“But these days I feel more at home in a foreign land, wandering, with no direction in sight. Every little thing is new and exciting. Is it real life? Can someone perpetually be in motion? Is it human nature to plant roots in a certain place or can some of us coast freely, drifting throughout this vast world? Either way, I plan to find out. Because if it were not for adventure I would not be who I am, a vagabond.”
A stream of thought that floods my consciousness every time I arrive back stateside. And I cannot help but to dwell on the memories that were once present time experiences.
Did I appreciate them in the moment?
If those occurrences involved food, then definitely.
While recently away I embedded with a Non Governmental Organization doing all sorts of photo work. This work mainly involved going out with members of the NGO to explore projects in rural villages outside on the San Martin municipality. Rural is not an understatement, some of these villages lack amenities we Americans take for granted. Every thing from running drinking water (that flows to the houses and schools), stoves that don’t require wood and fire, and even something as simple as electricity.
Despite the lack of basic necessities there’s pure joy and respect that the Maya people radiate and that positivity is simply inspiring.
A day’s work would start with a long ride out to the hillsides of Guatemala— far past paved (or safe) roadways. Many people hitchhike and are seen roadside or in the back of low riding pickup trucks, and I don’t just mean locals. I might know some certain Canadians who took, what I like to call, the anxiety highway.
After getting to the villages The NGO members and myself would check up on how projects are going and talk to families about everything from the projects themselves to everyday life. Me, speaking very little Spanish, would stand in observation; but often I would become the center of attention. Breaking in to Spanglish, I would try my best to navigate through a basic greeting. In such instances I was met with plenty of laughter and finger pointing. The emotions being thrown around in such contexts were playfully innocent.
Yet, it wasn’t until the work was all finished up that my school-kid-glee really commenced. As per what seemed like a customary procedure for welcoming guests into the villages, the women would begin to prepare lunch. Smoke flowed out of the small metal roof vents and mixed with the slightly cool Guatemalan breeze, the kitchen was alive. The petite Maya ladies would slap dough onto their hands; press with two fingers in somewhat of a circular motion, all while spinning the ball of corn dough. There was chicken stock simmering on the stove.
The sounds of cutting, scooping and the shuffling of feet are all one can hear. The smell was something dazzlingly intoxicating. Next thing I knew, there was a spread of food presented in front of me.
The dishes consisted of sopa de pollo— a sort of chicken stock that can come with or without rice. An assortment of fresh vegetables, that would most likely cost an arm in a leg back home in the states. Vegetables that just so happened to be grown in the same yard that I am butchering the Spanish language in and exactly where the chicken called home earlier in the morning. But wait a minute! I thought I knew what those charming womenfolk were up to! Are those, why yes, homemade and still hot corn tortillas.
The cuisine, the preparation, the thoughtful and respectful manners exuded by these wonderful people would be hard to recreate even in the finest of multiple starred restaurants.
As for my customs? I dug straight in and left nothing in my wake.
Tearing flesh from bone like a primitive beast, using only a corn tortilla to wipe my face and beard; the women watched in amusement as the crazy fuzzy man snatched the carefully constructed fare. I would seldom look up, only to see smiles along with cellphones, snapping photographs of me while a chicken bone protruded from my mouth.
Hopefully the photos will be put to good use.