Saturday, 30 June 2012

Adventures in Guatemala

Well, the changes foretold in my last post have occurred and we are now getting into the season of summer programs. One of the major changes that this entails is that I now live with nine other people instead of just two or three other people. It has been interesting to see the contrast between walking down the streets of Copan by myself, and walking down the streets of Copan with a group of people.Somehow we evoke a greater response from the corn husk doll venders and the jewelry sellers with their tables in what we affectionately call Gringo Alley. I also had to say goodbye to the kids at Camp Hope where I have been teaching English, and enjoyed reading stories to precious little Hector for the last time during recess. 

Being flung from my natural comfort zone of, you know, reading poetry and listening to depressing folk music in the solitary confinement of my bedroom has naturally occasioned much thought about my own introverted inclinations. As a way to prepare myself for the impending flood of community I decided to go on an adventure into Guatemala last week with the intent of spending so much time alone that I would be absolutely desperate for society by the time the summer began. I spent one night in Antigua and enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of Kodee, a friend I met while making alfombras on the streets of Antigua during my trip there during Semana Santa a few months ago. From there I ventured out to San Marcos La Laguna in Lago Atitlan for three nights where I enjoyed solitude at my hotel while sitting in a hammock surrounded by hummingbirds and flowers at my hotel. I also enjoyed a variety of adventures, like taking a taxi (aka tuk-tuk) ride to neighboring San Juan where I discovered a local women's textile cooperative. Let's just say that if you throw me into an environment that combines my love for pastel earth tones, fabric, local industries and the empowerment of women, the money will most definitely be spent. I spent time kayaking on the lake and gazing up at the steep slopes surrounding the lake that are crisscrossed with terraced farm fields. I also had the chance to go on a tour of San Marcos with a locally run organization (unlike many of the tourist-geared businesses in the area) to learn a bit about the culture and history of San Marcos - and to enjoy the opportunity of wandering along trails that pass between avocado trees and coffee plants. Two of my favorite products of the earth in one place. Good times.

Traveling by myself at the lake was a rich cultural experience. I had the chance to experience the chicken bus of the boat world - called the lancha - while sitting with people speaking not Spanish or English, but the local Mayan language, the name of which I have sadly (and embarrassingly) forgotten. I had the chance to speak with a woman working for the local women's weaving cooperative to learn about weaving with traditional Mayan techniques and dyes, and I had the chance to speak with a talkative taxi driver about the struggles of the illegal immigrant to the States on the rather lengthy and bumpy ride to San Juan. Much as I love the taxi, my love for it diminishes when we are driving along pot-hole filled holes alongside of cliffs.

As you can probably tell from this description, I didn't spend quite as much time in solitary confinement as I thought. But it was still a rich experience that taught me that I can indeed have substantial conversations in Spanish and my vocabulary isn't quite as weak as I sometimes think, that humanity is beautifully and wonderfully diverse, and that maybe I like being around other people a little more than I sometimes think - at least if I have a little sitting-in-a-hammock-surrounded-by-flowers-and-humming-birds time in my vida.

And to help those of you living back home to get a taste of the beauty of both Antigua and Lago Atitlan, I have, as usual, some photos:

Exploring the plethora of fruit, souvenirs, secondhand clothes, technological products, pirated movies, artisan products and more in the market in Antigua. 


More fabric!

The past two months have not diminished my love for the crumbling walls of Antigua. 

The cathedral of San Francisco. 

More walls. sigh. 

The pilas in Antigua. I can see myself enjoying washing my clothes here. I like the colour scheme., yellow and greenish browns. Lovely.

I know that it is strange to include a picture of my hotel bathroom, especially given that it isn't even a very good picture. But this is just to communicate how pretty the art is in even the bathrooms in the hotel where I stayed - Hotel Aaculaax. Stained glass art is good for the soul. 

I didn't take too many pictures at the lake. I decided to focus on enjoying the moment rather than spending time fussing over my camera. These pictures are the result of this mindset. 

Baby coffee plants!!

This photo does absolutely nothing to show the beauty of the mountains covered with fields. 

Some of the paths close to the water in San Marcos. 


Volcano at night, with the lights of San Pedro below. 

And...back to Antigua. Did I mention that I love the walls there?

 An interesting exhibit about diversity in Guatemala. The photographs were beautiful. 

And last of all, a picture of me enjoying two of my favorite treats from Antigua: chocolate and coffee, united in the beauty of a mocha. Good times. 

Adios for now!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Day in My Life

I decided to be a tourist a couple of weeks ago.

When I first arrived in Honduras, I walked around feeling blind. Coming from the late winter/early spring clouds of beautiful British Columbia in March, the sunlight and colour of Honduras was a shock to the system. Without the gradual seasonal transition from the gray shades of winter to the vibrant colours of sunlit summertime, the contrast between the aesthetics of home and Honduras was a surprise and I spent a lot of time squinting my eyes and feeling dazed.

I don't feel that way anymore. It is like when back home people ask my family if we ever get tired of our view of the gorgeous mountains north of the Fraser Valley. The reality is that after a while we don't notice them anymore. The mountains - albeit beautiful and awe-inspiring become mundane and ordinary.

I think that there is a lot of truth in what Paul says in Philippians, about being "content whatever the circumstances" (Philippians 4:11). Whatever our life circumstances, something else will inevitably look better. If we are rich, we want more. If we are poor, we want more. If we are bored, we want change. The secret to happiness is not contingent upon changing our circumstances or the scenery that surrounds us. The secret is in somehow being content with the grays of BC winter, with the vibrant colours of Honduras, with times of plenty and with times of need.

All this goes to say that I applaud the cliche tourist who stands in scenic locations around the world with a camera around their neck, gazing with an awkward, squinting gaze at the world around us (usually with sunglasses), striving to capture the immense beauty in which we live with a haphazard snapshot. I think that in many cases an artist is like a tourist in their own town, someone who sees the world with the wonder of a tourist who has been transplanted from the mundane reality of Canada, Germany, Korea or wherever they are from, and is now looking with new eyes on the world that is mundane to everyone else around them.

And so, even though the aesthetics of Honduras are still far from mundane to me, the fact that they no longer shock my senses with their beauty inspired me to be a tourist last week and take haphazard snapshots of my everyday life.

Here it goes, portions of my daily life in Honduras:

Morning coffee drinking/reading/journaling time overlooking the palm trees and hills. Beauty. 

(I highly recommend delving into the poetry of Mary Oliver. Her view of nature is beautiful!)

The walk from my house to the road. 

Walking to work.


I get to draw pictures on a regular basis for English class. What is the shepherd doing? He is taking care of the sheep. (hand motion - rocking the imaginary baby while saying taking care of emphatically)

My walking buddies on route to the after school camp program. They are two of the lideres joevenes who work with the kids at camp.

Bananas! We also saw a black variety of bananas on this walk but I forgot to take a picture.

I asked the boys if they knew which plants along our walk are edible. The result is that we stopped every couple of minutes for the rest of the walk to look at every edible plant variety in Copan. Now I can get lost in the forests of Honduras for extended periods of time without the fear of starvation. 

Entering Nueva Esperanza, the neighbourhood where we run one of the afterschool programs. 

Coming up to the school where all the craziness of camp occurs. 

And last but surely not least, the chicken. Probably one of the most common fixtures of life in Honduras. I am sure a better photographer could find beauty in this chicken. I did not. 

Hope you enjoy this glimpse into everyday life here in Honduras! 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Creatures of the Castle

This blog is intended to be a place where I share about my thoughts and the everyday happenings of my life in Honduras. Because of this, I have decided to share something with you that haunts my thoughts and has a very real impact on my everyday life. I am going to introduce you to:

The Creatures of the Castle.

Let me clarify - I am not referring to my human housemates, the wonderful Gisselle, Duane and Jason. No, I am referring to housemates of a non-human variety, those lovely little friends that bring constant surprises and excitement to the daily happenings of life in Copan Ruinas. This list was inspired by two events of this weekend: the surprise in the pila and the unexpected house guest. These tales - and many more - will be told in the list that follows.

Let the joyous list begin.

(1) I am going to begin with the lowly cockroach because it has a special place in my heart. The cockroach has invaded my daily life in a significant way. This is evident given the fact that the vast majority of conversations with my co-workers end on the topic of our deep and enduring love for cockroaches, and that with ever-increasing frequency cockroaches inhabit the content of my dreams. This means that cockroaches are invading not only the corners and crevices of my bedroom, but also the innermost workings of my unconscious. This is a terrifying thought. Let me tell you of the content of my dreams. In my dreams cockroaches can grow and shrink at will. This means they can hide in the smallest of cracks, and then EXPLODE in your face as soon as you get close. The other theme in my dreams is that counter to what I have been told, cockroaches are not as good as dead when they lie on their backs, legs futilely squirming in the air. Not, in my dreams cockroaches have an uncanny ability to bounce up like a bouncy ball, landing securely on all six legs. The castle really does not have to many cockroaches. But what frightens me is that even if I don't see them, they are still there...

(2) The gato. The only reason I have to dislike the humble gato is that I am incredibly jealous of its existence.   Check out this photo and BE jealous:

I want that life.

(3) And now: the chucho de la calle. Translation: street dog. There is a certain group of dogs that loves my house. There are two things they love to do. Number one: they love to hang out in our yard barking. Late into the night. On the nights I have a headache. Number two: they think that when we accidentally leave a bag of garbage outside for a couple of hours, we really meant to give them a big present. They like to open their "present" all over the grass, leaving little bits of eggshell and coffee grounds in their wake.

(4) The termites. The termite might just be the messiest inhabitant of the castillo. As we are getting into rainy season, the termites have acquired faint, translucent wings. They like to fly around and around and around while I sit outside. I think they might be blind, as they have managed on more than one occasion to crawl into my clothing. And then, they shed their little wings everything throughout the castle, which is truly a joy to clean up. Likewise, they enjoy eating our ceiling, leaving mounds of wood chips scattered throughout the house - including my shower.

(5) The spider. I think this picture speaks for itself:

Thankfully, no tarantulas yet!

(6) The frogs. I have nothing negative to say about the frogs. In fact, I would like to have a frog as a pet and let it live in my sink, if I didn't think that would be a little inhumane. I am also not sure if Gisselle would love this idea.

(7) Turkeys. Yes, we have turkeys, and I have proof:

(8) The surprise in the pila. This delight warrants a story. This morning I woke up bright and early ready to lavar some ropa (Spanglish for "wash my mountain of dirty clothes") in the pila. A pila is basically a giant outdoor sink that is used to wash clothing. And inside the basin inside the pila, was a decomposing drowned mouse. The expression in its eyes haunts me to this moment. I am also still haunted by the fact that I still do not have clean clothes.

(I am sorry if this is too much information. This post is part blog, part therapy session.)

(9) The unexpected house guest. On Friday I was just entering the kitchen to prepare something for dinner when all of a sudden a black flapping shape hurled itself towards me in a flurry, continuing to fly in circles around the kitchen. It was - can you guess it? - a bat.

My first thought was of a certain Office episode in which a bat is on the loose in the office. It is eventually captured in a bag - on top of Meredith's head. Meredith ended up in the hospital. And so, I ran to Jason's room to get help. The next few minutes consisted in Jason standing in the kitchen waving a broom around in the air while humming. He was humming in an attempt to communicate with the bat though echolocation, knowing that they can't see very while. I meanwhile, was hiding outside, still thinking about what I would do if the bat got stuck in my hair.

Eventually, in spite of Jason's attempts at echolocation, the bat flew away in the opposite direction of the open door, and managed to hide itself inside a reclining chair. After several joint attempts to gently sweep the bat out from under the chair, Jason and I moved the chair to the open doorway, and encouraged the bat to leave the dark and dismal recesses of a recliner and embrace a life of freedom, soaring in the open skies. After finally emerging from the gloom, and then creeping along the concrete and grass for a couple of minutes (have you ever seen a bat creep along the ground? It looks like a cross between a frog that thinks that it is a snake, and a piece of black kleenex that has come to life), the bat found an edge, pushed off, and soared into the sky. Jason and I proudly watched it go off on its merry way, thinking to ourselves: we have done a good deed today.

I do not want this list to read like a pity session. While these unexpected house guests and surprises can be an inconvenience, they are also add adventure and teach me lessons of patience and flexibility everyday. And while I do not embrace my non-human housemates and welcome them in, what I do welcome is the fact that they bring interest, excitement and humor into everyday life in Honduras.