Walking

My morning, afternoon, and evening walks bring very different views. In the morning, I can catch a glimpse of the sun rising over the Chuchumantes and clearly see the smog laying over the city as I pass the hospital. I continue down the hill saying, “Buenos dias,” to passersby. I try to make myself look tough while I grip my tiny key knife in my hand convincing myself that I’ll be able to make a swipe at the next person that tries to rob me. Then, turn left, hopping between sidewalk and pavement passing other pedestrians and avoiding cars on the narrow road. I dart across the street and weave in and out of the now heavy foot and motor traffic walking quickly and carefully. Occasionally, I’ll catch up with a fellow teacher, but usually I’m either too early or too late.

The afternoon walk is hot and pensive. The sun is intense, and everyday I tell myself I’ll buy a hat and sunglasses that afternoon. I haven’t yet. I walk slower and contemplated how to best spend my 40 minute break before I head out again. Usually, it just involves scarfing down a bowl of black beans or veggie soup.

After teaching at the University and riding the chicken bus home, I jump off and walk as fast as I can without running to get up the hill to the student house all the time planning how to spend the last hour awake before I wake up and do it all over again. My eye dart to every slight movement on the street ready to run if I need to.

At the top, I sometimes sneak to get a cheap beer and a ice cream cone from the tienda on the corner, but usually I just duck through the gate, take a breath, and take a slow walk the rest of the way to the house. Stopping to enjoy whatever stars might be out that night, and I am thankful.

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La Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I found La Lacuna in the small library of the Ixtatan Foundation student house in Huehuetenago, Guatemala, in March 2017. Barbara Kingsolver’s name struck me.
I had been forced to read Poisonwood Bible as a summer assignment in highschool, and when the author came to do a covocation Berea College my junior or senior year, I was stunned at her chill elegance. Someone asked her what advice she had for aspiring authors, and Ms. Kingsolver responded something to the effect of, “To be a good writer you have to live through some things. So quit smoking. You’ll love longer.” The entirety of the auditorium errupted with laughter and I remember repeating it to the friends I shared short stories with smoking in the gazebo when she finished.
The title to the book was in Spanish. I was certain I would have to drudge through reading in the language I was failing to learn in order to get the attachment to home that I had been hunting for in the library that day, but I opened the book to find the passage in English.

I took to hiding in my room perched on my bed reading this book until I fell asleep with my hand near the machete I began keeping between my head and the wall after I had been mugged down the street from my house a month prior.

A couple weeks after beginning the book, I had to go to Mexico to renew my Visa. I sat at night in my hostel in San Cristobal de las Casas reading La Lacuna feeling the cool evening air placing myself with the main character on his early adventures.

On a bumpy shuttle bus ride between San Cris and Huehue, my stomach couldn’t handle reading, so I placed the book on the floor of the van and chatted in broken Spanish with an Italian psychologist for the rest of the four hour journey. After getting dropped off in Huehuetenago, and finally getting back to my room at the student house, I got a message from my new Italian friend that I had left the book on the bus and that he would try to return it to me when I was at Lake Atitlan in a couple weeks.

I never got that copy back but checked the book out again once I had settled into a farm house in Paintlick, KY a couple months later. I read it off and on never forgetting about it but unable to maintain attention enough to finish.

I checked it out 3 different times before giving up. I did the same thing after I moved to Lexington and got a library card that November. I checked the book out two times and took it with me to visit my dad in Virginia promising myself that I wouldn’t lose another copy in transit. I read a couple hundred pages in a few days and finished it today, two weeks after getting back.

This book has been on a journey with me as it has also carried me along a journey. I have a lot more reflection to do about La Lacuna. I almost wish I had an English Literature class to dissect it with like I did Poisonwood Bible several years ago, but I’m thankful to Barbara Kingsolver for creating a book that I can’t let go of and that has made me thankful for being such a dreadfully slow reader. I think it made me appreciate the Solí’s journey more.

What world of her should I dive into next?

It’s Easy to not be a F$ck Boy

“Ahh the struggle to not be a f$ck boy”

Three different men have said some version of this to me in the past year, and I want to make something very clear.

IT IS SO EASY TO NOT BE A F$CK BOY

Here’s how:

1. Do some introspection and figure out how your feeling and what you’re looking for out of a relationship with someone, sexual or otherwise

2. Communicate where you’re at with the partners you are involved with as soon as possible.

3. Be honest especially when it is clearly requested

Now, I haven’t read enough bell hooks to give you a dissertation, BUT I know she’s done some talking about forth wave feminism and how it’s time for us to teach men and boys emotional literacy.

I am sorry that society has taught y’all masculinity is unwavering strength and limited emotions.

It’s the truth. We have to do some work in that department. I do what I can to help young boys learn to express and work through their emotions while teaching, but how are we supposed to address this epidemic with grown men?

I don’t know the answer, but men, y’all need to start working on it, because your partners and friends deserve it.

Y’all go listen to Amanda Seales’ podcast Small Doses. She has an episode calles “Side Effects of Being a F$ck Boy” that can begin your education.

Really just listen to anything by her.

And be kind to your people

Transitions

Transition times at preschool, like between outside time and snack or between circle time and activities, are the most stressful points in the day for most of the students. “Hey lady, I’m enjoying my applesauce squeezy bag. Why the hell would I want to go outside?”

I went to a training about discipline and ways to work with difficult behaviors in students. One of the ways the trainer suggested preventing troublesome behaviors was to ring a bell or give some kind of warning to students that a transition was going to happen in a certain amount of time so that they would be able to prepare mentally for the shift.

I tried it. It worked, but it made me think about adults and how we react to transitions in our lives. What if someone rang a bell and said in a soothing tone, “In three minutes your girlfriend is going to break up with you,” or “In five minutes the restaurant where you’re working is going to get slammed.”

Maybe it wouldn’t actually make it better, but you’d have an extra few minutes to think about it and prepare a reaction.

We ring the bell for ourselves sometimes. “In 2 months you’re going to graduate from college and your safety net is going to magically disappear.” “You have to leave for work in 10 minutes or you’re going to be late.”

But sometimes we  can’t ring the bell and before we know it life is jerking us away from that apple sauce sqeezy bag and throwing us out the door, and it takes months to settle back down outside.

and that’s okay. 3 or 30 transition are difficult, and they’re a regular part of our lives. We just need to build in more bells… and have more apple juice squeezy bags.

From the train

A journal entry from about a month ago.

Train travel is more human than taking a plane. What would’ve been a three and a half hour flight spitting the passengers out at a three hour time difference clear across the country turns into a 44 hour trip slowly introducing us to new landscapes and time adjustments. People are able to move around, but we all have our home base seats, and even though I’m on for the entire ride, I’ve met people in the observation car that have hopped off along the way.

Chic farmer man has sheep and goats outside of Portland. He and his son are traveling back from visiting family in upstate New York. He talked on the phone about gifting pumpkins to everyone he knows and reacting with nothing but love. His military style jacket, build, and demeanor told me there was a time that he didn’t have the choice to do so.

B has been a massage and occupational therapist at the same hospital for 43 years. She’s on her way to visit her oldest brother on their family farm. We stayed up late having the god talk while I crocheted a hat and she appliqued the corner of a quilt. She’s waiting on god to speak to her. I told her I don’t believe in a god that speaks. We talked about friendship, soul searching, the importance of how we spend our years, and how she thinks more carefully about hers as she approaches 70 after being hit by a 90,000 pound dump truck a few years ago. “Making choices on borrowed time.” She hopped off at 6 this morning.

C is headed to harvest sugar beets in Montana. He has blue streaks in his hair that match his nails, a genuine smile, round glasses, and a jacket that says “hustler” in curly font. He’s based out of New Orleans and wondered if he’d have anything to come back to after managing the trash and recycling at state fairs and music festivals in New York this year. He almost fought a little girl after she stole his stuffed mouse while he was sleeping last night. We played a few games of rummy before he hopped off around 11 this morning.

S is in charge of my car. He immigrated from Chile to Anchorage Alaska as a teenager before he could speak English. He took what was supposed to be a summer job with an airline after high school and fell in love with the travel. When the airport cut workers in anchorage, he moved to Miami then found himself in Seattle and said it was his “happy medium.” He’s based there now and switched from airlines to trains in May of last year. We talked about global warming and how he watched a glacier disappear.

 

 

We’re traveling through North Dakota now. About half way through the trip to Seattle. We’re driving past ramshackle houses, oil fields, mansions, and pumpkin patches. All the fall yellows are present spotting the rolling hills and plains. It’s like a mixture of Kentucky and Kansas.

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On Graduating from Berea College

This time last year, I was having a mental breakdown. I was depressed and stricken with anxiety about what I was going to do when I left Berea College, one of the best colleges in the south. I knew I didn’t want to jump into a “real” job, and I had bought plane tickets to go to Ireland for three months with no job secured there.

I received $50 for graduation, and my parents didn’t give me any money for this, but now, almost a year after graduation from Berea, I have visited Ireland, Morocco, Spain, Guatemala, and Mexico. I’ve had 9 different paying jobs in 5 different cities, and I’ve volunteered in three different countries. I’ve cooked, farmed, traveled, reconnected, taught, and been REALLY financially broke.

Some of my biggest worries have came true. I moved in with my mom to save money for my travels, and slept on several friends’ couches. My bank account was completely empty for an entire month. I’m in debt, BUT my life is going wonderfully. I’m HAPPY I’m fulfilling dreams and goals I set for myself a long time ago. I’m working my ass off and still searching for my purpose. I’m still uncertain about what is to come or what I should be doing, but everything is okay and working out just fine.

I’m back in Kentucky now, after living in Guatemala for the past three months, working on a farm and loving life. While traveling, I talked to my friends from Berea every week, and we still support each other now that I’m living in Paint Lick 10 minutes away. So, what I’m saying is, it’s okay to worry and freak out pre-graduation  and after graduation, but it’s also important to know that everything will work out, especially if you treat people with respect and kindness.

If you survived Berea, you can survive the real world, as ugly and surprising as it is if you move back to your small Appalachian town after living with like minded individuals for 4 years. Stay open minded, and keep the past four years with you.

 

Returning Stateside

Washing machine and electric stove

Air conditioning and kitten toes

snuggly soft firmness pushes consumption but also to earn

The rituals become lost

Left behind in the bumpy stiffnesss

Forced thoughtfulness and community that was once resented becomes missed

Long days of impactful work traded for laboring for a small dollar

Warm embraces for cool loneliness

Home still hasn’t been found but the houses multiply

The fear of the anchor is greater than that of crashing to shore.

Fluffy pillows and stacks of change

Animal fur and forgotten names

Month 3- Time to go

When I received the offer to return to Guatemala last November, it was a no brainer for me. I hadn’t been able to forget this magical country since I left in 2015. Plus, Trump had just become president of my country. I wanted to stay far away from that mess. The work sounded great, and it has been… mostly.

My Spanish is better than it has ever been. I saw myself transform into a pretty decent teacher. I made connections with teenagers and other teachers that are going to change Guatemala for the better, but it’s time for me to go.

There are several reason that I won’t go into now, but I still think Guatemala is a very special place and firmly believe that if this country changes, it will be changed by Guatemalans, not outsiders such as myself.

It’s time for me to go home now, and start working to make Kentucky and the US a better place. Running away from a terrible leader helps no one. I have several projects in the works that I’ll announce when they become more solid, but for the next few months at least, I’m going back to cooking and working outside.

Lake Atitlan: Day 1

Travel:

I used Magic Travels on my last trip from San Cristobal de las Casas to Huehuetenango, and thought it was perfect, easy, and fairly inexpensive. I used the same company from Huehuetenango to Panajachel. Although it arrived to Panajachel a couple hours later than I was originally told, the driver took me all the way to the lancha to catch a boat, and I was able to catch the last public boat leaving from Panajachel along the north shore at 7:30. Though, I have heard that sometimes the public boats stop running at sunset instead of the 7:30 time advertised. The boat from Pana to

Tzununa:

I stayed at the Humming Bird hostel, and it was nice enough (75Q). The owner is absolutely charming.

I ventured off on my own up the hill this morning in search some breakfast, and after asking a few locals along the way, I found the Bamboo Guest House and Restaurant. The breakfast I had there was delicious (bowl of fruit, eggs, plantains, potatoes, salsa, and coffee for 50Q), and I had great conversation with people that were staying there. The air bnb site says rooms are $45, but when I asked the owner about dorms, he said they were 100Q a night. I think it’s probably worth it for the awesome views and accommodating staff.

After breakfast, I went on a trek to search for waterfalls I had heard about. Someone told me there were thieves along the way, but some locals helped me find my way there. It was one of the most beautiful walks I’ve ever taken even though I didn’t get all the way to the big waterfall.  I plan to go back before I leave the lake.

San Marcos la Laguna:

This is the place to go if you’re looking for a massage, a yoga class, and some kombucha. I only endulged in the 26Q kombucha made in the same city.

I walked from Tzununa to San Marcos in about 30 minutes. Coming from the dock, you turn left by the soccer field and stay straight. On the way, I was wanting some lunch and stopped at Los Abrazos, the hugs. Los Abrazos is a Mayan owned restaurant, and the lovely women working there made me feel right at home. The food was exactly what I needed after my hot walk.

After, I tried to go to El Taller, a meditation center of sorts that I had heard about, but I was too intimidated by all the stylish hippies and weird climbing pathway to go all the way up. I opted instead for a swim and a lovely New Yorker helped me find my way to a nature reserve where I paid 15Q for a quick hop off of some rocks into the cool water. I spent some time drawing the shore line then headed back to the center of town next to the basketball court for veggie tacos at the taco stand there. Those tacos were every bit worth the money I paid for them. After, I left for Tzununa in tuktuk. It was totally worth the 5Q ride after my day of walking.

Impressions so far:

This place is way too expensive. Maybe Huehuetenango spoiled me, but I’m disappointed in what I’ve gotten for the prices I’ve paid. The views are killer, and if I had a bigger budget and a kitchen I could cook in, I may feel better about the situation. I’ve heard that just San Marcos and Tzununa are expensive. So I’m going to head to San Pedro and Panajachel tomorrow before meeting up with one of my dearest friends from Aguacatan.

Posada Abuelito & San Cris

I’ve stayed in many hostels during my travels, some better than others, but Posada Abuelito here in San Cristobal de las Casas is definitely in my top three. To me, there are three categories that make a great hostel: friendly and helpful local staff, clean and relaxing facility, and guests that are friendly and respectful travelers. It’s really hard to get all three in one hostel, but Posada Abuelito has done it. I’ve had wonderful conversations here with people from all over the world, and the staff is from San Cristobal. They know the city and have tips on what to do. The breakfasts in the morning are also delicious.

San Cris is a great place to visit on a budget. I was there four days. In that time, I stayed at the hostel, went to a yoga class, ate several meals at expensive restaurants, and bought a couple of craft pieces from the market. I spent less than $100.

I went on a “free” walking tour that leaves from the giant cross in the main square everyday at 10 am, and I suggest it. It was three and a half hours long. We went all around the city and learned a bit about history and current events as well as going to coffee, soup, and pox (a local liquor) tastings. It was interesting and definitely worth the 50 pesos I paid. Like most “free” things I’ve encountered as a tourist there was a healthy amount of pressure to purchase products from the places we stopped and a “minimal tip” of 20 pesos, but it was still a great deal.

My short trip to San Cris and all of the wonderful people I met there definitely inspired me to travel around more of Mexico in the future, but for now, I’m happy to be back in Guatemala