Saturday, October 25, 2014

Feeling the Music, Living in the Moment

Sometimes I delay writing a post because I’m not sure which story to tell from the previous week.  Of course, too much times passes and there are even more stories to tell.  Then I feel like I’m not doing justice to the Journey.  This is what I find myself thinking presently. 

I’m 2 hours in to the 22 hour bus ride from Cartagena to Bogota.  There’s been a smirk on my face for most of the last two hours.  Much of it has to do with the music I’m listening to. Last May I made a playlist called “Havana Day Dreaming” as that’s what I was doing when I made the playlist.  It has 3 songs on it.  Extensive, I know.  I chose the songs because they reminded me of Havana… but they could easily be heard throughout all of Latin America.  I’ve decided to listen to these three songs on repeat until I finish this blog post.  One might think that it would make you sick of the music, but I’m confident I’ll be wishing the blog post was longer.  If you want to feel what I’m feeling, take a minute to find “Oye Como Va” by Tito Puente, “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony and “Bailando” by Enrique Iglesias.  Go ahead.  The blog can wait. 
Or... open the link to the playlist in Spotify:

Can you feel it?  The music?  I don’t know what it is but it just gets me.  Like all over.  In the music I can see the Latin American world.  And right now it doesn’t have to be just in my mind’s eye.  As we pass through town after town, I see the tiny tiendas on the side of the dusty road … men resting with their shirts pulled up to their chest revealing a round belly, the color Carpe Diem Anna would describe as canela pasion – cinnamon passion. I see kids in their bleached white shirts and navy skirts and pants, their school uniforms.  I see men driving motorcycles (a woman driver is a rarity… I think I’ve seen 4 in the last month) helmets on, helmets half on, no helmets, their hand-woven bolso draped over their shoulders, typically with one passenger, maybe a kid sandwiched between two adults.  I see lots of deep green trees… palm trees, mango trees, papaya trees, avocado trees, and any other tropical tree you can imagine.  I see cinder block houses painted Pepto-pink, Tigo-blue, Aguila-yellow.  A few minutes out of town the colored houses fade to grey with make-shift roofs: sometimes corrugated metal pieced with some black or blue tarp, sometimes it’s made of palm leaves.  It often seems that someone is mid-construction project but my bet is that if I came back a year from now, the same cement bags, shovels and buckets won’t have moved very far. 

The music gets me in my hips, right where salsa is supposed to hit.  I love to dance but Colombian women put me to shame and therefore leave me wishing I had just a hint of the natural talent that oozes out of them.  If only I could have gone back for salsa lesson two in Trinidad instead of limping into a hospital in Guatemala, I’m sure I would be light-years ahead of where I am now.  They ask me how do people dance in the US.  Salsa?  Merengue?  Bachata?  I’m learning the difference between each of these and try to explain that in the US, people dance “libre” – free.  But when my “Profesor de Bailando” at Carpe Diem, Facu, asked me where I learned to dance implying that maybe I had a little skill, I almost believed him.  As I dance in my head, I know I look like a natural.  Somehow when I live out the dream in reality, I’m reminded that I’m very much a white girl from the Midwest.  But a girl can dream, no? 

The music gets me in my heart.  It reminds me of the people I’ve met through the years in the countries I’ve been blessed to visit South of the Border.  I think of my first friend in Guatemala back in 2007 – Estela… and how when she first told me “Dios Te Bendiga” I thought she was telling me “Dios Te Vendiga” which I translated as “God have vengeance on you.”  I thought it was a strange thing to a tell a new friend as she said it with a smile.  She was telling me “God Bless You.”  I think of the sweet Guatebabies from Nido de Aguila orphanage.  I wonder often where Rosalia and Miriam are today.  And am amazed as I get to watch kids like Nathan, Cam, Baylia, Nathan/”Colocho”, grow up with their forever families through Facebook friendships.  I think of Lola and Giancarlos who served up the best lattes in Huaraz, Peru.  I think of Miguel, whom I met my last night in Havana as we shared a beer in the Plaza Vieja, and talked about the things I had learned and experienced in his country, and hoped to return again someday but under less-clandestine circumstances.  And then I think of the surreal experience of spending an evening walking around the plazas on Friday night, my first night in Cartagena, with Juliana.  It was clear that Juliana had taken up the trade of the “oldest profession” in history.  Somehow we struck up a conversation that left me wondering why I was sitting on that particular park bench at that particular time.  There were many things I wanted to tell her before I left her to her business later that night.  Things like: “You are worth more than you are selling yourself for” or “What made you decide to pursue this career?”  But all I could get out was “Jesus Te Amo y espero que Dios Te Bendiga”.           

We continue down the road.  And then I see a row of people looking off a bridge into the water below.  The bus slows to a crawl.  I ask the bus steward “Que es eso?”  He whispers “muerto”.  A death.  And suddenly the joy I’ve been experiencing  from the rhythms of Latin American are cut short.

Many times I wonder how I have ended up in these different towns, plazas, hostels, meeting so many people from so many different backgrounds.  I have wondered what my purpose is here, in this place, at this time.  And then I’m reminded that I know what my purpose is.  I figured it out a few years back during a retreat with the Vail Leadership Institute.  My purpose is to be a blessing.  So whether that is making coffee for Anna and I before she showed up for work at Carpe Diem or enthusiastically recommending that fellow tourists seek out Free Tour Cartagena led by Edgar to enrich your Cartagena experience or sitting on a park bench and offering up a warm smile to the guy shining shoes next to me, I hope that I am living out my purpose.

Saying "Goodbye" to Carolina and Anna

I left Carpe Diem on Friday morning with an overwhelming feeling of gratefulness for the month I had in such a unique place, one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever had the blessing of spending time at. 

Click on the Bubbli Links for a 360 degree view of some of my experiences... (Hammock Kiosko at Finca Carpe Diem)
I made my way to Cartagena for 4 days that were every bit as enchanting as people had promised it would be. (The cutest bookstore in the world, in Cartagena) (The monstrous fortress of San Felipe) (Teatro Heredia in Cartagena)

But on Friday afternoon I began to realize that my next Workaway placement was falling through.  I found myself in a situation in which I was absolutely open to whatever the Lord had next for me, without being too bummed that I would be missing out on what looked to be a pretty cool gig in Jardin.  Sunday afternoon, I popped into the cathedral during mass and prayed while the foreign Catholic traditions were being carried out around me.  I prayed for an open door.  And then prayed for my friends from Carpe Diem – which I’ve promised myself to do every time I look at my new “tattoo."  And I walked out the door to inquire for work at a cool looking bed and breakfast I had passed a few times while getting lost in the Old City.  It seemed like a long shot, and it was.  I left my info but never heard back.  A closed door.  I sent out 7 more inquiries on Workaway, explaining my situation and that I would be available as soon as someone told me they would take me and a bus could get me there.  Monday morning I had 3 possibilities waiting for me in my inbox.  I chose the vineyard outside Sogamoso – or 4 hours from Bogota.  I don’t know what is in store but I trust that the Lord has a plan and I’ll do my best to be a blessing.  And vivir mi vida.

You can turn off the music now.  Or maybe it’s gotten to you too.  De Nada.    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I got a tattoo.

A Colombian tattoo.  Let me explain.

Two-wheeled Vehicles Are Not My Friend. 

I’ve stated this fact since I moved to Colorado in 2003 and tried mountain biking for the first time.  I’ve never worked out so hard I thought I was going to throw up… until I tried mountain biking.  Maybe it would have helped if I knew how to work the gears. 

This fact was solidified in 2007 when I was talked into taking a mo-ped ride around Mykanos, Greece… although I tried my best to resist.  My lesson in riding this vehicle: “Right hand is the gas, left hand is the break.  Got it?”  First inclination should have been that I wasn’t able to get the bike off the kickstand.  And then when I did manage to, the bike fell to the side.  I had underestimated the weight of a mo-ped.  And it’s take-off as well.  An up-hill, one-way cobble stone street were the circumstances I faced as I began my mo-ped career.  It ended 20 feet later as the famous white-washed walls of Greece began coming towards me.  I managed to scrape the right side of my body and bike against the wall only to fall into an open driveway.  I’ve heard that it is hard for American women to rent mo-peds in the Mediterranean.  I am “Exhibit A”.

In my last post I was explaining how the only way to Paso del Mango is on a motorcycle.  Every time I’ve taken a motorcycle I’ve wondered if this will be my ill-fated trip.  However, I was priding myself on the fact that my death grip on the handle behind my seat had loosened considerably during my two weeks here.  I had even managed to let my arms hang to the side for a few seconds.  Welp… today was the day.

Last Sunday I managed to find a church in Bonda to attend.  It happens to be right next to Anna’s house.  Anna is the awesome Colombian woman I have the joy of working beside everyday.  But after I asked about the church, it took another hour to arrange a moto-taxi and then 20 minutes to actually get there.  By the time I arrived there were two minutes left in the service.  (As a result I asked if there was another church meeting which led me to the rather charismatic service I was enjoying until 2 hours into the service and the Bible had yet to be opened and there was a lot of talk of money and health…)  This Sunday, I was only 30 minutes late.  Carolina’s husband, Ivan, was my moto-taxi driver this time.  Carolina also works at Carpe Diem but usually during the shift opposite me.  Ivan was gracious enough to wait for me and bring me home as well.  All was going well, even with the 10-year old kid we picked up on the way (translation: 3 people on the motorcycle).  We dropped the kid off before a rather big hill we made up fine, but the next big hill didn’t go so well.  We hit a pretty big hole, the bike fell to the left side, I tumbled off, with just a little dust on me, but a rather large burn on my leg from the muffler that instantly removed the top layer of skin.  I dusted myself off, hoped back on the bike with just a few minutes to go to Carpe Diem.  After Carolina and her adorable kids Andrea and Martin, and two lovely British/Belgian guests Rich and Julie all assessed the damage, we decided that ice was the best remedy for the moment.  Carolina took out a big block from the freezer and broke off a chunk to apply to my leg.  Rich and Julie ran to get their rather impressive first-aid kit.  And 4-year-old Martin used the piece of paper in his hand to fan me.  Precious!  Another Dutch couple suggested a visit to the doctor.  That would most likely mean another moto-taxi ride that I wasn’t really all that thrilled about taking at the moment.  6 hours later, as I type this, I’ve applied a pretty serious coating of Neosporin and used a big bandage provided by Rich and Julie.  Right now, I only remember the burn when I look at it.  I’m hoping for the best, and that my new tattoo heals quickly.   

The rest of the story is this.  At church, where my presence increased attendance by about 3%, the pastor was teaching on the story of Joseph.  On the ride home, I told Ivan, who joined for the last 30 minutes of the service, that the story of Joseph was one of my most favorite stories in the Bible.  It’s a story of God’s sovereignty and a plan that could never be laid by man.  It is only after decades that the Lord’s plan and purpose for Joseph’s life becomes clear.  I don’t want to over-spiritualize a burn from a motorcycle muffler but I look forward to seeing how this may play into the Lord’s plan for my time here at Carpe Diem.  Already, I can say that it has helped to mend a somewhat strained relationship between Carolina and myself.  For reasons I don’t totally understand, I haven’t quite been welcomed into Carolina’s life.  However, her care and concern today has been wonderful.  If a fated ride on a two-wheeled vehicle was necessary to make that happen, so be it.  To God be the Glory! 

In other news…

I’ve spent a lot of time reading.  No internet access is good for that.  I’ve completed books that I’ve started years ago.  A few have common themes.  I highly recommend David Platt’s “Radical” and Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”.  If you read the first chapter of each book, you will understand why I was avoiding finishing the books.  But considering the life I’ve been living for the last year, the idea of rethinking American excess as Christians is a little easier to swallow. 

Last week, I managed to turn my day off into 48 hours away from Carpe Diem.  I spent the night at a chilled-out “surf camp” inhabited mostly by Aussies called Costeno Beach.  I spent my second night in a hammock.  It was much more successful than my first night.  The next day I took off for a trek through Tayrona National Park.  I took a less traveled entrance which was my first serious trekking session since the Achilles mishap.  The first two hours were up-hill but on a decent path.  My only company were two Colombians on horseback that passed me half way through.  And then I made it to Pueblito, a settlement reminiscent of the native way of life.  I have to be honest and say the trek from Pueblito to Cabo San Juan, was a pretty gnarly “hike” around boulders and tree roots and obstacles such as deep pits under said boulders and roots.  I managed to arrive at the incredible beach destination of Cabo San Juan without incident and immediately found enjoyment in the most delicious beverage I’ve ever tasted, mango juice with milk.  I spent a wonderful afternoon on the beach and then a pretty restless night in a hammock.  The next morning, I chose to take the hour long horseback ride out of the park as opposed to the three-hour trek.  I had a great conversation with my guide Alex, about faith and family.  Then I made my way back to Carpe Diem… definitely making the most of my time away.  And needing a vacation from my vacation.  

As I was doing my Sunday afternoon task of cutting loads of carrots, onions, peppers and tomatoes in preparation for the Sunday evening meal of “espegetis”, I was reflecting on how much I really enjoy my role here.  I’ve never done so much physical labor in my life, but it feels good to work with my hands.  I’ve pulled lots of weeds, most every day.  I’ve swept away mud and dirt from sidewalks and stairways as the daily rains create some pretty significant run-off on our hillside location.  I worked with Julian to plant some grass seed.  I’ve carried buckets of food to the compost pile a few minutes away and up to the chicken coop to feed the 4 chickens and 2 ducks.  And I’ve scraped paint off of a wall, in the rain, which left me covered in a wet-yellow-powdery mess.  And then Julian and I painted the wall white a few days later.    I’m not gonna lie, while I’m completing every task, I’m recalling the tools available in the US that allow each task to be completed in a fraction of the time.  But for the first time, I understand the value and satisfaction that comes from working with your hands with limited tools.  This also means that I have a greater appreciation for the simple life touted by people like Wendall Barry.  I don’t think I understand that fully before.  I’ve also asked myself if I’d feel the same way if I did this day-in and day-out.  I can’t say that I can honestly answer that question. 

But the best part of the job remains the people.  Around the dinner table at night I’ve enjoyed conversations with Colombians, Argentines, Brits, Kiwis, South Africans, Dutch, Germans, and Belgians.  We talk about our travels and learning experiences along the way, world politics, and books we’re reading … all things I love talking about.  Each day, I imagine what it could be like to do hospitality of this sort in my home.  I’m looking forward to the day when my dreams will become reality.