Thursday, February 27, 2014

Processing ... thoughts on living overseas

Have I shared a good sunset photo lately? Just a short walk from our front door and we get to enjoy this.

With Jason no longer pursuing a teaching career, international living may be on the back burner for a while and with that in mind I've been trying to process why exactly I'm so drawn to living away.

(I know, I know ... we lived in Vermont for two years before we moved here, but somehow living there still had the feel of being somewhere "different." Perhaps, it had something to do with living without electricity, TV, internet and an indoor toilet, or perhaps it had more to do with the hearty people of Vermont?)

As I wrestle with the reality of what our "next" may look like, some of the things that have popped into my mind are:
- How I LOVE the randomness of life in other countries (especially developing countries).  Things that are simply everyday life here are things you would never see or even imagine in the US.  Just watching daily life is incredibly entertaining and makes life so interesting. Where else will a skirt-wearing man with bowling shoes on his feet and a huge machete in his hand, emerge from a day of back-breaking fieldwork and give me a wide toothless grin that lights up his whole face?
- I've realized that in the US I rarely feel like I fit in. I don't know if I'm the only one that feels like this, but by living overseas I automatically do not fit in and so the pressure of trying to do/say/look "right" is removed. I am free to be an unfit foreigner.  Although that brings its own set of challenges, there is also an incredible peace that comes with not have to try to fit in
- A big one that a friend reminded me about is: materialism. Ugh. This was probably my number one reason for joining Peace Corps. I was just so done with the pressure to spend incredible amounts of money on non-essential things. I had co-workers bragging to me how a new wallet had cost more than a month's rent or wearing new shoes they had purchased "on sale" for $500. These purchases didn't tempt me, but there were plenty of things I spent money on, that I thought I needed; only because marketers and our culture told me so.  It is an exhausting cycle.  Here, we don't even have enough plates to host people for dinner, so we sometimes have to ask our friends to bring their own plates & forks when coming over to eat. Instead of feeling mortified by this, it is completely fine and I love that.
There is a rich simplicity (& creativity) to life that comes with living in the midst of people who have so little. We are absolutely the rich ones here and that fact often helps keep me focused on what's important. It's hard to feel to sorry for myself that we can't afford to buy meat this week when I see a woman & her children emerging from the jungle, balancing bundles of sticks to use as firewood on their heads that they've spent the entire day scavenging for. Reminders of how good we have it are all around me, everyday
I keep wondering, how (& where) do I fit into a country where (among other things) our annual income barely exceeds the cost of a dress that our First Lady will wear only once? Even though I know this is not even close to how most Americans live, it still feels a little discouraging to be returning to a culture that at first glance is so dominated by status, money and possessions.  Especially since (knowing myself) I will probably buy right back into it all :(  Perhaps that is the biggest reason why I like living away - it helps keep me in check from my own bad habits/tendencies. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guatemala hiking: Godinez to San Antonio

Every good hike begins with a map drawn on a napkin, right?
Jason laughed when he saw this was the map for the hike I planned for us to go on over the weekend.

We'd been hearing from people that there was a hike from the mountain village of Godinez down to the edge of the water in Santa Catarina, but couldn't find any really specific directions for how to find the trail head. Our landlord lives in Godinez, so I asked him about it.  He said the trail was easy to find and actually would take us to San Antonio which is the lakeside village just beyond Santa Catarina.  He drew this map for us and gave me a few instructions.

Sunday morning, we hopped into a micro-shuttle van for the steep & windy, 8-mile ride to Godinez. Luckily, we found room inside the van, unlike some passengers who simply stood on the bumper, clinging to the roof rack.

From Godinez, we wandered down the road a short ways until we came to this pedestrian/tuk-tuk path that wound through a small village.  These boys in rain boots and cowboy hats were adorable!

The landscape changed several times, from corn fields, to pine forests and finally to an amazing view of Tolimán & Atitlán volcanoes (@ 10,360 & 11,604 feet tall!).

The breathtaking views stayed with us for the rest of the hike -- awesome!

Some interesting things along the way --
- a rather major water line supported by sticks
- thistles grow some of the prettiest flowers
- beetle with a very cool exoskeleton

The village of San Antonio --

 Coming through the onion terraces into San Antonio.

All-in-all, a very successful and easy day-hike. Especially since we started at the top and just went down :) There were orange, spray-painted arrows along the trail nearly the whole way, so we didn't ever get lost. Once in San Antonio, the path ended just behind the church which made it easy to hop into the back of one of the pick-up shuttles and enjoy the gorgeous, lakeview drive back to Pana.  Total cost for transportation for both of us was 22 Q, less than $3.00. Right on our budget :)

Friday, February 21, 2014

A walkin' man

Luke took his first real solo steps earlier this month. Although I'm terrified by the impact I know this will have as his activity level increases yet again, it is still one of the sweetest things to see him actually walking :)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Students showing love

Many of Jason's students habitually disappoint him with the poor choices they make at school. They often lack respect for him and others, and generally just don't seem too interested or motivated to make an effort to learn. They DO surprise him sometimes by exhibiting rare virtues without any coaching to do so. Yesterday was a prime example of one of these good surprises...

I made these heart-shaped sugar cookies for them and their reaction nearly brought tears to my eyes. His students with younger siblings at the school immediately asked if they could go and give them part of their cookie. To only have one cookie each and to choose to share it was such a sweet picture of loving kindness and a good reminder that his students do have some redeeming qualities. Another teacher shared with us that one the siblings who had received a small piece of his brother's cookie turned and shared his small piece with one of his classmates. What a beautiful scene of love, family & friendship, yes?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Exploring the ruins of Tikal

At 4 am on January 1st (how's that for a start to the New Year???!?!), Jason & his parents boarded a shuttle which was the beginning of the journey to visit some of Guatemala's most popular ruins - Tikal.

I visited Tikal when I was in Guatemala nearly eight years ago and while it would have been awesome to join them, it wasn't a place I relished visiting with a baby (especially since there is actually some malaria risk there).  So, Luke & I hung out in Antigua for the two days they were gone and had fun exploring the city further.

Jason took some great pictures of their trip:

They got to stay right inside the park, at the Tikal Inn.  Nice!

What the "sunrise tour" looked like the following morning --- no SUN! :(