Blog

Otavalo, Otavalito

Blanquita

(English translation follows.)

“Otavalito, capital del mundo, sucursal del cielo.”   Carlos Tafur

Cuando pedí para mi sabático de trabajo, pensaba que podría estudiar en Matagalpa, Nicaragua. Pero cuando la situación se volvió peor y mi escuela favorita se cerró, tuve que cambiar mis planes. Pues, primero me afligí por mis amigos en Nicaragua y ya hago. İQueremos cambio y paz en Nicaragua pronto!

Entonces, encontré Otavala, Ecuador. Que afortunada para mí. Otavalo con su mercado famoso, el más grande semanal mercado artesano de las calles en Sudamérica. Otavalo con su gente indígena y mestiza—lista, guapa y simpática. Otavalo con su naturaleza magnífica: montañas, cascadas, aves y flores y frutas. Su comida. Su musica. ¿Y quien puedo olvidar las nubes de Otavalo? Que por su altitud, están cerca, simpre están cambiando y es sorprendente.

Para mí, como siempre, mis amigos nuevos son los meyores: Carlos, mi profe inteligente y paciente; Blanquita, mi guía amable para las excursiones por las tardes; Mayra, la otra maestra, y su familia hermosa; y mi querida familia anfitriona. Todos me han dado la bienvenida. Todos me han ayudado a curarme–a traducir el cumplicado español medicinal, me ofrecer té con jengibre, limón sutil y miel de abeja, más mi mama cortés aquí cocinar comida saludable, rica y variedad. Es verdad que La Tos de Penélope ha sido un proyecto para el equipo total.

Estoy triste de salir. Pero ustedes me han hecho agradecida, saludable y lista para un sueño de mi vida—Las Galápagos. Gracias, mil gracias, muchísias gracias.

 

Otavalo, Otavalito

 

“Otavalito, capital of the world, branch of heaven.” Carlos Tafur

When I asked for my sabbatical, I thought I could study in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. But when the situation got worse there and my favorite school closed, I had to change my plans. Well, first I grieved for my friends in Nicaragua and I still do. We want change and peace in Nicaragua soon!

Then, I found Otavalo, Ecuador. How lucky for me. Otavalo with its famous market, the largest weekly artisan street market in South America. Otavalo with its indigenous and mestizo people—smart, beautiful and friendly. Otavalo with its magnificent nature: mountains, waterfalls, birds and flowers and fruits. The food. The music. And who can forget the clouds of Otavalo? Due to the altitude, the clouds are close. And they are always changing and surprising.

For me, as always, my new friends are the best: Carlos, my intelligent and patient teacher; Blanquita, my friendly guide for the afternoon excursions; Mayra, another teacher, and her beautiful family; and my dear host family. Everyone has welcomed me. All have helped me heal by translating complicated medical Spanish, offering me tea with ginger, lemon and pure honey plus my gracious host mom cooks rich, healthy food with variety. It’s true—Penélope’s Cough has been a project for the entire team.

I’m sad to leave. But you have made me grateful, healthy and ready for a dream of my lifetime: The Galapagos. Thank you, thank you very much, thank you very very much.

Lo/La Inefable – Entre las Dos Idiomas

Eduardo y Yo

(English translation follows.)

Primero, el context: He estado enferma aquí en Ecuador. Hace casi dos semanas, vine con un orzuelo malo. Después, en mi primera semana en Quito, tuve un resfriado y tos también. Entonces, los efectos secundarios de mis intestinos aparecieron debido a la medicina nueva para mí. Ha estado feo.

Gracias a Dios, he encontrado casi el cielo en Otavalo. Otavalo es una ciudad más pequeño que Quito—menos personas, tráfico, contaminación, ladrones—y con montañas y nubes hermosas todo alrededor. Para mi, es una espactacular vista todo el tiempo.

Sin embargo mi cosa favorita aquí en Otavalo es mi familia anfitriona incluso la estudiante quien vive en la otra habitación a lado de mí. Ella es una enfermera especialista y es como una santa para mí. Ella me ha dado confianza en mi salud y la probabilidad de mi fuerza otra vez pronto (más las medicinas sin receta medica que son adecuerdas para mis afliciones.)

!Y la familia otavaleña! Ellos son como diaconos reales de Jesúcristo. Ellos viven su fé—divertidos, de bienvenidas, y cariñosos. Ellos son mormones. Antes de este viaje no sabía nada de esta denominación, solo estereotipos. Es como mi viaje recientemente de Costa Rica cuando me quedé con una familia de testigos de Jehová.

Cuando los conocí y vi mi habitación, supe que podría mejorar. Mi fé en mi cuerpo estaba regresando.

Entonces, en la merienda anoche, nosotros empesamos una charla de nuestros entendimientos de Dios y un poco de nuestras religiones….en español. !Dios mio! Me sentí un poco torpe por lo menos. Podría describir mi fé individual con respeto y amor para la fé de mi papá otavaleño. Creo que los dos son profundas y vivificantes ahora y por siempre. Cuando él usó la palabra “proposito,” entendía que su creencia incluyó la idea de substitución de la vida de Jesucristo por nuestros pecados. Para mí, es obvio, es un modo para describir el Cristianismo pero no el único.

También, a lo largo de las decades especialmente en mis cinquentas hasta ahora, mis ideas se han expandido. Aprendí de los padres del desierto y de santos antiguos como Teresa de Avila. Leía historias de hoy como las de la sacerdote episcopal Cynthia Bourgeault en La Sabiduría de Jesús. Después de mis experiencias leer todas los Salmos en una semana de clases de Educación Del Ministerio más otros poemas como las de Mary Oliver, Dios parece estar en todas partes. Mis oraciones han cambiado desde listas y palabras hasta espacios vacios en mi mente y espacios grandes en mi corazón. El cuerpo, la sangre y el alma de Cristo se han vuelto muy reales para mí.

En realidad, mis experiencias son privadas y preciosas para mí y vacilo en compartir eso. Pero cuando me desperté muy muy temprano por la mañana y no pude dormir, me levanté. No podía dormir hasta escribir eso. Todavía vacilo. ¿Voy a compartir esto? ¿En mi blog o solo en nuestras conversaciones después de las meriendas? Prefiero nada más oral. Prefiero usa palabras no de nuestros religiones en particular pero de la naturaleza, de milagros en nuestras vidas, etc. Creo que este tipo de conversación incluso todo. Será más accesible para todos en la mesa.

Nosotros tenemos diferentes experiencias y relaciones con Jesús. Después de todo, tratamos de usar palabras simples para describir lo más inefable, ubicuo y espectacular—Dios. Para mí, el español no es suficiente…o es inglés. Que gran posibilidad de pensar que es aún possible.

Creo que es mejor describir nuestras mismas experiencias del día y el mundo mientras se aman cada uno y continuabamos disfrutando la compañia del uno y del otro. Eso es la gran posibilidad y probabiidad mejor en este nido que es Otavalo. Nosotros podemos construir las puentes fuertes mientras mostramos cuanto nos amamos.

Dios, nos ayuda.

 

The Ineffable, Between Two Languages

First, the context: I’ve been sick here in Ecuador. Almost two weeks ago, I came with a bad sty. Then, in my first week in Quito, I had a cold and cough too. Then, the side effects of my bowels appeared due to the new medicine. It has been ugly.

Thank God, I found almost heaven in Otavalo. Otavalo is a smaller city than Quito—less people, traffic, pollution, thieves—with beautiful mountains and clouds all around. For me, it is a spectacular sight all the time.

However my favorite thing here in Otavalo is my host family including the student who lives in the other room beside me. She is a nurse practitioner and is like a saint to me. She has given me confidence in my health and the likelihood of my strength returning again soon (plus the over-the-counter medicines that are suitable for my afflictions.)

And the Otavalian family! They are like real deacons of Jesus Christ. They live their faith—fun, welcoming, and caring. They are Mormons. Before this trip I did not know anything about this denomination, only stereotypes. It’s like my trip recently to Costa Rica where I stayed with a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When I met them and saw my room, I knew I could improve. My faith in my body was returning.

So, after supper last night, we started to talk about our understanding of God and a little about our religions … in Spanish. !OMG! I felt a little awkward to say the least. I could describe my individual faith with respect and love for the faith of my Otavalian father. I think the two faiths are deep and life-giving now and forever. When he used the word “purpose,” I understood that his belief included the idea of substitution of the life of Jesus Christ for our sins. For me, it is obvious and is a way to describe Christianity, but not the only one.

Also, throughout the years, especially in my fifties until now, my ideas have expanded. I learned about the desert fathers and ancient saints like Teresa de Avila. I’ve read today’s authors like the Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault in The Wisdom Jesus. After my experiences reading all of the Psalms in one week for EFM classes plus other poems like Mary Oliver’s, God seems to be everywhere. My prayers have changed from lists and words to empty spaces in my mind and large spaces in my heart. The body, blood and soul of Christ have become very real to me.

Actually, my experiences are private and precious to me and I hesitate to share them. But when I woke up very early in the morning, I got up. I could not sleep until I wrote this. I still hesitate. Am I going to share this? In my blog or only in our conversations after supper? I prefer nothing more oral. I prefer to use words not of our religions in particular but of nature, of miracles in our lives, etc. I think this type of conversation includes everyone and is more accessible.

We have different experiences and relationships with Jesus. After all, we try to use simple words to describe the most ineffable, ubiquitous, and spectacular—God. For me, all the words in Spanish are not enough … or English. What a great possibility to think that it is even possible.

I think it is better to describe our own experiences of the day and the world as we love each other and we continue enjoying the company of one and the other. That is the great possibility and best probability in this nest that is Otavalo. We can build strong bridges while showing how much we love each other.

God, help us.

La Carolina*

Violeta

Nio

(English translation follows.)

Aquí en Quito, los administradores del Instituto nos alertan sobre los carteristas. También nos dicen que Quito es la ciudad más segura en América Latina. Para una persona vigilante como yo, esta yuxtaposición me vuelve loca.

Por ejemplo, lunes en la tarde decidí ir de un paseo al parque cercano. Angeles, mi mamá anfitriona advirtió, “No lleves nada importante. No celular, no VISA. Sola una copia de tu pasaporte y unas monedas.” El parque La Carolina es un hermoso jardín botánico con pasatiempos para todos. Porque estaba Carnaval y vacaciones, el parque estaba lleno con familias. Me encantó.

Desafortunadamente cuando era tiempo para salir no sabía la ruta a mi casa. Recorrí las calles solo con mi mapa de papel. Mapsme.com estaba seguro en casa en mi celular. También, tenía poco dinero, no bastante para un taxi. Tenía miedo. Pero por supuesto, encontré gente amable y tuve otra oportunidad para practicar mi español.

Finalmente cerca de mi casa con una mente clara y tranquila, compré un helado rico con mis pocas monedas. Nunca caminaré en la ciudad sin más cosas. Por ejemplo, necesitaba mi teléfono muchas veces el lunes pasado en la parque. Ni siquiera tengo fotos para mostrarlo.

Como mi amigo nicargüense me decía, “Tranquila, Penélope.”

Es verdad. Puedo cuidarme. Todo está bien.

*Carolina es el nombre de mi hija. Una de mis cosas favoritas sobre viajar es notar las coincidencias bellas como esta. Pués, no tengo fotos de La Carolina sino tengo fotos para mi Carolina. Ella encantan los animales. Hay dos mascotas en la casa cómodo de Angeles; el perro Nio y el pez Violeta.

 

Here in Quito, the administrators of the Institute warn us about pickpockets. They also tell us that Quito is the safest city in Latin America. For a vigilant person like me, this juxtaposition drives me crazy.

For example, Monday afternoon I decided to go for a walk to the nearby park. Angeles, my host mom warned, “Do not bring anything important. No cellular, no VISA. Just a copy of your passport and some coins.” The park La Carolina is a beautiful botanical garden with past-times for everyone. Because it was Carnival and vacations, the park was full of families. I loved it.

Unfortunately when it was time to leave I did not know the route to my house. I walked the streets only with my paper map. Mapsme.com was safe at home on my cell phone. Also, I had little money, not enough for a taxi. I was scared. Of course, I found friendly people and had another opportunity to practice my Spanish.

Finally near my house with a clear and calm mind, I bought a delicious ice cream cone with my few coins. I will never walk in the city without more things. For example, I needed my phone many times yesterday. I do not even have photos to show for it.

As my Nicaraguan friend used to say, “Be tranquil, Penelope.”

It’s true. I can take care of myself. Everything is fine.

 

*Carolina is my daughter’s name. One of my favorite things about traveling is noticing beautiful coincidences like this one. Well, I do not have pictures of La Carolina but I have pictures for my Carolina. She loves animals. There are two pets in the comfortable house of Angeles; the dog Nio and the fish Violeta.

My Inner Mermaid

Mermaid

When Rob and I boarded the Riviera to cruise the Caribbean, never in a million years could I have guessed that my inner mermaid would come to life. Of all things I chose to take drawing lessons while we sailed amongst the West Indies. The artist-in-residence, Noel Suarez, had studied ballet for years before an injury forced him to shift. While his instruction about drawing faces, still-lifes and landscapes was clear and encouraging, I found his understanding of human bodies most fascinating. Still it was all I could do to follow his directions during class when we drew a figure from the waist up. When I decided to veer off course and add the tail and scales of a mermaid (instead of copying the usual hips and legs), this drawing became easier for me to execute as well as my own creation.

During the second half of our voyage, Noel offered classes about adding color to our drawings—pastels, watercolors and acrylics. While at sea, I couldn’t bring myself to potentially ruin my masterpiece with globs of paint. The graphite was enough; I could continue erasing and improving her as long as I wanted.

I was amazed to study art while traveling. Heretofore this was not an experience on my bucket list. But I wasn’t surprised at all to learn that Noel grew up in Cuba, thus is bilingual—Spanish/English. Of course, I would be drawn. Plus a gallery of fine paintings by Latin masters, even Picasso and many from Cuba, surrounded me on the walls of the ship. I carved time while on board to study the artwork with the help of audiophone descriptions. I was delighted to recognize how once again I had invited Spanish culture into my life.

Finally last night here at home, I unearthed an unopened watercolor kit that my Dad left amongst his things when he died. First I stretched out on the sofa to read the instructions, knowing someday I might doll up this sea-babe with watercolor hues, even use unorthodox markers and add glitter if I was so inclined. When I planned these trips months ago, I had no earthly idea they would include something as “civilized” as art lessons…that my instructor would be Latino…and especially that I would create this beauty and then make her public.

There are stranger things (making me quite curious to travel to Ecuador in less than a week.) Honestly I doubt I will ever settle myself enough to create in this way again. But as Noel predicted, I will always see more and differently. I will also go forward with infinitely more appreciation for the fine art and fine artists all around me.

Flow is a Choice

SOTW6

 

Wow, I am one vigilant son of a gun! My old “friend,” The Cough, returned a week into my time in Jaco, Costa Rica. Since March when I gave up dairy, she had not visited me. But given the drastic change in temperature/environment/everything and with my crazy fears and endless analyses, she was alongside, actually inside, me yet again.

Of course I talked to myself, sometimes with impatient scolding. After I finally recognized a momentary appreciation of my vigilance, realizing how very much she has helped me all these long and glorious 63 years, I wanted to stroke and massage her slowly and tenderly.

Often especially during that first week away, I grieved. Well, first I judged. Why was the common language at this school English when what I needed/craved was total Spanish immersion? How could I be so close to Nicaragua but stuck here in touristy, party-central Jaco? And how could I protect myself and finish uninjured in this foreign place, lonely and alone? No wonder I was sick.

Gradually though I reminded myself of the careful discernment I had invited once I learned that my beloved school—Escuela Colibrí in Matagalpa, Nicaragua—had folded for the time being. I began searching and asking for recommendations. Our bishop and his family had visited a school on the Pacific Ocean in Jaco, Costa Rica. I decided to start my travels there. After all I felt brave enough to venture back to Costa Rica having traveled there twice before as a tourist. Besides Costa Rica borders Nicaragua. Maybe I would be able to see some of my friends or at least get a less censored version of what is going on there.

I can only begin to describe my fear and disappointment when I started coughing. Here I was living my dream with resources to pay my way and with a supportive husband (plus family and friends) available to help my 90-year-old mother as needed. Even so, I was falling to the curse of tightening. Lucky me, I have been at this business of being me long enough to have strategies for taming the mind. Once I acknowledged and named Vigilance as well as my sadness/sense of loss regarding Nicaragua, the tide began to turn. Other healing aids I used included:

Turned judging into noticing

Immediately I recognized English as the common language at The School of the World. Once I acknowledged that my work back home in Seattle involved both languages, I began to count the countries represented at the school during the three short weeks I was there—18 countries on 6 continents! I started listening more closely and was able to understand Spanish and English in scads of accents. Curiosity and delight got the upper hand!

Story-telling

One of the best decisions I made before traveling was to sign up to stay with a Costa Rican host family. Then when arriving, I made it crystal-clear to all that while I was at Ines’s, I wanted to use Spanish-only. Of course this was the family’s way plus they all knew some English (more than I found at my host home and on the streets in Nicaragua). What made this tricky was that another North American, William, was staying with the family when I first arrived. I was a bit of a snob with this 60-something surfing New Yorker, proclaiming only Spanish for me. In hindsight, I could have allowed more space for his deep wisdom–about Jaco, the school and this beautiful family we had both fortunately stumbled upon–to unfold in either or both languages. I am now grateful he was there at first, a good part of my transition to Jaco.

Many of the initial stories Ines shared with me were about William. For instance, his mountain-biking prowess led him to purchase an extra bike for himself while in Jaco and for the family in between his frequent visits. William’s Spanish is strong and I enjoyed his riotous laugh and chatter with the family.

He returned to the US after my first week in Jaco, leaving fertile ground for us to continue getting to know each other while exchanging the short stories of our lives. Usually the tales included profound feeling elaborated by descriptive gestures and hand signals. Since one of the activities in my Spanish classes was watching “Las Chicas del Cable” (a television series produced in Madrid in Spanish…we watched with Spanish subtitles), I found myself well-primed to understand and tell the stories of our lives as mini-telenovelas.

I also shared Bridging (my book), having brought along three copies to give away. It was interesting to wait and find out who would be the recipients. Initially, one copy went to Ines and then one to Kristin, my 20-something Icelandic classmate who works at the school. She was delighted to finally read a book by “someone she knows” and mentioned how much my code-switching presentation fits with her experience of learning Spanish. Later when another student, Vicki, was relegated to the sofa after a surfing accident, I gave her  a copy of my book for company. What a flurry of conversation that caused between students, staff members and me.

In all of this, one thing I learned is that it is important for me to commit to one language and one only in any given conversation. My fluent son had suggested, “If you really what to get to know people, figure out the strongest language between you and use that one.” I am amazed at those folks who can interpret. But my Spanish is just not strong enough for much of that yet. This is a skill that will come only as much as needed. I was surprised that organizing the languages separately in my mind contributed to ease and flow rather than vice versa.

Tried and true physical practices – exercise, good food and modern medicine

Besides daily yoga, after Week One, Ines’s husband Erick resurrected an old bicycle for me so I could commute back and forth to school. Definitely easier for flow than the two or three round trips I had walked daily over the scant-mile between school and home during that first week. Even though I scared myself without a helmet for my giant kanoodle, I paid attention when I rode and I wore a reflective strip and my headlamp at night.

For the most part, I avoided dairy, sugar, red meat and alcohol. And (here’s another bonus of the home-stay), I ate at home. Ines used whole foods exclusively with lots of rice and veggies. I taught her my favorite Chilean word—lumami, meaning leftovers from the first three days of the week (the first two letters of lunes, martes and miercoles, Spanish for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) to be eaten on Thursday—when I made myself a lumami sandwich.

And when all else failed, I went to the pharmacy for drugs. This is always a good exercise for a language learner. Will my Spanish work in a real-life situation? What new vocabulary will I need? How does medicine work here, including cost, availability, etc.

Tried and true mental and spiritual practices – journaling, music, drawing, hypnosis, meditation, poetry, reading and more

I travel with several tools to assist reflection and quiet work and play alone: my trusty journal, iPod with guided meditations and hypnosis clips, meditative drawing book (see results below), a magazine or two and my phone. The phone has a terrific mix of popular Spanish tunes on it as well as Katia Cardenal’s “La Misa Campesina”—both of which encourage me to dance and laugh,  pray and cry. This time I also read several of Mary Oliver’s beautiful poems when my friends posted them after she died in mid-January. And I was able to pull up a favorite by Billy Collins—“Another Reason I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House”—for those times at night when the chorus of dogs or steady cock crows almost drove me nuts.

I met my fear head on and tried surfing.

This is a long story. Suffice it to say that at the end of Week Two, I paid Christian (good name for instilling trust, eh?) to introduce me to this “radical sport” and play in the waves for an hour. I had really scared myself about this after seeing Vicki’s cracked head dripping blood and hearing about a novice-surfer-become-quadriplegic accident from one of my sisters. But gifts from William (the rash guard he had left with Ines) and hypo-allergenic zinc cream from a fellow student plus prayers from my prayer partner and jewel-friends at home, emboldened me. I had also visited the ocean in preparation, dipping my toes first, then journaling alongside, then body-surfing in the warm gentle swells at low tide. I was ready. And I knew I’d kick myself later if I went home surfless in this ideal location.

At one point during the lesson I stood for 10 seconds, then laughed for 60 at the edge of the sea. What a wonderful memory! And afterwards during Week Three, I was well and happy and a more-appreciative audience while watching the surf-analysis videos of the other students. Funny thing about getting on that horse, or surfboard, whatever really represents FEAR, that crippling demon. It’s a powerful antidote.

Church

Sundays are Sabbath for me. Almost always this includes church of some sort with others. When I got to Jaco, I learned that Ines and her family are Jehovah Witnesses. This is a community I knew nothing about except for the stereotype of door-knocking evangelists and the sign on the door of my first landlord that read “No, no, no, Jehovah Witnesses.” What I learned during my first two Sundays with the family at church is how deeply they study and live the Bible, Ines’s family at least, and how they welcome, include and train children. Church was a pleasure to enjoy with them, plus this activity provided a huge opportunity for me to listen to Spanish.

On the third Sunday, my Costa Rican family traveled to San Jose to participate in the annual conference with others of their faith so I had Sabbath to myself. What a gift! At first I considered how I could possibly get to Matagalpa. But when I let go of that possibility, I hunted down a liturgical denomination, finding I was hungry for the Eucharist.

Feeling the news

I decided to attend a very full Roman Catholic mass on that third Sunday. I understood most of the sermon and drank in the music. I heard more about the Pope’s upcoming visit to Panama and about the pilgrims from Jaco. This phenomenon had weighed on me every morning as we watched the news. On one side of Costa Rica, the beatings in Nicaragua played out as her people, my friends, again struggle for liberty. On the other side in Panama, people were experiencing peace and hope anticipating the visit of their religious leader.

Listing the Saints

All-in-all, I became well as I laughed and cried and came to know and value another dear family and culture as well as my own self in total again. Ten years ago as I was leaving Nicaragua for the first time, our guide/priest suggested we list all those heretofore strangers who had given of themselves to help us during the journey. Now I do this at the end of all my pilgrimages. For one, it encourages me to learn people’s names. I recognize the saintly and holy nature and value of their gifts and my practice. This time the list included 83 of us.

 

In conclusion (whew, finally!), I will be forever grateful. I know I will be as well as I allow and I have several ways to help myself heal.

SOTW1

SOTW2

SOTW3

SOTW4