Today I awoke at 4:00 a.m., fully ready to board a plane. Two hours and a protein bar later, that's what I did. I say I was ready to board a plane, but I was a little apprehensive about being in another country by noon. Though I do not lack experience in travel, this was my first visit to Central America. You would think that five continents and several countries in, I would have figured this travel thing out. But thus, like every experience, was different. Different country, different language, different people. I could take two trips around the world and still have a culture shock meltdown upon entering a neighboring county. I hope my awareness of my everlasting ignorance fuels my lust for information, rather than my fears.
I have grown accustomed to never fitting in when I travel, and there are still times when I wish I'd inherited a little more Japanese and Mexican from my mother. It is easier to blend in, though, if I know I stick out. I want to be sensitive to the country, but no ashamed of who I am.
So, a few hours later, I was next to one of my best friends in a Mennonite-owned pick-up truck, zipping through the streets of Guatemala City. I learned early on in international travel that one must always put one's trust completely in the driver and one's calmness into the role of passenger. Otherwise, every trip abroad would end in a panic attack, because of traffic, within two hours. Luckily, trusting Beth was easy--she's a good driver, and a Mennonite, which I have always felt may be the chosen denomination.
The first thing I noticed was color. From a person's clothes to the building by which they were standing, bright colors darted out at me. A pink stone building next to a blue concrete structure. In front, stood a beautiful Mayan woman. She had a large basket on her head, bright clothing and a baby on her back. I knew that this would be different than any place a visited prior.
As we loaded plastic chairs into the truck and transported them from one church to another, I barely noticed the heat. The sunshine made me happy, and the sweat building up inside my clothes felt carefree. Throughout my first day, I soaked it in--the sun, the heat, the colors, the traffic, the two languages mixing withing my head. I asked questions and wasn't embarrassed to ask for Beth's help while getting into Spanish mode. Her Spanish is quick and musical.
By the time we arrived at her apartment, after a quick lunch and taxi ride, I didn't even feel tired. Yes, I had already been awake for 12+ hours, and probably looked and smelled like a farm animal. I wish I knew what made me feel so comfortable in a potentially uncomfortable situation. I wish I knew so that I could call upon this method of contentment at other times in my life.
We walked a circle in Zone 6 until sundown and talked as she made dinner. Even the pasta sauce was multi-colored. My favorite part, though, was the "coily" cheese that resembled string cheese, spun into a sausage-like coil.
Now, I'm writing (by hand=difficult) as Beth plays the guitar and hums. I can hear just enough of the city and feel a fresh, cool breeze through the window. I may not take a sleeping pill tonight. Part of me just wants to stay awake.
--written the evening of Saturday, March 13, 2010 in Guatemala City, Guatemala.