Monthly Archives: October 2010

Love is a Continuous Investment

Everything we have is from the contribution of others. I’m starting to see that much more clearly. I know that my trip and my service abroad would not be possible without the financial and emotional support from my friends, my church, and my family. I want to say thank you to you all. Without you, this would not be possible for me.

I’ve thought a lot about what I have and what I’ve been able to do, and truly, it has been possible, only by the contributions from others. I think there is something crucial that separates one generation from another, and this happens only with maturity. It’s the belief in investment. The older generation believes in investing in the future. Why? Because it’s a good thing to do? Because it makes them feel good to love their families or financial support young people, or their college, or an organization? Or is it in part, because they know how the process works.

They know that the reason we are able to live in the present has been made possible by the investments of the people who lived before us, and in order to keep this process going, we must invest. Invest time, love, energy and even a little more. I think they recognize that every entity of life is a system. A system of inputs and outputs, and quite simply there will be no outputs if we do not keep putting more in.

  • We won’t have more crops if we don’t plant more seeds.
  • We won’t have better students if we don’t teach them.
  • We won’t have well behaved sons and daughters if we don’t instruct them.
  • And we won’t have love unless first love.

I guess growing up, we just take. We take what people give and we always believe there will be more money, or energy, or love. I realize now, that there was always more because my parents always put more in. I was drawing from an account that was not made magical by anything other than by the magic of the effort made by my parents, my friends and my community.

I’m starting to pick up on this idea more as I travel. I get frustrated sometimes when I meet people who do not acknowledge or recognize what came before them. They are here in San Pedro only to party and to extract as much value as they can out of this location. They aren’t interested in learning about the culture, the language, or the reasons why this place is so nice, they’re just looking for a cheap place to drink.

Of course, not all travelers are like this. I have had plenty of meaningful conversations with people from all over the world that talk about their community, their city, and their family with a glowing appreciation for everything that has been done for them. And many times, they desire to invest in the same system that made it possible for them to be who they are, to work where they worked, and to travel where they travel.

Maybe the difference is in the word “privilege.” All travelers I’ve met, including myself, are privileged. We are a part of the specific group of people who have the funds and the time to travel. Some of us recognize this privilege and feel “gratitude,” others recognize this privilege and feel “entitled.” It’s like they are saying “of course I have money to travel” or “of course I’m from a wealthy nation . . . it’s just how things are.”

I believe that “how things are” comes from thousands of investments. People who make investments in our lives to teach us, build roads for us, clean our communities, organize our sports teams, assemble our churches, and in the simplest of terms – people made investments to love us.

And without these consistent investments the whole system will break down.

So thank you to everyone who has loved me. I am who I am, and I am where I am because of you.

I love you back.

Why Don’t Kids Play in the Street Anymore?

I had a conversation with my Spanish teacher the other day about the games we used to play when we were kids. My brother and I used to ride our bikes around the neighborhood and spend our afternoons playing baseball in the field across from our house. Our neighbor used to fix up old go-carts and me and the neighborhood kids used to race those around the field too. I felt like everything we did was outside, and we’d only use the phone to call up our friends to come outside. Video games were just starting to get popular when I was young, but they certainly weren’t as important as rallying the kids together to go play basketball in someone’s driveway.

My teacher is from San Pedro La Laguna near Lake Atitlan. Born and raised in Guatemala, he never had much, and surely, he never needed much. He told me that when he was a kid, activities centered around these things:

  • soccer
  • making and flying kites
  • the lake
  • playing games in the street
  • fruit

I asked about the last one. Fruit? He said, “Yeah, you know when you’re a kid and something grows on a tree its like it’s magic, and you want to rip it off the branch and squish it with your hands or hit it with a bat or throw it at your friends. We made lots of games up when we were kids.”

When I lived in Iowa we had a few apple trees and I remember my brother trying to throw them as hard as we could at the fences so that the fences would slice the apple. To me, I felt like I was creating a superior kitchen knife. Not only was I enjoying throwing the fruit at a fence, but I was slicing it up for my brother and I. We used to do this with hours.

My teacher, who is younger than I am, then said, “Yeah, but kids don’t play in the street anymore. They’ve got cell phones and they like to hang out in the internet cafes and play video games, or they’re interested in watching TV.” I still see a lot of kids playing in the street around here. They seem to be playing the same games as my teacher did. So I asked him again, “It still looks like kids are unaffected by the modern world, by America.”

He looked at me again, “Seriously? Go walk around San Pedro and look into the internet cafes and you’ll see kids staring at the screens, or they’re sitting on the corner playing games on their phone or texting each other.”

I took a walk later that day, and it seemed like there weren’t as many kids playing in the street. Only the really poor kids play in the street, but every now and then you’d see a kid kick a ball and then he’d reach into his pocket to respond to a text message.

I guess things have changed.

Too Much with the Digital World

Now that I’m back in San Pedro La Laguna in Lake Atitlan, I am amazed that I’ve reentered the analog world. People don’t have smartphones and the internet isn’t ubiquitous. It’s a bit sad, but in some ways, I feel like I was too much with the digital world back home. At times, I was no longer making footprints in my life, I was only making digital prints, digital copies of memories, and losing touch with what it meant to really experience something without regard to whether I could share it, tweet it, email it, or post it.

It’s easy to live in the digital world. The convenience of information and entertainment can be addictive, and sometimes these abilities can become a competition of who’s got the the  most versatile gadget with the best internet signal. When I was home for three weeks, I saw clearly how much of my life was spent being addicted to shiny screens. Just take a look at my workspace below:

Pictured above are the following electronic devices:

  • HP Laptop
  • Macbook
  • External hard drive
  • iPod
  • iPod touch
  • Cell Phone (my same one from 3 years ago)
  • Droid (x2)
  • Kindle (x2)
  • Flip Video
  • 19″ secondary monitor.
  • 5.1 speaker system.

Now, a few of these belong to my brother, but seriously this is crazy. Here in Guatemala, there is a need for people to rent a telephone. When was the last time you thought about having to leave your house to go call someone?

For me here, it’s hard to get information. You have to go talk to people. Yikes.

I remember when I was asking about where I could find a guitar to play. A guy from the church drew me a picture. That’s right, he asked for something to write on and he drew me a picture. Strangely enough, some of the roads don’t have names, so he drew landmarks next to the location of the music store.

Here’s a picture of my guitar with his small map.

I’m live my life in two worlds, both the digital and the analog. I have a laptop here in Guatemala which is incredibly uncommon (even for travelers like me) and I’m posting about my experiences on my blog.

Slowly, the analog world is making it’s way into my life. Right now, I’m smelling the aroma of roasting coffee and watching the delight of a father and his sons marvel at the machinery of the coffee roaster.

Coffee season has begun in San Pedro La Laguna, Solola, Guatemala.

I’d love for you to experience sitting in this chair in this cafe, but I have to apologize because this experience is mostly analog.

San Pedro is a Second Home

Coming back to San Pedro this time was much easier than my first arrival. I felt good about returning to a place  that I knew. I had a family to stay with, I had a few friends from my language school, and I knew a lot of the teachers that taught there. I got really excited as we crested the first mountain coming into the lake. I felt like I was coming home.

I think it’s important to dive into a new place. Dive in completely and try to make it your home. At first, I didn’t like that idea, because I wanted to stay true to my roots: Virginia. Somehow, it seemed that if I were to try to make a new home, sentiments for my old home would decrease. Nope, that’s not how it works. I’ve found that when you try to expand your heart, there is always room for a new home.

As I arrived to my house I heard a chorus of “Hola Aaron!!!” It was almost like they coordinated this greeting. There’s nothing like the feeling of coming home, or hearing your own name. I dropped a few of my bags and looked around for my little brother. Tiny Hector’s mom released him (as he was scrambling to get out of her arms) and he ran to me. He had a huge smile and reached out to hug me, but because of my size he just grabbed my leg. I leaned down and he gave me a high five. (My family told me that for a few days after I left Tiny Hector would come up to my room and knock on my door and say “RRROOONNNN!” He thought that I just had my door closed, he didn’t really know I left!)

My family was really happy to see me. They said they had a surprise for me. We walked closer to the kitchen and they opened the door to their room. But it wasn’t their room, it was a redecorated, rearranged room and there were streamers and balloons everyone.

Two more students had joined the family from the language school and my old room was taken. In order to make room for me, they moved to another room so that I could have a place to sleep. Their entire family sleeps in one room, and they moved everything to the small room to the side of the kitchen so that I could stay there.

Wow. Such graciousness and hospitality.

Many times I feel such a weight of gratitude, that it feels like a burden that I have to repay. But there isn’t a way I can repay them. They do it out of love and they expect nothing in return.

I suppose seeing the joy on my face is a down payment though.

The decorations were all Lolita’s idea. What a sweetheart.

Welcome home.

The Last Shuttle to San Pedro is When You Decide it is

My first night back in Guatemala, I spent the night in Antigua, Guatemala with my friend Shane. Shane and I went to language school in San pedro for three weeks. He was also the guy getting his haircut when I was playing Oasis in the barber shop (barbershop concert). I called in the morning to get a shuttle to San Pedro and they said that all was good, there was plenty of space. Like most things when traveling, plans change. They called me during lunch (at 1:30) and said there wasn’t anymore space. Normally, this isn’t a problem because there plenty of shuttles in Antigua. But they all leave at 2:00 . . . I had already made plans to be back in San Pedro with the family and with my school, and I was like “Uh-oh . . . what do I do now?”

Guatemalan life is pretty laid back. Most people are content when plans change because schedules are flexible. There isn’t always a rigid adherence to set plans or schedules, like in America. I felt compelled to see if there was another shuttle, and a little guilty for being so proactive, because in some ways I could really just relax in Antigua and spend another day there. Still, I believe that I should be proactive in my decisions, and I was planning on eating dinner with my family that night.

So Shane and I finished our lunch and headed out the door. Determined to find another shuttle, we walked briskly toward the central park. On our way we stopped at one agency – no more shuttles. We stopped at another, and apparently they were eating lunch and couldn’t help us. (I didn’t understand why eating a sandwich prevented them from getting me a ticket but it was clear they couldn’t help me, so Shane and I continued on). Maybe there was a shuttle leaving late, maybe there was one to Panachel?

We crossed into the central park and I was headed to the same agency that I called that morning. Just then, I spotted a shuttle. “Wait, a second I think I know that shuttle . . .” I ran up to the shuttle which had just picked up a passenger and was started to accelerate and I asked them to stop (hehe).

“Are you all going to San Pedro?”

“Yes.”

“When?”

“Now.”

“Right now??”

“Yes, get in the shuttle, we’ll take you to get your luggage.”

Normally, I don’t jump in random shuttles, but I recognized both of these guys, and there was already a female in the van. I’ve taken shuttles with them to Antigua and Chichicastenango and this time, I had a whole seat to myself. It was the Casa Verde Tour Agency of San Pedro!

I brought Shane along because he knew how to get back to his house. He was equally amazed that we found a shuttle. They dropped us off at our house and I ran inside to get my luggage. We tossed it in the back, and the shuttle continued picking up three more people. In 15 minutes we were on our way to San Pedro.

I laughed to myself as we moved into the countryside.

“Sometimes, the last shuttle to San Pedro is when you decide it is.”