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.
Amongst the heavy fog that gives me impressions of being amidst clouds, I am cleansed. My body feels a greater form of piece, and my mind, despite the fog surrounding me, seems to think clearly. I do not know for how long I sat, contemplated my actions, in past, present and futures past, but I can open my eyes now, to a whole new cutout in my coloring book, which I’m making my way through quickly. Unfortunately there are three volumes, each with countless chapters that I’ve heard in the end, only leave the drawer more confused than initially—but after the child has completely finished the 6 additional indexes can one, now able to reflect upon the drawings in its entirety, finally and forever close the book…
In one of the recent drawings, there is a man sitting on top of the greatest and tallest pine tree in the village. The climb had been exhausting so at the moment he rests his body. From this perspective, he looks downwards and outwards onto the tops of the entire forest like small individually placed crayons and colored pencils, their ends rooted in the dirt and tips pointing toward the sky. According to the drawing, the man after feeding the waxwings, and creating a bird-like nest from the dead branches and pine needles surrounding him, carefully sits within it, cross-legged, and closes the blinds behind his eyes to hide the light from outside.
The man attempts to find peace in his new life atop the great pine, but just as soon as all the blinds had been pulled so tight that no sight could ever enter the inside, the man behind them, begins his escape. He flies to Argentina where he relishes in the photos his good friend, Pablo had taken of them years prior. They laughed at how their beards have changed. The next day he visits Brazil, where in the midst of a heavy rainstorm, he manages to find two fellow travelers who even after a night of drinking wine and smoking hash, managed to teach him about rock climbing and playing ‘football’—now his favorite sport.
Two days later the man rents a motorcycle and hits the road to America—a country that had eluded him for many years in his life except to be occasionally flown in and hired by “the country men”, who pay for his visit and stay in exchange for working tirelessly in their ‘gardens’—ripping countless roots from the earth to make way for sidewalks and taller buildings. This time however, with his pockets loaded with savings, the man crosses the boarder, passes through 17 states, and never once retraces a step until 18 days later, arriving full circle in Texas.
In those 18 days, he had been seen in Vegas—not gambling but rather watching Cirque du Soleil and sipping three-foot ice cream sundaes by the pool. In California he stopped to admire the great vast gardens that appeared randomly throughout the streets and was astonished at how many people could simply drive past in the isolation of their cars, never once seeming to get out and walk around the beauty. Unfortunately after he himself said this, the man’s motorbike was stolen by bandits, who had taken advantage of his obliviousness in human nature, for he was admiring a bird of paradise.
Luckily, in passing he met a fellow biker who had just installed a small sidecar for additional passengers. Even though the sidecar was already occupied by a greasy haired kid, who was documenting their journey with rolls of super 8 film, the motorist, named Curly, insisted there was enough space for the two of them and the three traveled together up through Oregon and Washington. They made stops in small towns to drink coffee, greet friends and talk literature until early into the morning. Sometimes, after the bonfire would burn down, and the discussion of Neruda, Post-modernism, Nietzsche or Cortazar subsided, the man could feel the presence of the little boy, inside him, as if through these experiences, a greater aspect, hidden from sight, would reveal itself over the journey by the darkness of blinds. At that moment suddenly the wind picked up, blowing out the last remaining coals in the fire.
The next morning a large tree was found fallen in the yard. The neighbors claimed to see a man sawing it in the middle of the night. Others said the tree bent as low as the ground where it finally uprooted the earth around it, but nothing proved either of these claims to be the cause—for the large tree had no sign of clear cutting, or uprooting—it was simply bent 90 degrees at its stump, perfectly parallel to the ground, as if by force a thousand men had pulled and pushed it, swaying it back and forth to move it closer to the ground. The man was amused when he saw kids playing on the horizontally growing tree, for their imagination pretended them to be climbing, swinging, and jumping from its branches.
After three days, the man decided to continue on his journey. It had been his longest stop, but the talks of literature and countless cups of coffee—which at first intrigued him, now only left him more confused and eager to apply it elsewhere, so he packed his belongings and headed east, for he had heard great songs around the fire about Minnesota snow—something he found impulsive to see. As he said goodbye to his lasting friends and thanked the greasy haired kid who gave him a framed photograph of the three posing in front of a gigantic redwood tree, he left. As he passed, the man swore he could make out the talk of the neighbors who were still very excited by the prior nights past.
“Very well Georgia, but at least it wasn’t that tree”.
Atop the great pine, amidst the heavy fog now of ones memory, the man finally opened his eyes. The journey was conceived as clearly as a child’s drawing of his own family, and became a sign to the man that he was missing out. “There are far too many choices, too many worldly wonders to live” he thought as he shifted position in his nest to feed the waxwings, who after a night of heavy breathing and rest, surely were hungry. As the beautiful creatures came swarming from their nights duty abroad, landing around the man’s head and perching upon his shoulders, he suddenly felt an overwhelming rush of knowledge—every one dream—large scaled, small scaled, colored scaled, grey or dragon scaled—each with different shading, crosshatching and tracing to fill the page.
The man became scared and wanted to disembark his nesting, for the waxwings were not only exponentially growing in numbers, they were weighing down his back and blocking his sight. It was then—a moment of war between him and the thoughts brought on by the birds that he felt scared, vulnerable, and threatened perched atop his pine. He tried to return inside, shutting the windows, closing the blinds in hope that he would recall his journey to New York, where he climbed the Statue of Liberty, but as he saw himself climbing to the top, he also saw himself disappearing from those below. In fact, seconds later the entire Statue started to disintegrate and in a quick flash, dissolved completely. A few moments later, the entire journey became forgotten to him, lost his inability travel with his thoughts entirely for eternity, and the man questioned his choice to abandon his prior life, where he was a successful radish farmer, husband, and father to fourteen children—all of whom had not yet realized his disappearance.
In a scurry of blindness and de-nesting, the man disembarked from his perch and descended the erected growth of root, wood, and pine. He jumped from each branch, passing each hundred of years of progress with another leap and fall, himself short-living the past journey upwards.
While he could still see the light of morning dawn, he looked above himself to what he had become, observing the waxwings waning calls, circular flight, and his own disappearing from sight, for the closer he got to the bottom, the pine leaves acted not as nests but like shields to the sky. As he reached the forest floor and de-barked from the great pine, he breathed a sole breath from his chest, outward, inward, and with a bend at the knees, collapsed upon the ground, dirt in his hair, up his spine and in between his feet. For three days he lay there, awaiting help of some kind, when finally one of his own children, hunting for dry firewood came upon him. The child was scrawny, underfed and seemed to lack all knowledge of his father’s existence—for he had been gone now almost fifty-two days. The child could neither speak nor understand the man so they both stared at each other until the child eventually left. To the man’s surprised, the child returned, not with any other help or people, but with a small coloring book. He showed the man his drawings. They were pictures of radishes, farms, his mother, his sisters, his brothers, his family, their car, the food they ate, the magical creatures they overcame, and lastly a half-drawn face; to which the child sat down before and with two remaining crayons filled in, seeing the reality of life head-on, but clearly re-shaping it to his own.
When the child finished, he pulled a single seed from his pocket, wrapped it in the drawing, and buried it in the dirt amongst the pine trees, so that someday when he grew old, he could perch himself amongst the leaves and waxwings; cherishing the climb up and down the great pine as not others but rather one’s life worth living, despite.
I cannot express how lucky I am to be in Guatemala. Even though our days consist of work, hunger, and no sleep, I'm coming to enjoy the thoughts of stillness. It is a change from the daily routine I've become accustomed to--fine cheeses, fine wine, sushi and steak--but the prior is being replaced by fine beans and fine rice so everything is: fine.
My skinny build is building. Yoga is led in the mornings by Chris though I'm having trouble with 'downward dog'. We have left over rice and beans for lunch, and sometimes if we're lucky rice and beans for breakfast. After these fulfilling meals, Zach leads us in aerobic exercising sometimes climaxing in a 20 mile hike up and down the mountain--but in all realities either this routine will create a fine gardening machine or you can simply purchase these at home depot back home, though I have no idea where to find the necessary isle or strength.
Zach, Chris and Ryan have been wonderful company, that without, I could have never remained as calm; having no concept of the language, culture or soccer skills. I miss not speaking/conversing with my new surroundings though. There is an unseen barrier between the locals and me--one that only by harnessing the great powers of Zach and Chris allows me to communicate through.
Also you might like to know, that despite my enormous failure in Boy Scouts, I have successfully made a fire to cook beans and rice.
Our dreams have been vivid. They seem to speak a different tale each morning, something I've come to enjoy hearing. It seems there are 4 additional 'waxwings*' that hover slightly above our heads, each examining the days events, deconstructing them into a powdery mist that when sprinkled lightly upon the forehead of its recipient, procures a silhouette of its present presence. Each night the waxwing returns and my shadow sharpens in focus--another reminder that I exist, a light, and a wall between. In the morning, we reconstruct the prior nights events with detail, ensuring another visit from the waxwing. I hope to share more updates about our findings on this mythical creature soon, but for now they're welcomed with gracious company.
We continue to farm. The seed for radishes will soon be planted.
Please pass these words to Kyle, for I realize his Junior-year summer is upon him and the sun is an escape for those in the Northwest. Also be prepared for when I return to sleep for two months strait. When I awake, you will find me passed out in the kitchen, having eaten 15 eggs, 2 pounds of sausages, and 3 and a half loafs of bread. The mayonnaise, avocado, and tomato I was planning to eat along side may be the only things remaining uneaten...but this is all hypothetical reasoning that I will not dwell upon now.
I miss you all, for everything you've done has led me to this, from Guatemala;
It was a relief arriving and finding out Zach and Chris speak excellent spanish and could successfully get us out of Guatemala City without accidentally spending the budgets worth on bartered items. An offering of snacks and cookies were dropped in my lap and handed to me by salesmen trying to sell to the passengers on board. After his sweep from the back of the bus to the front, he picked up the cookies, seeing that we weren´t hungry and willing to pay and exited at the next rolling stop. Moments later, another patron entered, and the bus continued on.
Along the trip, there is an overwhelming sensation of coloring. I have a small idea to what this country is, the textbooks I´ve read, the news reports seen breifly is all, but having never actually lived and re-acted to these surroundings before now, leaves me perplexed. It´s as if this country never existed, except for the small outlines of shapes drawn in my head by some pre-concieved idea them. I seem to carry a coloring book, that I, myself, must color to remember the unforgettable details Guatemala offers, in texture, design, and shade. More importantly, just as a child must first color the picture before he or she truly finds meaning in it, so do I look forward to filling in the space inside; with my images and experience of Guatemala; today, yesterday, and for the next 8 weeks.
The greatest fear thus far is the unknown, for there is no plan when I leave this computer. There is no local barista that serves the coffee I´ve grown to enjoy each morning, no pre-drawn work schedule or classes that I´m required to attend: there is no routine, and each day begins a new page to draw upon. But I can´t help think about the salesmen trying to sell me cookies, hopping from bus to bus, seemingly a routine that I color in as detail and he forgets for another day.
A couple hours before departure and nothing quite says 'goodbye' like a quality 90% American beef patty--actually 3 patties, but that's beside the point*. As I opened what would be my 7th and last remaining packet of ketchup, I remembered the many times before, sometimes with my family, sometimes alone, eating here, looking out-onto the runway at each embarking/arriving/debarking/deriving traveler(s). Through the window next to us, Ryan and I looked out at the world operating outside--machinery, fueling, catering, and the newly installed 'direct tv and wireless internet' onboard the aircrafts. Each takeoff and landing was each person's heading to or returning to--of some destination, seemingly 'home' to them. Ryan and I stared out a while before leaving the 'main terminal'.
Now at our gate, we can see the people we'll be traveling with--at least to Houston,TX--where we have the luxury of more quality American beef patties--I for one am excited, Ryan maybe not so much. The flight is delayed due to a lack of crew. Over the airport speakers they assured the passengers that it was a scheduling issue, and half the crew is just passing through security. To pass the time, Ryan has been reading from his new book, 'I, Rigoberta Menchu'*** prescribed by one of our WWU proffesors--I'm excited to hear all about it.
Boarding begins. We fly out tonight, a waxwing above, witnessing the world below, trying to strain our-eyes through clouds and sky.
*please take notice to the long line for 'Wendy's' behind the foreground of the picture.
**also note that this photo has been reversed due to copyright laws.
Film & Video, they allow us to capture, document, inspire, and remember. Whatever film you've exposed or digital media you've captured, you'll notice the length as to how long it lasts - maybe more than your memory (if you're lucky).
Zach contacted me last Summer about doing a video in South America, and at first the idea terrified me, but as he explained more about the research from 'Portfolio's of the Poor' and the lack of knowledge, even among college undergraduates, regarding Microfinance, I became excited.