Friday, December 21, 2007

Brimnes and Bill Holm

Bill Holm makes me want to move to Iceland. Really.

On my first of three errands to West Photo yesterday, (Three, because the "printing technichian" thought I wouldn't know the difference if they cropped the foreground, sideground, background - basically anything other than the subject in my photo - in order to cram the frame uncomfortably into an 8x10 that makes me look terribly inept as a photographer. All I wanted was an 8x12 - but I had to bring them back of course. Thank God its only a five minute drive.) I was listening to MPR - and the entire morning was a discourse about fetal alcohol systematic disorders. Long story short - there hasn't been a minimal safe tolerance of alcohol established for pregnancy. Bottom line: don't drink while you're pregnant. But one snipt did jingle my ear - Bill Holm was to be on at noon.

My solace in his writing came from his collection of essays, Coming Home Crazy. It was recommended to me after I went crazy, too, during a little period of readjustment back in June. The book is a series about a year long endeavor teaching English in China, and it was a comfort to know I wasn't an anomaly and that Guatemalan banks aren't the only places that change their rules from day to day. Perhaps I love him a little.

I love being read to, and I've always wondered why we quit reading to one another after we gain the skill on our own. Why is reading silently such a big deal in elementary school? Why did I get pissed when the kid next to me wasn't really reading silently, but muttering the words under his breath?

But I do remember the seventh grade. Mrs. Johnson was my English teacher and she opened every class with a few pages or a chapter from The Outsiders. It was one of the best times - and one of the only times in English class in junior high that I remember. The buildling was old - most Catholic schools are - and we sat at hexagonal tables in the room, four or so to a table. Mrs. Johnson, a middle-aged woman with gray-blonde hair, sat in her directors chair when she read - mostly because she was scarcely five feet and it was more comfortable than the slate backed, pastel seats of the room. Her voice matched her stature, and I'd sit and gaze up at the cork board borders of the room, considering Ponyboy and his gang. And she frustratingly stopped at the most inopportune moments. But that was, of course, intnetional on her part.

So I opend my ibook and tuned in and stopped answering my phone. For an entire hour. And a 65 year old author with a raspy, velvet voice read poetry about small town patriotism and Walt Whitman's Brooklyn Ferry. And he told me about Iceland. Which, as it happens is the subject of his latest work, Windows of Brimnes. He spoke of its intricate and beatiful language and its cake-frosting houses by the sea. "Almost everything in the country is within spitting distance of it," he said.

He spoke of not having an address - but living in a place where people can find you if they ask. Where windows are open to the evening tide and houses hold old Steinways and conversation. His home sits quietly in a crag and he keeps computers away from it.

And he read of his mother, and Icelandic woman from America who spoke the language well. He putters through sentences.

But in English, he made me wish for travel again.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Weather Report.

There's nothing like a romp in the leaves to make you feel like you're six again. While shooting engagment photographs for Mallory and Traivis last week, we came upon a jackpot of oak leaves. This was the kind of pile you dream about when you're a kid - one you could take a running leap into, and forget about the ground that was beneath it all. It produced a most satisfying crunch. Playing professional with my camera, I didn't have enough time to utilize this pile of bliss entirely, and so that evening I talked with my friend Kelli and convinced her that she needed experience it with me. It's a good thing I was an Original Orator for high school speech. My skills were necessary in persuasion, because the idea was to get up at 7:30 on a freezing Tuesday morning, after her three hours of sleep and before her 8:15 midterm.

She must trust me or something, becuase she came. Bundled in jackets next to Edy Hall on campus, we made our way to the pile - just in time to see the man scheduled to clean it up head into a building to warm himself. He didn't return for another twenty minutes, which was ample time to have our fun. People passed by and cranned their necks, and some laughed but it scarcely mattered.

I've also realized that I don't remember what cold weather is like. You see, I skipped winter last year and spent it in Central America. But when my reading was interrupted by flurries of snow out of the picture window in my apartment this morning, I sort of felt like I wasn't cut out to be a Minnestoan anymore. Don't get me wrong, leave piles and oranging trees are spectacular, but this gray, drab stuff is a little scary. And I only know it is going to bluster harder and the temperatures are going to drop into the subzero category. It wouldn't be winter otherwise.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Al's at Eight

With my failure to note my neighborhood's famed breakfast niche's opening hour, I stopped for a cup of joe before entering the line at Al's this morning. As I was alone, I pretended to read Conrad's Heart of Darkness as I eavesdropped, sandwhiched between conversations. The robust man to my right was speaking rather loudly into his cell phone. Clad in a quilted flannel jacket and large leather boots, his beige plastic rimmed glasses reminded me of Milton and his stapler. To my left, a couple from Santa Barbara, California were freezing in the 55 degree morning. It was quite the juxtaposition.

"There's some kind of goulash already prepared," the Milton Man reported to the unknown on the other line. "No, GOULASH," he more loudly retorted. "Yeah, the neighbor lady made it and is bringing it over this afternoon for the party." "Yeah, it was real nice of her to prepare the goulash."

"I hear there are only 14 stools in the entire place," her husband said as he counted the ten heads ahead in line. "I think we're just squeezing in."

"Some people just want to talk and talk," Milton Man yammered to his friend. He tucked the gray plastic into his breast pocket. As he buttoned it, the anntena poked out of the corner.

"That man is wearing flip flops!" the woman said. Her long aburn hair flitted in the breeze and her shoulders shurgged toward her ears beneath her black wool coat. It was 8:40 or so, and we had another twenty minutes before the original Al opened the diner.

At this point I looked up from my monotonous text and felt the need to comment on the mild October morning. "This is nothing," I said, as they laughed in reply. Our conversation settled on traveling to Minneapolis and local coffee chains both here and in their original Seattle. California couple inquired and desired one more sight before their flight home and I recommended the bridges neare St. Anthony Main, or a soft sunny walk around Calhoun.

As Al, a man in 50s black rimmed glasses and a black windbreaker from the 80s, opened the door and the fourteen fire engine stools were filled, coffee cups were turned up toward full pots of steaming liquid. I was the only of the fourteen who chose orange juice. My breakfast mates and I quickly settled and ordered and bodies filled into the narrow spaces behind the stools. California couple ordered an abundance of food, and Milton Man had the eggs and peppers titled "huevos". I set down with Bill Holm's vignettes of his year in China and two pumpkin pancakes.

Successfully meaningless conversation settled across the yellowing counter, and Milton Man suggested the addition of black beans to the Menu.

"I've been coming here since 1970," he told me, "and the menu hasn't changed, let alone added beans."

It perplexed me that this man from Minnesota seemed to understand my sentiment for legumes. Since my return from Guatemala, I've always felt breakfasts without beans seemed sorely lacking.

"If I were to bring black beans, would you cook them for me?" I wondered aloud to the waitress. It seemed every time I entered the breakfast spot (which is perhaps once a month) she happened to be the individual adding my tab.

"... Probably." She laughed.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Photos and Flashbacks.

Greetings! I know it's been a few weeks. Forgive me, I've been transitioning.. though unfortunately I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean anymore. I'm posting a few links to photo albums I've put up on facebook. Please let me know if there is any trouble accessing them.

--- And back to your regularily scheduled blog ----

I swear the toilet paper thing still gets me. Each time I change location, whether restaurant, apartment or my since graduated high school, I find myself looking for a trash can with which to despose of my used toilet paper.
... and then I catch myself and remember I'm not in Guate anymore. It's my daily reminder, that small thorn that digs into my skin.

Or there's the latin individual that I cross paths with in grocery stores, shoe stores, and on the sidewalks of Minneapolis. As I nearly crash into them turning my body around a corner, my first reaction to their dark feature is to say "perdon," or "permisso" (excuse me), but I catch myself again and realize I have no idea whether spanish is a language that they know nor whether they are actually of recent latin decent. Thus I avoid offense and say nothing, regardless of the chance that I might have offered warmth in a gesture.

I feel trivial in explaining myself to my peers, especially when questions like, "How much fun did you have your your... trip?" "What was the best part?" or "What is the biggest difference between Guatemala and the United States?" are my icebreakers to conversation. But I can't blame them for not having a context with which to relate.

I'm going back to it all: work, school etc., and sometimes it feels okay. But then there are moments where I feel as if I'll never be able to connect and function between my two worlds as they are so far estranged and so far have estranged me as a kind of no-mad to the human race. Everything is usually fuzzy, and lately I don't realloy know what I'm doing other than turning circles. And of course these circles will continue because as of yet, I haven't come up with what it is I have to do to feel normal again. Though, normal in the context of my life in the United States before these last five months is something of which I have no interest. Rather, I'm searching for a normal I'd found these last months among the real and devestating and joyful.

I can't begin to explain or say how much I miss the country of Guatemala. It frequently floods back to me and I can't often help but feel a little lost here. I can listen to Maná and I'm suddenly back in the recovery room in Uspantan with Juan or on the road up from Antigua with Alexa's mom in her blue Odessy minivan. Or I'm on the roof in Tejutla, my feet a dangle as my vendor friends discover me and from below and wave their love and greeting.

I recieved photos from a climb up Pacaya (an active Volcano in Guate) and it only took seconds to feel soaking wet and freezing all over again as we climbed it in the pouring rain. I can feel the knives my resulting cold laced into my throat. But we flew down that mountain's side, regardless of the mere plastic my camera was housed in and the slippery terrain. I kept trust in my own feet to keep me from the grounded rock and taunting mud. Yelling, "Caballo!" I screamed my falling fears into the misty distance before me and see my comrades ahead. They have already danced upon the mud slickened streams and I smile. Yet my description is faulty for its failure to convey a reality of pelting of rain on my face and its ability to keep my hair sticking to my neck and eyes.

Though my dampness followed me back to the town of Antigua and musty smells filled the old school bus's windows and blanketed air, I rested. And though I'd melted and ruined my shoes and knives laced my throat for weeks thereafter, I'd seen lava. And I will never live this as a repeated refrain.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Dazed Turning Left.

So my time at home has had its ups and downs. Frequently I am overwhelmed by the reality of our lives here and by the drastic change in terrain I am experiencing. Often I find myself wishing I could jump in my car and instead of driving along our luscious highway system, drive up the road from Guatemala City to Antigua and hide away in my favorite cafe instead of booting to Cariobou because its the only place in my hometown that's open past nine o'clock in the evening.

I spent the last 24 hours in Minneapolis, attempting to organize my life. It's working, but slowly. I've discovered that I still have a job at Barnes and Noble in the downtown area, and am interviewing tomorrow for a second job. I'm still homeless - but only for the summer. I was able to see my apartment for the fall and begin to organize myself and my decorating. I have options for a place to live this summer as well.. it's only a matter of choice at this point. But in reporting all of this to you, I'm realizing just how easily I've become to get caught up in our culture again. It's how I grew up, but in my return there are distinct actions I want to take differently. What a wonder this "culture shock" can be.

Yet, I'm sitting here in Caribou with my green tea and honey and my 14" ibookG4 and my journal and calander and all my ... stuff. And that in itself makes me remarkably and additionally sickeningly American. It matters not my nostalgia for the Spanish language and for fresh corn tortillas and black beans and eggs. My omellettes are back to egg beaters instead of real eggs, and my pan is greased with pam instead of real butter. While it feels wonderful to eat real vegetarian food again... it sometimes sickens me how many options we are allowed to have. Life would yeild significantly greater simplicity if we weren't to make so many choices daily. I don't want just a latte.. I'd like a triple, grande, sugar-free vanilla, soy latte. That was my phrase. And now I've returned and its not even good. Just give me black coffee please.

I believe one of the greatest moments that exemplified my new ignorance and awe at my own culture was driving today. However, I forewarn you that explaining this seems to make no impact or sense to anyone I've encountered thus far. I was getting off the freeway, waiting to make a left hand turn into the outlet mall today at around two. The turn light turned green and the silver Honda Accord ahead of me proceeded to wait another twenty seconds or so. Not wanting to miss the light, I politely tapped my horn for her attention. Apparently that's not an okay thing to do here. Following her through the intersection, she turned right into the next driveway, but slowed her car enough to let me pass her before making her turn. Looking to my right, she flicked her middle finger into the air and while I couldn't hear her, her mouth proceeded to make the words "fuck" and "you."

Taken aback by her intense anger, I was confused and not sure how to react. Though an angered response never stirred in me, I was left perplexed by this individual's ability to curse a complete stranger.

Forgive me, though, I should have prefaced this with the use of the horn in Guatemala. It's a liberal kind of idea, and never intended to insult. It offers an alert if someone is pulling up a little too close or not particularily paying great attention to the flow of traffic. A little toot into the air is accurate and normal and often just says hello. And a longer blast implies "Hello!" "Pay attention!" But never Fuck you. Ever.

Perhaps I was wrong in my transitionary state to have used my horn, but was it necessary for this complete stranger to go the extent to which she did to let me know I had pissed her off? Maybe she was having a bad day, but I couldn't break the urge to leave a note on her car, apologizing or explaining that I was in culture shock and had no intent of stirring anger or rudeness and so on and so forth. Additionally I had wanted to talk to her. But she had completely disappeared after I emerged from the gap a half an hour later.

In the long run of this story, my feelings have nothing to do with this peer of mine and her car. I feel more apalled by the ignorance this event has implied.

Perhaps I'm making blank assumptions, and yes I know the rhyme. However, if and individual is driving a shiny Honda, chances are you're doing alright. We were both headed for the outlet mall. Regardless of whether you are running an errand or out for an afternoon, you're still on a joy ride (myself included). And whether assumed or not, this deduction can generally be accepted because the majority of the United States is comprised hard working, educated, middle classed individuals who can afford to buy clothing at the gap. We're educated. In fact, we're required to be so by our government. We should kiss our constitution for that. We have to go to school as small children and never have the chance to work for our family's keep as a young person. It's forbidden by law to put young rigor to physical labor. We gripe about road construction, but we are not in a place where our roads are closed without reason for hours at a time. We are able to travel 70 miles and back in a couple of hours instead of a day. I am amazed, still, at the efficiency of our country. We are not in a place where a trip to the bank can easily last two hours, and often an individual does not accomplish all they need to in a visit. Usually their answers are given to them without logical reasons. I remain marveling at all the things a person can flush down a toilet here. We throw our paper and it just goes away, it dissaparates. No one sees the waste it actually produces each time you use the bathroom.

So try to worry less, because there are so many pieces of life that we will never be able to call hard in the scheme of the world. Breathe a little more and take more time. We're all rushing, rushing to get ahead, to finish school that semester early. But of what are we getting ahead? We're all stressed and disastisfied, but look around. Please.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

martes. el 24 de Abril. 20:26

I see the realities of this country's poverty daily. Diario, one of the newspapers is sure to report the latest gang killing in zones one or three of the capital. Report it does with as varied vocabulary for gunshot, massacre, murder, victim, dead, and gunman as one can find within the Spanish language. It is a practiced habit among reporters here.

Rising early in the morning of any city in the country, any rural road, an individual encounters bundles of people - sleeping or passed out under old archways or waiting along a desolate path for a bus... or someone from whom to hitch a ride.

Women are whistled at and if one turns the right corner, it is easy to find the local whorehouse. In Cimaltenango, I have passed it may times as it lies along the main highway: CA-1. Such a highway that runs from the United States, through Mexico and thus further south. Among gallo signs are women's backsides in flourescent thongs. Their bodies are pinned to the cervezeria's side streeted doors and walls. Dusted and gaunt individuals stare from their plastic wicker chairs to the street, which often offers less entertainment than the strip club I pass on my way home every day. Gunshots lull children to sleep in my part of the city. But it seems a better situation than that of the capital city's Zone one - a place where entering will get you shot. Or, if you're lucky, only robbed.

Small villages along Atitlan's coast have been destroyed with the introduction of Marijuana and other sorts of coke and dope. Other places have been lucky to find streams of alcoholics... if you call permanently scaring your family and having other women lucky. Making your children work dirtily in the streets for money. Money used to supply your irresponsible and uncontrollable urge for the depressant that is the catalyst causing your rage to float to the surface. Meanwhile, your son's young, dolled face is growing up and he brings home less and less to you everyday. But he is working longer and harder, forgetting about school so as not to thicken his scars of anger and pain, of both the physical and the heart. A child should complain about homework and beg for an ice cream as he walks the cobblestone of Pana on a hot day.

Often a girl is lucky to be married early as she is out of the grasp of a father. Perhaps she will be given into a worse situation. But perhaps with a little grace, her husband helps her to escape the pain she's grown with.

It's a gamble, a toss up here. And while all are not so drastically troubled with abused situation, suffering is common to nearly all.

For it exists in other forms. It exists in hernias that result from years of wood's haul. Women and men trace paths walked along highways years of lives, by minute, hour or day. And the cycle continues as fathers teach sons. As they wear the same rubber boots, the work of the land is learned with a hoe in hand, made to fit such a small frame. Technologies of sprinklers irrigate families while women weave and spin and grind corn. While a stove is manned that requires a husband to bring literal tons of wod to its tiled sides, this carbon monoxide producting beast enduces burns to small hands. Yet tortillas and beans must be made so they might fuel the cycle with energy renewed. To let rest fall upon beds of lice and scabies, a coffee made with wormed water will comfort bodies that ache. Welcomed sleep will take heavy eyelids and greets souls of seven and seventy until stretches of dawn stream to fill the sky at five.

As I will remian forever an outsider, regardless of my linguistic capabilities and the length I might live among the places of this country, it is easy for an individual to desensitize themselves to such a reality. But I pray it doesn't ever become such a perspecitve. Two and a half weeks from now I return to that of the compfortable United States. Hell, even here I have my own room with a desk and fresh oranges and dried manogoes. I was called a mango the other day. In Guatemala, that's slang for beauty. I have Q100 to spend on this private room of mine. Q100 ($13) per night.

And this is without mention of any life I might lead in my own country.

Apparent most is my relationship with my friends here- those who are doing better than many. Friends who own cars, are putting family memebers through school, raising children, loving their grandaparents.

But really, they still struggle to get by every day. They cannot affort to have inconveniences and accidents. But regardless of what they might or may not be able to handle, their worlds still fall apaprt.

To see my friends: grown men with families and decent jobs sob and cry into each other's arms because there is nowhere else to turn, no money to borrow and broken hearted, their cries turn to God. This is an an aching my twenty years and college student brains do not have the the status to understand. I understand tears. I understand how to hug someone experiencing tears, but I have no capacity to comprehend money and what any individual feels when it runs out, or when someone you trust and love crashes and totals your car and does not have any money with which to pay you back. But nor can you pay for the damage as your son is grows, asking why you won't come home from weeks of work. Your wife is trying to finish school, and you're already working to pay off yet another car accident among the stresses and fear of losing this new and significantly more stable job.

I have no comprehension of cousins who refuse to help your grandmother stand and bring a bowl to her, while you're expected to bread win for the remainder of your family. Especially when they have scarce appreciation for the work you do and they care little for your presence among them. I have no power to understand why someone would wish they were dead so they wouldn't have to worry about money anymore. I have no comprehension for the weeks spent with HELPS teams being the only weeks you find happiness in your life.

Real tears from grown men, so desperate and with single chances within their lives. Single changes that when lost mean the loss of not only plans, but partial stability and hope for an upward stint. Yet never have I seen Alex nor Chori give up. Becuase they know they can't. Many nights, however, with our upcoming leave for the States and with the loss of companionship these months have built, have I seen sullen heads and tears without the prevail of a cheerer's laughter. It's not the kind of sadness that a best friend can turn to giggles with insults to an imbisul boyfriend or with the immature suggestion of a bodily function. It's a deeper kind of sorrow, a kind that whishes for better for their children, the kind of chance both of these men are trying to make in their lives.

This kind of suffering they have chosen to endure with hope.

There is an equal suffering it takes for a father to leave his country for another, where all is foreign and his language isn't spoken and a pig farm provides a tin roof and broken down home for comfort. This is the kind of suffering I will never have the capacity to grasp, nor never will have to endure.

This other suffering is the kind of suffering this man's son feels when he feels he's failed the opportunity his father suffered to give him. The pain he will feel to look into his eyes knowing he's lied and broken others, but experiencing the love his father has without regard for his faults.

I might continue this broken soliliquy, yet this exemplified cycle will require that I continue long on until morning with the determination and exemplified vigor these people have for their suffering. They suffer with the hope that a moment in their lives might come when they won't be worried and hurt and suffer to get by. Even if the relief begins for seconds and disappears, they suffer with this hope.

This kind of situation is unlike the strife of many because most others, especially in my country, have options. There are options for food, health, school. But when these are removed, spirits begin to break and cycles offer no option but to incite broken paths.

I could take pictures to bring to you and to show you, but they are only images. Images that may have been scalded onto my heart, but remain that of an image to you. Perhaps it will move you.. but how far? How far have I been moved?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Breathe. Just once for me.

With the end of this week came more than a great relief for me. It was likely the least pleasant upon my arrival in this country. But with that said, and the fact that I was PR photographer for the week, it is over, I have taken enough pictures of Ronald McDonald and I can move on.

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is the ability for one's life to be changed by the work an individual can do in this country. With the intent to come and do and be, often we end up changed beyond what we could ever give in a physical manner to the people I encounter.

Without divulging ridiculous detail of my woe, I will say that my entire day was changed by an eleven year old boy this week. Walking camera in hand to the clinic, I had a mind to rid myself of all the stickers and stuffed animals and pencils I have been carting around in my bags for these last four months. Gosh, has it really been that long?

Walking toward the clinic, I heard... "Good. Morn. Ing. How. Are. You?" and I see this kid giggling at me as I grin and respond. Sitting next to him and inquiring the other English he knows, we strike up a conversation (as he continues to laugh at the fact that I look weird and can speak spanish). Poco a Poco (little by little), our little circle grows to encompass nearly every kid in the area and their mothers. Using Spanish as a transitive, we began to swap language. My English for their Katchiquel- a Mayan language comprised of clicking and deep throated kinds of words, which is transitively nearly impossible to pronounce. Mind you English and Spanish have a similar makeup and tonal quality. Most Mayan languages do not even have a written alphabet and pass the language on generationally. Thus, there I was, the awkward blonde girl surrounded by natives from Solola laughing nearly so hard they are crying as, I nor the others can pronounce either language.

But it isn't so much the fact that I only remember two words in Katchiquel meaning donkey and cat. It's the sentiment and the guts (in Guate we say Huevos - eggs) that this eleven year old had to just say hi in my own language. There is little more to be said than that. The entirety of my day and ultimately my week was drastically changed by someone I will never see again.

It's about taking time and I believe that is the only secret. Take time to feel crappy and take time to laugh. Don't let life get so caught up that you can't even breathe. It is amazing how often we must forget and relearn such things in our lives. But ultimately when we rediscover the satisfaction and peace this pace injects into ourselves, I realize how these people live to be 90 years old and continue to work their land until they end in rest. They've got it figured out far more significantly than our society of things does. I've been robbed twice since I've been here. Things are replaceable, but the serenity of the air in the morning is gone every time the sun passes to its full rise.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Taxi Rides and Celine Dion.

Story to come soon. Transportation in Guatemala.

Lady in Red.

So after waking at four thirty this morning to photograph traditional easter parades in Antigua, avoiding and being trampled by crowds all day with my camera fastened to my hand, my body decided it wanted nothing to do with a nap. Blech. So instead of delightfully finding myself in the varied stages of sleep, I thus am fastened to the computer of my hostel very much in a daze.

I thought I might touch on something of a lighter subject than that which has been lately previous. Cat calls from Guatemalan boys. As a kind of disclaimer, I will say that getting whistled at on an hourly basis in the street is less than pleasant and I've learned to tune out the kind of clicking, shushing sound males make. However, sometimes these events prove to be particularily funny.

I'm not entirely sure where these boys think they're going to get using broken English to hit on us. Especially when it involves, "Hey Baby, or Pretty Lady, Barbie or Canchita (blondie).. etc. etc." I'm not sure how it would be deemed impressive to talk to someone, or how they might believe they are going to get anywhere with that kind of manner. Show me some intellect from less than a block away and a little eye contact and you MIGHT get aconversation out of me. Additionally, I'm sure you're more of a poet in your own language, whether it be Spanish, Quiche, Pokemchi etc. However, if you're between the ages of 12 and 17 as is frequent, kiss your hopes goodbye. But to note a particualrily humorous instance, Laurie and I were walking down the streets of Antigua three or four weeks ago, looking for a hostel to say in during Semana Santa (Holy Week). As we avoided eye contact from a pickup filled with teenaged boys, whistles here and there provoked a mere "...BYEEEE.." from one of its cargoed bodies. That was all the high pitched, toady voice had to offer. Something tells me he meant to say "hi," but we giggled and continued down the road.

Additionally, when we were in Panajachel last week, we were walking down to the water front, and a 13 or 14 year old tuk tuk driver (which is a small go-cart like taxi) leaned out his window and said, "Hi Barbie.. I like your underwear." Both on the verge of rage, Laurie and I decided it was better to burst into rampant laughter at the absurdity of the sentence. Not only were we sure that no one could see our underwear, we were also particularily sure that he had no idea what he had just said to us. Not to mention the fact he was probably 14.

Yesterday, while wearing my gap product red shirt walking down the road I was called Lady In Red. No allusion to the song of course. The word Red was written on my shirt as such: INSPI(RED).

Usually though, when they realize I too can speak their language, they toot a different horn. Aside from the suave, "free" usage, cat calling women is an actual problem in this country. What's startling is at such a young age men are taught the macho motiff and taught often by their fathers how to treat (or all too frequently mistreat) women. They are sometimes sent to "become men" as soon as they enter teenage years. What's socks the wind out of me even more, is that women are taught to be passive about this abuse. No one ever fights back, regardless of a situation of a drunken husband or endangered children. Often, the fear of not surviving is too great. And thus whistling and the maltreatment of women continues. It lies in the conditioning of children as young boys are not taught that this kind of manner is a disrespect to women and their own mothers in turn. I know that if my younger brother would think of treating any kind of female in that manner, he would be pummeled personally to the ground by his older sister. The kind of education toward opposite gendered relations is so drastically different here. It is not that nothing is taught to young boys and they don't know any better, but rather they are shown what to do and how to treat women. And because I am a woman living here in Guatemala, I too, continue to walk down the street and ignore the honks, hoots and hollers, knowing there is little I can do right now to change the cycle.

Friday, March 30, 2007


After reading my last few entries, my father suggested I give you an update on the woman who had trouble during our outreach last Friday. She was stable within the first 24 hours of the incident and upon her daughter's arrival several hours later is doing fine. She was transfered to the Guatemalan hospital in Tejutla and was still doing well upon our leave on Sunday morning.

Things like this, however, cause a person to realize the fragility of one's life. Aside from the Carpe Diem cliche, don't forget to tell those who give you energy and reason their vitality to you. Irreplaceable experience and skies, though often brevities, are integral to our moments.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

So it's already published..

There is little I can do, now that I've posted that poem...
But it's really terrible.

I guess you own the good and the bad, right?

Dust as catalyst.

So all of you know that I'm more of a non-fiction writer than I ever have been a poet. Actually, I'm admittedly a terrible poet and thus am not entirely sure why I even believe this post will be of any kind of merit. But I'll cease my blubbering and get on with the show. I just cared to be sure there was a proper disclaimer before you read any further.

It has no title, and is barely legible in my moleskine as I wrote it traveling through the mountains from Tejutla. Criticsm is welcome.

There are paths along the highways
that I've never noticed before

Others who have walked the stretch
I ride

Men, women carry worn wood
along the equally etched trail
barely able to stand
with their back's load

I wonder,
if there are churches everywhere
why God seems sometimes to lack Grace

It's hard when you're on the inside
- but then I feel the wind,
or whitness the
of the sun's show of color
behind the largest volcano I've ever seen

Those loved are at my side:
those who have been far away for months,

And those who will too soon be far

But put your worry aside
and live your life,

show love

For there exists a spirit in which
partaking guarantees that which is human

I'm surrounded by dust,
covered actually,
as all my belongings

A coating of brown
mud for my toes
onces the rain washes over my nakedness

Have you ever noticed
how the dust settles on everything
but the flowers?

... or the way shadows play on walls
in morning?

So I'll stay here in my happiness,
and let other things drift away

For now I'll see in me,
faces that,
will no longer be clear
as time envelops

and we, as elipses,
move along..

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Mayan Morning.

So after hearing complaints that I hadn't written in quite some time via email and a phone call from my mother, I've decided it was time once again. I apologize that I have made very little effort to write to all of you in the past few weeks. Adequete writing time simply evaded my life for a short while. I've just returned from a medical team in Tejutla, San Marcos. We had a great week and an indescribeable vew of Tajumulco (Ta-hu-mool-koo), the highest volcano in Central America. Waking up to breakfast outside with such a skyline makes a person truly believe they are among the luckiest in the world. It makes me wonder if the people who live there realize just how beautiful their land is. However, I imagine that perhaps, too, people are all alike. Just as in the States some know this kind of beauty and some just let it pass them by like scenery on the highway. These mountains were cold at night, and I understand at 45-50 degrees a night, all at home in Minnesota were surpassing me in warmth. Ironic, is it not?

Another added perk of the week was the addition of my dad to the mix. A long time veteran of HELPS, he made his thirteenth trip with me. Translating for him and two of his dental classmates for the week, we ran into very little trouble until a woman had a panic attack while outreaching on Friday. We've had time to catch up and catch coffee, catch dinner and shop a little in these last few days in Antigua. Yesterday, we took a trip to Lake Atitlan off of the coastal town of Panajachel (Pan-a-ha-chel). Brilliant blue waters and the surrounding of three other volcanoes kept us company in our boat for the day. What is interesting about the lake however, is at approximately the size of Lake Millacs in Minnesota, there are several small communities that have developed around its shores. Each village has their own dress and traditions, wholly different from their neighbors. Warm spots emerge in various places around the lake from the volcanic faults in the area and many bathe in it's clarity. It's magestic. I could take the entirety the afternoon to tell about these places, but if you google Lake Atitlan, you're likely to come up with great photos.

Dad and I have had fun, too, with out photo competition. It's fair game as we own exactly the same camera. So one evening this last week we climbed to the roof of the hospital to shoot the fire of the sunset. Perhaps I'm just biased, but though I won that night, he definitely out shot me yesterday at the lake. Where I had two or three frameable shots, his were fantasic. He caught a fisherman's wooden boat in the shadow of the Volcano yesterday morning that I just couldn't surpass.

Tomorrow, I leave with the other four staff members to spend a few days in Panajachel again. We have a few days off between now, Semana Santa (Holy Week), and the next medical team. It will be good to spend time together as drastically our time here becomes more limited, and we begin to realize the reality of home is merely a few weeks in the future. All of us have become overwhelmed with melancholy in the last week. Within the next two weeks we, the staff, will be four, then two weeks after, three.. and so on and so forth. We're beginning to realize that our life here is not forever and light is beginning to shed upon our lives in the States once more. It's not been a joyus dawning to know we will never be together in the same manner again.

I relize many of you cannot wait to hear my stories and see my pictures. But I realize that I can. I love you all, and do miss you, but there are certain pieces about life here, that are simply more rich than I've ever found in the United States. Home is not a place of volcanoes and cool mornings, sunny afternoons. I've come into myself here, and more into the realities of humanity than I could have ever found in the protected falsity of the "American Dream." This dream is one, to which all have a right, but few in the scheme of the world ever have the opportunity to experience.

I mentioned earlier that while outreaching Friday, a woman began to panic from the feeling of the anesthetic in her mouth. With severe periodontal disease, we were going to remove all of her teeth so she might have a denture made. She was 50 years old with a weathered face of 85. As a consequence of her panic, her heart condition (that she was not taking her medicine for) emerged and caused more than severe palpatations. Increaing difficulty in her breath and a racing pulse caused panic in us all. Twenty minutes away from the hospital, my Dad helped the woman to the truck and jumped in next to her. He left me and his assistant to take care of the instruments and tell the other 20 people waiting in line that the days was over.

Sensing my panic, and knowing the face that my dad held (which was the kind of face I've only seen when his parents had been rushed to the hospital), I handed toothbrushes out to the rest of the people around, feeling helpless as a mere translator. The small gym we were working in cleared... for a few minutes. At the sensation of a tap upon my shoulder, I found all the mothers who had evaded the line and headed for home. They'd returned to say thank you, and one by one, children and their parents hugged me and asked that God bless me, my father and the work we had done. These were people who had not been treated that morning. They told me they would wait for the next medical jornada (journey) and wait to see me there. Bending down to let small children hug my neck, I was given their gift of calm. They understood that what will be, will be.

This kindship toward those strange is something infrequently found.

Such a remarkably simple idea it is, to stop worrying. It is easy to forget just how little control we actually have over the course of our own lives. I was not put into a family of blessings by my choice, nor was I not born to a farm here in Guatemala by my power. I make series of decisions, but have very small influence in the scheme of their outcome.

I was told this week that the Mayan people's dwelling places was one room beacuase their lives took place outside. When the Spaniards came with their "civilized ideas" of property and God having a house within that property, the Mayan people thought the Spaniards were crazy. Just as incense sticks to the ceiling of God's house, prayer gets stuck among the rafters with the stale perfume. God, was instead outside, in the mountains. Space among sky and air was the mecca for their prayer. God is outside of a dwelling, of a holding place, of the comfort of normal. God is in that which is beyond us. As wood and limestone churches are created by that of man, how can we believe this thing called a church can contain all that he desires for our lives? Naive and silly, I feel this people of 4,000 years past fancies a more sensible idea than our younger, "educated" race could have begin to foster as of yet. I understand these Mayan people, and the face of God that dwells outside of a catechism. To leave and to surround oneself with what is uncontained and unfamiliar, is more of a God than I've ever found in the walls of even the most beautiful and ancient churches.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Apologies for My Brevity

So after procrastinating entirely for two weeks, I decided the only way for me to catch up with all of you was to merely open a new blog entry and write. However it's a thing that is significantly easier said than done. As I spend more time here and my life becomes normal, I find myself writing less and less and forget that all of you have no idea what I am doing. Thankfully, after four medical teams back to back, I have a week long break. I decided to spend it mostly on my own to make a short trip to a town spoken highly of. I've been in need of a break for a while and have a newfound respect la Jefa (the boss), Megan Albertson. She's been doing this for nearly three years now and keeps going with stamina I've seen in few people. I thought I had a high tolerance level for a rapid lifestyle, but I must admit I was tired after four trips. It is refreshing to be away from everything HELPS for a week and have time to just be and spend time in a new place.

I arrived in Xela (Shela) or Quetzaltenango (kate-saul-ten-an-go) on Sunday and was taken to la casa de Doña Hilda, a woman in her seventies who reminds me much of my Grandma Rosie. Her decor (sp?), mannerisms, even the aging radio in the kitchen are uncannily similar. She travels the ten or twelve blocks to church by foot in the mornings and uses a gas stove to make sure I always have too much food on my plate. Though Doña Hilda's house is her own, it is always filled with a bustle. Aside from myself, she takes other students from the school and has two young tenants as well. Additionally her children and gradnchildren are constantly dropping by for meals. It's bustling and she alway comments that I haven't eaten much (especially because I don't eat meat), asks whether am going to church with her in the morning, and how quickly I need to leave for my next endeavor. She never lets me touch the dishes and makes cauliflower much like my mother's.

It's good to see the middle class of Guatemala as well. In contrast to an earlier entry, ít does exist, though in a significantly smaller quota. I've now had the opportunity to talk with people spanning from the villages to the ritzy part of the country and am beginning to develop a much larger scope of the life here.

We spent our last medical jornada in Solola, approximately three hours from the city and a half an hour away from Atitlan, a beautiful lake for which the country is known. My father and I will be there for a day while he's here. However, not to travel a tangent, the team from Oregon who stationed themselves in the city of Solola also manned what we call a stove team. This stove was developed by a man who previously traveled as a McGyver (mechanic) on medical teams and was searching for a solution to prevent so many of the chronic eye and lung conditions and burn cases the plastic surgeons see. Often children burn themselves in fires while their mothers are cooking and find their hands or arms fused shut and disfunctioning. This stove however, costs the family 23 dollars to purchase, and our teams come in to install them with the people.

I was able to go out on a stove team one day last week and work with four middle aged men not so unlike my father. Within twenty minutes of our day, they were already concerned for the kind of man I might love and marry. It's nice to know someone is always watching out for you. A couple of them shared my enthusiasm for cameras and gave me a few pointers as well. These men and I had the rare chance to actually go into the homes of families and know them well. Out of 14 cinder blocks, a few pieces of aluminum, gravel and limestone we create two stoves that cost significantly less to use. On average, these stoves save the woman of the house seven years per year worth of time they would have spent gathering wood or manning a stove. The ONIL stove burns on sigificantly less fuel than a typical house stove and therefore gives the head of the household more time to spend on other endeavors. Most families in the villages live on approximately three to seven dollars a week, and this stove saves much of the money the might have spent on wood.

The smiles on the faces of people recieving the stove are undescribeable. We joke and attempt to speak a few words of Kachiquel, the local dialect with them. The children are excited and giggle and wrestle for the gringoes (white foreigners) in their house and their mother beams with excitement and care for her new appliance that burns cleaner air through a chimney out the roof and relieves the family from smoke in the kitchen. It is beautiful work.

I've also been translating more frequently and have found a new love of words in the Spanish language.

Se quiero ustedes mucho.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yellow Balloons.

Thursday morning brought market day in Uspantan with my friends and I. Walking the few blocks into town and into the hazy maze of blue tarps overhead and bags of chile powder, sixteen cent calalillies and live chickens everywhere, we were covered in confetti by children within minutes of our entrance. Running into a peace corps member, he said he´d been in the town nearly a year and still ended up with colorful paper in his pants in the market. All would consider the giggles and joy a happy event, but no one noticed the man sleeping facedown in the cement of the sidewalk that morning.

Opened mouthed and breathing heavily, he seemed to be sleeping deeply as if he´d done so in the very same spot most of his life. His pants were torn and falling off his legs, which were rivals of the Holocaust survivors of 1945. His black hair, matted and greasy was an unkempt mop above his guant face and tattered, purple exucuse for a sweatshirt on his back.

Hours later, after a local breakfast of eggs, beans and fresh coffee for as little as three dollars, he appeared again. Awake this time, I could see his mentally handicapped state as he aimlessly meandered through the confetti stand and stared at raw chickens in their freshly slaughtered cases. His dark eyes held no light behind them and an emotionless expression was painted upon his brown face. His pants were falling off his waist as the elastic was worn and he had no shoes for his blackened feet. He carried a deflated, broken yellow balloon in his hand. He walked slowly past me, but lacked any kind of dilliberance in his step.

The following day, he found me again. Donning the same clothing, he sat hugging his legs upon the cobblestone road, rocking slightly. His sunken eyes were fixed on the bright yellow of the corner fruit stand. His wrinkled balloon, which I now realized was trailing its shredded blue leash of a ribbon was clasped tightly like a teddy bear.

I shuddered deeply for the third time as I walked past him.

How many opportunities does it take us, as a human race to act upon common sympathies and emotions? I left school to work with medical teams, and I see a man in the street and walk by him three times before I spent a single quetzal, which in terms of dollars is the equivalent of sixteen cents. Recieving only an empty stare as I asked if he wanted fruit, he was handed a bag of pineapple. Yet I gave him no money thereafter. I had 100Q in my pocket, which is far more than many have - particularily this man of 30 something. While this human being had lunch for the day, I had ample money left over. Who would feed him next time? His state hardly allowed coherence and cetainly no means to care for himself. Yet people walk by. The woman with the fruit stand had undoubtedly stared at his face for some time before I walked into their presence. He needs to be clothed and taken care of and loved. These are pieces of human dignity that need no sort of earning. These are all things that I´ve been handed in my life. Yet I walked away, only having spent sixteen cents. I did not do more, and perhaps am as guilty as the people who see him day after day and walk by.

Saturday, many of the team members hiked to a magnificent waterfall on the side of a cliff in the mountains adjacent to the town. We rode in the back of a pickup back to the hospital. He found me again. In the middle of the highway along what would have been the yellow line of the road, sat the man and his yellow latex companion. The cement of the road was his chair as chicken busses whizzed past his unsensing face, inches from catastrophe. One of the local women with us, shook her head with a chuckle and lightly told me he was, on the most basic sense, the village idiot. My heart broke.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Middle class?

It amazes me slightly, how a few minutes on AOL instant messenger can change the course of your entire day. It was refreshing to hear news directly from home yesterday and to talk with friends long missed. Valentine's Day is this next week. What? It just dawned on me yesterday. I hear many of you are dealing with subzero temperatures and for that, I feel for all of you. In contrast to popular belief as well, I have hardly a tan. When I'm in the villages I have to remain covered and in the city I am often inside. So sorry, but I probably will not be a nice brown that is assumed. Besides, that's not at all what I'm here for. I just keep hearning it in messages and thought I might set the record straight.

I've been reading much lately. The Little Prince is something I'm appalled I've never read by now - but it was absolutely refreshing. I just started Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff, and it is absolutely hilarious. A memoir author origincally from Canada, he reminds me of David Sedaris. It's nice to be able to cross some of these books I've been meaning to read off my list of things to do.

I will be leaving Guatemala City again on Sunday morning. This time the we're headed to Uspantan, a mountainous village with a drastically more temperate climate. My job for the week will entail the surgery paperwork for each patient who comes through the OR. A good friend of mine, Becky, typically does this job and makes sure all is filled out to code. School has called her back to her master's program however, and thus I get to care for this large job. Additionally I get to organize and count each paper for each patient that will come through the hospital doors in this upcoming week. Which means I will be the grand owner of 2,000 pieces of essential paper. I'm slightly nervous about the whole thing and will likely call Becky half way through the week. Even still, I'll keep my fingers crossed and enjoy the idea of having an official task. I'll hopefully get to translate some as well.

As for these last couple days we've spent in the city, Laurie (roommate and fellow staff member) and I have been spending time with friends we've met here. Alexa is a translator for helps and will be working with us on many of the teams through May. Her mother is from Ohio and her dad is from Guate, and thus she's a dual citizen of both countries. It's been wonderful and she's been showing us around the city and welcomed us over to her house. She graduated from the German school here in October and is interviewing with many colleges for the fall. I remember the process well. This morning she took us to Cafe Barista and I had one of the most amazing cappucinos I've ever tasted. She brought us to an antique store that her friend's mother owns, and I couldn't help but think of my own mother as she would have loved to put the entire place into our own home in the States. Perhaps I get my love of old things from her. We also stopped by Alexa's grandmother's house and chatted for a time. She's a charasmatic little woman with frizzed brown hair and tons of stories. She spoke of growing up in Guatemala, the government and her own interest in medicine. She was very interested to know what we've been learning and was appreciative of our time here. Greeted and bid goodbye with kisses and hugs, it reminded me much of my grandmothers back home and made me want to stop by their similar homes for a visit as well. I guess that will have to wait until May.

It often amazes me, the distinct difference between the villages and the city. Seeming to be the difference between a place like Minneapolis and a shanty town, the drastic division of wealth is apparent. People either have more than my middle class family or nothing at all. Knowing what I have at home and how little many have here, it often makes me feel guilty for being comfortable and riding in nice cars with friends in the city. I have to remind myself that I spend more than half of my time on a cot in a sleeping bag. But doing the little math of which my mind is capable, I also realize the two bags, pack and camera I carry around this country with me could feed more than one Guatemalan family for a year in the village. It's distorted, the balance here. There really is nothing equating the middle class, either you're comfortable or you have nothing.

My time here often has its ups and downs. For as much as a person can expect, you never realize that sometimes being away is hard and lonely. But then the moments happen where you whitness a birth or a burst of colored flowers sprouting over an enclosed wall or a little child latches to your hip and kisses you as you bend over to ask about their day. It changes everything. I often catch myself thinking, even when things aren't ideal, that I must be one of the luckiest individuals on the world. I'm making the time now, to do what many wait until their middle ages to do. Regardless of the bad that sometimes creeps in, I feel assured in the feeling that I am exactly where I'm supposed to be in this particular moment of my life.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

La Tinta, A Place Nearly As Hot as the Fever I Ran

I've spent the last week in the middle of the jungle. We had a six hour bus ride with more than half that across a dirt, mountainside road. I'm impressed that more vehicles don't fall of the side off these cliffs. One slip of the wheel at nearly any moment and we would have sidelonged in various gorges, catching trees and barbed wire fences along the way. From the moment we stepped out of our air conditioned buses, it was over 90 degrees with Minnesotan humidity until we took the buses back up the dirt road and neared Coban, further north of our location. The bugs were twice as large as you'd ever find in the states. Giant lizards rambled around with horns and green skin. Moths were beautiful and larger than my fists, I found a praying mantis crawling up a wall and scorpions crawling out of my suitcase. Thankfully I avoided being stung.

Sunday night, I started running a fever. By Monday evening all was full fledged. I was running a 102.2 temperature and managed to sleep for almost 48 hours solidly. I was wheezy and coughing and overall in miserable shape until midday Wednesday. However, I avoided an IV by drinking water by the liter. Dropping into the swing of things halfway through the week was slightly difficult for me. By this point, most have developed their position of work for the week and I was starting from scratch. I had ample reason to float for the rest of the week. I spent some time attemtping to translate in the dental clinic and popped in and out of the medical clinics as well.

One of the highlights was watching the marvelous Paul Schultz work. A plastic surgeon from St. Cloud and the father of a dear friend of mine, Meredith, Paul can put people back together like I´ve never seen before. I watched him work on a severe cleft lip and pallate Wednesday afternoon. One and a half year old Oscar suddenly had a new face, and I can´t even describe to you the look on his mother´s face when he came out of surgery. A woman in her young twenties who spoke only Kekche, a native dialect, she couldn´t speak and just kept looking. Awestruck at her son´s closed lips and with another newborn baby on her hip, she stayed near him for the next several days. It was entirely joyful to see Oscar squeak and dribble food from his mouth a day later. He had to figure out how to eat all over again. I can´t help but realize how close to my own age his mother was and how frequently that is the case. A little girl from the village asked if I had a boyfriend and was shocked when I told her I was twenty and flying solo. That doesn´t happen in the villages here. You get married and have a family, and hope that your six or eight children make it past year five.

Because of one person, this little boy´s life will be so different. The work Paul does makes me crave the ability to impact others in an equally drastic manner. I just don´t think that I could live with myself in the states if I had to perform lyposuction and breast implants the other 345 days of the year when I wasn´t in Guatemala. But this man literally puts people back together. He can give a man who´s fallen in a fire and fused his hand shut, functioning fingers again. We´re even built with extra tendons in our hands, which, when transplanted into a faulty digit, create new opportunity for movement. It´s amazing, and while I´ve always been sure of my study, his work makes me consider other paths. The question was poised to me recently if I´d ever considered the medical field. I gave my blanketed no, I was satisfied to solely watch. However, I suddenly am not so sure.

I´m beginning to realize I´m learning much more than I ever anticipated I would. Of course I subconciously knew that would happen. It´s amazing what happens when you have a crappy week out in the field. I was in a wretchedly hot environment for a week. Sweating while sitting at eight o clock in the morning is not my idea of a great time. Yet I spent a week there. The difference is that I had the option to leave. These people living in literal shanties, don´t have that option. That´s the difference between my situation in La Tinta and theirs. I have hot summers as well, but I have a functioning stove, an air conditioner... My six membered family lives in three separate locations, and my gradmothers add an additional two. We have floors. We have vehicles. We have ice. Now place these eight people in a tin walled, eight by ten foot space and you have the dwelling place of my individuals I saw along that dirt road this week.

And as we passed by in our air conditioned busses, and the gringos (slang for Americans) took pictures out the window, people ran down the road and families smiled out their dimly lit doorways. Dirt covered kids with torn tshirts or no tshirts at all, played with each other in the street and waved us on, grinning.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Back in the City For a Few Days...

Salsa dancing until 1:00 and a 3:00am wake up call is a bad combination. I'm exhausted. We left Antigua at 4:00am to ensure that the San Cristobal team would catch their flight home on time. It's difficult to know that I'll be starting another team with entirely new faces next week and to see that this team, with whom I've spent the past ten days conversing, realizing and relating, will not be traveling with me to my next destination: La Tinta.

I had a wonderful few days in Antigua Guatemala. A 24 hour hour bout of dehydration put me out for some time, but if anything it gave me an excuse for some time on my own. It was well warranted time as I relished in my walk around the city and took a few pictures.

Antigua is a very old city and for as much of a tourist trap as it is, its history and beauty remains. It's about 20 by 20 blocks big and you can see it's entirety if you make a walk up to "La Cruz." It's a short walk to the city's boundary and a hike up a hill where an immense stone cross has been standing on the hillside in a grassy, clear opening. From it's base there, words really dimminish the meaning of the view. One can hear distinct voices of people in courtyards, and hear horses and cars clipping down the city's cobblestone streets. From its height, one has a direct sight of the opposing volcanic mountain side that shadows the city in its valley. Morning mist lifts higher and higher. I shared this moment with two friends, John and Anna Boyle on Tuesday morning. As we woke early and strolled across the city to the base of the cross together, John recounted his stay in the country the year previous. We got breakfast in a small coffee shop and afterward I took my stroll in the city.

Iron casts over the windows of every buildling to protect from rocks and larger, more human predators, houses and shops alike blend into one wall that is divided only by sky blue, marigold and salmon hues. Roofs are flat and clay eaves hang down to connect them. Sidewalks are tall and treacherous. Often unkempt and barely wide enough for the extended windows from the buildings to cover, it is easy to clip one's shoulder or head. The cobblestone of the street is just as much of a challenge however, as uneven rocks produce bumpy bicycles and vespas rides alike.

The center square is filled with trees - the canopies of which you can see from La Cruz. Benches adorn their concrete walkways and a massive fountain with nude women etched into its stone chatters among the street vendors and shoe shiners. Charming as it is, these shoe shiners make their living here. It is not so much like the men in airports who ask for tips. As you walk down the street every so often, a coffee shop's aroma fills your nose or fresh oranges and papaya make your mouth water. Children run around with yellow and magenta ice cream as drips eagerly fall create mess on a shirt.

Ruins of old churches immerse with the architecture and color of those still upheld. A great yellow arch containing a clock is ahead, beckoning ones eyes to the matching Catholic church behind it. During Semana Santa (Holy Week) these streets will be filled with intricate carpets, colored and designed with sawdust. They are a reverence to the Holy parades that take place and holy the ground the float bearers walk upon. In either direction one looks, mountains and volcanoes surround, as a sky turns pink and the clouds streak blue.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Don't Smoke and I Don't Chew, and I Don't Go With the Boys That Do.

Alright, so I figure the title is just kind of catchy. It was one of my quotes from the day from a 70 something nurse I was working triage with this week. I decided it was worthy of writng down.

I just arrived this afternoon in Antigua, Guatemala after a week in the highlands of San Cristobal, Guatemala. The week was wonderful: complete with unflushable toilets, and not enough water in the hospital to shower everyday. Plumbing is an interesting concept in Guate, many times it's not uncommon to see people on the side of the roads, using the ditch as their plumbing. But if you're like me you'll find a toilet more proper. However, pipes and sewers are not equipped here to handle toilet paper and thus paper products go in the garbage. There is a policy on every team: "If you flush it, you fish it." And they're not kidding. So folks, be grateful that you can throw things down the toilet, you have enough water to take more than a freezing navy shower and that your plumming is equipped to handle even goldfish.

I plan to hop into another internet cafe and blog again tomorrow, as it's beginning to darken and it's not safe to walk down the street to the hotel by myself.

Before I pay my internet cafe dues and such, I thought I'd give a quick run down of what my actual job here entails. HELPS international has approximately 11 medical teams from the United States flow through Guate every year, my job is to make each of their trips flow smoothly. So, for instance, the next team flies into GUatemala City next Saturday evening. My job before that it to shop for their groceries, mind you the cooking portion of the staff is cooking for more than 100 people and recovering patients for a week. So as you can imagine, 500 rolls of toilet paper and 70 pounds of carrots is standard number. So we shop, and then we pack the food so it's easily trasportable for that team. We also have various project around the warehouse. Come Thursday, the crew will be packing the trucks with medical equipment, which mean anesthesiology equipment, dental chairs (Dad, all of your supplies were put in the proper hands, you have nothing to worry about and I took care of your bag), overhead operating lights, toolboxes for the mechanics, portable shelves and other units of power and medical devices. We typically have three moderately large, almost semi trucks worth of equipment for these teams.

Now the people who fly in are a slew of dentists, plastic surgeons, gynecologists, general practitioners, cooks, mechanics or mcgyvers, (sp?), pharmacists, nurses, general surgeons, translators, triage persona, and various other odd jobs tha occur around the hospital. It's quite the crew. So they fly into the city on Saturday night. I'm part of the welcoming committee that comes and lets them know about tour information after their weeks worth of hard work, and other specifics about the area we're traveling to and the rules involved there (i.e. the toilet paper). Sunday morning we load onto two or three large busses, travel to our location and set up the hospital. We work Monday to Saturday morning: surgeons prforming hysterectomies, herinias, many cleft lip and pallate surguries and various lumps and bumps. This week there were a total of 109 major surguries completed (discluding lumps and bumps). Meanwhile, the General practicioners are seeing patients - giving out worm medicine and lots of ibuprofen and vitamins. That's right, not everyone can afford basic pain medicines, and most of you don't spend your days working in a field or washing clothes my hand or carrying a week's worth of laundry on your head. The dentist are completing cleanings, fillings, a few crowns and a lot of pulling. Some small children have so much decay they have all four from teeth pulled out. THe pharmacy is pumping out drugs and the recovery room is filled with groaning babies, worried mothers, and vaious women and men. One woman this week, asked Dr. Schmidt, a gynecologist if he was the surgeon who put her in so much pain after her hysterectomy. He said yes. She replied "Thank you" with a kiss as she took his hand.

Friday comes and the town throws us a fiesta, complte with incredible typical food, and men dancing with fireworks strapped to their backs.

Saturday we tear the hospital down, and end up here. And by the next week, I'm set to do it all over agian.

Hopefully I'll have a few moments to add stories tomorrow. I think of all of you frequently, for various reasons. Today I'm wearing brown and baby blue, so Benjamin Bradley popped into my mind. It's small things like that that remind me from where I've come and how blessed I am to have such wonderful friends and love in my life.

Te quiero mucho,


Saturday, January 6, 2007

And So It Begins...

My last three days have been exhausting, exciting, and a million things at the same time. The flights were smooth, and I'm discovering that my spanish needs exercise... terribly. I must say, however, after three days I'm already fighting the urge to write to you in Spanish, or spanglish in the least.

I've been trying to keep track of things I learn each day. For instance, at 5:30am on Thursday morning I learned that Starbucks is a heck of a long hike from Councourse E in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. I also learned that the grocery store (El Paiz) carries everything from laundry detergent to shirts and ties and bras and underwear to apples and good wine. Driving here, as Megan Albertson (the Team Coordinator and my boss) quite accurately put it, is always a contact sport, and the lane lines... are merely a suggestion. I commend her greatly for her skills at mangaging a manual Toyota Land Rover and a cell phone at the same time. I've also found that boys tossing fire in the streets is a common novelty that can be paid in either granola bars or pudding.

However, the greatest things I've learned, or was reminded of rather, is the difference between Cansada and Casada. While I knew both words previously, their difference is between being married and tired. My seat neighbor, Juan, was a kind man from South Carolina with gold embellishments on his teeth. After learning where I was going and what I was doing in Guatemala, he asked me kindly if I was married. Thinking he had asked me if I was tired, I said of course. That was slightly embarassing. But after a little confusion, we got our differences figured out and made for a most enjoyable flight. He was going to visit his mother, and I was embarking on something I've never done before.

Yesterday, I learned that the Bodega (HELPS warehouse) is extremely dusty, and that my allergies will have a hay day in this country for the next five months. Bugs also are extremely attracted to dried celery. Kory and I found some friends while packing food yesterday afternoon, but don't worry Dad, we got rid of it and no one will be cooking with such a seasoning. I also found that Banks are located in malls. And that none of the banks in Guatemala accept Visa traveler's checks. There is also a national money shortage, and the banks are stingy when it comes to buying quetzales (Guatemalan money). Supposedly the man in charge forgot to order paper to print the money. Ooops.

I am staying at a wonderful place called Seteca. It's kind of a monestary/hostel, and is far more acommodating than I had expected. The compound is surrounded by a tall, cement, fence with circular barbed and electric wiring around its top. A guard carefully mans the gate and no one is let in or out without their safe knowledge. There are open grounds, basketball courts and soccer fields, a few small courtyards with garden benches and breezy windows. Any venture outside the compound however, is surely dangerous. It's amazing how the demeanor can change at a finger's snap. The first night I had a large eight legged friend first out my window and then above my head. He soon became good friends with the bottom of my shoe. Now normally I'd capture and bring him outside, but I was in my pajamas, and knew he probably was familiar with the way to enter again.

Well, I can only nab so much time in an internet cafe in Antigua. Tomorrow I'm off to church and possibly a little frisbee game with Kory and Rudy (a member of the HELPS staff). But for now, I'm off to the market, lunch and probably a glance at a pair of new earrings. Granted, nothing will be bought until later as my money is a sketchy situation. My parents were glad to hear I was still alive yesterday afternoon when I called, and my dad's cold seems to be clearing up well. I, on the other hand, may have to send for some allergy medecine. El polvo, or dust is a big problem.

I hope all is well in the states, and you aren't too cold in the snow! I apologize for my spastic writing, but it's been quite the jumble the last couple days.

Te amo mucho,