering comes from wonder, and that I get to watch and be a part of others tell their stories again.

Since our last show in Indiana, I've received an email from Johnny, with photos of the continued public speaking he's done.  He looks amazing.  I've heard stories of the participants and how life has changed for them just because they were brave enough to share their lives.  I'm not saying that The Darkroom Project is responsible, only that we are so thankful to just be here.  Bianca has an attorney helping her get the felony expunged from her record.  He heard her tell her story.  Darlene now has a job, because someone heard her story.  I keep at it with The Darkroom Project because Johnny reminds me of his story, our story.

This time, things will be a bit different.  We will be working with a group of boys (and maybe a girl or two?) that shoe shine for a living.  We will teach, and get annihilated in soccer every afternoon, and eventually have a show.  This project is dear to my heart, as I live the same streets and corners as these kids- we share a home.  I see them run through the park with their boxes, talking every businessman with dirty, and clean shoes, into a good shine.  There are two that continually waggle their eyebrows at me while I roll my eyes at them, and buy them lunch when my shoes don't need care- when I beg them to not shine my converse kicks. 

The party starts on Sunday.  Are you ready?

Handmade: Pastores

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On the way from Xela to Antigua, there is the little town called Pastores, where nearly every shop for a kilometer sells boots.  I've wanted to stop and take a look around for months, but never had the time until a few weeks ago.  After the success of my first pair of handmade boots, I found two photos on the internet of boots I wanted made, but was unable to get a response from the boot shop I used previously.  Instead, we drove down to Pastores, and wandered around with the photos until someone agreed to make my shoes.  The variety in the shops was astonishing.  You want pink snakeskin boots with green accents?  Done.  Stilettos, wedges, wooden heels, you call it, they make it.    Pointy toe, rounded toe, open toe, metal toe to kick shins?  No problem.  It was almost as fun to look at their creations as it was to order my own.

My boots came back yesterday and they are lovely.  Neither are quite exact replicas, but both pairs are comfortable and well made and beautiful.  They will make an appearance soon if I can find someone kind enough to take my photo.

Have a great weekend.  I will be home, packing and checking things off of my to do list before I fly out on Tuesday.  

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Has it been a long few weeks for anyone else?  Our seniors are graduated and moving on.  I have moved offices and am working on making the new one my own.  We took several trucks to the mechanic only to have all of them fail the test.  The only one that passed the seller chose to keep.  My apartment decided to flood every time it rained, which is basically everyday now.  I also realized that I have to make two portfolios for grad school, not one.  Also, someone stole my peanut butter out of the staff lounge.

Some of these things have been resolved, others not.  I was tearing-my-hair-out stressed for some time until I took a deep breath and let it go.  Now is not a time to worry.  We have two amazing projects coming up shortly for the Darkroom Project, and I am going to see family in exactly one week.  A truck will come.  A new home will come.  The portfolios will get done.  It will all get settled, though I doubt my peanut butter is coming back.

Sunrise

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I am a morning person.  I always have, and I always will be.  Though I like waking early, do I use the early hours before going to work efficiently?  Certainly not, at least until recently.  We have a new neighbor in the apartment upstairs that believes mornings are for protein shakes, push ups, sit ups, and squats.  Breaking into a new routine is hard, especially for those of us who only understand the concept of a schedule loosely.  For the moment, he is in the states doing some work for his non-profit, so I have no required regimen, however, I am still waking earlier that normal and am finding that I enjoy it very much.  Dagny still refuses to participate and stays under the covers until I shag her out to use the bathroom.  This photo is from Monday morning, when the hot pink sky caught me completely by surprise.  

Q & A: Safety

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Is Guatemala safe?

I get this question often, mostly from my mother, but a few of you have chimed in as well.   The short answer is that Guatemala is like any other place in the world.  It carries its own risks, but with a good head on your shoulders, all will be well.

Transportation:

If you don’t have a vehicle of your own, or choose not to rent, you have primarily two options: chicken bus or shuttle.  There are many travel agencies that provide shuttles to all of the major destinations in Guatemala.  They generally pick you up at your hotel and drop you at your next specific destination.  They are often crammed and expensive, but your belongings are safe and it is often a direct route, which is nice.  The other option is to take a chicken bus.  I usually ride the chicken buses.  They are also crowded and noisy and you might actually see a chicken.  Seriously.  I have never had a bad experience, though you hear of many.  Often times bags are tossed on the roof and tied down.  They are cheap and worth it for a short adventure.  I will hop one from Xela to the lake frequently, which takes about two and a half hours, which is fine.  I end up transferring three times, but it’s a nice drive and a fun way to practice Spanish.  Would I go eight or ten hours to Tikal.  No way.  My advice if you’re going to take a chicken bus is to keep your essentials close and enjoy the ride.  The ayudantes (the guy  who helps the bus driver) will keep an eye on you and let you know when you need to hop off.  Try it, I dare you.

Streets:

There are safer cities, there are more dangerous cities.  Have common sense.  Don’t walk around talking on your iPhone.  If you look like you are carrying expensive items, there is a greater chance that you may have problems.  I don’t walk the streets of Guatemala City, as it just isn’t a great idea and cabs are easy to find.  I have never been approached, but if you were to be stopped by the ladrones, don’t fight.  I promise it is not worth it.  Just give them your cash.  By the lake, and Antigua, and Xela, I walk nearly everywhere I roam, but with awareness and caution.  Ladies, and even Gents, walk with a friend when possible, if the sun has set.  It’s that easy.

Markets: 

Don't carry your cash in your pockets.  Lock up your passport in the hotel.  There is no need to bring more than the essentials.  Have fun. 

Borders:

So this gets a bit tricky because it’s a complicated process.  I will devote another post to this topic, but to touch on it, if you have to cross the border to renew your visa, I suggest using a travel agency.  They do a great job of walking you through the process and are very experienced.  To me, it isn’t worth it to take the chicken bus to save a few bucks.  Avoid the headache-  use an agency. 

If you have more specific questions, please ask.  But know that I feel safe.  I work here, I walk here, I live here.  I am aware of my surroundings and don’t take unnecessary risks.  My biggest piece of advice is to have common sense and don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from experiencing the rich culture here.  People are kind and compassionate and want to help.  If you get lost, ask.  As someone passes you on the street, say hello.  Don’t miss out on the fun.

Restaurant Review: Izakaya

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When my family was visiting, fresh off the plane and feeling grimy, I knew that there was only one place I wanted to take them for dinner.  Izakaya is located in Antigua, Guatemala and calling it a hidden treasure is an understatement.  The food is mainly tapas, all Japanese, with a few larger plates mixed in.  At this point, after five trips, I think I've tasted the entire menu and not been disappointed.  

The atmosphere in Izakaya is ideal for a quiet dinner, with candlelit tables and warm ambiance.  The owners/chefs fly in and out of the exposed kitchen to offer advice on the menu and then later to see how the food is received at the tables in the dining room.  They are completely charming.  While the dining room is beautiful, the best seat is at the low bar watching Gabriel and Lorena prepare the food and listen as the two banter and bicker and love while they prepare the meal.  Watching the plate creation makes it more than a meal, but you feel like part of a bigger story that has been years in the making.  For us, it was the perfect first dinner to begin our trip together as a family, and such an enchanting welcome to Guatemala.

If you are interested in visiting, you can check out their tripadvisor page here.  

Q & A: Where do you live?

When I was home for two weeks packing up, and working on my residency, people would ask where I was going. I would answer Quetzaltenango, Guatemala and it was almost like you could see the cloud of confusion settle on their head.

"Where?"

"I can't even pronounce that."

So, here's a little geography lesson:

   

Guatemala is located in Central America.  Our close friends are Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

 I live in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in a nice little valley surrounded by mountains and can see three volcanos from the vista where I work. Only one is active, but it still makes life exciting. Quetzaltenango is a really long name, but essentially means "place of the Quetzals," which are beautiful green birds that have all but left Guatemala entirely. Most people in Guatemala call Quetzaltenango by its indigenous name, Xela (Shay-la).

We are the second largest city in Guatemala with around 700,000 people living in the metro. Wikipedia also cites Xela as being "The City with the Soul of Culture," which doesn't exactly appear to be true. And in the same paragraphs they say we're a major tourist destination, which isn't quite right either, but who I am to argue with Wikipedia. Maybe they are referencing the thirty language schools and thus an influx of Spanish Learners in the summer. I don't know. Usually when I'm in Antigua or at Lake Atitlan and meet travelers, they often say, "Yeah, we just didn't make it to Xela," and I'm never surprised, because we're not terribly fancy, just authentic. A clash between the traditional and modern.

Speaking of summer, we really only have two seasons here: rainy and dry. Right now we're finally starting to get over the rainy season, and after this week of ferocious rain, it should be wrapping up within October. Once dry season hits, it will start to get colder, but not unbearable. Quetzaltenango is known as being "the land of the eternal spring," as it starts out chilly but can be guaranteed to hit at least 70 degrees every day of the year.  

We've covered the basics, right? 

Any questions?

 

It took 15 hours of travel via plane and bus, but we made it.  We are here.  We are safe.  We are thankful.  Other than a traffic jam that delayed us by two hours, things could not have gone better and we could not be happier with our accommodations and new friends.