Sunday, October 31

Happy list

6 things that have recently made me happy:

  • Blue skies and low humidity
  • Honey on toast
  • "I Want To Break Free" by Queen at an inter-finca soccer game
  • International texts that say nice things
  • The Auburn Tigers kicking ass
  • Discovering James Bond, Juno, and other English-language DVDs in la sala

Happy Halloween! (And can I hear some more war damn eagles?)

Thursday, October 28

"Lost in Ireland"

Today I'm eating chocolate and reading Eric Hansen's The Bird Man and the Lap Dancer. It's a collection of short travel essays, and it's very good. He has such a simple effective style. I want to learn to write more simply.

Another good travel piece to check out is "Lost In Ireland" by Matt Gross, a writer for the NYTimes travel section. Ireland might be my favorite place on Earth. The rolling green hills and winding roads and sheep dogs and crooked pubs and fiddle music and full Irish breakfasts with fried toast and the best porridge ever... If you want a relaxing, heartwarming, peaceful vacation, I encourage you to try Ireland. (The southern bit; I haven't tried Dublin or Northern Ireland yet.)

Several people have mentioned not being able to comment on my posts. I think I've fixed the problem if you want to say hi, comment on a story, or ask any questions!

Wednesday, October 27

Prickly heat

The word "adventure" is overused. To me, an adventure only starts when everything goes wrong.
- Yvon Chouinard

I've just self-diagnosed myself with heat rash. It's red, itchy, and on both knees, the top of one foot, and the small of my back. Wikipedia helpfully suggests I move into an air conditioned building and avoid hot and humid climates.

There's some sort of meeting going on in el comedor this morning, and while I was making pancakes, a male leader from the community came into the kitchen and told Sara to bring out some water. She stopped what she was doing and quickly produced a tray with pitchers of water while the man stood in the doorway watching. As she filled the glasses, he said something to her, she nodded, poured out the water, and proceeded to wash the already clean glasses while he continued to do nothing. I felt the need to share that scene as an amendment to yesterday's la comunidad de mujeres post.

Tuesday, October 26

La comunidad de mujeres

I realize I've hardly described Nueva Alianza or our daily life at all. It's a completely different world. Everyone's up and working by 6am and in bed by nine at the latest. There are no cars, no alarm clocks; no meetings or offices. In the words of Harper Lee, "there was nothing to buy and no money to buy it with." There's absolutely no rush to do anything ever. As a pretty relaxed girl coming from a pretty relaxed summer job, even I had to readjust and learn to take everything slow, just in order to pass the days. And yet somehow the days pass quickly.

We've been cooking for ourselves an entire week now. Preparing three meals a day takes, I'd guess, at least four to five hours. Tonight we planned on beans and rice but forgot to soak the beans beforehand. We ended up hanging out in the kitchen with three sisters, Sorita (8ish), Roxanna (13ish), and Maria (15), watching the torrential rain fall, lighting candles when the electricity went out, and learning how to make tortillas. Our beans were only slightly less hard when Sara, the hotel's cook, arrived with her adorable 1-year-old daughter Sarita (literally, little Sara). We sat down to our terribly bland meal in a kitchen full of happy women, Sarita entertaining us all.

Hannah: "Look at her, she's gonna grow up with such a great support network!"

Me: "Sí, la comunidad! mujeres (the community! ...of women)."

Hannah: "The best kind."

Feminism is not a thing in Guatemala. Separate spheres are still alive and kickin'. Even on the community bus, fathers sit with sons and mothers with daughters. Typically men pick coffee and work on roofs, and women grind corn and wash clothes at the communal

A pila

According to Tara, Peace Corps volunteer and fellow English speaker, it's not uncommon for young girls to marry much older men and women to stay with abusive or unfaithful partners, all for the sake of security.

I don't intend to say anything serious about educational and economic opportunities here... just that I am utterly exhausted every day from doing "women's work." No one's forcing me to do it, but I sort of have no choice. If I want to eat, I must cook - peel, dice, salt, fry, boil, drain - my food. If I want clean underwear, I must soak, scrub, rinse, and hang out my underwear (and hang it out again after sudden afternoon rainstorms). If I don't sweep the kitchen, there are bugs and dirt. If I don't disinfect the countertop, there are ants. If I don't water the plants, they die. The plant thing isn't as essential, but you get my point. I cannot
imagine cooking and cleaning for an entire family in this community; it would without a doubt be more difficult than an eight-hour-day in the coffee fields. There are no microwaves, freezers, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, stain removers, Chinese take-out menus, or Clorox disinfectant wipes. And we're in the jungle here; things get dirty. They sprout and/or or attract things fast.

All this to say, I'm getting a new and historical perspective on women and the home. I haven't drawn any conclusions yet. All I know is that after I spent three plus hours scrubbing the kitchen and washing, rinsing, and hanging out six dish towels this morning, I kind of expected a resounding congratulations! to descend from the heavens. But I hadn't done anything extraordinary; it was just a clean kitchen. And in an hour it was dirty again.

Tonight's dinner was healthy - black beans, green beans, rice, onion, carrots, and tomatoes - but like I said, terribly bland. It was especially difficult to enjoy as we waited so long for the &*%$@# beans to soak with no real improvement in their taste or texture. We planned on splitting a Snickers as a consolation prize, and upon retiring to
la sala, we were surprised to find another guest on his laptop. After exchanging holas, he offered me something in a brown paper bag. I didn't know what he was saying, but I took the bag anyway. Inside were two cupcakes. Happiness. And the guy spoke some English, too. Twas delayed cosmic congratulations from this morning, I suppose.

Friday, October 22

Patience & anti-itch cream

I've been too exhausted and confused to write this week. Yesterday I managed to churn out a few strongly worded emails to Dave and my parents (lucky them). Along with other advice, my mom kindly suggested that I update my blog.

Once upon a time I was vomiting violently in a concrete bathroom in the middle of no where Bolivia at 3am, wondering how I could love something - travel - that left me vomiting, violently, in a concrete bathroom, thousands of miles from my family, potentially soon to be dead. That's the first time I remember questioning my love of travel and my broader worldview. I may have even promised God I'd be more sensible and conventional and less stupid if he'd let me out of that concrete bathroom alive. (Oops.) More recently, I've questioned my values and decisions because being away from college is scary and the jokes people make about me going to Guatemala are scary. Usually I question myself for 24 to 36 hours before deciding that never mind, I'm on the right track, just don't stop believin'.

I could be wrong, but I think these two months in Guatemala are going to equal two months of frequent self-doubt and questioning. It sucks, but not all adventures are waterfalls, nursery rhymes with local children, or near death experiences recounted over a couple of cold beers. Sometimes adventures are overwhelming challenges that require impossible amounts of patience and anti-itch cream.

No refrigeration, no hot water, no lukewarm water, constant bug bites... a nine hour long shopping trip into Reu during which a woman steals our chicken and pancake mix, depriving us of meat and comfort food... a five kilometer uphill hike with two dozen eggs in tow and being laughed at by a large group of teenage Guatemalans... not being able to satisfyingly rant to our new friends about our awful day... all of these things are tough.

But the ultimate challenge is handling the persistent whisper in my ear: what are you doing here? You can go home. There's carpet and gallons of cold milk and paying jobs and people who under-stand you when you ask where the can opener is. When I get over the language barrier and rustic lifestyle, the voice continues, what do you think you're actually learning? You're kidding yourself, wasting your time. No one really wants you here, except to make a few extra bucks. No one needs you here. They don't need to learn English. You may fix the building up, but it'll just fall back into disrepair. And the absolute worse is, you've had your fun. But now you see, don't you? The people who stay home and advance their careers and invest in a house KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING. It's not too late. You can turn this around. The airport is only five sweaty bone rattling bus rides away.

The whispering voice is compelling and, if you must know, fully in control of my emotions. But I am not a quitter. I am a learner, damnit. That is what new places and new people and facing scary things are about - learning. And arguably I'll learn more useful, meaningful lessons when things are hard than when things conform to my expectations and liking.

Yesterday I learned the Spanish word for "green bean." Tonight I'm learning how to make coconut flan; we're currently discussing how to crack a coconut since Sara is gone for the day and we don't have a machete. Tomorrow I will take another nine hour trip to the market, buy another chicken and, this time, it won't get stolen. I choose to consider all the above progress!

Monday, October 18

Guatemala video blog #1

A few random moments from Sunday, October 17th, when we traveled from Retalhuleu, or Reu (RAY-oo), to Nueva Alianza.

Saturday, October 16

Chicken buses

a chicken bus, photo by David Dennis,

Chicken buses don't actually have chickens on them. At least our chicken buses didn't. They're old American school buses painted bright colors. It's the cheapest way to get around - today we traveled over 120 kilometers for less than $7 USD.

Each bus has a helper, or ayudante. He walks around the bus terminals (i.e. streets where all the buses congregate) shouting his bus's destination and helping passengers with their bags (i.e. throwing them on top of the bus). This morning we found the ayudante for chicken bus #1. After taking a duffel bag in each hand, he started asking us questions. Uh-oh. I still believe he was asking where in the city of Esquintla we wanted to stop. I kept saying, McDonald's, and that our final destination was Retalhuleu. But he never seemed to understand. Eventually he shrugged, threw our bags on top of the bus, and welcomed us aboard. An hour and a half later, as the bus was picking up speed after a brief stop, Hannah shouted, "HEY! Isn't that..." And indeed, there were McDonald's golden arches. We nodded vigorously at the ayudante, who pounded his fist on the side of the bus, telling the driver to stop, scrambled up to the roof, and tossed our bags onto the sidewalk. As the bus drove away, I gave him a big smile and a dramatic wave good-bye. He was still on the roof laughing.

Other highlights of the day include climbing up the back of chicken bus #2 as it pulled out of the terminal at 40mph (I may be exaggerating) and riding our first tuk tuk after disembarking in the middle of Retalhuleu, having no idea where we were or where we were going.

a tuk tuk, photo borrowed from

DIY chalkboard globe

I'm awake at 5am due to lingering jet lag and a touch of food poisoning (ew). And I found the coolest globe/do-it-yourself project on Design Sponge:

As soon as I'm semi-settled somewhere, I'm making myself one! Back to sleep for now - we've got a long day of chicken buses (camionetas) ahead of us.

Thursday, October 14

Tiene café?

I'm currently sitting in San Salvador's international airport, enjoying a cup of coffee that I ordered using only Spanish words. Earlier I had an epic fail when our waitress tried to clarify our lunch order with a series of questions. After staring blankly for a few awkward moments, I responded with a definitive . Ten minutes later, I was eating some delicious pupusas. One point for just saying yes when in doubt.

Welcome to
twenty whimsy travel, a travel/life blog I'm hoping to turn into a fun long term project. For the next two months, I'm happy to say I'll be writing primarily about Guatemala! My friend Hannah and I will be living, volunteering, and adventuring at Comunidad Nueva Alianza, an organic coffee and macadamia plantation.

Tonight we're staying in Guatemala City, and tomorrow we'll begin making our way to
la comunidad via Antigua and Retalhuleu, in a number of vehicles varying in size, color, and - no doubt - reliability.

El Salvador's mountains seem especially surreal after the past month of traveling between Wyoming, Alabama, and England. Sometimes I get tired of moving around. But eventually I experience "The Moment." It never fails. An irrepressible smile spreads across my face. I shake my head and I wonder: "How did I
get here?!" It's beautiful.

Hannah just asked me how to politely ask for a menu. We settled on,
Quisiera el menú, por favor?

...and she's just returned with a menu! We're off to a good start.

Monday, October 4