Travel & Perspective
Last week a friend from Texas came down for a few days to visit, before heading up to volunteer at an orphanage in another part of Guatemala. I love having visitors. For one it reminds to enjoy and appreciate where I live. It’s so easy to just do life– go by the bank, stop at the market, get a haircut, etc and not notice what’s around me. I rarely ever bring my camera when just walking around town. Things like colored walls, tuk-tuks and cobblestone streets all seem normal. But having a friend here allowed me to see things with a fresh perspective- the beauty, the fresh food, the delicious coffee, the slower pace of life.
These are some pictures from my town. Antigua, Guatemala.
All taken by the lovely, Julia.
Walking still feels pretty good for me and the bump. And since we didn’t have a car for the week, we spent a lot of time waiting, walking and…waiting, some more : ) But I guess that’s what you do when you’re a tourist in your own town.
Don’t these pictures make you want to come visit?
Thanks Julia for coming to visit, being super patient and taking lovely photos!
P.S. While waiting for our taxi one afternoon….
I may have made her pose like this…she’s practicing : )
Have you ever gotten to take a few days to be a tourist in your own town?
New Years Eve was spent in Santa Barbara, recovering from colds, sipping soup and watching movies. I didn’t even make it till midnight. So very adult-ish and boring, huh? We have spent 3 weeks in southern California, staying with dear friends, seeing family and spending many hours on the 101, 405, 55, 57 and 134. If you’re not from the SoCal area- those are some of our freeways names.
(side note: watch this SNL video clip, The Californians. It’s hilarious and partly true.)
I got to visit some of my old favorites; Panino, the Boathouse, Butterfly Beach and the Mission lawn. And Gerber declared his Santa Barbara favorite: Blenders. We enjoyed some In-N-Out, his FIRST time. (I know, I know… he has been in CA three times and I have never introduced him to this California deliciousness. What kind of wife am I?) We visited with churches, met up with water filter project consultants and shared meals, and coffee dates with good friends.
We have been so thankfully for lazy mornings and comfortable beds and gracious hosts who have let us make a home away from home. We have had fun meals out, great conversations with friends, time to rest and explore some of California’s best cities, and lots and lots of car time to talk about baby names. Things that most people would probably envy, and we are grateful. But we’re both ready to get back….back to our home, to walking the dog and running errands and doing work we enjoy. Back to regular exercise and hanging up clothes and really, just a sense of normalcy.
I will forever and always be a list maker. I like goals and I like to write down my goals. But I have learned I need to let my lists of goals be more like prayers, with room to grow, change and shift…probably this year more than ever. Usually every January I choose one thing I want change or start to incorporate into my life, like flossing or only using reusable bags. But this year I’m not choosing one thing, but one word.
My word for the 2013 is appreciate.
- To recognize the quality, significance, or magnitude of: appreciated their freedom.
- To be fully aware of or sensitive to; realize: I appreciate your problems.
- To be thankful or show gratitude for: I really appreciate your help.
- To admire greatly; value.
• • •
When I appreciate what I have, I complain less.
When I am thankful for those around me, I don’t compare or become critical.
When I am fully aware, I appreciate my healthy body and the growing baby inside.
When I appreciate what my husband does for me and not nag him for what he didn’t do, everyone is happier.
When I am able to admire God’s endless creativity and grace, I don’t feel the need to be judgmental or change people.
When I recognize how much of my own life is a gift, I am a better version of myself.
So, will you join me in the year ahead and remind me to appreciate?
I have learned since living abroad that holidays just look different here. And instead of trying really hard to re-create what I am used to do, sometimes it’s just better to make new traditions here. I can get sad and nostalgic that no one says “Happy Thanksgiving” when I leave the store or I can chose to be thankful that I work for an organization that cares about the work we do and that we have a place to celebrate Thanksgiving dinner.
Gerber and I are still trying to figure out our traditions as a married couple, but also as a bi-cultural, bilingual family that wants to celebrate and recognize where we both come from. Needless to say we are still figuring it out. But this afternoon while sitting in our car we decided to pray a simple thanksgiving prayer together. And I think it’s a tradition we can keep.
As we acknowledged the abundance of things we have to be grateful for, I felt particularly thankful for one thing.
The way Guatemala treats it’s foreigners, immigrants and visitors.
You see, I am an immigrant. I live in Guatemala, but I am not from here. I immigrated here. Now, immigrant has so many connotations in our country. But really…
Now, I know there are lots of economical, political and social reasons as to perhaps why Guatemala treats and accepts foreigners so well. A lot has to do with money and access and wealth. I know that. It’s not fair, but it just is.
This Thanksgiving I feel grateful that Guatemala has welcomed me and allowed me to make a home here. And I pray that immigrants and foreigners in our country would feel something similar one day.
May you be thankful for wherever you have made your home. Happy Thanksgiving!
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Wherever Wednesday post, but Gayle over at Texifornia is starting it back up and I decided to join. I realize that the longer I live in Guatemala the easier it is to forget what is unique or different about life here. The truth is my sense of what is “normal” has blurred over the past few years. I forget that in the states it’s not “normal” to see people hanging on the back of buses while it’s moving, or that it’s not “normal” for women to sell little bags of pre-cut fruit on street corners or that usually (and by usually I mean never) is it normal to see a family of 4 riding on one motorcycle together.
But this is Guatemala.
If you’ve ever lived in another country or spent significant time with people from a culture different from your own, you know that what is “normal” for you is not necessarily “normal” for anyone else. Have you ever thought about how much our sense of “normal” is influenced by what is familiar and frequent?
For example, I’ll use California because I know it well. In most parts of California has become “normal” to spent $100+ on a pair of designer jeans. And don’t worry, I’m including myself in this “normal.” The brand names are talked about, recognized, the subtle logo conveniently advertised on fellow friends’ rear ends. And boom. It becomes the new normal. It becomes so familiar and frequent that you now would not not but designer jeans, right?
Somehow being from this culture, but living outside of it allows me to look inside with a different lens. At myself, what I used to do, what I still want, and what I consider “normal.”
Here are some other examples:
-Spending $3 or more for a coffee drink
-Getting visibly frustrated when internet pages load too slowly
- Taking a Babymoon (I’ll be honest I love this idea for one day, but when did this become normal?)
- Spending more on home decorations, than giving to those in need
-When did it become normal for yoga pants to cost 70$? (yes, I’m talking about you lulu lemon)
- Being busy is a sign of being important
- Using books and authors as a way to talk about God and feel smart, instead of just living what I’ve learned.
These things all seems relatively “normal” to me. Maybe to you, too…right?
But, honestly, I don’t like that that these things are my “normal.”
Living in Guatemala and being married to a Guatemalan has challenged my faith, my way of living and what I understand as “normal.” I probably have more questions than answers and sometimes it just leaves me paralyzed, indecisive and over-analyzing…EVERYTHING.
This is what I’ve observed is “normal” for Guatemalans:
- Sharing food is important. Quantity usually matters more than quality.
- Greeting every single person when you come and when you leave. (Parents even make their little babies do this!)
- For as indirect as Guatemalans are about confrontation, they will ask “How much did that cost?” without any qualms (about a new car, a cellphone, a computer, a house…ANYTHING)
- A family may have a dirt floor and live in material poverty, but they will have a TV. TV is important.
-Soccer can be played anywhere.
- Typically Guatemalan parents save their money in order to give their grown child a piece of land for a home, not a wedding.
- When natural disasters strike or just a day of “bad” weather people don’t complain and ask why?. They just accept it.
I have learned these things, but they are not yet my “normal.” However, I think when we engage intentionally and learn how other people live it challenges our own definition of “normal”
What is normal for you in your town or culture? How do you resist or accept it? Do share. Especially people who have lived cross-culturally : )
P.S. And link up next month with This is Wherever Wednesday!
Yesterday I had the chance to Guest post over at Sarah Quezada’a blog A Life with Subtitles.
Sarah is a blog-friend-turned-real-friend who writes about multicultural life with her Guatemalan husband and bi-cultural daughter. One of the things I love about the funny world of blogs is the opportunity to connect with people who I might not have otherwise ever meet. If you have ever doubted that you can form an online community and connections through blogs here’s your proof.
Thanks, Sarah for a chance to share part of my story with your readers.
Being White and Looking for a Brown Doll
Last month I was visiting the States and my sister-in-law asked if I could look for a soft, cuddly doll for her 9-month-old daughter, my niece. I googled “dolls for babies” and about eight different blond haired, blue eyed dolls popped up on my screen. But my niece is Guatemalan. She has milk chocolate skin and dark brown eyes and jet-black hair that barely fits into two little pigtails. I wanted to buy a doll that looked like her. I wanted to find a cute, brown doll, but I couldn’t find one.
I am not sure if this is normal, but I love airports. In fact I secretly enjoy when I have extended hours in an airport because it feels like this bubble of uninterrupted time to be super productive. So, thanks to American Airlines and a few extra hours of delays I have read, had breakfast and a latte, checked email, painted my nails, checked in on the twitter-world and now I’m blogging. All before 11am…thankyouvermuch.
It’s probably a good thing I love airports because I spend more time in them now than I ever have. Cross-cultural living and marriage will do that for you.
Here’s what I’ve found to be a few successful airport travel tips for unexpected delays and possibly overnight stays:
-Always pack a toothbrush and extra pair of underwear in your carry-on. My mom taught me this one on my first overseas flight to Ecuador. I was wearing overalls and sporting braces at the time, but I was so thankful for these essentials when we had to stay an extra night in some shady hotel in Florida due to weather.
-Scope out a good wifi spot and if there’s a password save it in your computer or phone for the next time you’re at that some spot. I realize if you’re in the continental U S of A you can just use your fancy 3G and be fine, but cross any international border and you’ll be looking for wifi. stat. (hint: Guate readers: Use Pizza Hut in the airport. Once you past security it’s on your left. It has the best wifi in the airport. Password is: 0123456789. I believe sharing is caring)
- Always, ALWAYS update the time on your phone or computer manually. Trust me I know from experience that sometimes they do not update. Once (not so long ago) I may have been sitting at an airport Starbucks, content as could be because my computer said 4:15pm and my flight didn’t even board until 5:30… yes, imagine my shock when I walked to the gate at 4:45 “my time” and learned that my flight had already left. Oh, yes. Imagine how I tried to explain that one to the ticket counter #lessonlearned
- Do some stretches on the airplane. Anyone who has traveled with me has probably been slightly embarrassed to look over and see my feet up in the air or arms reaching up to touch the ceiling, but I tell you it makes the world of difference on long flights. Stretch those muscles, people.
- Bring some kind of scarf/shall thing that can double as an accessory, blanket or be folded into a makeshift pillow. Due to some poor planning on my part and another American Airlines delay Gerber and I spent TWO nights in airports on our honeymoon. Once in Switzerland and once in Peru. Both times I was so thankful that I had this with me. #notthewayyouwannaspendahoneymoon #hestilllovesme
-Snacks always make waiting and in general life…better. And snacks from home are always better than airport food. I may like airports, but I’m not that fond of airport food.
-International travelers, memorize your passport numbers. It’s so much easier than always having to dig in your bag to pull out the passport. Sad truth I use my passport number now more than my license or SS #.
-My dad taught me many things. One is: IT NEVER HURTS TO ASK. So, I always ask about a window seat or an exit aisle and I may have been known to use my curls and ask about first class. It worked…once.
- We don’t have kids yet (and no I’m not pregnant) but three of my closest friends are and I now think about international travel with a baby in a different way. But all of my friends who are MOMS—get this….on my flight today from Guatemala to Texas there was a Guatemala-mom sporting her hooded jacket, yoga pants and backpack with her 3-month old in one arm on their way to Canada, where she lives with her Canadian husband. We chatted. She sat across the aisle from me. The little guy fussed as everyone got on the plane. But, then she sat down, held him and he fell asleep before take off. Then, she laid him on the open seat next to her, swaddled up, and took out a BOOK. I was already wow-ed at this point. Thirty minutes later, she left him to go THE BATHROOM. I was half-impressed. Half shocked. Thinking I want to know what magic sauce she has and how could she just leave him there and go to the bathroom? It reminded of my friends Lesley’s post. Clearly, I have a lot to learn before motherhood.
Ok, frequent fliers what are some of your helpful tips and hints?
P.S I’m attending a conference this week called CCDA and am super excited. Partly because my sister is leading a workshop (yeah, she’s kind of a big deal), my parents are also attending, and it’s a chance to learn and hear about how other Christians are doing community development work across the nation. Check back for updates.
Perhaps the best part of a vacation is who you choose to spend it with. And I just got to spend a week away with one of my favorite people at one of my favorite places. In 2007 I experienced Lago Atitlan for the first time, and I said a little prayer that one day I’d get to take my future husband there. Fast forward 5 years later; and now I’m living about just 2 hours from that lake with a man from the country I fell in love with 5 years previously.
Since being married we’ve taken a few day trips, then I went to a writing conference and he to a water filter conference, but we have not taken any kind of real vacation. Since September and October tend to be our slower season for hosting groups from the states, we seized the opportunity.
We packed up our backpacks, strapped on our helmets and I left any sense of fashion at home because G convinced me to wear his motorcycle jacket. I objected for all of 3 seconds until he muttered something like…safety, padding, and protection. My mom would be pleased. I have come to enjoy riding the motorcycle and we have developed a series of hand signals to communicate while riding, things like, “You, ok?”, “Look at that,” “I love you” and the all important, “Bathroom break.”
And riding a motorcycle has taught me the art of packing less clothes and only bringing two pairs of shoes. My dad tried to train us girls on every family vacation. He always told us, “You can only bring what you can carry.” Luckily, I was a pretty strong 10 year-old girl so I learned to carry A LOT. However, Gerber’s rule: we each get one small backpack. Thankfully, my man is pretty low maintenance so I got to use 3/4 of the space in both backpacks. Yes, he gets major good husband points for being willing to carry my crap.
Thanks to a very generous friend, with an incredible lakeside property this was our home for the week. It’s the perfect combination of cozy, rustic and romantic. Most walls are made of windows which means you can see the lake and volcano from literally every point in the house. You can wash dishes, read in a hammock, wake up in the morning, and take a shower all without compromising the view. The bottom right photo is the view from the bed pictured to the left. I have never been so happy to wake up.
We made and ate most meals right here on the patio. I mean if you saw the view and the garden you would as well. Breakfast was fresh yogurt and granola with papaya, piña and sandia, oh, and coffee. I have converted from my former tea-ways to be come a full-fledged coffee drinker. Dinners were pasta with spinach and artichokes or tomatoes and cheese. Simple, delicious and goes good with a glass of wine. A few nights dinner consisted of homemade chocolate chips cookies while we watched a movie. Hey, it was vacation, now : )
I recently read something that said, every couple should have an outside game and an inside game. We have lots of outside “games” that we do together, but nothing really for the inside game. Gerber, was shocked to learn that I didn’t know how to play Checkers, or Damas, as it’s called in Spanish. Yes, truth be told somehow in my southern California upbringing I’m not sure how I missed this. So with the lake as our backdrop, and candles on the table I had my first lesson. I was Paperclips and he was Rolled-up-pieces-of-napkin. It was perfect, except I lost every game. But the good news is I think we found our inside game. Just need to buy a real Checkers board, now.
I think one of the challenges of vacation-ing with someone else is when you have different vacation-ing styles. Anyone who has vacationed with a person who has a different vacation style knows just what I mean? Thankfully, we both like the same kinds of places- outdoorsey, simple, close to nature, but within walking distance of cities and towns. However, I have a pretty high tolerance (read: enjoy) for sitting and reading and only getting up to change locations based on the direction of sun. G on the other hand needs to physically DO something. He’s active, adventurous and gets restless if I suggest we sit and read for longer than 20 minutes. So we learned to do some things on our own.
He explored the town, kayaked for a few hours and rode his motorcycle. I did some of those things, but I spent a fair amount of time rotating between the dock and a hammock upstairs where I finished a book on my Kindle and read a Vegetarian Cookbook that was in the kitchen from cover to cover. Did I mention I think this house has the best library in all of San Marcos? There were 3 different bookshelves full of titles from the NY Times Best Seller list, some old classics, and some obscure titles. I copied down quite a few to add to my, “Books to Read” List.
One morning we took a 2 hours hike up along the cliffs over looking the lake, wound around through some corn fields, crossed a few streams and ended up with lunch at this gorgeous hotel. I often am reminded in Guatemala what a luxury it is to “take a hike” for pleasure. We chose to explore and walk and climb this trail, but the truth is many local men and women do it daily for their livelihood, not for pleasure. They harvest their corn and look for firewood on the same trail we took for fun. I am reminded that things like exercising and hiking are really a privilege, not a necessity or a right. It’s easy to confuse those things.
These are a few of my favorites because the capture the peacefulness, fun and love I think we felt that week. Not just for each other, but for the opportunity to get away, and to appreciate the beauty of people and a part of the country that we have both been to numerous times separately, but never together.
Perhaps the best sign of a good vacation, is when you are eager and ready to get back home. I will always love weekend trips and vacation get-aways, but there is something so good about coming home to ordinary days, simple routines and meaningful work.
Here’s to Lago Atitlan, my husband and many years ahead of coming home from vacations.
* * *
P.S. If you are seriously interested in coming to Guatemala or renting this lakeside house email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you the vrbo web-address. It would be the perfect house for family vacation, a group of friends or just a couple. The house sleeps 6-8 and there is a tree house and little cabana that are also for rent. It’s about a 10 min walk to San Marcos La Laguna and a 2 hour drive from Antigua.
Do you know your vacation-style? Is it compatible with your family or spouse?
I introduced you to Yumbo and our first date here last August. And now 1,56k later I’ve fallen in love.
It was really a practical decision at first. A scooter is much cheaper than a car and since the home we bought is about 5K outside of Antigua I needed a way to get around town. But now I can’t imagine not having a scooter. I was surprised when I was back in Santa Barbara to see just how popular the little two wheelers have become. I realize it may not make sense for everyone to have a scooter; kids, winter weather, and Costco trips are all factors that do not lean in favor of scooting around.
However, here’s how having a scooter has changed my life and how I think about the privilege of transportation:
+ There are limits to what I can do. Having a car gives you the impression that you can go anywhere, anytime, whenever you want. A scooter changes that. I don’t drive it at night. And if it’s raining I can choose to stay at home and wait until it stops or put on rain boots and a huge tarp like thing. Usually I opt for option 1.
+ I find by by losing a little independence and control, I learn to ask others for help or just wait. Neither of which are my forte.
+ That being said, I do love that I can pass buses and scoot around long lines of cars #yessss
+ I spend 21 Queztales every week on gas – that’s about $3 – THREE dollars, people. That’s pretty good, huh?
+ I can only buy what I can carry* and let me tell you I have gotten very, very good at packing my little scooter full after a run to the grocery store.
(* to be totally honest, I should disclose that G does have a truck that we share and we use when it is raining, or when buying big things or making long trips.)
+ Most Guatemalans don’t own a car or a scooter, so their transportation is limited to when the bus system runs. I learned that rather quickly when trying to host a small group at my old apartment at 7:30pm- no one came unless they owned a car, because they didn’t have a way to get there. It reminds me that having transportation is a luxury, not a right.
+ It’s fun! What could be better than scooting along a cobblestone road under the Antigua sun, with views of coffee plantations and volcanoes in the distance.
+ Makes me very aware of other drivers on the road. I read the manual: Always assume cars can’t see you.
+ Parking is free and if you live in Antigua…or really any city… that is a major bonus! #ilovefreethings
+ I have learned to master road conditions that would never be permitted in the states. Mud puddles, dirt roads and small boulders are no problem. #makesmestronger
Now on the wardrobe front:
+Dresses and skirts are not scooter friendly. Most days I opt for jeans or yoga pants.
+I have quite a few pairs of flip flops and sandals that are collecting dust on the bottom of my closet floor. #thisisntsantabarbara
+I have traded in any kind of fashionable purse for my trusty, Northface backpack. 0 points on the style front, but a perfect 10 when it comes to carrying my computer, groceries and a rain jacket.
+Now, if I could just figure out how to not have helmet hair like I would be a happy camper:
Besides the helmet hair, have I convinced you to become a scooter owner?
I posted this on instagram earlier today because it was my detour while driving to a meeting up at one of our schools. What you can’t totally see from the picture is there is a 50 ft drop off on the left side and an another drop behind the tractor.
this. is. guatemala.
I thought I’d share a few rules of the road that I’ve learned in the past few years:
-Always, always look out for speed-bumps. They’re on every street, often every 10 feet. (it’s great practice for downshifting from 2nd to 1st gear) #yesilearnedhowtodrivestickshifthere
-when you come to a narrow street, bridge with one lane, etc. the bigger car always has the right away. (thankfully because I drive this beast around so I usually get the right away) #myhusbandshareshistruckwithme
- If you need to run into the store, grab coffee, get something at a tienda, etc- just pull over and leave your flashers on.
It means “sorry-I-know-what-I’m-doing-is-illegal-but-I’m-going-to-do-it-anyway.” It works especially well for “parking” where it’s red or when you know you’re blocking one lane of traffic. #everyonedoesit #weuseflashersalot
-you CAN pass cop cars or in this case cop trucks (not joking!)
Nothing. I repeat nothing happens. The first time Gerber zoomed around a police truck I just about peed my pants. I may have screamed, “what the heck are you doing?” Shocked, he looked at me dumbfound. Whatttt??? Since then I’ve taken on the same nonchalant attitude and I pass a cop at least once a day. #youcouldneverdothatinthestates
- When you have to break suddenly or you see a long line of cars in front of you braking. What you do? Use the flashers. I think it signals to everyone else, hey, I’m really breaking here. again #weuseflashersalot
-I’ve already written here about Guatemalans’ creative use of tree branches and other forms of saying CAUTION while on the road. So not only do you have be able to interpret tree branch and rock code, but look for the use of flashing brights. If someone coming the opposite direction on the highway flashes their brights at you it means “hey, watch out…something is up-ahead.” I think I’d like a Morris code system. Something like one quick flash = hole in the road, two quick, one long flash = accident ahead and one short, two long = mudslide. But what I do know is you have to #alwaysbeonthelookout
- seeing people in the back of a pickup is totally, 100% normal. I mean check out this girl- she is not worried at all about seat-belts, head injuries, accidents, and everything she learned in physics about the moving velocity of objects inside a car keep moving at that speed even when the car comes to a stop. #ipaidattentionindriverstraining
Happy Wednesday to you! Drive safe out there.
Are there any new driving laws in the states?
Wednesday are my attempt to capture part of what life is like here in Guatemala.
Feel free to join in. Wherever you are.
Sometimes I am reminded how different things are in Guatemala. Like last week’s sighting.
Now on to this week.
I was skyping with my friend earlier this week and she heard a horrible noise through the microphone.
She gasped and asked “what the heck was that?”
Oh, nothing. Just gunshots.
this. is. guatemala.
I say it nonchalantly because it is. kinda.
When I moved into our home the next door neighbor warned me that every night between 10pm – 2am there are gunshots. Supposedly, the guards from the different residential communities (ours included) shoot their guns into the air as a way to ward off potential criminals.
I imagine it’s like dogs marking their territory.
Something like, hey I got this place covered. It’s mine.
Although maybe it’s just what they do to stay awake between those awful hours. I dunno.
Regardless, it is somewhat normal. And now I don’t even notice it.
And if it’s not gunshots that you hear, then it will be firecrackers.
I tell you if there is ever any real attack in Guatemala, I will not know it because firecrackers sounds very similar to bombs going off.
(not that I really know what a bomb sounds like).
But just go with me.
However, most days my life looks pretty normal. No guns, no firecrackers and no bombs.
( see proof below)
finally bought a bedside lamp. it’s a little small, but my stack of books finally has a purpose.
we take naps. like father, like…. dog.
And try to exercise. This week we played ultimate.
However, the real reason I play is it’s the only opportunity I get to wear these sexy shoes.
i buy lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.
And carefully soak all of them for 5 min to get rid of any creatures that may have caused this.
(and yes, I keep our fruit basket on top of our washing machine. you don’t?)
see, pretty normal.
I refrained from taking pictures of the guns that our guards carry. This is a family friendly blog : )
If you’re really interested google “guns in Guatemala.” You’ll get the idea.
What did you take pictures of this Wednesday?
I never, EVER thought I would be one of those people who posts pictures of their pets on the worldwideweb. But here I am.
What is the world coming to?
My sister and friend Chelsea are going to be shocked. I know.