I do not very well recall our conversation before my travels here but the four cups of coffee and artisan sandwiches consumed during our words exchanged may have been sufficient enough to regard the conversation as ‘memorable’—even though I despise the term. What I do recall from that morning (besides the circularity of each graduating high school class), was a comment you said, directed towards me in regards to my ‘blogging’ in Guatemala:
“Amongst everything Sean, tell us the truth—I want to hear what you’re feeling”
As hard as I try, I cannot capture the ‘truth’ of the Pena Blanca community through any type of word or image, but I can admit now (after 5 weeks spent here), that my dreams of late are no longer filled with food, but rather the struggles beyond that of my own—the stories of the families in comparison, make our rice and beans seem like luxury. How can I complain about the amount I’m eating, when my neighbors have less than half the amount for twice as many people? By becoming so close to this community all I want is to help them in some immediate way—I want to give them $20 cause it could do so much here...but no—what is tough is that this is not a sustainable solution for them yet my conscious wants the problem to change immediately. How can I leave here without giving something back to these people who are struggling now? One family wants to take a microfinance loan but cant...cause they're so poor, no one wants to be in a group with them. Where do they start? How can I simply return home with these problems, left unsolved, in my head? The problems of disparity of wealth and opportunity is something we must all deal with at times (I realize this) but nevertheless it’s very difficult knowing that I can return to living as I was before. What can I do at home that will not just give empty cash to families here and instead offer them something that will support their goals, opportunities and own self-empowerment? Because of this, I must remind myself that indeed giving money and clothes will help them now, but it is not the solution to combat poverty. Instead, I hope the stories and crafting of a documentary will impact others, myself included, to take actions, whether they be big or small, often or infrequent, to help others, where help is deserved.
As for my struggles, do not worry; my thoughts of hunger or tiredness are nothing in comparison to the families here and their children. In regards to ‘truth’, I have done my best to recite honestly, the complicated structure of schematics in the disparity of wealth and the struggles of one’s musings. Even though tomorrow is a new and the next is as well, my struggle today, lies in imagining our departure from here: At first it was so heavily colored with food and celebration upon succeeding off ‘living on a dollar’, but now the picture seems too complicated, un-colorable for the lines fall off the page. I don’t let this disappoint me though—there are still deep impressions of ink and color beginning to bleed through. Oh, if only I could color the entire page, connect the lines of indifference and un-complementary colors, only then maybe will a solution to the drawing be uncovered. For now, I hope the fibers on the page remain engraved so, a moment; no matter how far or whenever it presents itself, retains some coloring of this encounter to mine.
I do hope we can sit over coffee again and discuss our adventures in greater detail.
p.s. Give Charlie my best and relay the message that his backpack (though now slightly more beaten) remains intact.
IIn regards to a statement made by one of my dear accompany:
"to understand the already accomplished, one should simply impose upon himself a future as irrevocable as the past"
I can't help think about the circumstance in which it the utterance was muttered; we were watching the kids play with earth, sculpting mud pots, replanting moss, and erecting wood houses to replicate (in there words, not mine) Nueva New York.
Each morning the sounds of construction have awaken me and others from atop their trees. We all stare down at the progress of the town being built towards our perches; some feel the work is unnecessary and distracting to the farming, but others, with the sun and water and dirt in there hands add to the land of Nueva New York. Most recently, I took notice upon the newly added volcano and army soldiers that have inhabited the town; they seem to consult prior drawings and schematics, provided by someone, unknown even to myself--I do question the amount of ownership that nature's reins have towards this on-going project, for even when the city gets washed away, the workers and schematics remain.
A few days ago, a child, maybe the age of 4 or 5, asked about Nueva New York. The most I could make out from our conversation was that "if imagination" or rather "a child's creation" of the city appears indifference with the visceral memory of one; lets say, a North American born & raised in the named city of 'New York', then how has the latter traversed in comparison to the prior?
At first, I didn't question the idea of traversing (it brings back a fear of heights) and I thought it was preposterous to believe a being, much farther could create 'New York' in his palms, sculpting his/her imagination into a 'current' location. Where I was mistaken was when a second child stated his father had been to the city of 'New York' and told him it (the town of New York) "lied in his imagination". This statement made me question further the layout of the town and growing number of workers outside. If, indeed, the building of 'New York' consists of a record-keeping layout from ones head, then maybe indeed the same 'New York' can exist amongst two or more others. As for now, Nueva New York exists and the photo (taken by Ryan) proves this, for it provides future schematics to create, revise, erect, and reflect.
It seems now, with half of our stay over, routine has set itself aside us, asking ourselves to take part amongst naïve patterns on the wall. I do not count days any longer or look toward the wall, in which I mark the days past with numerical lines—each representing some strange method for keeping record of our stay—after much examination and studying of the traces, we do not know (yet) if they represent the number of meals made, ‘solid emergencies’ or some other unforeseen schematic; but when told to me, from the creator himself that the strange markings represent the days past, I became astonished and argued the latter was merely a ‘cover-up’; and that anyone who marks each day with resemblances of linearity is wasting his/her time with the matter.
***This is the cure for bed bug bites.
I must apologize and take a moment here to reflect not on research, school, or our lifestyle, but instead of the wonders of fresh fruit and capabilities that a simple banana can give: As the dear Jose Arcadio would say, you can make:
Banana bread, fried bananas, banana pancakes, banana french toast, banana and chocolate crepes, banana smoothies, banana sandwiches, bananas dipped in chocolate, banana splits, and the list goes on...
The above of course, are for the well-experienced banana consumer--I for one, am not there yet. I'm just a mere novice, but through the strengthening of Chris' bargaining skills--we get 20 bananas for a dollar--now is my chance to approve this wonderful fruit into the sacred land of consumption; that is ones mouth, and relish in its essence, flavor, family-ness; for bananas grow besides one another, bringing people all across the world together to peel, bite, and cherish its flavor.
Last night we ate the rest of our bananas. A poem was written for the occasion:
Green, yellow, brown, bananas
Oh, you all taste so sweet.
ripening in the heat
ripening as a treat.
I can't wait to eat you.
Banana, with your peel
You taste so good,
I almost steal you for meals.
Too bad we ate you all,
bananas. I miss you.
Cause all I have now,
is your taste in my mouth--***
***the complete poem contains 25 parts and 77 separate stanza's. Due to copyright issues and length, the author and rest of the poem is excluded here in this blog post.
My parents packed me a bug repellent hat, scarf, and two bottles of spray just so I could not have to deal with bug bites. Unfortunately, even with these tools I feel like a open buffet to the critters abroad and around--but as I remind myself, its a challenge, a small one compared to our stay, but nevertheless a bodily resistance against the urge to scratch away the never ending itch. But it's nothing to be concerned about for I have taken a new liking to bananas--something I despised before this trip, but now find heavenly. It's a new lifestyle featuring a new diet and new bites (both of food and bugs)--nothing I can't handle.
The rains finally stopped and the sun gave us an opportunity to check on our radish crop--looks to be growing, but weeding will soon be necessary. Mornings bring light meditation, following with interviews for the documentary, and then 5 hours of cooking/tending to the fire.
Lard has been treated like a new invention, something from the gypsies, that despite its awful look and texture, tastes incredible after just eating rice and beans and salt.
We turn out the lights around 8 sometimes on a late night, 9--almost a 5 hour difference in 'sleep-time-zones' here compared to college.
Here, without the fresh 20 ounce drip coffee, no sugar or cream please, I'm allowed many moments to reflect upon the land, culture, and myself while merely observing it, cross-legged, from on top of a rock. Though I try this at home, during school, and sometimes at work, my mind, easily distracted by the thousands of inner agendas and brewing headaches to come, can't help but breathe a few clear sighs, until a new thought enters and pushes whatever 'emptiness' to the bottom, where it lies, awaiting a simple moment of resign to the game and open eyes in the passing of 'this-time'.
I personally feel calmer, at a greater piece, but the awareness that this lifestyle is only temporary--these 8 weeks will pass and I will return home to a full refrigerator, makes me question the reality we live here. Despite having little food, 15 cent meals, and dirt floors to sleep upon, how true is our experience compared to the life of the people who surround us? They must combat not only day-by-day problems that we face, but those of lifetimes and generations, something we do not have to overcome. We simply come here, already physically developed, cleaned teeth, with shots, and antibiotics--for an emergency, and the knowledge that no matter how weak or sickened we are after 8 weeks, we will have full meals to eat and a warm bed to sleep in. It's as if, no matter how hard we try to escape the roots of our white skin, we can't also help drag them between our toes as we walk through the land. Even in our attempt to buy food, Zach and Chris are forced to bargain and reduce the 'Gringo' prices that are immediately placed upon them (but recently after a few weeks of de-fattening and dirtying, I think the vendors may be noticing our slightly sunken cheeks and offering better prices).
In all honesty (for I swore to tell the truth over a cup of coffee with friends before I left the U.S.), our experience is an attempt to be one of the many, living on one-dollar-a-day, but without the hardest struggles that many of the families we interview face. Just last week we learned a family lost half their crop to the hard rains and mudslides. Bad luck here doesn't apply as it does in the U.S.--we have insurance or government to cover the loss of a house or assets, whereas the family who lost '10,000 Q' will receive nothing for their grievances, no extra pay; we did learn though that some warm clothes were donated to them from the Microfinance bank. The family will not have enough food to eat some days, but through our research and interviews with 'Alomgir', head of the Grameen Microfinance Bank, they have begun to offer new loans to people whose crop or life has been destroyed by Volcanoes, hurricanes, mudslides, etc. Normally Grameen would only offer a loan every 6 months, but for the people affected, they have made adjustments to offer an extended wait period for repayments of loans until the family recovered. 'Alongir' also mentioned that for those affected they have started offering the opportunity to take an additional new loan to get started again. The fact that these disasters can simply uproot a family from their prior lives without any warnings and safety-nets of funds is unsettling, but the response and change that the Grameen and Microfinance banks are making to better accommodate the lives of the poor is at least a step forward in providing further assistance and empowerment to people who live so scarcely but are also needing to save and budget for the unexpected; a wedding, natural disaster, medicine for emergencies, or funerals.
This trip thus far has had its hunger struggles, lack of sleep, and even times of peace, but whenever the four of us, a family, have food, have shelter, or time to think, I try to stop and realize the beauty of living this life, an examined one from all angles, atop the great pine, amongst the roots and vine, or even within from the inside; sometimes ignorantly seeing all that passes around us, as two opposing categories--wrong & right--a book of sorts by which to live, all the answers told to us through its text--but this text can't be deciphered here, nor there, but only in the city of mirrors, seen in them the recipient's own reflection in spirit, in nature, in balance with everything around it. Unfortunately, this reflection too will change as we rediscover more about our community here in Pena Blanca, but I welcome the changes it has provided us thus far; some as small as bug-bites or a new fruit liking, but some as strong as the building of relationships in a new community, so that someday over a hot cup of coffee, one can question "the importance of memory" and give a reply.