Tuesday, August 30, 2011

ode to paul thek

for sunshine, praise the lord.
for cool evenings, praise the lord.
to feel beautiful, praise the lord.
to feel powerful, praise the lord.
to believe in magic, praise the lord.
for downtown lights, praise the lord.
to sit on the floor with your best friend, praise the lord.
to feel happiness, praise the lord.
for the morning, praise the lord.
for time, praise the lord.
for the darkness, praise the lord.
for the light, praise the lord.
for car alarms, praise the lord.
to feel like a woman, praise the lord.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

some way baby it's part of me, apart from me

photographs taken in san caralampio where i ate my first bug, made a lot of bread,
and slept in my first hammock

in the morning, i woke up in a city. a woman was calling to me through the window in spanish, i rushed quickly, realizing i was late for breakfast. the morning was blue. having arrived late the night before, i looked out of the window seeing for the first time ocosingo. a beautiful valley. i'm not in america, i can tell because there are colors here that i've never seen before. the sounds of roosters, motorcycles and people talking as they walk to the market are new to me. the air breathes a different language, even.

after breakfast, santiago, juan and i got into the black explorer. i was quiet. i was still self-conscious then about my spanish and santiago's ability to speak english seemed to be contingent on his mood. we drove for four hours in silence into the depths of the chiapas jungle. i asked no questions. i knew that i loved santiago and juan the moment that i met them. i knew that it was okay to be quiet. my eyes were fixed on the countryside passing beside me. the window was down as we drove along the bumpy dirt road. i breathed in the smell of fires burning and the smell of fresh rain soaking into the earth.

santiago broke the silence, pointing at a river, calling it the chocolate river. i said to him in my awkward spanish, "let's go swimming!" he laughed. and i knew that he already loved me as much as i loved him. making people laugh in mexico became my favorite way to communicate and in some ways, the only way that i knew how to. i flirted with everyone i met - because i knew no other way. my spanish is pretty good, but mostly it's just cute. it made me vulnerable to everyone i met. i was at the mercy of every person i spoke to and i relied on their kindness in order for me to survive there.

mostly i got along fine - i just sort of trusted that nothing was so important that you needed to actually talk about it. and that's how i drove four hours into the jungle of chiapas without having a single idea where i was going, if santiago and juan were even the right people to have picked me up, or what i was going to do when i got wherever we might be going. it just wasn't really that important.

two hours after we left ocosingo, we stopped in a small town. later i would find that this was the town where santiago and his brother, pablo, had grown up. i stayed in the car with juan. i had gathered a few things about juan in our 24 hours together so far: juan had a cold. juan was not santiago's son. and juan was from matzam, the village i had visited with my church in may. juan only spoke when spoken to. and when juan did speak, he spoke in a whisper.

santiago got out of the car. a man and his daughter walked towards him. santiago shook the man's hand, and then picked the girl up and twirled her around in a circle. she was beautiful and his rough, worn face became gentle in her presence. this was the first time i really got a good look at him. he cocked his hip to the side and rested one hand it. when he walked, he looked at the ground, watching his black cowboy boots as they pressed down on the green grass. sometimes he looked up, and he always had this smile on - this smile with these wise, knowing eyes, that held secrets, memories and wisdom that were buried so deep that i knew i could never really know this man. he was made of mystery, full of the things that men used to be made of in myths.

santiago dropped a few things off with them and then we drove on. he never told me it was where he was born. he never told me that those people were his family. it just didn't really need to be mentioned. i could tell that it was a good place, and they were good people, and that santiago seemed happy there. that was enough for me. and as the weeks would pass, santiago would never really tell me anything about himself. he would never tell me about his wife who had died, or what it was like working for his brother, or if he wished he would have had the same opportunities as him. he'd never tell me about his children. or why he always sat outside of church and never went inside.

but as the summer would go on, i would get these precious chances to glimpse what was inside of him. and in these glimpses, i saw a man with a heart made of gold. who treated me gently. who treated every person with care and affection. who asked me if i was okay when i seemed sad. and one day, he would eventually walk into church, look around the room awkwardly and shyly. he would spot me from the door. he would stand next to me, as i was seated on one of the benches, and he would motion to me to move over. and despite never learning about his past, and never telling him much about myself either, i knew he felt comfort sitting next to me there. we were the kids in the back of the church laughing too much, because they didn't quite feel like they belonged there. we were the kids who would sneak out of church early to buy coca colas across the street.

the last week i was there, he asked me in perfect english to wash his clothes. although he was joking, i still responded to him honestly, "it would be my honor."

eventually, we arrive in san caralampio. we turn right up a small road. ahead of me i see a mixture of white people and people from the village. i see pablo and jan and the people who work for them. these people will eventually become like family to me. the journey begins here, i breathe in deeply, and step out of the truck.

Friday, August 26, 2011

whatever fear invents, i swear it makes no sense

"And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day."

every morning when i was in ocosingo, i'd wake up and go to the kitchen. usually jan would be in there, and we'd talk a little. she was a morning person - she said she had to have her mornings, and plus she was the cook so she had to be up early. sometimes i'd help her set the table, other times i would just grab a cup of coffee. sometimes she'd put the sugar in for me. i would go sit on the roof of the bible school before breakfast and watch the fog slowly rise from the floor of the valley.

jan was the wife of pablo. her eyes were the color of the light blue morning sky. she was always looking at me lovingly. she was always timidly and softly putting her hand on my back at dinner when i was acting particularly american - loud, funny and sensitive. sometimes her eyes were sad and sometimes i felt like all of the joy in me couldn't be enough for her. moving from michigan to chiapas hadn't been easy when she'd first done it 30 years ago, and it hadn't gotten any easier. so i stayed close to her, hoping maybe the naive, innocent love i felt for mexico and life there could be enough for the both of us. she said that she could never move back to america, but i knew that didn't mean that she was perfectly settled in this culture either.

i loved to hear her talk about her family in michigan. i loved when she told me about the flowers that used to grow at her mother's house and how much she loved watching football with her dad when she was growing up. i loved going to her house and asking her about everything on her walls - because i loved to hear her talk about her mother, who was a painter. i loved talking to her about my mother too. both of our mothers made us cinnamon toast and hot tea. both of our fathers made popcorn on sunday nights. jan and i both loved fall the most.

every morning now before work, i wake up early. to take a walk, or just to sit, and drink some coffee. i allow myself the time to get acquainted with the day. i meet the softness, the gentleness, the quietness of the morning. i used to overlook it. but now i can't live without it. it is because of jan that i am now able to love morning.

in so many ways, jan and i were complete opposites. and i watched us all summer-long learning from one another, thriving off of one another, and quietly adoring one another in our differences. she taught me humility. she showed me what it was like to be selfless. she said that people had always been making decisions for her, that she never really knew what she actually wanted. she was devoted to her family. she was quiet. she was dangerously vulnerable, but sometimes cooler than the morning breeze that would blow over us both when we'd wake, in separate rooms, as separate people, with separate histories. And though we were separate, we woke early for the same purpose.

to get those couple of minutes to breathe life. to try to learn hear our own voices before other people and things started to overpower them. to find peace. to believe in a new day. for the stillness.

and now we both rise, in separate cities, in separate countries, with separate days ahead of us - but every morning reminds me of her. its gentleness, its humility and its quiet. it reminds me of a woman, so unlike me, who taught me to be more like the morning.