Sunday, January 07, 2007

Guatemala Here I Am

I have a confession to make about my Guatemala trip (to attend a three week class at the Anabaptist Semilla Seminary). When I signed up, it wasn’t because of a burning desire to learn more about liberation theology or because Guatemala was on the list of places I needed to see before I die, or even because I wanted to apply my minimal talents and intellect to the problems of Central America. Instead, I can trace it back to Ken Humphrey, who went on and on and on about his enriching and valuable trip to the United Nations. Ken is a fellow AMBS sabbaticaller, Irish Catholic-Protestant Reconciler, and font of all knowledge concerning European sports. We became good enough friends that I've earned the right to be called a mucker by him, which is apparently a good thing in Ireland. Anyway, the UN conference he went to was one I could have easily attended, if I had gotten my act together, so his glowing review of it burned like hot coals in my flesh.

To add insult to injury, about a month later I again failed to attend a Mennonite writer’s conference that I wanted to go to. I later learned that my friend Dave Wright (poet, dreamboat English professor, and ideal house renter) had led some workshops there. He was very diplomatic about what a great conference I missed, but I just felt like a dope for not going. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that the reason I missed the writer’s conference was that the week before I went to the Ohio State-Indiana football game with the very same Ken Humphrey, and had used up all my spouse points to watch my beloved Indiana be ritualistically sacrificed to the BCS gods (44-3).

So, I wasn’t going to miss out again on another cool trip, regardless of what it was. That defines a lot of my life, by the way. I am spurred to action by the great motivator of Not Missing Out. For me, it always seems to come back to issues of being a middle child. In any case, Guatemala was the next opportunity for travel, so hellooo Guatemala. All I needed was to backfill valid and honorable reasons for going. Luckily it did happen to be true that I wanted to learn more about liberation theology. I also wanted to immerse myself in a different culture – I love being challenged about my comfortable, middle class, white American life. I also thought it would give me space and perspective to make some progress on what I should be doing in life. It’s all about me, after all.

So, I had very few expectations about coming here. Sometimes not having expectations is a good thing. So far, it has been like a movie you walk into knowing very little about and turns out to be the best movie you’ve seen all year (which in this case, isn’t hard, since the year is only 7 days old, but still, it’s been an enriching few days).

What I didn’t expect was to be so reminded of Venezuela. Latin American countries are obviously not identical, but they are more similar to each other than they are to the places I visit in the US, and I haven’t traveled internationally all that much. But I did live in Caracas when I was 12 (my Dad worked for International Harvester as a truck sales engineer and was transferred there for nine months in 1975-76).

On the way from the airport to the seminary, all the sights, sounds, and smells of Latin America came rushing back to me. The white stucco houses with red clay roofs, barricaded behind large walls. The corrugated tin houses and roofs on hillsides where the truly poor eke out an existence. The Spanish-style churches dotting every few blocks. Open air hallways, since enclosed walls are not necessary in this climate. The rat-a-tat-tat of Spanish speakers having animated conversations. The smell of sidewalk food containing I’m not sure what, but boy does it smell good, and might even be worth 3 days of diarrhea to try. And, of course, road signs and rules that are “only suggestive”, as quipped by Carina Soderlund, our first-rate Semilla guide, who can put a 15 passenger van in places I wouldn’t try putting a Miata.

Despite not having clear, success-oriented goals while I am here, I need to make the best of my time because I’m using up the next six month of spouse points by being here. My lovely but unfortunate wife is suffering by threes at home while I am here. She is taking a 3 week Anabaptist history and theology class which requires 3 papers (and a big test), while she is taking care of all 3 kids solo. Plus, just to rub it in, her birthday will take place while I am away. Since there is no way I can help her while I’m here, my only strategy is to simply make it worthwhile, and come back all smiles and energy to take over parenting for the next few months.

So far, the landscape is beautiful, the weather is perfect and the food is excellent. Unfortunately, the people are mostly oppressed, which I will talk about more in later, fun-filled posts.


Amishlaw said...

Oh, why quibble about a little oppression when the weather is wonderful, the food is great and the company is remarkable? Enjoy yourself.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you got there safely -- looking forward to more posts.