29 07 2007

Well, it’s complete. I am certifiably a scuba-diver. If any of you are PADI-certified as well, we can be buddies and descend to 18 meters together. Exciting!

Turns out that scuba is pretty darn spiritual after all. The main focus in on deep and relaxed breathing, much like meditation. You actually don’t use your arms, and to control them, I kept my hands folded together, sort of in prayer stance. There’s a lot of Zen to the whole thing, as I would see a beautiful school of fish one minute, and the next, they’d be gone. Good practice for living in the present. One of the most important skills that we had to master was the hover. You sit like a Buddha, cross-legged and holding your fins in your hands, and try to float. No sinking, no rising. Simply hovering in mid-water. How spiritual is that?

I loved every second of it, from the fish to the turtles to the eels to the stingrays to the plants. Especially the plants. Underwater gardens galore.

In general, I have found that animals seem to like me. I must give off some friendly scent, unfortunately to dogs and mosquitos alike, but I was pleased to see that fish followed suit. Many a school let me swim with them, surrounded me with their colors and fins. Now, when I close my eyes, I see schools of little blue fish swimming. Sort of like after a long game of Tetris. Clearly, I prefer fish.

So, the beginning of the end. Today and tomorrow are wind down days. One of my favorite travel companions, a French-Canadian named Nicholas, is finishing out the trip with me. He was in my scuba class, and on Monday, I was worried, because he didn’t seem to understand the movies and got all the answers wrong on every quiz. I swore that I’d never be his buddy underwater, as I was convinced he’d forget to check my air supply or misunderstand how to see if my vest inflates.

However, assumptions are no good. Nicolas, as in Petit Nicholas for all of you French speakers, turned out to be a gem. He’s fantastic at spotting underwater creatures and his enthusiasm is outright hilarious. He takes such pleasure in introducing me to places on the island, even though he knows it only as well as I do.

Every meal, he exclaims, “You will not believe where I going to take you! Guess what I have to show you! You would like the grilled fish, no?” (read in French accent, please). After lunch one day, he said to me, “This is the lunch I have dreamed about, but never knew existed.”

We decided to boat out to some Cayes today, but we needed two more people to make the trip affordable. I went to bed and he went out to bars to make friends for our journey. 

In the morning, he greeted me with, “You will not believe what I have found for you!” On his right was a teacher from Boston. On his left, he displayed a Brit named Tommy who had a black eye. It turned out that Tommy also had deformed toes, and Nicholas was so excited that he began to photograph them. “Do you see the amazing kind of people I bring for you?” he asked me.

(Halfway through the day, Nicholas confessed to me, “I am not sure that his name is Tommy. Does he answer to it when you call him? He might be Angus.”)

How fun to have a character like this around at the end of my time. I have been blessed with lots of good scuba and life buddies around these parts.

Well, team, it’s time for the big parade on the island, so I gotta run and see my Spanish teacher in action. This very well may be entry finale. Maybe I’ll keep up the blog thing, but I’m not sure.

Just in case, I’ll end with a good joke that Natalie learned in Spanish and taught to me.  I’ll translate it into English, but it won’t be the same.

Here goes: “What is the last animal that God made?”

Our answer: Delfin. (translation…dolphin). Del Fin. The End.

If you don’t get it, I apologize. However, given that I saw some dolphins today, it feels particularly appropriate for my ending.

I arrive in NYC…slight rerouting…late Monday night/early Tues a.m. The cell phone is in Boston, so I won’t get to it until Thursday. If you know me well enough to want to talk and to know my mom’s phone number, call away. Otherwise, we’ll be in touch soon.

Lots of love and thanks for tuning in.



25 07 2007

One of my favorite words in Spanish is the word for deep. When I tried to describe Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as very deep, my teacher replied, “You mean to say that it is profound.” Indeed. In my life, profound is a much better adjective for the ocean than deep. I fell in love with the word immediately.

When I left Belize, a fellow traveler passed me a book on a boat at 6:00 a.m. Aimee and I had spent some time with her and her boyfriend, but I was a little surprised when she gifted me a book and said emphatically, “I know you’d really like this.”

Constantly throughout these last two months, I am amazed by how quickly people can figure me out, and how often their impressions are accurate. However, when I looked down at the cover, my face fell.

You may have seen the book before. The cover is filled with pasta, flowers and something else, and the title is “Eat, Pray, Love.” I had seen it in the U.S. and figured it was another story of a woman finding herself in the midst of a rocky divorce and a scoop of gelato. I wasn’t interested.

“Is it really good?” I asked innocently. She nodded. “REALLY good??” I pressed. “Did you love it?”

“I think you’ll like it.” She said firmly, with an expression like, “Just take it and read it, will you? What is the big deal?”

Mainly out of courtesy, I accepted the gift. It sat in my bag for about a week, and I would look at it and roll my eyes, as if it was an old cliche. Finally, out of desparation for something to read, I began.

Now, I don’t really know if it’s a great book. It’s good, but is it great? I’m still not sure. However, it was perfect for me right here, right now. The first one hundred pages document her time in Italy, and are almost entirely filled with descriptions of pizza and gelato flavors. After my four months in Italy, I can read that stuff all day long. It felt like watching re-runs of “Family Ties.” Ah, the memories and flavors flood back.

In the next section, the author goes to India in search of her spiritual self. I surprisingly ate this up as well, as she described simple meditations and mere desires to find balance, peace, and spiritual understanding. I would say that I’ve let that part of myself sleep for most of the past two months, and reading her ambition somehow awakened a new yearning inside me.

So, why do I write all this? I’m getting there. Back to our profound ocean. So, I’m on this island and I’m trying to process and regroup and find a little more peace and balance to wrap up these past weeks, and I sort of woke up and realized, “Hey, you’re on the ocean, Jocelyn. THE OCEAN, remember??????”

I have always felt like the ocean is part mine. I don’t mean that I own it, but that I have a part in it, I’m somehow connected to it. During the oh-so-fun adolesence, I would often go to the beach, and time spent staring at the ocean was the only thing that would ground me and give the world some sense. In San Francisco, I would walk up and down Ocean Beach after long days of teaching, and only there could I finally process the chaos of trying to both teach and love my students.

I also have recurrent dreams about the ocean. It usually starts with me, floating or swimming in the middle of nowhere. All of a sudden, I notice that I am surrounded by orcas, and I start to panic. They are killer whales, after all.

I violently swim and swim, the waves taking me over and under, and then, I usually end up at shore, and it turns out the orcas were just little fish. There was no danger at all. Not a hard dream to analyze, but still. I have it at least once every six months. The ocean and me; we are tight.

So, I wake up Monday morning and decide to go for my first run in a long time, to begin my processing phase. And when I’m done, one thing is obvious to me. I need to spend some time with the ocean. In fact, I need to be in it, submerge myself in it, let it eat me up. I am going to scuba dive. I come to this decision as if I’m introducing myself to myself. “You’re going to scuba dive. It’s going to happen today. Here you go.”

I really had no plans of scuba-diving here. I’m absolutely terrified of it and it is going to take all my time this week to get certified. Sort of eats into my plan for journaling, beaching, and generally being purposeless.

However, I’m doing it. It”s happening. Now, I realize that it’s a fun sport and I don’t need to have some existential reason for doing it. But for me, in this case, the ocean isn’t just deep; it’s profound.

I found a Dive Shop that looked safe enough given that I recognized it from my friends’ Emily and Jon’s pictures when they were here. Hey, they both still have their lungs. Can’t be too bad.

My teacher has a British accent, which is amazingly calming for me. For example, when he says, “So, if you forget to breathe on your ascent, your lungs can overexpand and possibly rupture, causing paralysis or death,” it doesn’t sound so bad in British. (Say it to yourself in a British accent and you’ll agree.)

So, here I go. Just completed dives one and two and we are in business. It’s pretty fun to surprise yourself from time to time. I highly recommend it. As my teacher would say, and as I now say to all of you, “Just give it a go.”

Easy Like Sunday Morning

21 07 2007

Well, all that talk about not being able to just vacation is out the window. After a few days of doing virtual nothing but relaxing and meeting slightly strange American yachters who wait out the hurricane season in Guatemala, I have fallen into the trap. The number of books I have read has doubled, no matter how often I wash my hair, it still feels dried out from the sun, and if you try and make me account for how I am spending my time, I don’t think I can fester up much of an answer.

I realize that all these facts make some of you very, very happy, given responses to my previous entry. Well, congrats. The purposeless life is winning.

But have no fear, I have devised a plan we can all live with. I have about one week left of travel, and frankly, I have a lot to process. In addition, I truly miss Spanish class. Let’s not forget to mention that I love snorkeling. Put those three together and what have you got? A week on the Bay Islands in Honduras. Mornings spent studying language, afternoons to study fish, and the rest is just for me. Thoughts and non-thoughts abound.

So, that’s the plan folks. I’m here on the islands, and am taking today and tomorrow to get to know the place and the creatures that surround it. I still have some leftover friends from Spanish school with me, but I expect them to move on in a few days, giving me some interesting alone time before I come back and face the likes of all of you.

Don’t be fooled-I am looking forward to my return. If it’s possible to say this and not sound too self-congratulatory, the length of my trip has been ideal. I’m about ready to get home to some hugs from friends, fresh salad, and my precious semi-colon. In that order. I may be a dorky English teacher, but I can rarely make the semi-colon work on these keyboards, and my writing just isn’t the same. Please, for me, go out and use a semi-colon today. It’s worth it.

As you can see, the sun is also affecting my sanity, and my Spanish is just strong enough to start interfering with my English. I am wandering the streets as a dehydrated, purposeless, can’t-speak-any-language-well, woman. Get ready to welcome me back with open arms.

How I cannot be so obvious?

17 07 2007

It is worth nothing that in Central America, my eyes are quite the conversation piece. Literally every person I meet immediately wants to talk about my eyes and no one has heard of two-colored eyes before (if you don´t believe me, just ask Aimee). It may be because blue eyes are already uncommon here, so my eyes are noticed right away, or maybe it is just my mystical personality. I prefer to believe the latter.

Guatemalans love to hear that my grandfather had the same genetic make-up, but when I bring up the fact that it is also common with dogs or witches in horror movies, they always shake their head at me with disgust, as if my eyes and I are in a fight, and they are siding with the eyes. ¨No, no! That is not true,¨many tell me with contempt. ¨That is not you.¨

What I also find interesting is how Guatemalan men want to tell me that they like my eyes. Almost all want to do so in an unoffensive manner, but their methods differ. One men kept saying to me, ¨With respect! With respect!¨

After about five minutes of shouting ¨With respect!” (during which time I was trying to figure out what I was supposed to be respecting), he finally ended with a quiet, ¨Your eyes are beautiful.¨

My favorite response happened this morning. I arrived alone to the Rio Dulce yesterday, having dropped Aimee off in Belize and crossed back into Guatemala with a boatload of other sunburnt travelers. Eleven hours and six boat trips later, I arrived to this fabulous lake to meet up with some others and continue the week of sweat and sun.

Being alone and dirty as can be, I treated myself to a room with AC and shower…what luxury. It cost less than a dinner in Boston, and I slept in for the first time in six weeks, all the way to 8:30.

When I woke up and strolled down to get some breakfast, a man welcomed me back to the land of the clean and the refreshed. He shook my hand, preparing to serve me, and  gasped, ¨Your eyes are beautiful!¨

I said my typical thanks, preparing to answer the traditional littany of questions that tend to follow: Are they real? Do you have a contact? Do they both work? How does it happen? Do you know I have never seen this before?

Instead, he started yelling at himself in English. ¨How I cannot be so obvious? How can a human being not be so obvious? What can a human do to not make such an obvious statement? I mean, what choice does a human have?¨

I shrugged, said I really didn´t know, and asked for eggs. Throughout breakfast, I was bombarded with the same line of questioning. There were no questions about the nature of my eyes, but instead the nature of humans. ¨How can humans not be obvious? What other options do humans have?¨ Leave it to me to start up an internal existential debate before breakfast. My future as a teacher is bright.

The truth is, I think he is really beating himself up over it. He wouldn´t even charge me for food. So, I got a free breakfast, care of Opa. Doesn´t get much better than that!

Travel Mode

14 07 2007

Life sure was different a week ago. In the last seven days, I have gone from being a semi-local Guatemalan student to a full out traveler. I have left the remote parts of Guatemala to find that indeed, there are tourist zones and scam artists galore.  I finally regained an appetite, after two more visits to the doctor, and I have shed my fleeces and long pants for sarongs and tank tops. Most notably, I have starting meeting a different type of gringo whose main goal is more adventure than studying. It’s a whole new world.

It has been great to have Aimee here, and we have taken Guatemala and now Belize by some sort of storm. In the last seven days, we have been packing it in….we hiked an active volcano, swum in pools formed by natural limestone bridges, watched the sunrise over ancient Maya ruins, interacted with monkeys and other creatures, tubed down a river, swum/hiked through caves, and crossed a border. We’re half exhausted and fully satisfied, I think. She leaves in three days, and we will finally reach that beach I mentioned earlier tomorrow. When you read this, I plan to be on a hammock sipping a pineapple drink in between snorkeling sessions. Remember, all are welcome to join.

I will say that this new mode doesn’t fit me like a glove. For my days with Aimee, it is perfect, as we move at the same pace and approach travel similarly. We have been laughing a lot, and Aimee takes my craziness in stride, including last night when I woke her up with loud screaming because a foreign object fell on my bed. She also has proven to be very adaptable to the pace and unpredictability of Guatemala. As we deal with bizarre bus schedules, shuttles that just don’t show up, and travel that averages three more hours than quoted, she usually just shrugs and makes a face that says, “Yep, we’ll just wait.” For those of you who have traveled here, you know just how admirable a quality that is.

The gringos we’ve met have been another story. Some have been great, but overall, they remind of a different mode of travel, one that doesn’t interest me right now. Some seem to have a giant checklist, and at the end of the day, it is more important that the checklist be completed than anything truly experienced. Some seem semi-purposeless…merely traveling for the sake of traveling and partying. There is an allure to this method, and I can feel myself teetering on the edge of falling into this travel mode…frankly, why not? How much fun can I fit in and how much can I literally consume of this country for my benefit? However, at the end of the day, it feels a little gluttenous, and as much as I like contributing to the economies of these countries, I’m not sure this is the way I want to do it.

I also just miss personal interactions with the culture, the people, and outright reality.  My Spanish is slipping after ten days without class,  so after Aimee leaves, we’ll see what I decide to do. I am contemplating another week of school, or at least some significant way to get to know more countries and people.

With all that said, I feel overwhelming relaxed and content. It has been so nice to connect with a friend from home, one who knows me well and is always willing to indulge in ice cream. So, it’s a new travel mode, and it’s a little bit of travel a la mode. Que rica!

School´s Out

5 07 2007

It´s summer! I´m done with school and I´m heading to the beach!

I essentially completed four weeks of school, as my trip to the doctor and subsequent recovery cost me some time and Spanish brain cells. I am rather glad for the break, as I am tired of trying to create stories filled with doubt and imperatives simply to use the subjunctive. I started to hit a wall with my last teacher; I felt like I was regressing linguistically and I didn´t want to hear one more story about the war or the fincas or anything political. I was over it.

He suggested we take a walk, and he said he had a bunch of questions for me that he had been storing up for awhile. Just when I thought there was absolutely nothing I wanted to discuss in Spanish, he began questioning me about life on the moon.

¨Now, the moon,¨he began, ¨Are Americans actually living there?¨Talking rapidly, he continued with his littany of wonderings, ¨Can we all move there? What about other planets? Now, extra-terrestials…what does that word mean, really? Tell me what you know about these creatures. What are they like?¨

As much as I wanted to laugh, he was so earnest and sincere that I instantly became the authority on life in outer space and other issues regarding our universe. He quizzed me on the possibilities of life on each planet and the different types of space stations America had created. Most of my answers stemmed from my fourth grade history/science class, but he looked entirely satisfied at the end. I guess news travels slow sometimes….I think he thought Buzz Aldren and company just returned last week.

As I head out, I realize that I will miss many things about Todos Santos, including the evangelical church that plays awful music loudly into the night, as someone shouts, not sings, some semblance of a song. The evangelicals seem to have a monopoly on sound systems in this country.

I´ll miss the grandfather at my house, who always wears a cowboy hat, and as it turns out, is rather deaf. I tried to have conversations with him time and again, but he never responded in words; he simply laughed and slapped my back fondly. I recently found one of the kids screaming good  morning to him. Ah…case closed. Still, despite our lack of verbal communication, I will miss those pats on the back.

My bag weighs about ten pounds more than it did when I arrived, which I´m guessing is a result of all the dirt and dampness my clothes have accumulated. I am downright dirty. Xela showers and laundry, here I come.

I´m not sure how to keep up my Spanish. I´ve been trying to read books I know really well in English…I started with ¨House on Mango Street¨and just worked on part of ¨A Diary of Anne Frank.¨ Still, I am going to have to search for friendly faces on the bus to keep me occupied. Wish me luck.

Love in the Time of Giardia

2 07 2007

(Insert quote here about pride being the road to all destruction).

For four weeks, I was strong. I was fighting the standard Guatemalan bugs with gusto, and let it be known, I was damn proud of my health. While most travelers in Guatemalan seem to have at least one twenty-four hour fest with lots of food exiting the body in various ways, I would not succomb to the bacterias that be. My body was taking it all in stride.

But like all strong empires, I, too, was to fall. I started to feel sick about five days ago, but I firmly held onto my mind over matter technique, which worked for about half of each day. My family tracked my developing symptoms with gusto…each day as something new popped up, they would have ¨just the thing.¨ Sometimes, this resulted in a fantastic herbal concoction that made me feel eighty percent better. On the other hand, there were moments where they´d talk and talk about a miracle drug that always works for them, and I´d end up with a glass of Alka-Seltzer. My favorite part was that the mother of the family kept insisting that I eat toast with honey. She ate it with me  as if to prove its worth.

On Saturday, my family was incredibly unimpressed when I decided to join others on a six hour hike in the mountains. I was feeling ok, the sun was out, and hey, it was my only chance to climb some ridges and see a neighboring village. I actually completed the hike with relative ease, but returned home feeling downright nasty. My family blamed the altitude, the exercise, and my poor decision-making. Toast with honey, with a clucking, ¨I told you so,¨ was for dinner.

The good, or bad, news is that my symptoms were mainly an incredibly bloated stomach which resulted in lots of sound effects. I have never felt so pregnant or so ready to be an extra on ¨Dumb and Dumber¨ in my life.

Today, a friend and I headed on a two and an half hour journey to the nearest lab, and I found that I have giardia. The experience was great; I was armed with my dictionary earmarked to words like ¨very bloated, guttural burps and much flatulence.” The doctor was Cuban and free, both of which were fantastic (reason being, as I am guessing most of you know, that Cuban medicial training is top-notch…free should be relatively self-explanatory). My dose of medicine cost me eight bucks, and I feel better already.

As for the title of this post, if you cannot find the love within the giardia, please re-read. It´s in the toast with honey, in my friend, a fellow parasite-survivor, making a 6:00 a.m. departure to ensure I could navigate the health care system, and in the bonus of finding some Reese´s peanut butter and chocolate treats for purchase next to the lab. American (or simply decent) chocolate is hard to come by, and oh so missed, here.

As my friend Mario said when I arrived back with my diagnosis, ¨But it’s all worth it, right?” And the truth is, it really is.

Off to some more toast with honey.