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.

 

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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

San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico

Day 1: This trip is going better than I could have possibly hoped. I didn’t have to take a bus all the way from Huehuetenango, because my lovely friend Claudia and her mom were traveling to Comitan, the half way point, anyway. We easily found a bus, and, because I thought ahead, when I arrived in San Cris, I easily walked to my hostel.

I had a terrible lunch, but I met several lovely people. In the evening, I went to the best yoga class of my life. I entered a vegan restaurant, walked to the back, and climbed through a tunnel of jasmine to find kind smiling faces. I hadn’t practiced in three months, and I though I would vomit several times, but it was a spiritual and grounding experience.

So far, San Cris has taught me how good my Spanish has become, and I’m really proud of myself for that.

 

Month 2

3/5

There’s something about living abroad that constantly reminds me that I’m a foreigner. Maybe it’s all in my head, maybe it’s constantly being called gringa and extranjera in the street, or maybe it’s that I struggle to speak the language. Either way, this feeling has caused me to be incredibly timid. I’ve felt a fear of being alone and independent here in Guatemala that I’ve never felt anywhere else.

Today, I was on the phone with my mom, and I was telling her about my fear of traveling alone to Mexico at the end of the month. She said, “What has happened to you? You’re a total bad ass in the United States! Why are you letting Guatemala beat you down?” Conversations like these are why  it’s important to talk to your mother regularly.

My loss of bravery has dampened my effectiveness as a teacher and impacted my day to day life. It took me a week to muster up to courage to go to the mall by myself. What if I took the wrong bus? What if someone stole my bags? I have NEVER worried about these things anywhere else. I’ve always been an “everything works out” kind of thinker, but I suppose you have to hit the other extreme to find balance, or at least I do.

I have also been sick three times in the past two months. I’m thankful for a support system that has helped me to get to the doctor, buy medicine, and take a day off when I’ve needed it, but with the amount of work I have, I can’t really take a whole day off. The sicknesses are pushing me towards learning how to do things faster and being more diligent in my work.

So, this month, Guatemala taught me caution and diligence, and in the coming month, I hope to regain confidence in myself and my ability. I hope that Guate doesn’t teach the next lesson in such difficult ways.

To end on a high note, my students are amazing and show me so much love. When I have low days, interacting with them brings me up. One of my fifth graders gave me a valentine on the 14th, and it made my whole week.

Guatemalan Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 1/4 cups flour
    • purchased at a grocery store with a wandering armed guard
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 over ripe banana
    • Purchased a week ago from the lady at the market that sold me a dozen for about a dollar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
    • I am so against using margarine, but it is the cheapest and most accessible option for me right now. Butter is triple the price and I have to walk about a mile to get it. Not suitable for late night cookie needs.
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
    • That I had to purchase at the pharmacy where they keep it behind the counter and take your name down to purchase. Wonder why…
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup peanuts minced
    • Because peanut butter is expensive, and I can found a pound of peanuts for about a dollar
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
    • Taken from the two pounds I also bought at the pharmacy. They’re more like chips pretending to be chocolate, because the real thing was the equivalent of $10.

Combine sugars, butter, banana, vanilla, egg and salt. Then add flour and baking soda slowly. Finally, add chocolate chips and peanuts. Grease a sheet and place cute little balls of dough on there. Stick it in your oven a temp that feels right. There’s no numbers on my oven, and watch them. If they get fluffy and stay fluffy, you’ve done it right. If they fall flat, you probably did something wrong, but who knows really?

Eat cookies until you feel satisfaction. I suggest no more than three.

By the River

“Why are there flowers by the water,” I ask even though I know the answer. I asked her the same thing two years ago. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear the words twice. People put the bouquets next to the river to thank god for the water, to ask for rain, and in remembrance of loved ones passed. “All of the agriculture depends on this,” she says after explaining one more time and gesturing to the turquoise blue water pooling in between and running over moss covered rock. I can see steps reminiscent of the ones I’ve seen at the ruinas peaking out of the shinny slime, and I imagine Mayan people washing their clothes, gathering, and playing here centuries before just as they are now. Bright colors of huipils and soda bottles reflect off the clear water as I watch a man jump off a rock into the cold water. I consider doing the same.

While I drove up the dirt road to Rio Blanca with my two friends, I allowed my eyes to momentarily wander to admire the beautiful fields separated by aqueducts carrying water from the rivers inward, irrigating fields of white cloth covered tomatoes, garlic, onion, radish, and more. I haven’t seen rain since I left the United States. The curling leaves on the lemon trees in my backyard beg for it, and I could use a cleansing rinse myself. I studied sustainable agriculture in college, but this type of irrigation is by necessity not trying to spare resources for later. The beauty of theories in practice successfully as they’ve been working for years and years carries my mind to Berea and back quickly to avoid a motorcycle in my path.

Aguacatan’s rivers allowed me to pretend I was at Norris Dam, and it’s mountains brought back visions of Colorado in the summer time. I’m not missing the US, though. Just the people I love there. Maybe it’s the weekend jaunts, coffee dates, or community, but I’m feeling accustomed to my new life right about now.

(1 month & 1 week)

Market

Bees crawl in and out of clear plastic wrapping stealing bits of sugar from tough pastries. I consider purchasing them anyway due to their donut-like resemblance, but I move on remembering the disappointment I found in my last visit. I purchase potatoes and carrots at the door to the stalls before stepping over a small cage of brightly colored chicks and pushing through a crowd of people selling everything from underwear to plastic bags to ask about the blackberries that are calling my name across the street.

“5 a pound,” says the woman as she sees me eying their juicy flesh. A truck honks and I end up almost sitting in the blackberries. Other people are pressed up against walls to allow the truck to pass through the crowded street. After it passes, I nod and pay the lady for the blackberries, because I’m already a bit winded from arguing about broccoli and garlic, and I need to try to find the ladies selling bread before they leave. I didn’t find them though, and I settle for buying tortillas on the way home knowing I’ll be back tomorrow anyway.