Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Recent good times...

A lot of good stuff has been happening, so I figured I'd write a quick update. In rough chronological order:

Dentist appointment: After four appointments, three trips, and some 250Q in taxis into the capital, I have a permanent crown. It almost feels more comfortable than my own teeth. That dentist is an artist. Thanks, Uncle Sam, for the best root canal I will ever have in my entire life. (And let's hope, the last!)

Antigua: At this point the calories are all a blur, but I think we ate every type of dessert available in Antigua, probably twice. And the regular meals: Thai food, Tipico food, Antigua-gringo food, all so delicious. We also visited an old convent, Las Capuchinas. Really impressive.

Reconnect: It was good to see folks, and the highlight was probably a pizza lunch and Q/A with the Ambassador, who was really down-to-earth, but also well-composed and eloquently spoken. It was good to see him having three months of experience in-country. I liked him. And I hear he makes awesome brownies. Perhaps all US diplomats should be required to bake.

Feria: I got back from Antigua in time for the Feria in my town, and three days off from school/muni. I'm not sure our Feria really boasts anything all that special, but I will be pining away for churros for months ... And it was interesting to see the town full of vendors and cheap carnival games and rides. Pictures to come of the 30-some men dancing around in the church courtyard in skimpy Princess Xena costumes for the Baile of Disfraces. (Cross-dressing at Feria seems like a common-place occurence in Catholic Guatemala...)

Xela: On the weekend we went into Xela for awhile; I think I'm officially addicted to that Indian restaurant in town. Add it to the list of stuff gringos like.

Laguna Chkab'al: On Saturday we went with a friend who was visiting Xela up to Laguna Chicabal for the first time. I felt pretty out of shape but I remembered how much I love to get out hiking, and realized I need to figure out a way to get out more. Technically it is part of my work... But anyway, Chicabal is a pretty cool community tourism project, and for the moment it seems to be working well. A good example for us to think about following...

Panajachel: Now we're here on Lago Atitlan for five days of annual leave. I had expected Pana to be so touristy and expensive it would be a bummer, but after 5 days in Antigua it's actually not so bad. The lake is teeming with gringos, as promised, and locals following gringos around selling artesania, but the mellow atmosphere and beauty are pretty relaxing. And I've eaten more tofu in the past 36 hours than I did in the two weeks before I left for Guatemala. Interesting how tourism itself interacts with and influences local culture.

A tourism volunteer on vacation as a tourist... is that, like, meta-tourism?

Anyway, this break has been a good time to reflect on the past three and a half months, think about the perspectives and worries tying me down in site, and how I can readjust and refocus my approach for the next little stretch of work...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Y mañana, un descanso...

Have you ever sat waiting for a pot of water to boil while fire ants danced in your trousers?

That’s about how I feel right now!

Tomorrow I’m heading to the capital for a dentist appointment, and to reunite with a particular loved one, who is coming to visit for two weeks! (I’m a bit more excited about the visitor than the dentist, no offense to my dentist, of course.)

To top it off, today I had a good meeting with the consejo municipal – my first official meeting with them since the introductory one -, my cat is getting fatter every day, and I finished and printed out all of the materials I have to hand in at the Reconnect meeting this upcoming week – including a 6-month work plan, which my counterpart approved of, and which will take me up to Christmas (and probably for years beyond, to be realistic). So things feel wrapped up really well, for the moment; and when I get back from Reconnect and 5 days of vacation it’ll be back to the madness and figuring out what the heck’s going on, except this time in context of actual planned activities! Adelante, friends, adelante.

It sometimes seems like I couldn’t possible deserve such goodness out of life. But I’m thankful for it while it’s around.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Man of Faith, Man of Reason: Part 2

I realize I left the story hanging there with the pobre Mishi, so to cut to the chase: he’s recovered, as far as I can tell happy, and getting fatter by the day. And all the volunteers got their barbecue and potato salad at the 4th of July.

After posting my last blog I went home, and there was Mishi still: curled under a sheet on my bed, drooling, breathing heavily. My family, like the average family of my town, isn’t famously in love with stray animals (nor the hair they leave around - understandably, since they’re worried it’ll give the baby asthma; I’ve tried to tell my host sister that I grew up with my face practically rubbed in cat hair every day, and I turned out fine, but you just don’t want to mess with mama bear); so I was worried they might just kick him out on the street de una vez when I left the next morning for the capital.

What to do? I called my mom in the US, and she suggested something altogether radical: talk to my host family about my fears. So I did, and sure, my host sister said. They’d check in on him now and again, although he’d get the boot if he made himself a nuisance. Feeling somewhat better I sat down at the table and accidentally invited myself – see upcoming post on sharing - to the birthday celebration of my host uncle.

That was when the magical thing happened. A bowl of toasted noodle and chicken caldo and some tamalitos later (I secretly pocketed the chicken to try to tempt Mishi into eating), I mentioned casually that the cat was sick and I was leaving the next day.

Sick? Inquired my host grandmother, who is a midwife (she definitely merits her own post, see upcoming).

Yeah, since three days ago, he has something on his paw, I said, trying to mask my excitement that someone might care about Mishi besides me.

I’ll take a look at him after the meal, then, she said.

Several jokes about pregnant male cats later, and to my amazement, the entire family was gathered in my room at the bedside of the hyperventilating Mishi, absolutely quiet. Even the little cousins, who physically lack the ability to stand still and most commonly could be found chasing Mishi around the yard screaming, were completely reverent.

After a brief check-up with each adult in the family assessing his paw and his other symptoms, my host grandmother summarized: Well, he ‘ll live. It’s because of the pain he’s acting so.

I don’t know what to do! I blurted out. I’m leaving tomorrow at 5 am and won’t be back until Monday. Can he stay in my room until I get back? I didn’t add, if he makes it.

He’s really bad, said my host grandfather.

Well, what are we going to do? asked my host grandmother. My heart jumped in my chest: we.

I suddenly felt surrounded by family, enveloped and nourished by the understanding that they saw and understood my love for this little pest, even if they themselves didn’t feel it; enveloped by the feeling that they would care for this cat for a little while, if only because they cared for me.

Leave me that little box. I’ll take him to the vet tomorrow, said my host grandfather. I didn’t know how to respond; this was beyond all expectations. So I only nodded and agreed to leave the box and money to cover expenses.

Later, after everyone had left, my host grandparents stayed around a little while chatting with me, perhaps sensing my loneliness. You all in your country have much care for animals, eh? commented my grandmother. Here, we don’t have much care for animals. But the Bible says that we should. That left me feeling like a real person, a person of reason and good, not just some foreigner who needed a place to stay. They stayed another few minutes chatting about life in the US, Bible stories, the time the family dog was on his death bed for four days and they wouldn't bother to take him to the vet, but he made it through anyway.

For me this was a powerful experience; I realized that so much of the hardship of the experience was feeling alone and separate. In that last week, amongst all the other cultural differences, I was struggling to not care for a cat in a culture in which stray animals have no importance, realizing I had to care and realizing the personal importance the unconditional acceptance of that cat had for me, feeling that no one would relate to my experience or perspective, and not wanting to burden or alienate others by sharing it.

Yet lesson learned: there can be so much happiness to be had in opening yourself up to others, in letting them hold you up for a little, even when you are unsure of their reactions. And even if you will someday become a story about the gringa who loved that little cat to such an inexplicable degree.