A Month Gone

I left my Tennessee home just over a month ago. My late morning drive to Knoxville to work as a cook turned into a early morning walk to school to spend a long day teaching English. My nights out with friends turned into studying, reading, writing, and planning. My idea of a good time changed from drinking and playing card games to sharing coffee or a meal with someone new.

A new friend invited me to her home last weekend to share a meal. During the hours I spent there, she shared with me a delicious meal, freshly roasted coffee, and the story of how she transitioned from Ethiopia to the US to Guatemala. She sent me home with gifts and a very warm heart, but our discussion left me with a sense of purpose.

Beyou said that in our teenage years we are allowed to be a bit reckless and on an undetermined path meandering about, but by 20 years old or so, we should be looking to focus and setting objectives for our lives. She added that my time here in Guatemala is the perfect opportunity to focus on this.

Earlier this week, my boss and friend here at Ixtatan Foundation gave me a set of objectives for the semester. One of them was to improve my Spanish. Although I learn a little bit more everyday, my Spanish is still far from proficient, and tackling this language in ten months with busy days seems like an overwhelming task at the moment.

So, now after having spent the same amount of time here in Huehuetenango as I did during my first visit in 2015, I am considering spending next year here as well. I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am a foreigner, which is humbling. Teaching, although tiring, is incredibly fulfilling. I constantly feel slightly uncomfortable. Some call it masochism, I call it push for growth. I have grown and changed so much this month that even after being robbed (and the constant fear of it happening again), I’m thankful to be here, and I hope that my learning and gratitude multiply 9 fold in the coming months.

For now, I have made no concrete decisions. I walk around town everyday with as confident a face as an unsure gringa can have and a tiny knife in my pocket. In the evening, after returning home, I do what work I can before going to bed while I listen to the students upstairs speaking Chuj, crickets chirping outside, and a band practicing across the street. Life is busy here, and I am content.

 

 

 

San Mateo Ixtatán Fights for Water

What a tiny town in the mountains of Guatemala has in common with Standing Rock, North Dakota

San Mateo Ixtatan, Huehuetenago, Guatemala, is situated in a cloud forest of the Chuchumantes Mountains just south of the Mexican border. The small town is home to about 30,000 indigenous Chuj people. For decades this area has had an abundance of water, an attribute not shared with neighboring cities in their municipality.

Right now, they are protesting against a Spanish owned hydroelectric plant being built against their will. The plant has been under construction for several years even though citizens unanimously voted against it.

How is the plant moving forward?

The Spanish owned company went to Guatemala City, the country’s capitol to receive permits and went to work. Legally, however, the capitol city didn’t have the right to grant permission. The mayor of San Mateo at the beginning of construction opposed the plant. However, when his term limit was up, the hydroelectric plant funded the campaign of another man, with a similar history with women as our current president in the US. He came to power and has allowed the construction to continue.

San Mateo does have a shortage of electricity, and when citizens have appealed to the government, the government has reminded them of this and told them they have no other options, hydroelectric plant or no electricity at all.

What’s the big deal?

The construction reroutes two rivers affecting farmers and water supply to the town, and citizens have taken every legal route possible to fight it’s construction. They organized meetings, appealed to the capitol, and tried to discuss the situation with their new mayor to no avail.

What is happening now?

In neighboring cities, where similar hydroelectric plants began construction, people destroyed the equipment and halted construction after they ran out of options. This gave the plant in San Mateo reason to place armed police outside of their own site. When people of San Mateo went to the site of the plant in protest, the police opened fire killing one protestor.

This happened last week, and there has been no word of new developments since that time.

One week down

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I’ve been in Huehuetenango for a little over a week. I arrived here after two short flights, a taxi ride through busy Guatemala City, and a long bus ride through switch back turns into the mountains. Since I arrived, I’ve just been relaxing, eating more friend plantains and street food than anyone ever should, attending a couple workshops, and hesitantly approaching teaching materials.

I just finished my first lesson plan, and sent it on to be approved. I start teaching classes in two days, and that will be an entirely new adventure that I am very nervous about. As always, it will work out. Here’s to hoping the students aren’t too mean to me.

There and Gone Again

I returned to the US from my last bit of international travel about a month ago. This past month has been filled with so much love, joy, and… well traveling. There is always an initial rush of excitement when I get to see friends and family after being away for a little while. I enjoy hearing about what they’ve been up to and sharing a couple stories. Then there’s the prolonged loved that I feel for those folks and the places we enjoy in each other’s company.

One of those places is Lexington, KY. I’m always drawn there and never want to leave. Memories of kitchen counter sitting, late night doll house building, eating Thai food in a packed Irish bar, trips to Al’s, Arcadium, and The Breadbox keep me going when I’m feeling lonely rambling around.

I couldn’t visit Lexington without going to Berea. Most of my friends graduated this past semester, but there’s still a few good ones around and plenty of beauty to make it a place worth stopping. We sat around singing and playing cards more than a couple times this past month, any group that will put up with my singing voice is definitely worth keeping around. I was even able to head up to the 144 home of the Parsons family before leaving for a quick jaunt down to Florida with my momma and sister.

Now, I’m sitting in a hotel room lovingly provided by a friend from high school feeling thankful for the kindness of others and the weight of the upcoming journey.

Tomorrow, I head to Huehuetenango, Guatemala. I was there for about a month during the summer of 2015, but this time, I’m returning for 10 months of English teaching in an elementary school and a university, and to be a house mother at the Ixtatan Foundation house. My Spanish skills are pretty seriously lacking at the moment. I’m expecting the next few months to be filled with a lot of learning (quickly, I hope), sharing, a bit of struggle, and TONS of tamales and chuchitos.

I needed this time at home, and it was a wonderful reminder of the love I have for so many beautiful people and the love they have for me. Finding true friends is rare, but there are gems of humans that I’m glad let me hang around them. I’m even more lucky to have the family I do. I stopped by 12 Oaks for a little while and got to spend some much needed time with the Mountain Man. Tearful goodbyes are always the hardest part of embarking on a new adventure, but that always means there’s love to carry with me.

Barcelona on the Cheap

Barcelona is the perfect city for visiting on a tiny budget and having a wonderful time.

What to see: PARKS! ALL THE PARKS! Make sure to see as much Gaudi architecture as possible as well, not that it’s hard. There are beautiful parks all over the city. My favorite was the labyrinth park that was a metro stop away from my hostel. I don’t remember the specific name, but it was 2 euros to get in to what seemed to be a secret garden just behind a stadium filled with rubble. It’s the kind of place you feel like you shouldn’t be, which adds to the magic. I sat there and sketched in the rain for a bit.

How to get around: Depending on your length of stay there are a few options. I was in Barcelona for four days, and I purchased the “T-10” ticket at my first metro station. This is 10 euros for 10 metro trips. The normal rate is 2 euro a trip. So, there are definitely savings there.

I also did a lot of walking. Speaking a bit of Spanish is helpful, if you are opting to walk long distances across the city with only a map as it can be easy to get lost down winding roads.

Where to stay: There are loads of affordable accommodation throughout Barcelona, and even if you stay a bit away from the main attractions, the metro is widespread and can get you very close to all of the main attractions.

I stayed at Feetup Garden House Hostel, and it was definitely in my top five hostel experiences. There was a great community vibe there and a grocery store and the metro just around the corner.

If I were to do it again, though. I would have tried to find an equally small hostel (the best for meeting people and getting an authentic experience) in Gracia. It’s an up and coming part of town and has a decent art scene. I walked through and ran into a three block long flea market with artists, hipsters (a lot), and vintage lovers. I picked up a gift for my brother for cheap.

Moseying Around Morocco & Dublin

Morocco was so full of weird and wonderful. I was afraid before I went, because so many people told me about how dangerous it would be for a solo white female traveler to be in a Muslim country. To be honest, I was harassed there, but I was also shown kindness beyond mere hospitality. Men made kissy noises at me, tried to get my attention by hollering at me, looked me up and down, one tried to grab me, and my friend Callie has been followed home on multiple occasions. This experience isn’t unique to Morocco, though. Men in Italy, Greece, and the US have treated me in a similar way. I do think that men are more forgiven for those disgusting actions here in Morocco than other countries I’ve visited. Those terrible humans should not keep anyone from visiting this beautiful country, though, because Morocco has much to offer visitors.

Rabat felt like home quickly as the smells, streets, and winding passageways quickly reminded me of Guatemala. I loved getting to know the different paths through the maze of the medina by memorizing land marks like a mosque door way here, a mosaic there, the place where that one creepy dude is always standing, or a sequence of different colored walls. Callie’s host momma definitely made me feel at home as well. Jouharra is a beautiful women that started learning English by watching Oprah, which is amazing to me. The rest she’s learned from students she’s hosted over the years and from her job. Jouharra made us dinner every night we were in Rabat and welcomed me into her home one night. Two finches dubbed King and Queen also have free reign over Jouharra’s house. They fly in and out of the window she leaves cracked for them and have a couple of nests in the corners of the beautifully tiled walls.

We all went to Chefchaouen for a couple days in the middle of my Morocco trip, and the mountainous landscape was refreshing. We ate a wonderful diner at this restaurant Callie found us down in a corner of the medina and had a little adventure after a short food coma. I talked with a weaver in Spanish that day as well, feeling relieved to have been able to understand much of what he said.

The return to Rabat and remainder of my time in Morocco was restful, and I was thankful for the relaxed pace in the day. Upon my return, I received  conformation that I would begin teaching in Guatemala in January 2017, and I’m excited to be spending ten months there. Knowing there is another adventure planned is always exciting.

I’m in Dublin now, and I already miss hearing the calls to prayer, warmth, and rawness of Morocco. I pulled myself from my hostel bed cocoon to make the short walk to Trinity College and see the book of Kells, and it was definitely worth the 10 euro entry fee to walk into that library, smell nothing but old books, and imagine climbing the narrow ladders behind the roped off isles to thumb through the volumes that filled the tall shelves.

Tomorrow, I wake up way to early to head to Barcelona. I’m hoping my time there is filling with sipping wine, eating tapas, and ogling at architecture. My travels come to pause very soon, and I’m both anxious and appreciative of the month off I’ll be receiving at home.

Change of Plans & Morocco

 

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From the terrace of our hotel

 

Morocco is so beautifully chaotic, and I’ve been shown more kindness than I could ever expect since I’ve been here. When I left the airport, I crossed the street to get a taxi but ran into a bus driver that knew exactly where I needed to go. While on the bus watching horse drawn carriages, bicycles, and scooters weave in and out of traffic, I talked to a German man on Holiday that hadn’t reserved accommodation. He said he’d go with me to mine, if that was okay, and I was thankful for the company through the street and maze of a Medina in Marrakech.

The hostel was small and had a lemon tree growing in the middle, but the owner was kind and the complementary breakfast cooked by his wife was nicer than any I’ve received in the US. I left after breakfast to get the bus to the train station, but ran into a Canadian guy and got a taxi with him to the train station instead. Now, I’m in Rabat hanging out with my friend Callie in a cozy hotel room and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve encountered in quite some time. Her host mom welcomed me graciously and made us a wonderful dinner last nigh. Callie’s mom and her mom’s partner are also here, and it’s nice to have some company to go exploring with.

We visited a massive cemetery, the beach, and some great shops today, and I had to restrain myself from blowing  my budget on carefully crafted lanterns, ceramics, and customs shoes (I may go back for the shoes though). The fabrics and rugs here are so impressive and reasonably priced. Someday, I’ll return with an empty pack.

After I return from Morocco on November 24th, I’ll hang out in Dublin for a couple days before heading to Barcelona where I’ll spend 3 days ogling at beautiful things, I’m sure. Then, I’m headed to Reykjavik, Iceland, for three days where I’m hoping I’ll see the northern lights and a blue lagoon, but, by then, I’m going to be so broke I might just look around the city for a few days. After Iceland, I fly back to Dublin then catch another flight back to Chicago.

I don’t have much money. So, I’m going to buy groceries and cook as much as possible instead of buying food out, and I’m hoping to do some couch surfing instead of paying for hostels, but we shall see what I’m able to find! If you’re reading this and know of a place I could stay in Reykjavik, that would help me a great deal.

Irish Cobs

I begged for a horse from the time I could talk until I realized it was probably never going to happen. To be fair, my mom did what she could putting me in horse camps and I traded work for being able to ride one summer, but living here at Irish Cobs between Ballinasloe and Athlone is the most regular and frequent time I’ve spent working with horses. I’ve been here one week as of today.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Horses are basically shit factories. I mean, I know they’re big animals, but my new Spanish friend, and fellow WWOOFer, Elena and I spend most of the morning scooping poop from the stables. After finishing, I have to give them all more hay knowing I’m just going to have to scoop their shit again in the morning.
  2. I somehow really enjoy the horse shit smell now. I don’t know what has happened to me, but the smell is sweet now. I guess it’s good, though, because everything I own now smells like it.
  3. Give new places three days before making your mind up. I honestly didn’t feel very comfortable here at first. The main house is so much nicer than any other place I’ve lived, and Elina and I have a whole trailer to ourselves. It’s just so different than anything I’ve experienced, but now, I really like it here, and am starting to enjoy the giant shit factories they call horses.
  4. I don’t want to work with horses. The family and other workers here are wonderful, but I found working in a horticulture setting and with cattle to be much more rewarding. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this work for the next week that I have left, but I won’t pursue this professionally.
  5. If you don’t do something for six years, you’re probably going to suck at it when you try again. Go figure, right? I used to be a pretty good rider. I’d go really fast on these big show horses and have a blast. Well, today, I fell off a pony twice, and it sucked a lot. Luckily, it bruised my pride more than my ass.

This time next week, I’ll be in Morocco visiting my lovely friend Callie. Hopefully, by then my legs won’t feel like noodles.

In other news, I’m doing a fundraiser for an organization I care deeply about called Ixtatan Foundation. If you would like to donate or share the fundraiser with your friends, you can do that here, and I’d greatly appreciate it!

Cavan to Galway

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10/31/16

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my friend’s flat in Galway hearing sounds of the city as cars drove past four stories below, and some one was banging on what sounded like a massive steel wall. Seagulls were making their calls as they flew between the city and the bay, and my stomach was churning from the Guinness I consumed the night before.

After arriving in Galway two days ago, I found Holden tucked in the corner of a Starbucks. We caught up while walking to his flat where I dropped my things and we went to dinner. After dinner, we went to a new hip gastro pub and drank bourbon and gingers as we both longed for our Kentucky home. The next spot was kind of 80s retro. Then, we went ono the Crane where we listened to traditional music and drank Guinness until it was time to go home. I couldn’t have asked for a better night out on the town.

After showering and attempting to soothe my stomach with a scone and a coffee, Holden and I spent a very Irish day biking around Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands. It was breath taking, and the most beautiful sights couldn’t possibly be captured in a photograph.

This morning, people are still partying and singing in the street at 7am. This kind of morning seems very different from the ones experienced in Cavan, quiet except for the sounds of birds chirping and mice scampering across the floor. Before I left Cavan, I got to see a calf born with the help of a vet, and my hosts sent me warmly with veg from the garden and fruit bread that I got to share with new friends and old in Galway. Tomorrow, I head for a farm near Ballinasloe with horses, and I’m ready for the new adventure. 14875258_1118254864925450_1716192220_n

 

 

County Cavan, Ireland

While taking a bike ride earlier this week, I looked to my right to see green hedge lined rolling hills all the way to the horizon spotted with cows and cottages, and I looked up to see streaks of sunlight peaking out of the grey sky. This was the moment it finally sunk in that I was in Ireland and would be for the next little while.

So far, I am loving Ireland. It looks a bit like home with less mountains and more magic. They say something is “good crack” if it’s fun, and have tea time at 10 which also involves plenty of bread, scones, or fruit cake, and butter, my one true love.

dscn0638The past week has been filled with learning, new friends, good meals, and plenty of  time spent outside. My hosts, Ann and Phillip, are kind and their home is warm and cozy. They have a very small plot of land next to their house with three hoop houses, some apple trees, and a small green house. They also have several plots of land around the area where they keep black angus cattle, a rare breed of Irish Moiled cattle, chickens, and turkeys.

Phillip makes a fertilizer tea from comfrey, seaweed, and tomato leaves and places a comfrey leaf under his cabbage plants. He says another WWOOFer told him another farmer said it can provide a plant with all of its nutritional needs. I haven’t done research on this but plan on looking it up.

Ann and I have made sourdough bread together that turned out beautifully, and she’s definitely contributed to my baking desires once I return as she has made two apple pies, a half dozen loaves of bread, several fruit breads, and the most wonderful scones I’ve encountered since I’ve been here. We had pizza today all home grown and home made in the pizza oven right outside the house.

img_5167My first day in Ireland was a long one. It started in Chicago and didn’t end for about 26 hours or so. After my bus arrived late, one of my patient hosts picked me up in Cavan town, drove me through Ballinagh (the small village near here), and told me all about her family of 7 kids, the farm, and herself during our ride to Corduff. They fed me breakfast and tea, ushered me to my lovely room shared with another WWOOFer from Australia, and offered me time dscn0635to sleep. I declined and spent the day picking beets, carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, and playing apple catcher as one of my hosts and the Aussie climbed apple trees tossing the fruit to me on the ground. I went to bed right after dinner and slept for the next 13 hours.

On the second day I woke wonderfully rested, ate breakfast, and packed the car with “veg” for the market. Then we checked the two pregnant heifers that should’ve had their calves by now. I’m still waiting and hoping I can see them give birth before I leave for Galway Thursday evening.

The third day was market day, and I went to a very small market with Ann. She was one of five vendors in Cavan. I took a walk around the small town then got a ride back to the house where I lazed about reading writing, and drawing until Monday.

Today is my fifth day in Ireland, and I spent most of it cutting and stacking wood. I really enjoyed it, and my little robin friend that followed me around yesterday continued to today but refused my potato offerings. I listened to Gravy, the Southern Food Alliance’s podcast while I worked, which seemed fitting. I’m hoping to find some guidance with my next steps in life over the span of this trip , and listening to this podcast has me even more excited to pursue a career as a chef when I return to the states.

I have two more days left here at Corduf, then I’m off to Galway to visit my friend Holden and hopefully have my first beer of this trip. I’ve only spent € 17 so far!

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