Sunday, December 6, 2009

journey of the magi

by T.S. Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

wild geese

A beautiful friend gave me this poem on a rather difficult day. I'm thankful for poetry, and friends who know the deep healing of words and creation.

"Wild Geese"
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ego and soul

"Is there anything that I can do to make myself enlightened?"

"As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning."

"Then of what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?"

"To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise."

-Zen master to his disciple
(from Richard Rohr's Everything Belongs)

Friday, November 6, 2009

instructions upon entering darkness

You must hibernate:
Gather food,
Hold your rosary,
Hope (try to).

Always surround yourself with books,
not to read (necessarily)
But to remind yourself that some things
do last
and new stories are retold.
Transformation with time.

Don't talk too much,
Lips need slumber too.
Learn to listen,
Ears need constant vigilance.
Only then will you know inherent value.

Drink wine with friends who don't
rush your pain.
Believe that humility rarely shows
up without humiliation.

Turn your face to the sky:
The earth will continue to rotate around an axis
toward the sun's rays.
Winter is coming,
Spring will come after.
The deep sleep will be aroused...
It will.

A frozen river still rushes water deep within.

And when the ice does thaw,
don't forget.
The sea was parted, the walls were tumbled,
the way was prepared.
Remember--for this will come again--
Just as the leaves fall, fertilize and recloak
the oaks of righteousness.

those of us most defeated and most elated

"The words 'I' and 'Love' and 'You' are the watermark of humanity. Strung together, they convey our deepest sense of humility, of power, of truth. It is our most common sentiment, even as the feeling of it is so infinitely uncommon; each to proclaim these three words with his or her very own heart and mindset of reason (or lack thereof); a proclamation completely and perfectly new each time it is offered. Uttered daily and nightly by millions, the words are said in an unending array of circumstances: whispered to the newborn in a new mother's arms; shared between best friends on the playground; in the form of sympathy--said by a girl to a boy, as the respect continues but the relationship does not. It is said too loudly by parents to embarrassed children in the company of their friends, and by grown children--to their fading parents in hospital beds. The words are thought in the company of the photograph and said in the company of the gravestone. It is how we end our phone calls and our letters...the words at the bottom of the page that trump all those above it, a way to gracefully finish a message, however important or trivial, with the most meaningful gift of all: the communication of love. And yet the words themselves have been the victims of triviality, a ready replacement for lesser solutions among near strangers, burst forth casually as 'love ya.' Truly? To what degree? Why, how much, and for how long? These are questions befitting the stature of love, though not the everyday banter of vague acquaintance. The words have also been twisted by the dark nature of deceit; to say, 'I love you' with a dramatic measure of synthetic emotion; a snare set by those who prey upon fellow humanity, driven to whatever selfish end, to gain access to another's body, or their money, or their opportunity. In this realm, the proclamation is disgraced by one seeking to gain rather than to give. In any case, and by whatever inspiration, these words are woven deeply into the fibers of our existence. Our longing to hear them from the right place is maddeningly and simultaneously our finest strength and our most gentle weakness. The album 'I and Love and You' is unashamedly defined by such a dynamic of duality. As living people, we are bound by this unavoidable parallel. We are powerful yet weak, capable yet temporary. Inevitably, an attempt to place honesty within an artistic avenue will follow suit. [...] 'I and Love and You' is an album of obvious human creation, characterized by its best and its worst. Emotional imperfection is a reality for those who recorded the piece, just as it is for those who will hear it. The conclusion of the song from which the title is taken admits that the words 'I love you' have become 'hard to say.' And perhaps that difficulty is as common as its counterpart. Perhaps the inability to say these heaviest of words is as much a part of life as the lighthearted candor of those who say them without any difficulty at all. And so it ends with the phrase whispered to and by those of us most defeated and most elated...I and love and you..."
-The Avett Brothers

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

everything belongs

Perhaps this is what love is for:
to live then die then live again.

Once, alone in perceiving self;
Now, hand is in the hand of nature.
Once, out of place with what seemed good;
Now, eyes see a leaf's veins as my own blood reservoir.

To know that our hearts beat
as the seasons beat
Life and Death and Life again
is good.

(Sometimes) love must end to birth resurrection.

fyodor dostoyevsky

"Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love."

from The Brothers Karamazov

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

a poem

From Mary Karr's Sinners Welcome

"Descending Theology: The Resurrection"

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in--black ice and blood ink--
till the hung flesh was empty. Lonely in that void
even for pain, he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse's core, the stone fist of his heart

began to bang on the stiff chest's door,
and breath spilled back into that battered shape. Now
it's your limbs he longs to flow into--
from the sunflower center in your chest
outward--as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

where to love and whom

I've snuck into another season.  The post and pre of travel arousal.  The middle--the in-between.  I have always only found writing easy and necessary with new, tangible sensations of different languages and colors and strangers in strange lands, and it is now that I remain in Tennessee where my roots began and were cultivated and are ever still open to rain and strength.  I don't write in Tennessee...not well, not naturally. (Well, there was that one time I gleefully dissected the male gaze theory within American Beauty).

These are ordinary times where I am training my brain to dissect the human body and press on toward the skills of nursing and being alongside those who are sick, hurting.  Ordinary hopes to fit all my hair in a ponytail by the end of the summer, not kill all the plants I planted, and take my kiddos to church where they learn that the Lord loves them and made them special.  I just saw the trailer of Where the Wild Things Are and though it may not come out until October, it keeps me going.  

I want to learn the discipline of thankfulness--for the ordinary and expected, the slow patient time that wraps into months and years.  I want to see the table in front of me with its mahogany wood once stained and now battered by coffee mugs rings and the weight of books and wonder who made it, how many thrift stores and yard sales it passed through before making home in this living room of a java market.  I want to know people with such wonder:  like the man at Kroger who works with such exhilarating confidence and joy as a grocer, or the Aussie who changed my oil the other day and had a tattoo of Elvis on his calf.  I wonder if he moved to Memphis because of Elvis, or because of a woman, or both.  

He had the inevitable dirt and oil underneath his nails that has recently become a favorite observation.  To work in the earth or with tools is getting us closer to the way things used to be, how humanity was always intended to interact with creation.  To build and plant and create are echos of necessity and birth and beauty.  Ordinary, absolutely.  Glorious, indeed.  I am hopeful that the ordinary will be so simple and intoxicating that I will gravitate to such a discipline.  But it does take new eyes and ears to see and hear the breaths of nature, the constant turning of love, mercy, restoration.

"We sleep to time's hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if we ever wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it's time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it's time to break our necks for home.

There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times."

-Annie Dillard 'Holy the Firm' 

May our senses break to the patient knowing of God and love.  

Monday, June 15, 2009

let it go

let it go--the 
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise--let it go it
was sworn to

let them go--the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and 
neithers--you must let them go they
were born 
                   to go

let all go--the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things--let all go
         so comes love

(brother ee)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

el resto es silencio

It has been on the more gloomy side of things here in Memphis since last Friday.  This morning is no different, but I find myself typing on a small circular table surrounded by good and not-so-good artwork at a local coffee shop listening to the Amelie soundtrack.  I am back from my travels.  In fact, Britta and I flew out of Costa Rica two weeks ago, but I've been too busy or apathetic to write since I returned...mostly busy, but the apathy surfaces when I don't want to face the fact that I'm not on the inevitable reality. 

We really should begin at the end which would take us to Nicaragua.  You saw the photos and read stories of Ometepe...I love the name so much, it might sneak into a child's birth certificate one day.  After the volcanic adventure with exceptional comrades, we scurried on to our last new destination, Granada.  A welcomed location for travelers to visit and never leave, the small colonial town bordering Lake Nicaragua, combines the warmth of Nicaraguan character and livelihood with a splash of former European development that reflects the pastels of coastal Spain, Italy or Slovenia.  
Our hostel boasted numerous computers with free internet, a small pool, and an enjoyable silence.  It also was housing one Rebecca Schneibel.  Half German, half French, she was raised in Berlin, lived and studied in London for 4 years, is in the midst of her PhD in pyschology back in Germany, and took several months to explore most of South America and a good bit of Central America.  She was splendid, and we spent the majority of our weekend doing the traveling dance known as instantaneous amigos.  Her British accent was flawless and her gorgeous curly mass of hair framed a Tori Amos-like resemblance.  

Since it was our last Saturday night on the Latino scene and the first time in a long while we were in an actual city, we promised her we would go out for a lady's night.  Off to an open-aired cafe/bar we went with live music and mint mojitos.  The only open table was alongside two Argentinian-turned-Costa Rican men who boasted charming smiles and made even better company.  Carlos, shown below (along with Rebecca), is an artist who grew up in Patagonia and moved to Costa Rica 15 years ago.  Leandro, not pictured because he was busy not dancing and guarding my purse, introduced himself as a cook who lived in Monteverde.  Monteverde just so happens to be a tiny town with the best food we ate in Costa Rica...and as small and intimate as the world tends to be, of course it was that same cafe that Leandro had worked for the past 3 years.  We laughed and chatted and danced until our yawns were too overwhelming to hide, and said good night.  We tried to convince the fellas to go with us to Laguna de Apoyo the following morning for a day's worth of chillin', but they chose the always-so-tempting sleeping-in option.  Unfortunately, we were away at dinner that next night when they came by and left a hilarious note at our hostel.  And this is where that separate island of all the cool people you meet traveling would come in handy--no notes necessary.  
Nevertheless, Britta, Rebecca and I had one amazing day relaxing, swimming, reading, and kayaking in the crater of a volcano.  The weather could not have been more appropriate, and the hotel where we spent the day could not have been better suited for living slowly and deliberately.  You can see that Britta and I promoted world peace while staying afloat on the intertubes, Rebecca and her British pal enjoyed the Nicaraguan handicraft of a hammock seat swing, and we developed our ripped arms by whitewater kayaking across the calm crater waters.  
Back home in Granada, we took the remaining sunlight to photograph the very photogenic walls, cobblestones, churches, graffiti, passer-byers.  You could roam these streets for a good lifetime.  

We ate dinner, laughed at our note, and hugged Rebecca goodbye before we got on a much-too-early bus ride back to Alajuela, Costa Rica.  TICA bus is basically the yuppy way to travel and we reveled in the comfort of the cushioned seats, ample leg space, easy border crossing, and the always humorous happenings of strangers falling asleep on each other's shoulders.  And many hours later we arrived back to Hotel Cortez Azul where Eduardo was waiting with our stored winter coats and one incredibly large box that contained the handmade rocking chair (not our hands....some much more talented Costa Rican hands) I bought for my parents.  Britta and I got a last fruit shake, some not-so-great seafood, and wandered back to the hotel where we finished one of my bottles of the homemade chocolate liquor hailing from Ometepe (Eduardo tried it, and stuck to his red wine).  A starry night was the backdrop to our packed bags, finished glasses, and well-traveled laughter.  The following morning I held my breath and my yellow fever vaccination card (of course, it wasn't needed, but I thought it was worth covering my bases) as I got my boarding pass for a flight to Chicago.

Britta and I have known each other for three years now.  We met working in Glacier National Park in northern Montana for a summer season, and kept in touch the following year before we decided to hop on a plane to Nepal together.  That was where our friendship grew in depth and where a common love for children, adventure, culture, love was indelibly printed.  We had traveled the world together, but it wasn't until going to Chicago that we saw one or the other in a hometown familiarity.  Similar to my childhood here in Memphis, Britta's parents have lived in the same house for a longgg period of time, and so to not only see the house where your friend grew up, but eat the Italian subs she ate everyday during high school, and spend an evening in the Wrigley Sanctuary of a stadium where she once spent two years selling tickets, is such a sweet way of getting to know her through the pulse of a childhood.  Britta would never in her right mind live in Chicago again, but with days of glorious spring that erase a winter chill, the city was in a good season to show off.
While in Chicago, we reunited with other good friends from our summer in Glacier.  Ken and Sarah who you see snuggled up in ski clothing with us in the photo above joined us in a rootrootroot for the Cubbies as we caught up on life since I last saw them at their wedding last June.  We also had a coffee break just hours before my bus departed for Memphis--they're the kind of friends I never want to say, "Wow, it's been years since I've seen them."  That should never happen.  The other two gorgeous ladies seen below are the ones and onlies, Margaret and Gwen.  Margaret, Britta and I represented the esteemed Front Desk for the summer 2006 squad, and Gwen managed the boxed wine heaven of our snack shop, Heidi's.  We ate Chicago pizza, drank beer at Billy Goat's, and talked about old memories (I got a good cackle or two in with my laugh twin, Marge).  
It has been my good fortune to have had only immaculate weather in Chicago the four times I've visited...such luck allowed me and Britta to bike around the city my entire last day with a stint of sunbathing at Lake Michigan to boot.  Britta can sometimes be insane as you can so clearly see as she attempts a full immersion in sub-arctic lake temperatures.  She just wanted to show off that tan.

I said goodbye to Britta in front of Union Station, and similar to our departure in Nepal, it seemed odd that we wouldn't be each others' shadows for the days to come.  The first edition of my tour of the Americas had come to a close, but I feel certain the second will be lurking around some soon corner waiting to surprise and enthrall.  For now it is Memphis, where two of my dearest friends in this world married last weekend and where I will begin classes to eventually become a nurse in just a few weeks.  I will be soon starting on a small garden and hoping that my Vietnam Veteran of a dog will not die of post-tramatic stress disorder during an anticipated spring thunderstorm.  Maybe not as exotic as jungle surfing volcano explorations, but a good life indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

the world will freely offer itself to you

You don´t need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Don´t even listen, simply wait.
Don´t even wait.
Be quite still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you.
To be unmasked, it has no choice.
It will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

-Franz Kafka

It has been a gift to travel once again, meet new people, see the beauty of the world, suck the marrow out of life. We leave in the morning for San Jose where we will spend one more night with lovely Eduardo and fly out Tuesday afternoon. I will come up with a clever, or not-so-clever conclusion when I am nestled in Chicago watching the Cubs with Britta and old friends. Oh, and check out her blog for a bird´s eye view of her entire journey (including the 10 days I was letting anti-yellow fever settle in my system):
She has some pretty hilarious anecdotes of other characters we´ve met along the way.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

the beasts of ometepe

It´s not that Britta and I aren´t organized. We are rather responsible and can be anally attentive to detail; however, when going to Nicaragua from Costa Rica, we didn´t make any..any..plans. We had only focused on CR with a big travel book in hand and preparations for months, but when Marcos and Sarah tempted us to the north with it´s cheaper accomodations and varied landscape, we left the travel home back in its home and got on the first local bus to Nicaragua from Monteverde. We were going to the Island of Ometeppe and Granada...we´d figure the rest out along the way.

But not before we had to cross the border. Oh goodness, no airport annoyance I´ve ever had could compare to this chaos. Exit one country with people screaming, lines curving, stamps stamping, cross an ambiguous divide where the security guy winked and flirted into the grand entrance of Central America´s second poorest country. This is where the headache began and the crowds started to feel like a mantra of every Nicaraguan trying to sell toothbrushes, throat lozenges, soda, chips, candy, whatever on the local, 90´s soft rock-playing buses--piercing, consistent, stop it I´m not buying. But we did, in fact, get through, and not throw up our hands and surrender ourselves back into Costa Rica...and immediately we were satisfied with the enormity of Volcán Concepción, one of the two volcanoes that makes its home on the small island of Ometeppe (meaning ´two hills´).

At the end of our ferry ride, a German by the name of Lennart whose profile resembled more of a Coldplay Chris Martin, and whose German obsession with being clean, organized, wearing tight tanktops and go-crazy-island shirts while he´s away from Berlin, made him hilarious. He must have seen the forlorn look we had not knowing where the heck we were going, and whisked us off with him in a taxi to the opposite side of the island in a farm hippy commune compost toilet ecological gem of a place on earth in Santa Cruz. For the next two days we refused to intentionally sweat under such a sun so we neglected the hike up either volcano. Instead, we drank smoothies, homemade chocolate liquor from the hippie compost commune, and swam in Lake Nicaragua (home to the only fresh water sharks in the world, you trivia nuts).

Our first day we met Caroline and Sebastian...they had the same beach bum plans (and vacationed from El Salvador with only their passport, surfboard, money and the bathing suit on their body), so we ate a meal for 3 hours, baywatched ourselves in the water and ate more food together. They may get the prize for the ¨whoa, you´re how old and you´ve done how many things already??¨ Both at the ripe age of 21, they just met up a couple weeks ago in El Salvador. From Quebec, Caroline took her bike down to Mexico where she rode for hundreds of miles down the coast staying in homes, beaches, restaurants floors, learning Spanish and feeling adventurous. Britta and I kept wondering what her parents thought about this...After several months there, she met up Sebastian in ES to learn how to surf (they had met on which is something that gives hope to all mankind). Sebastian was born in Norway to a native mother and Mississippian father, and spent his high school years and now college semesters (the ones he attends) in North Carolina...Boone, that is, at App State. With long curly locks, skin that has been darkened 30 times over by the surfing sun, and a smile that looks like bleached tile and sparkles like the stars under the Alabama-Quaker-founded Monteverde sky, he is right up there with Hannah from London as most adorable creature on the planet. After he graduated from high school he spent 2 months on the Appalachian Trail by himself and another 4 months in a station wagon going to every national park...he has covered 49 of the 50 states (no Alaska yet) 21...21. These two kids (because I feel that graduating in 2012 means you´re young) were a blast.

And so the 3 days on the island were spent per usual: meet cool folk, frolic, exercise only to a destination of laziness, and marvel at the hand of God. Since the island is primarily farmland, and the water is free from saltiness, all animals walk the sandy beaches along with the few tourists.

And it is here in Granada where we bought the remainder of our gifts, have typed willingly on the free, fast internet at our fabulous hostel, met my sole other Rebecca, from Berlin as well (I will detail her later, for sure), danced and laughed with two good-looking Argentinian men (both now live in Costa a painter, the other the cook at our favorite cafe in Costa Rica from kidding, Britta went to the cafe 3 times, myself once), and are about to leave for a day at the local volcano´s lagoon...these folks are crazy about their volcanoes.

that second reason

For anyone who´s traveled and hopped from one border to the next, one hostel to the other, there is an absolute common denominator that the folks you meet can make or break a location. As I´ve already mentioned, Jaco was a grand three days of surfing, laughing, Quizno´s (insert shame), and good conversation. It is a combination of the shared energy of vagabonds, outlaws, lovers that takes curiosity, magic, and gregariousness, throws them together in a wad of saltwater and creates instantaneous friendship. I have often thought that it would be a kind of Neverland to capture all the characters you´ve met along the way only for a breath and see how such a place would make you dream--naturally, the charm and romanticism would quickly fade, but the vision is still as fanciful as fairies.

Missy and Brian are from Colorado. We met them our first night in the Hostel owned by Edit, the Hungarian. They were immediately the most friendly couple I have ever met. We ate two breakfasts with them, chatted about good film, the art of packing, Brian took photos of all three of us learning to surf, etc. Brian is a counselor and Missy is thinking of going into nursing...we immediately wanted Brian to be our counselor, and for a film crew to run around Truman Showing their lives. Two gems right there.

What we have here are three Brits. We were thrown all together in a dorm our first night, and due to overbooking were sent as a team to another hostel down the road. Andrew, to the left with music genius, and Luke, to the right and resembling a bit of that royal family, are traveling nine months all-in-all having already been to Brazil, Peru and Panama. It is a surfing extravaganza up through Central America, the West Coast of America, New Zealand, and Australia. They are childhood friends who thought it a good time to take off a chunk of a year for one lengthy adventure. Our first night they usurped control over the one computer for over an hour to gamble on the Masters Tournament. We three women naturally gave them grief about it, but it turned out that Luke put a healthy bet on the small odds of Angel Cabrera winning it all...well, he did and Luke was $500 wealthier. Hilarious. Karma is bound to catch up with them in Vegas. They were handsome, splendid company with classic wit. POD...BT.

Hannah here, also known as Ms. Julie Andrews, is one of the more adorable people in this world (along with Hayley Kaimakliotis hailing from London herself, Mandy Spears, Sheena Mugavin, and that little girl from Little Miss Sunshine...just want to put em in your pocket cute). Traveling by herself without a speck of Spanish or Portuguese, she went through Brazil for 2 months, all over Costa Rica, on her way to Mexico, and then the West Coast of the US herself. With all the lone travelers we´ve met, there is the common thread of personality: outgoing, trusting, adventurous, flexible, and friendly as all get out. With her sharp British accent and fireball confidence she toured the Western Hemisphere with ease and an iron...for hair and clothes...seriously.

And the trend continues as I ziplined through Monteverde and we crossed quite the thick, shady border of Nicaragua to the Isle de Ometepe, and now in Granada. I have couches to sleep on in Quebec, North Carolina, Berlin, and London. Good people all around.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the first reason we fell in love with Jaco

Britta, surfboard & a Jaco sunset.

We arrived in Esterillo Este for the evening after our long week on the farm. It was a kind of paradise with hardly any folk, fruit drinks galore, hammocks next to the beach, sand-dollared walks, and a pool to boot. So our need for bank cash money that forced us down the road to tourist/surfer heaven Jaco, did not thrill our souls. We may have only stayed the night but it being Semana Santa (Holy Week) kept the buses non-existent for a couple days.

By the end of our second night we had surfed and made good friends. With the adrenaline that comes with riding waves at sunset for the first time and getting chummy with three swell Brits, a Costa Rican surfer, and the sweetest couple from Colorado, we eagerly stayed here longer.

More stories and photos of our pals in a wee bit.

la finca

Marcos and Britta with the chair

our treehouse home away from home

workin the field

cashews with its bosom buddy, the marañan fruit

the finished product

our afternoon sanctuary


where we read books

When I was in grade school we had different kinds of fundraisers every year. They tended to focus on wrapping paper and magazines, and if you sold so many of either you would get prizes--cool to cooler. One year, maybe 5th grade, I won a tent. I am from the urbanization of Memphis, TN, and so to get the more bang for my free buck, I pitched the tent in my parents´dining room. They were good sports, and for the next several weeks, I would sleep in my prized tent with my tooth brush and toothpaste kept conveniently in the inside pocket where you store clever things. In years to come I would move the tents or just a sleeping bag under stars, near mountains, snuggled up to rivers, but it was that younger longing that took me there-thank goodness for People magazine.

Rivaling the star-bulleted ceiling of a July Many Glacier Valley was our home for the week we lived at the farm. Our cabaña was on the jungle floor of Mastetal built by our friend, Marcos, some years ago with the built-in surround sound of the rainforest to put you to sleep. Minus our first night´s encounter with the poisonous snake on our trip down to the cabaña, it could not have been a more perfect place to spend our nights. I will build one for my future niños (and myself) one of these days.

When we signed up to volunteer with Siempre Verde we had no idea that it would be so gloriously remote or so little actual farmwork. Their rainy season begins in just a few weeks, so we only did one day of real planting, clearing, shoveling, etc because hand watering all that stuff is something else. But we sure felt like farmers for that morning adding cantaloupes, cilantro, bean trees and radish seedlings to the earth. The rest of the working week we made a rocking chair. You know, professionals with amazing equipment may do one in a morning, but with Marcos, Britta, myself, a handsaw, sander and hammer, it took three. It rocks, that is all that matters in the end. Marcos, at the ripe age of 25, has already taken his entrepeneural mind to great heights by starting a Spanish Immersion school on his parents land (to see the cutest farmer dad of all time, look above), built the cabañas to hold students and eventually volunteers. He hopes to make the farm a fully sustainable land eventually, but first he hopes to continue to get used to marriage. He just married Sarah, a 19-year-old Californian who came to volunteer on the chocolate farm down the street and ended up becoming full-time partner to Marcos. They are in the middle of building a house, and furniture to go with (hence the rocking chair). She is quite the mature 19 year old who is becoming quite the Tica housewife.

A few of our small joys in such a short experience was collecting the marañan fruit with cashews attached on our way back from the river lazy afternoons, having Marcos roast and set them on fire, and then using a hammer and fingernails to break and peel the shell until a delicious cashew emerged to our satisfaction. Pineapple work breaks were pretty delicious as well.

Honestly, the only thing that really urged us to escape was our poor legs that got eaten alive by ants. Maybe there was another culprit as well, but those damn ants, we caught them in the act. So we said goodbye to Marcos, Sarah, his adorable father and the secluded riverside and jungle home for la playa.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

jungle immersion

I settled into Alajuela, Costa Rica, last Sunday, alongside Britta and Chelsea (Amanda and Emily had, unfortunately, left that very morning). In those two days we drank tasty fruit juices, watched a clown and some dogs compete with teenage cheerleaders for attention in the local park, bought winter coats (oh, the irony), got a close-up view of the local volcano, and slighty fell in love with our hostel´s owner...his name is Eduardo Rodriguez, and he made us home-made seviche, served us several glasses of wine, and talked passionately about his art and music...Britta and I have already made our reservation to stay there on our way back through.

We waved goodbye to Chelsea as she scooted off to the airport, and boarded several buses to Mastatal, our home in the middle of the jungle and mountains for the next week. Our first night we came across a poisonous snake on our way to the cabanas...our tree house in the middle of trees and every piece of tropical animal known to man. We have spent our days making rocking chairs...rough rocking chairs, eating pineapple, guava from trees, roasting cashews, napping in hammocks, and spending afternoons down by the river by ourselves. Yes, I may have surpassed the sunburn for the moment and have not seen to many hippy souvenirs, but heck, I am in Costa Rica.

Considering our location, internet is iffy to say the least. I will write more in detail when I get to the beach, and hopefully have some photos to share.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

a natural colonialism

In my almost one-month stay in Colombia, I have come to recognize quite a few stand-out qualities. For one, Colombians love poodles. Now, there are plenty of other kind of dogs roaming the streets, keeping you up at night with their constant screeching, but poodles outnumber the majority (and the yuppy ones still wear sweaters). There are an abnormal amount of adults who wear braces. Seriously, you would think it's a fashion statement the way they sport the metal...including an actress on one of the country's beloved soap operas. The current hair styles of modern teens and cooler twenty-thirty somethings is a male fauxhawk or a rather unattractive rat-tail-like concoction, and a female 80s rocker mullet. Chips are a far more acceptable food item for a meal, and it is common to have 2 cups of coffee and 2 cups of hot chocolate everyday. My salt and sugar levels have been rather unhealthy this past month. Of course, these trite observations are accompanied by the facts that Colombia is spectacularly beautiful. The land I saw by bus and truck is so similar to that of Nepal, but even more luscious due to its more consistent rainfall.

Colombia is a fine place to get an extra ten days on earth. Even though Jorge, Ginny, and Matilde were all incredibly ill for the past two weeks, we still managed to have fantastic movie nights. Jorge would hook up the projector and we would enjoy films like Australia (I mainly just enjoyed Hugh), Gosford Park, and Son of the Bride (an Argentinian film that was the best thing I've seen in ages). The weather was rather gloomy and disagreeable in Bogota, but time spent watching those movies with G & J or The Cosby Show with Suzie and Jonny were comforting moments of community and laughter.

I was able to help G & J with more technical aspects of their ministry such as updates on their website, a newsletter, and their expansive list of contacts. Thrown in the week was a day with Suzie when she took me downtown to the local markets. You don't see many tourists flocking toward these small vendors selling everything from toilet seats to the most beautiful jewelry on earth. But before I was to leave for Costa Rica, I wanted to seize the opportunity to explore a little more of Colombia....Villa de Leyva, specifically. We were going to all go as one big family, but the Enciso illness kept them at bay, and so with some extra convincing to Jorge, I made the decision to head off to the small town outside of Bogota by myself. And so it was that I awoke at the crack of dawn Thursday morning (too many crack of dawns lately) and caught my 10-passenger van to VdL.

It is considered to be one of the finest colonial villages of Colombia, and when it was named a National Monument in the 1950s it made sure that the architecture would remain unspoiled. I worked at Many Glacier Hotel in Glacier National Park, Montana, a few summers ago, and it is known (except to those yuppies with sweater-wearing poodles) as a historical hotel because its architecture resembles the time period in which it was built (finished in 1914). Think of an entire town that is maintained this way. It is entirely romantic; its large cobbled-stones hold many secrets of generations that have come and gone, and changes in footwear in the past 500 years. It is pristine not only for its architectural preservation, but also for the nature that surrounds the small pueblo: mountains to the north, desert to the south and east, a mixture to the west. So I wandered that first day. Wandered. Sat on benches, drank coffee, read, prayed, thought, wandered even more, and shared some Henri Nouwen lovin'. For me, it was perfect. And the surprise arrival of Jonny and Suzie around 10pm just capitalized my emotions of joy. They are moving to the States in just a couple weeks, and thought it was the perfect time to enjoy one last Villa de Leyva adventure.

After a late dinner and a parting for the evening, we awoke on Friday to brilliant blue skies and big billowing clouds. The three of us met in the plaza, I climbed into the Bronco beast they had borrowed from G & J, and we scurried off to La Periquera, where waterfalls are the wanted attraction. We hiked to the first and largest fall trying to find a reasonable place to cross the river for more hiking, but the recent amount of rainfall and the fact that a girl died last week trying to cross kept our more dangerous instincts at bay. We spent a few lazy hours laying in the sun next to the noisy pounding of the Periquera. This would be the trend of our day: spend lazy hours in good conversation, under calm weather, enjoying the tranquility of our moment. From waterfall, to cafe, to a pool of natural springs, we made it last til the sun was starting to go to bed. That was our cue to buy some food for dinner and head out to our campsite. I haven't camped since last August, so you can understand my giddiness to do so in Colombia. We pitched our tent, started a fire, sang to Jonny's guitar, and ended an already emphatic day with a starry sky.

We returned to Bogota this morning as I re-packed for a supposed departure early in the morning. In my mind, I'm not in Costa Rica until I have a good sunburn and hippy paraphernalia. The weather here was the most splendid it has been since my first few days, so we made an afternoon visit to the park where Ginny, Matilde, Junior, Juan and I enjoyed the sun, threw a frisbee and football, and I out-raced JR and Juan (except for the time they both cheated). Later in the evening we went over to the church where we joined a good group in cheering on Colombia's national team. They beat Bolivia 2-0, and I enjoyed my momentary surge of Colombian patriotism. It was only appropriate that eight of the neighborhood boys were playing street soccer in front of the house when we returned. So Laura and I joined in for a good bit--quite the way to say ciao to Colombia.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

fibre amarilla

Yellow fever.  Raise your hand if you've ever had this vaccination.  I imagine that will be quite a few of you with the amount of friends I have who have crept into the Amazon or Sub-Sahara Africa.  Now, raise your hand if you've ever been inside a country that didn't require the vaccination to get in, but required it to get out.  I think I may be the lone girl back in the corner with puppy-dog eyes and a slight frown holding her hand high.  That's me.  I can't leave Colombia.  Last Thursday, I walked unassumingly into the Bogota airport, presented my documentation, and then began the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized the woman wasn't kidding when she said I couldn't enter Costa Rica without the vaccination.  Okay, so I'm kind of the fool that had no idea, but I'll just get the shot in the convenient store of shots located in the airport, and be gone the next day.  Oh no, the similar smugness entered the shot nurse as it had the airline ticket master of a woman, and I was informed that I would have to be here for ten more days...ten...diez...10.  

Yes, the technicality was indeed frustrating, but the reality could have been scores worse than it was; for instance, Jorge and Andres had already escorted me inside the airport to see me off and they single-handedly worked every supervisor they could find to make sure there was no working around the system, and then they took me back home to Ginny.  I could have been stuck in the middle of nowhere South America without a friend or shelter.  And Britta could have been waiting for me in Costa Rica by herself.  Instead, she had Amanda, Emily, and Chelsea to greet and hang with this entire time I'm on quarantine.  But, that's the one major bummer of this ten day window...I won't see any of these three ladies because they leave the day I will arrive.  Bummer.  

But Colombia is still here and still beautiful.  There is a plethora for me to do in Bogota and in a few towns surrounding, and several things I can still help with in the neighborhood, church, and for Ginny and Jorge.  I spent Friday afternoon and evening downtown going to a few museums that, similar to DC, were free.  Any city with access to art, public transportation, and books is a premium city in my mind.  I bought a beautiful necklace made of seeds from a great guy on the street, told him I was from Canada (for kicks...and as a safety precaution), and helped him out with a little English.  Afterward, I drank a cappuccino while reading A Severe Mercy and watching people.  Perfect evening.  

The next few days are up in the folks and sisters are trying to do a little black market/CIA magic with an old vaccination card I have in the States a la Catch Me If You Can to see if I can leave a bit sooner for my pals in Costa Rica, but if not, I will let you know of my extended adventures in Colombia.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

photo shoot

This past Monday, Ginny, Jorge and I spent the day roaming around his old college, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, where we met up with Laura, a sweet 17-year-old hipster who stays with G & J every weekend, plays guitar in the church's worship band, and is studying to be a dietician. It is always fascinating to visit different universities, but particularly in different countries. Universidad Nacional prides itself for being very radical best seen in their Che (Guevara) plaza, the overwhelmingly amount of grafitti and signs posted for a cause, and the fact that they are closed several weeks out of a semester for an arrangement of protests. It was so charming to hear the stories of how Ginny and Jorge met, how he clumsily asked her out, and about Jorge's idyllic days of studying law and being a revolutionary (brought sweet memories of my own days at Lipscomb...minus the Che plaza, of course). We left Laura to her Chemistry lab, and piddled on down to eat one delicious Corral burger and spend the afternoon reading and talking in a coffee shop. The following are some favorites from the day.

what the first one says.

he wishes...

young kids on the block

There are loads of kids in Ginny and Jorge's neighborhood. They ooze out the windows and doors to play futbol, ride bikes, play in the be kids. Bogota is basically one giant grid that conveniently keeps each level of class in their own corners--similar to any urban city, just more logistical. Here in their neck of the woods, it is known as a Estrato 3 (the higher you get, the wealthier), being our equivalent of lower middle class/working class. The neighborhood's steadily becoming more commercial with salons, supermarkets, countless bakeries, and a long street of knickknack stores that look like all the unsold items from yard sales exploded within. Their house in nestled in one of those corners with a park next door that provides a quieter hum than the overall noisiness and busyness of the streets.

It is there where the children hover: the park, outside this door...waiting. Waiting for a chance to play American football, an open door to get help with their homework or maybe a glass of hot chocolate, but most of all they wait for their birthdays. In just the first year of living in this particular location on earth, Ginny and Jorge have made all sorts of effort to begin traditions, discipline, and consistency with these kids who lack one or all of the three. And so it is that they have made it a point to focus a load of attention and celebration for each child's birthday. Like most children, each one counts down from day 75 until it's their time to eat cake and party, so the day is much-anticipated in general, but even more so when they know that a family that is not their own blood family will make food, play music, and bring out the ping-pong table just for them on their special day.

And so it was Esteban's day out of the year to bare his shy grin, open his eager eyes just a bit wider, and blow out candles only after making the wish of a 12-year-old living in his shoes on these streets in Bogota. For hours last Saturday evening, the kids used sidewalk chalk, puzzles, cards, boardgames, and, of course, ping-pong, for their constant entertainment, and everyone was given a piece of the cake made by Ginny, Matilde (see photo above), Junior, and decorator extraordinaire, Lorena. Long after sunset, with several pieces remaining, Jorge walked up to the man and woman picking up the recycling with horse and buggy to give them some chocolate cake covered with icing and sprinkles. Love means including all: the overlooked, the brat, the time-consuming. Saturday night was putting action to a theory. The theory that Christ did, in fact, desire the children to come to him, and that he loved the least of these, those, them.

This is why I came. Not for any specific effect or project, but to see two people who I respect and consider kindred walk in love. To live where you work and work where you live is, unfortunately, a rare thing these days. It takes courage and sacrifice to disregard absolute privacy and to exist for others. A heart yielded toward compassion is the foundation of this house, in this Estrato, bordering these childrens' lives.

I am thankful for the gift of comradery and union of friendship that the past few weeks have been for me.

that's who I is.

me with the birthday boy.