December 26, 2008 - 1:55 PM
Life at home can become somewhat discombobulated. It's my third year at the University of Oregon, and I've made Eugene my home. The people who know me best, the places I visit most, my whole routine is there now. So coming home for Christmas is wonderful: I get to see my family and old friends, I get to see the Rocky Mountains, and I get to take some time off. But things are also strange, like time has stopped running as planned and the normal cast of characters has been left behind. And the old cast has changed as well: new interests, new faces, old friends gone off to one corner of the world or another.
Christmas in Colorado. Something I have experienced now twenty times. The Rockies are so beautiful in the winter, and there's almost always some snow on the ground. We always spend Christmas day with my Dad's sister and her family. On Christmas Eve my sister and I open our traditional Christmas Eve pajamas and we drive around to see the over-the-top, conspicuous consumption Christmas decorations. We go to an evening church service, just my sister and parents and me. We drink hot chocolate and play cards. Christmas morning we do presents and then head over to the cousins' house. When we were younger it was a time of playing together, the kids in the basement while the adults talked upstairs. This year we all hung together: grown-up kids talking about grown-up things. One cousin is graduated: off to start "real life" as an engineer. The younger cousin told stories of college life in Wyoming, which is just a little different than my own experience. And my little sister is looking at a final year of high school. Seems we've outgrown our old traditions of air hockey and nighttime flashlight tag on the golf course.
I, as always, was a bit of the strange one. The Traveler, the Activist. When I mentioned a trip to Mexico planned for this spring break, the relatives immediately started in with the "Oh man, party in Mexico, spring break the right way!" and there was collective confusion when I restated my plans: a trip to the Arizona/Mexico border to work with a humanitarian aid group in the desert.
The family is awfully kind about my oddities. But it is oh-so plain that they are oddities.
It has also become very strange to return home to my Colorado friends. We've spread out across the country, as college students are prone to do. Some friends are out East, some stayed around here. I still get together with my friends from my middle school days: I went to a small charter school with 50 students graduating eighth grade. We were close then, and some of us are still close now. But it is strange to get together. One of us is married. Some, like me, have made drastic changes in personality over the last six years. Others have hardly changed, which is even stranger. It's like that for all my friends: some have become people I hardly know but still love, others have become too hard to deal with, and others are just as good of friends as they have ever been. I suppose that's growing up.
This year I've also had a hard time with the word "home." As in "it's nice to be home," one moment, and then "when I'm back home in Oregon" the next. It's a bit like multiple personality disorder: all these people here, still believing most strongly in the child and young adult I was, and then my Oregon self with all my dreams and achievements that often, by Colorado suburban standards, are outlandish and a trifle threatening. The Katie that used to live here was a band kid, an honors student, with no political sentiment and, while not shy, was deeply invested in other people's opinions of her.
The intervening years combined with my circumstances in Oregon and abroad have changed me greatly. The self I embraced when I first arrived on campus was a Katie with fewer needs from others and higher expectations of herself. I dropped band for a semester to see if I would miss it, and while I do miss band and being a part of music, I have loved the freedom it has allowed me. I became more than just vaguely interested in politics and social justice: I have made it a focus of study, activities, and thought. I say what I think and that's fine with the people I have met in Oregon. When I tell my Oregon friends about plans to spend spring break volunteering with a humanitarian organization, some volunteer to come with me.
I don't mean to cast my Colorado friends and relatives in a bad light. These are people who I grew up with: adults who raised me, and friends who shaped my childhood. These are also people who have loved me for years and years, and people I love to come home to.
But when you leave the state to go to school, you leave a lot behind. I didn't know a single person in the whole state when I first arrived on the Oregon campus. No one knew or cared about childhood traumas and triumphs. My middle school status as uber-nerd was not damaging in Oregon. No one knew about the couple of high school years when I was so deeply lonely. No one even had to know about the good things: about the senior year marching band season when I had a solo and we took second place in state, about the honor roll, about my friends in my church or how much I love my mountains. In Oregon I was only the person I presented. No one gets to start over, not really. We carry with us everything that has been, and everything that has ever happened. But I had the opportunity to choose for myself how I wanted to appear in the world I was entering. Turns out I'm not so very different, and I haven't bothered to keep secrets. The difference is not in what is known about me, it is in the expectation. My Oregon friends have only seen the Self with supreme confidence, one prepared to take on the world. My Colorado friends remember flubbed solos, awkward high school romances, and a little girl who fell out of trees.
It's always good to go home. It's good to be back in my home, walking in my old neighborhood. It's good to try out some college stories on my relatives and see what they have to say. My immediate family hears my stories in small doses, and are always incredibly supportive. But it's fun to drop bombs like spear making and prison activism on my conservative aunt and uncle. Especially since they so obviously love me anyway.
And always it is a miracle and a privilege to be with my grandmother, who will be turning ninety years old in 2009. She has seen more of this country's history than I can truly imagine: she remembers the Depression and World War II. She writes books and does oil paintings. She still lives in the house where my father grew up, all alone since my grandfather died fifteen years ago. She is a good deal of what is most important to home for me: a strong woman who has always believed I would go into the world and do great things.
Well, here I am in Littleton, in my room full of high school knickknacks and bad beginner's poetry. Here I am with all my hopes ahead of me and all my achievements behind me, and the present here, in my childhood home. And I remember how I was here, and what it is I have gained in my transition, and all the history behind me.
Home for Christmas.
December 23, 2008 - 6:59 PM
I don't think I'll ever be able to write a full blog about my time abroad in Chile last spring. It's too big of an experience, and too wonderful a series of memories for me to put it all down in a single short piece of writing. But I can write about it in bits and pieces, taking apart my experience and letting you put it back together if you want.
But by way of introduction, I spent four months in Chile spring term of 2008. Spring term is, only "spring" by North American standards. I arrived in Valdivia in South American fall and was there through winter rains more torrential even than Oregon's best.
But this blog, like I said is not an overview. This story is about how I ended up in a tiny four-seat airplane over the city, heart in my throat and completely overjoyed.
If I remember right, it was either the first or second time that I talked with my host brother, Felipe, when he mentioned that his best friend was into flying. He offered me a seat on the plane someday, if the opportunity ever arose. Felipe was a great friend and a real help to me: he had lived in the US for a winter, working at a ski resort and perfecting his English. So I would speak Spanish to him and he would answer in English, and his infrequent mistakes made me feel incrementally better about my own frequent ones. He was also a source of information for me: someone I could go to with slang terms and get an exact translation and someone close to my age I could go to with youth culture concerns. And he offered to take me flying.
Weeks passed with no word on the whole flying thing. Whenever I thought of it, I felt an uncomfortable mix of super charged excitement, an uneasy feeling that it might never happen, and the guilt over never having mentioned it to my parents at home in the US. I was also experiencing a mixed reaction from the Chileans I talked about it with, but that was eventually cleared up by my discovery that the verb "to fly" was also a Chilean slang word for "to get high."
We had one false alarm, when I spent several hours keyed up waiting for a phone call confirming that we'd be in the air that afternoon. But that trip fell through, I don't remember why, but with that let down I think I sort of assumed that the flying was never going to happen.
So imagine my excitement when, weeks later, Felipe burst into the computer room (where I was desperately writing a last-minute essay) and said "If you still want to go flying, be ready in five minutes." I immediately sent my little sister a quick email saying that I was going flying and to not tell the parents except in the event of my untimely death, then donned some warm clothing and was off to the tiny airstrip outside of town.
I tend to become rather fearless in these situations. Especially once you've committed: what good could it possibly do you to bother with fear? Despite this, my first view of the plane was a little intimidating. It was tiny. Tiny, tiny. But after being introduced to the instructor (who would be doing most of the flying), and clearing up some confusion over Felipe's introduction of me as his sister, I was clambering into the plane and assuring everyone that I didn't have the least bit of fear. I'm not sure they believed me, but it was true. This was the unique experience I'd been hoping for during my time abroad: something tourists don't get to do. Something truly individual to my experience.
And then we were off. It was a surprisingly smooth ride, and the city was so beautiful. Valdivia is surrounded by rivers, and as we flew we could see the bridges and the riverside farmer's market with the sea lions that came scavenging for fish market leftovers years ago and now live there permanently in the freshwater. The market is colorful and always busy, full of bright colors there beside main plaza. We flew low enough that we could see the university where I studied and the house where I lived. Both are located on the Isla Teja, which is a largish island formed by the convergence of three rivers. It was all laid out below us: the buildings downtown, the markets and malls and homes. We could see it all.
Then we turned west and flew the short distance out to the ocean. And oh, the Pacific was so beautiful. Valdivia is in the far south of Chile, between the ocean and the Andes Mountains, and is wooded and green in a way that reminded me strongly of Oregon. There were trees rolling out beneath us, and then ocean, and then we were turning to fly over Niebla, a small town on the coast. And my three flying companions were each pointing out the sights to me, the town, the old Spanish port protecting the mouth of the river, the boundaries of the National Park. They also kept looking back at me, checking either for airsickness or lack of Spanish comprehension. But I was just smiling and drinking it all in.
The sun was going down over the ocean as we turned for home. And the first view of Valdivia returning was one of complete beauty, outlined in lights against the coming night. It looked like something living, like a leaf spread out below me, with the arteries of the city glowing with light along the major streets. Cars passed over the bridge and then fanned out around the city. I took pictures of the city that I would later present in a project for an art class, and say that Valdivia itself was a work of art.
Seen from above like that, silent and shining, it was indeed a beautiful piece of art. And at that moment, too, it was home. I saw my house, my university, my path downtown, my favorite cafes and the houses of my friends. The streets were familiar, and their pattern was foreign only in its astounding beauty that evening.
We landed in the increasing darkness and returned home, where I first assured my host mother that I hadn't managed to kill myself on her watch, and then got my parents on Skype to talk them through the adventure (I was absolutely right not to tell my Mom before I was safely back on solid ground. After all, "to ask permission is to seek denial"). Then I bragged to all my friends who would listen: I flew over Valdivia in a four-seat plane. How many people get to do that? And no, I wasn't scared a bit.
And I continued to exclaim to my Chilean friends, "how beautiful your city, how wonderful your people, how happy I am here."
December 14, 2008 - 9:45 AM
Friends and readers, it's been a darn good week. My adventure in Washington has gone off splendidly, with exceptional variety of activities and experiences. I'm heading back to Colorado a very happy adventure girl. In the past week I have: seen a symphony performance, toured Seattle, learned to make Chicken and Dumplings, made new friends, hung out with friends for the first time outside of South America, worked as crowd control for a trio of Mexican soap opera stars, saw Lucy (the Australopithecus Afarensis) and rode in a DeLorean (that's the Back to the Future car for anyone who is even less car informed than I am). More complete descriptions coming right up.
Day 1: So. I pulled into Portland and struck off to find my friend, Jana, who had given directions to the flower shop where she worked. I arrived on foot hauling a week's worth of luggage and found her arranging flowers. It was wonderful to see her again, but also strangely anti-climactic considering the last time we'd seen each other was in a café in Buenos Aires. I helped her close shop and we were off to see the Oregon Symphony performing Tchaikovsky. Just FYI it's $10 for student rush tickets to Oregon Symphony concert, and the performance was amazing. So that's one esoteric activity accomplished before I even left the state.
Day 2: Got on a train to Seattle with a huge bouquet from Jana's flower shop. I thoroughly enjoyed my train experience and managed to finish my last final essay en route. This was my first train experience in the US, and it's my new favorite method of travel. Anyway, I arrived in Seattle with a huge bouquet of pink roses for my first night's hosts, some friends of friends who ended up semi-adopting me for the majority of my week-long visit. Christine and John are retired teachers who now spend as much time as possible touring the country in their RV. Aside from welcoming me to their lovely home in Federal Way (South of Seattle), they also drove me around, shared stories, and gave me a beautiful mask they brought home from Mardi Gras last year. As an extra bonus, that first night there I got a lesson in cooking chicken and dumplings.
Day 3: My hosts took me around Seattle, to the Public Market and around the city. We rode the Duck (an amphibious landing craft from WWII converted to street/water touring of the city) and saw some cool parts of the city. I saw the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat and got to view the city from Puget Sound. I also learned that there are 417 Starbucks stores in the Seattle area-talk about overkill. The Pike Place Market is super cool, and I saw the famous fish shop with the guys who throw salmon. I also rode the monorail and saw the Space Needle, which has got to be the strangest piece of useless architecture in the world.
In the evening Ian, another friend from Chile, came and picked me up. We piled into his 1980 pickup truck and headed across the Cascades to stay in Ellensburg for the night. It was awesome to see him again, and to speak the funny Chilean slang Spanish. Plus, when you share an experience abroad with someone, you never run out of stories: you can just go over the shared time over and over again. And we had some truly wonderful Chile adventures to reminisce over.
Day 4: Ian and I staffed an event in Yakima, at which the three stars of the Mexican Soap Opera Fuego en la Sangre would be signing autographs. Don't ask me how he found that event, but they were looking for bilingual people to staff the event, and it sounded goofy enough to be a part of my adventure. So we went for it, and it was pretty fun. I think this event was interesting enough to warrant its own blog, so how ‘bout I get back to you later with the whole story?
Day 5: Ian and I crossed back over the Cascades to get me back to Seattle. This time we crossed the mountains during the day, and let me say that the Cascade Mountains are incredibly beautiful. The trees are so beautiful up in the Northwest, and I think are both taller and represent more species than in other mountains I've seen. That being said, I am a Colorado Rocky Mountain snob, and let's just say that the in the time it took to completely cross the Cascades we still wouldn't even be able to see the top of the Rockies. Just saying.
Anyway, he dropped me off in Belvue, right next to downtown Seattle. I was there to meet one of my dad's best friends growing up. He lives in Seattle now, and even though I'd never met him before I was really excited to get to see him. He owns the only DeLorean shop in the Northwest. I got to see a significant number of the world's remaining 7,000 or so DeLoreans, and also got to ride around Seattle in one. Complete with people taking pictures of the car out of their windows. Now, you're either a car person who understands how cool this was, or you are completely clueless except for the whole Back to the Future connection. So I guess we'll have to leave it at that, but it was a darn good time.
Day 6: Back in Federal Way and resting up from my trip to Yakima and all the DeLorean excitement. It was mostly a calm recuperation day, except that one of my best UO friends, Maddy, arrived in Seattle and we proceeded to spend our last couple of days together before she sets off on her study abroad trip to Singapore. I'm so glad I got to share some of my Seattle adventure with her, because I'm going to miss her so much...
Day 7: Move in with some different friends of Maddy's family. We helped put up a giant Christmas tree and ate some fabulous Greek food. Have I mentioned that Seattle has amazing restaurants?
Day 8: Lucy! We go to the Seattle Science Museum to see the exhibit "Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia," which was amazing on so many levels. The whole exhibit was amazing, with tons of displays on archeological finds from Ethiopia, from ancient to more recent times. There was also a series of hominid bones and explanations of human evolution. Then there was Lucy herself, the 3.18 million year old fossil of a bipedal hominid ancestor. Her skeleton is 40% complete, which is doing pretty well when you think about the whole 3 million years old thing. They have her on display in a horizontal box, with a replica skeleton displayed upright so you can see how all the bones would look in 3D. You might have already guessed that I really like this kind of archeology thing, so I loved that museum experience. Over three million years. A miracle.
That day I also walked around Seattle with Maddy, telling stories and dreaming big dreams. We're going to be bartenders in Australia after we graduate. Or something equally cool. But the plan these days is to graduate and then be off to bar tend by night and rock climb, SCUBA, and surf during the days. Seattle's Public Market on a Saturday is the perfect place to dream up big crazy dreams like that, because it's packed with people and stands with funky handmade goods and food with free samples. Quite the inspiration. And who knows? We're two adventuresome souls. Perhaps in three years I'll be adventuring in the Outback. I suppose I'll have to keep you posted.
That night we also took part in her family's Christmas tradition with a big party at a friend's house, complete with a White Elephant gift exchange. I brought a signed poster from the Fuego en la Sangre event, which was a big hit. I love being welcomed into people's homes, traditions, and circles of friends.
Day 9: Last full day in Seattle. I said goodbye to Maddy and began my preparations to leave. I spent more time with Chris and John, talking over our experiences in the wider world and making plans for me to come and visit again. It snowed like crazy that day, and I got to see all the incredible Northwest trees all snow covered and beautiful.
And then I left for Colorado. It was sad to go, but wonderful to be heading back home and all that that entails. But even as I'm leaving, I know I'll be back to Seattle someday. I had far too much fun there to be putting it behind me for long. Plus I have those other tentative plans that never materialized, including a visit with a Chile friend who was busy with finals, with whom I was planning to swing dance and rock climb.
Plus I've made some real friends in Seattle. Maddy's friends, who were so gracious in welcoming me for the week, are now my friends. I'd like to go back and have more lessons in easy cooking from John, and maybe learn to cross stitch from Chris. And the folks from the Christmas party were all wonderfully kind and invited me to stay with them as well. "Think about that before you say it," I told them, "when people invite me over I generally end up on their doorsteps." And that's true. Because I become welcomed as a stranger and a traveler, a storyteller, and sometimes become a friend, and sometimes even a part of a larger family.
With people and adventures like I've had last week, there's no way I'll stay away long. There's a whole world of adventure waiting, and new friends to travel back to.
December 8, 2008 - 5:37 PM
I need an adventure.
Much as I love my life and my friends in Eugene, I tend to get itchy feet. In the past three years I've traveled in seven Latin American countries, mostly on solo trips. I've developed an intense love of seeing new places, experiencing new cultures. I love to arrive in some city I've never seen, talk with the local people, and ask about restaurants, favorite shops, and city traditions. It almost doesn't even matter where I am: I just like to go.
Fall term in Eugene has been really wonderful, but it was pretty sedentary. I took day trips to the coast twice, and went to Portland for Thanksgiving, but other than that I have been at home in Eugene. Life in one place can become a bubble, a habit, a routine. I need something new, I need an adventure.
I figured out that three of my four finals were essays I could turn in early, and arranged to take the fourth final early as well. That gave me a whole week of time before heading home to see my family and Colorado friends. Perfect.
So now I'm setting off in search of something new. My exciting adventure for the end of 2008 will be a trip to exotic Seattle. Nothing flashy, nothing beyond what most Northwesterners have already done. But I've never been to Seattle, and I have a couple of friends there who I met while I was abroad in Chile. A new place and old friends. Perfect.
Even now, the day of departure, I still am a little unclear as to where I'll be staying during my trip. Hopefully I'll be rotating between various friends, and hopefully they'll have suggestions for things to do and see. I like to travel without an itinerary if I can, with sort of general ideas on places to visit and things to do rather than a list of goals. That way I can ask people what I should do, what I should see, and stay flexible at all times. The tentative plans as they stand today are: see the famous Pike Place Market, ride a ferry, see the Space Needle, swing dance, catch up with two friends from Chile, rock climb, and wander the streets as much as possible. That's the only way to really know a city. I'm hoping to eat some fresh seafood and check around town for some good quality hot chocolate. Truth is that I haven't done more than the most basic Seattle research, and I don't own a guidebook.
Getting my essays and final done early has been quite the job. My last week in town was extremely difficult and stressful. But now I'm heading off for a new trip, for something completely different. I'll be taking a bus to Portland for an evening with a friend there, and then a train to Seattle. I have a place to stay in Portland and for my first night in Seattle. All other plans are TBA.
I do my best to love the place I'm in at all times. I appreciate the people and the experiencesI'm having at any given moment. But it is in the experience of new places, in meeting with new people that I can more fully appreciate the routine of "normal life". Turns out that I have a traveler's soul, the ongoing need for that new horizon and the love for the whole process of getting to a place, wandering around it, and getting to know its people. I even like the inconvenience of life on the road: the getting lost, the transit time, the talking to strangers. I obviously can't be trotting the globe all the time: I also love to be home and am happy with my college life, but I have to balance out the home time with a little adventure. I want to meet some strangers and do something new.
So I'm off for the week to Washington State before heading back for some family time in Colorado. Off for some adventure.
I'll keep you posted.
December 3, 2008 - 6:05 PM
During the summer of 2007 I took a solo trip to Guatemala to attend an intensive language school. I knew next to nothing about Guatemalan history or culture, or really anything about what I would be doing there aside from the name of the school and my second year level of Spanish. I was traveling by myself for the first time, and it would be a three week stay.
I arrived in the Guatemala City airport, which was spotless and modern, with prices in American dollars and everything brand new and expensive. Right outside the airport doors, however, was a mass of people looking for returning family members, hawking cheap goods, begging. Luckily I had arranged ahead of time with a hotel that came to get me at the airport, because at that point my Spanish was at the "stumbling and terrified" stage. But I just breathed and got through it, got in the hotel van and settled in for the one night I'd be in the capital city. There was another college student from the US staying there, and we decided to take a walk around the city. Guatemala City is a scary place: there is barbed wire on most of the rooftops, and men in uniform with guns on every street. Some were guards at the entrance of banks or electronics stores, others were police in groups of three, but there were also men in groups of ten or twenty marching in the streets. People had high walls around their houses, with broken glass embedded in the top.
I wonder what it would be like to live a whole life surrounded by this kind of suspicion and fear. It seemed that everyone was just waiting for a break in, a riot, a rebellion. The men with guns at the banks and stores did not have small guns. These were large, two-hand guns that looked both dangerous and odd in the context of what, to me, would be a simple question of entering a bank. Guatemala has a lot of the same kinds of development and urban issues we have, but are militarized in a way that is frankly intimidating. Nothing I can expect from home would work with me in that country.
I spent the first two weeks in Quetzaltenango, a small city where I lived with a host family and studied at a language school. Quetzaltenango isn't a tourist destination, but was no where near as scary as the capital. There was still barbed wire, still guards, but no men marching in the streets and far less fear obvious in the streets.
At the Spanish language institute I worked with a teacher one-on-one for five hours a day in the afternoons. During that time I took all the Spanish I had learned during high school and college courses and learned to make them functional in conversation and writing. I had two teachers, both of whom were Guatemalan women from the city. We would have lessons in grammar or pronunciation for about half of the class time, but also spent a large amount of time in conversation. We would talk about our lives: our families, our homes, our countries. We talked about religion and politics and history.
As my classes were going on, I was also attending school-sponsored events. These included not only trips to hot springs and tourist spots outside the city, but also visiting speaker events. These speakers were not scholars, but rather local citizens who could speak to their life experiences. One spoke about the upcoming election that took place the day after I left the country. While this was a fascinating glimpse into the political system of another country, it was most interesting to learn about Guatemalan history, particularly the war of the 1980's. I was confronted by the knowledge that these people had experienced a government-sponsored civil war against its own citizens, supported by US corporations and government. US interest in Guatemala was centered around the agricultural production opportunities there, and the conflict largely surrounded the interests of a large US fruit company in opposition to small farmers and those who wanted to socialize property. This conflict devolved into genocidal attacks on indigenous communities by the state military, and guerrilla warfare in the jungles that left thousands dead.
It was a strange learning environment for me, and a powerful lesson in the implications of US policy. Thousands of people died over the profit margins of a single US corporation, and the human rights abuses of the government did not influence America's tacit monetary and training support of these actions. I was learning this piece of my country's history for the first time, and I was being taught by the victims of my country's actions.
These inequalities became more obvious as I left the city for my third week of study in a rural area. The sister school I studied at was located in an area that had had electricity for less than three years, and clean water in the individual houses for less than one. I stayed in the school at that location, and again studied individually with a Spanish teacher. But I also ate meals with a family, from whom I learned more about systems of global inequalities.
Their home had two rooms for six people. It was cinder blocks and a tin roof. The food was simple but delicious, and was partly paid for by my presence at meals. The father in the family worked more than two hours' bus ride away, and had to leave every morning before four. The mother, therefore, would rise before three in order to prepare his breakfast and lunch. Despite their hard work and base-level lifestyle, they still had barely enough to get by. On my last day with them, my host told me that he was planning to migrate to the US because otherwise he had no hope of providing his daughter and her fiancé with any hope of a home. He told me that he believed entirely in the American Dream: he knew that if he made it to the US and worked hard he would be able to return with enough money to provide the hope of a better life for his children than those he had experienced himself.
The American Dream, the American Promise. This man would soon be entering the US labor market's underground, illegal components. He would not find a welcome from the Americans, and would be seen as a criminal, someone unworthy of basic human resources and governmental support. The majority of what I had witnessed in the way of media attention and individual action led me to believe that most "Americans" were not aware of, or interested in the problems of the other countries in the Americas, including those problems caused by US economic and military policy.
My trip to Guatemala taught me many things. I reached levels of Spanish comprehension far beyond anything I had achieved in classes before. But while learning these linguistic lessons, I also learned about the culture I was imbedded in. I learned a little about the injustices practiced by my country, supported by my tax dollars and consumption patterns. People I spoke with suffered twenty years ago from a war my country helped create and perpetuate. Someone I shared a meal with was in a desperate economic position, partly because of the impact of US agribusiness on his agricultural options.
But aside from these weighty subjects, I also made huge discoveries about myself. I learned that I am capable of traveling abroad by myself, even as a young woman who sticks out like a sore thumb in any non-Anglo setting. I learned responsibility for myself and got my first real taste for the excitement and joy of international travel. I learned the value of conversation with everyday people I meet, and the importance of removing oneself from the tourist route in order to truly understand a new place.
During my stay, I also found time to experience many of the beauties of Guatemala. I swam in the Pacific Ocean, in some of the largest surf I have ever witnessed. I planted trees with a man dedicated to reforesting the hills around his village. I learned backstrap weaving, the traditional textile method of the Mayan peoples of Central America. And I encountered the most wonderful hot chocolate I have ever tasted, at a little café in downtown Quetzaltenango. The chocolate is manufactured right next door, and you can drink it with a hint of cinnamon or vanilla, or served with additions of liquors or ice creams. If you are ever in the area, look it up: Café Luna, the best hot chocolate in all my world experiences.
That is the secret to my favorite international experiences:
Katie's rules to international travel: speak to anyone, hear what is said, get your hands dirty, learn something you can take home with you, and drink the hot coco.