Thursday, May 5, 2011

5/4 Typical School Day in Coban

I’m nearing the end of my classes in the pleasant city of Coban, the capital of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. I wish I could learn here longer because the instruction is excellent and the school atmosphere is small, local, and friendly. Here is a typical day. I wake up at 6:45, take a quick shower, eat fruit for breakfast – usually bananas and papaya – and then walk the block to school. I get to Muq’bu’lique school, which means hidden path/walk in one of the Mayan dialects, usually 20 min. early with my laptop to use the wireless. Jaime’s dog, Tiny, will bark at the gate until Jaime opens it. Tiny is a funny, cute mix that looks part rottweiler and part welsh-corgi, if such a thing exists. The door opens into a calming courtyard. Sometimes, a pet pigeon perches in a cage out there, sometimes an orange cat paces, so old that at first it seems like a kitten, and then sometimes a half wild grey cat minds its own business in the corner. A house stands to the left of this courtyard and an outdoor hallway of yellow-painted classrooms line up to the right.

Jaime lives in the house with his mother. His father lives in Montana and I know he has a brother in Long Beach, CA and a sister here in Coban. Jaime himself is my age, 28, and he’s been teaching Spanish here eight years, taking over this establishment from his father, who began the project in 1993. Jaime studied business administration, but seems to have found his calling teaching Spanish.

My class-room comes first. Next over, Mariana, from Scotland, studies with Nabila. And further over, Greg, from Canada, studies with Gwyndalyn. Class begins at 8am. We have tea with pan (usually sweet bread, French bread, or cookies) for half an hour at 10am. We sit in Jaime’s lavender-painted living room for this Spanish conversational time. Today, Jaime’s mother excitedly showed Nabila and Gwyndalyn a box of gifts that she had just received from her son in Long Beach.

Classes end for the 4-hour students at noon, but for me at 1pm. Some days involve more reading comprehension and conversation, other days lean more heavily on grammar. Today, Jaime started teaching me the subjunctive tense. Yesterday, I read Guatemalan newspapers. I read about the death of Osama Bin Laden and the celebration at the White House. Jaime asked me my opinion after I read this. As is usually the case, I first said  that I don’t have an opinion. But then I felt like saying and said, he’s just one face. Someone else will take his place/already has. Jaime’s opinion was that he wasn’t really dead. Pretty similar views. I read about the crazy politics in Guatemala. Elections happen in September and the candidates are heavily campaigning now, with over 30 parties competing in the early stages. The wife of the last president divorced her husband so she could legally run in this election. Jaime drew appropriate devil horns on her head in the photograph. He explained how people in poorer, less educated Guatemala will vote for her because her kind of government hands out a certain amount of money, like welfare, for each child a poor family has, which only gives incentive for having children early. I read about the usual shootings, fires, and drug problems that make up a newspaper anywhere. The most common cause of death in Guatemala is violence/crime. And I don’t remember the rest.

Then I check email again at 1pm before walking back for lunch. Sometimes, I’m the only one at the table, and other times the dining room is full of 18-22 year olds - as the house boards young medical students. The afternoons are mine to walk, study, rest, or whatever in. I hardly pass any other tourists/non-Guatemalans/gringos on the streets of Coban. I don’t think I’ve heard any English spoken on the calles other than my own the time I bumped into Mariana. It’s a great place to learn.

But time is short, and this Friday morning, I leave for a weekend on the Caribbean Sea to explore the Garifuna culture of Livingston and the Lake Isabel town of Rio Dulce. Monday, I start my last week of Spanish classes in the island town of Flores.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

5/2 Coban: Desires and Dreams

I didn’t realize how attached I was to my hair until the hairdresser cut off a gigantic length of it. Too late. Usually, my hair turns out alright no matter who gives the haircut because the curls hide mistakes. My hair grows slowly and takes a long time to look long. I was trying to grow it out. So much for that hope for now. I think I’ll wait until I get back to the states to have the haircut fixed. The miscut taught me how much my hair had become a part of my self-identity and it forced me to shed some of that attachment, alongside the hair on the floor. The miscut seems to be another repositioning of who I think I am in a series of small interruptions/realizations this week.

Partly, this readjusting is due to living in a 3rd world country trying to learn a new language for going on 6 weeks now. Gone is my control over serving myself food or choosing my own meals. Meals are served and that’s that. I often have the feeling that I better eat all of food in front of me if I like it even if I’m not hungry right then, because I might not like - or be able to eat - the next meal – for instance if I’m served pork, which I don’t eat...or tortillas and refried beans, which I can’t stomach any more of for a while. Yes, I can go out and buy a meal if I’m really not satisfied with what’s served, and sometimes I’ve had to do that to keep my green vegetable intake existent, but even then, in some towns, its difficult to buy green vegetable sides or salads in restaurants. And it’s frustrating to see all those fresh cheap fruits and veggies for sale on the streets and not be able to take them home and sauté them myself.

Most of the time, the food is delicious and I am just mentioning the meals to point out my realized control issues. So, yes this experience is teaching me about control and letting go of it. Letting go of having long hair for right now. Letting go of choosing meals. Letting go of hot showers half the time. Letting go of quiet nights and quiet mornings.

Having these contrasts in life helps me realize more strongly what I want, makes me realize that with the absence of a creative career right now, that is where I know I will head again. I would not feel satisfied going much further afield on this other path. I would not be satisfied teaching English or volunteering in an environmental association in Guatemala. I think its true what they say, it’s the contrast of situations and people in life that causes you to recognize the absence, to realize your desires, to therefore ask most poignantly and clearly for what you want, to expand in that direction and become. I am grateful for this contrast in my life right now because the comparison gives the necessary new perspective and need to ask.

My desire is to create.

For the fall, I ask for a job that allows me to be creative, to work on creative projects. I ask for the opportunity to continue my design education in a hands-on fashion, which will open the doors to a life of creating and creativity! That hope causes excitement inside. I ask for the opportunity to be creative this summer too, in my spiritual internship. I have rekindled excitement for my upcoming summer internship and the opportunity for contemplative work, spiritual growth, time of preparation and working on myself before re-embarking on a creative profession direction.

All of this realizing
all of a sudden
all because of a bad haircut.
Who I thought I was.
Who I am.
Who I really am.

And with the cancellations that happened left and right this past Friday through Sunday – class cancelled on Friday, bad haircut sat, cancelled field trip Sunday because the bus never showed up, I ended up working solidly on my portfolio as ideas came that Friday night and then more ideas rushed in the next night for a website. Even if I don’t use those exact ideas, as I’m sure they will evolve a lot, at least ideas are arriving and the creative door feels open.

There is a grey tabby kitten in the house. El gatito. I feel akin to it. It is alone a lot and meows often on the steps for its mother, which is far away in another city. Probably its littermates live in that other city too. When I go down the stairs, I take time to pet it and sometimes to hold it in my lap. But then its meows are even more pitiful when I leave then before I held it, before it knew how good petting felt. El gatito must feel some uprooting of identity too. Once the desire comes, once the mind is at work comparing two situations, the one its now experiencing and the one its had a glimpse of, can it go back? Not without being dissatisfied I think.

I’m just now remembering a fitting dream that I had last night. I didn’t know I’d had it until this moment. A group of friends and I and family members were going up in the sky in individual hot air balloons. I was in mine taking off from the cliff edge and rising fast, but not out of control like some of the other balloons who were going dangerously into the low oxygen zone. I felt exhilaration for the ride and the view and I was wrapping a white fur robe around my shoulders to keep the cold air out.