Friday, September 21, 2012

You're My Blue Sky, You're My Sunny Day

“Lord you know you make me high when you turn your love my way.”

This song has been in my head for five weeks.  I read Greggory Allman's book (stellar read, I loved his writing style) and he talked about this song.  (It's actually called "Blue Sky" and was written by Dickey Betts - who also sang it.  The two don't speak now but whatever.)
I was reading his book when I was in Puno.  He was quite the dude.  Lots of drugs, music, sex, marriages, death, Cher...

I don't know why, but a lot of what he said resonated with me (I mean, most of it.  I've never done heroin or Cher).  Maybe it is the fact that he is from the South?  I love me some South.

OR, maybe it’s just because he is a human being.

While I was in Puno and since I’ve been in this country, I’ve been really lucky to meet all kinds of people:  staff in other NGOs, farmers, moms, dads, kids, taxi drivers, maids, other ex-pats.  And you wanna know what the NUMBER ONE thing that I am learning about living here is?  One clue: it isn’t about toilets flushing the opposite direction or how to say “How much does this cost?” in Spanish or how to get a taxi or what fruits are the best or how to fix my hair with this humidity.  

It’s this (and bear with me because I’m not articulate enough to say it like Goethe):  

Humans are the same everywhere.
Sound the alarms.  Jessica has had an epiphany.

Yeah yeah yeah.  We’ve all heard it before and YOU have said it before. We post quotes on Facebook about it and we spout it from our presidential stumps and our parents tell us all about it at the dinner table and you learn about it Sunday School (some).  You hear it all the time a thousand ways.  I know I have. Mother Theresa and Oprah and Mister Rogers and Lady Gaga.  And it isn’t that I’ve never believed it.  I’m sure I did.  And do.

HOWEVER, being here has shown it to me in a different way than I expected.  You might think that meeting a woman or farmer in the countryside who is very poor and struggling and now has new-found empowerment because of Heifer would show me the power of humanity.  And it definitely has shown me a lot.  But I think it is something else, at least right now, that is teaching me. 

You see, I cannot understand what most people are saying to me when they talk.  I can’t understand the bus driver or my supervisor or the woman trying to tell me about her struggles before Heifer gave her help.  Because of the language barrier, I have to rely on a whole new set of nonverbal clues.  Intonation, tone of voice, body language, context, eyes rolling, eyebrows, what other people in the room are doing with their bodies and hands.  And it helps me understand what is really going on even when I don’t understand the words.  I am seeing so much more than I ever have.

If you haven’t stopped reading out of boredom at my "epiphany", here is why this is important:  You may have already guessed or know, but I am one generation away from the equivalent of Mayberry. (I'm including the link for the non-Americans reading this blog.  Could the Russians please reveal themselves?)  I'm from a tiny town best known for it's greasy spoon restaurant called the Mammoth Orange.  It has one 4-way stop, no red light and a population of just over one thousand.  "Humanity" was our next door neighbor, the preacher, the truck stop, the hair salon, the full service gas station where men drank coffee/told lies in the mornings, the ballpark, Tar Camp Park and Jr. High "Redfield Lion" basketball games.  This was my world and my normal and the lens through which I saw the world.  And even though I've been to college in a far away state, gotten married a couple of times, have a kid, lived in a few places and work for an international organization - this is still where my understanding of life took root.  And, not that there is anything wrong with a small town perspective, but for me it has taken moving to another hemisphere and to a developing country to realize just how alike all humans are.  That Harper Lee was on to something when she said through Atticus that "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Well holy hell.  I might not be walking around in Peruvian skin, but I am paying attention to the world around me now.  And it's different y'all.  It's bigger than me and it doesn't revolve around me.  Imagine that.  Mom was right.
You name it.  Women, just like me, go to lunch every day and talk about men and their kids.  Groups of women huddle together in corners at parties and talk shit about other women.  Kids on the playground are embarrassed when there is something different about them.  Couples fight before the server comes to their table and they quickly straighten up to order as if nothing is wrong.  The janitor is frustrated because no one seems to think it is important to pick up the paper towel off the floor when they missed the trash can.  Moms pull their daughters back by the hand when they are about to walk into traffic.  Men hold their chests high in the taxi when they tell you about how they are sending their kids to college in the United States when he has no formal education. This kind of stuff is everywhere.   So much, man.  I am seeing so much for the first time.  I am regretful too and kind of ashamed that it has taken me so long.

Well now I'm paying attention.  It's amazing what you can learn and see when you keep your mouth shut.
So what does this have to do with Gregg Allman and "Blue Sky"?  Nothing really.  Except that when I was on my way out of Puno and passing Lake Titicaca, I was listening to this song on my iPod.  I was sitting next to a Peruvian woman who looked very tired.  A female tourist sitting in front of us was trying to take pictures out the window of the van and the cold wind was blowing in our faces and I was kinda pissed at her for being so inconsiderate.  It was like 25 degrees outside.  So I lightly elbowed the Peruvian woman next to me and nodded towards the tourist and made a look like "she sucks."  The Peruvian woman just rolled her eyes, nodded her head, and sighed.  We smiled at each other.  I gave her one end of my iPod ear buds and we jammed to the Allman Brothers for 45 minutes on our way from Puno to Juliaca.  

And we were like best friends in the corner talking shit about another woman.  

Humans are the same everywhere. 

This is on the edge of Lake Titicaca.   Not a great shot, sorry.  But I urge you friends, plug in your computer headphones and click here to hear this great song. Imagine yourself in this picture with a cold wind in your face and you're there. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Heifer Field Trip - Part deux. Now on the Heifer Blog

Thanks for coming back for more!

Part II of my Heifer field trip to Puno is now posted on the Heifer blog

Again, go take a look! It has more pictures and some great video of a Pass on the Gift ceremony.

Heifer's work is totally amazing and the whole world needs to know it.

Comment!  Share on Facebook!  Tweet it!  Donate! Whatever!  Just tell someone!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

My first field trip - now on the Heifer Blog!

Hey everybody!

Remember an earlier post where I mentioned that I visited a Heifer Project in Puno?  Well, Heifer International has used my story on their blog!  I hate to send you to another link, but I have to, so here it is.

It's called "Pigs, Potatoes and Progress in Puno, Peru"

Please go check it out!  Comment!  Share with your friends!

Heifer is doing some great work, y'all.  I am proud to be a part of it.

Again, here is the link.

Go take a look!!!


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Waking up

Lima has an interesting version of cold.  We don't have a heater in our house.  It feels like the temperature is just under comfortable.  Like when you take a nap.  You seemed fine walking around, but then you realize when you lie down on the couch that you need a blanket.  Your hands and feet seem to freeze even though it is probably about 64 degrees.  And even when you cover up, your nose and eyebrows and earlobes still kinda wish they had something over them too.  It's humid cold. Southerners know this.  It's different.  It seeps into everything.  Clothes, bed sheets, your hair, towels, the wood floors, my makeup brush.  But unlike Arkansas, here you cannot shut the doors and windows and crank on some heating mechanism to dry the air's moisture.  I can feel the light glaze of wetness on Bryan and Davis when they come in from outside. The only thing that consistently warms you to a level of comfort that allows sleep is the closeness and touch of another warm body.

If the alarm on my cell phone doesn't get to me first, I am almost always woken up by pigeons outside my window.  Those birds are so noisy.  Whatever purring "coo" they make is so familiar to me now.  I'll probably always recognize it and be reminded of my days in Lima.  Along with the pigeons, I also know the routines of my neighbors. Our home is one of three houses linked together in a strip blocked off from the street.  A, B, and C.  We are B and thus, probably know A and C better than they know each other.  A has the damn car alarm and usually leaves for work when I am getting up each morning.  I hear his car being remotely unlocked from his front door and then his footsteps as he goes to get in.  He is very nice.  He speaks English and is always kind when we see each other.  There are several maids rotating out of C and two children coming and going from school.  I think they have a dog too.  But their routine is less consistent.  All the walls in our homes are made of concrete; we have very little access to the indoor lives of our neighbors, yet the windows are a thin glass.  Privacy is different and a different respect for each other is required.  Any open window or garden terrace is access to their lives.  If anything happens or is said outside, it's shared between the three of us. 

Inside of B we still haven't established a dinner routine.  Maybe that is just something that won't ever happen for our family.  I was raised in a family where you eat dinner when Dad comes home.  Now it is me that comes home from work and I just ate three hours ago.  Recreating a new version of family is hard.  What does ours look like?  What do we do for fun?  How do we talk to each other?  How do we argue? What do we laugh at?  What are the rules?  What stays the same about us as individuals and what do we change so that we become something new?

The answers are universal.  And I think that as we answer them, we'll develop new questions for other phases and different situations. I guess this is life.  I think I'm living it for the first time.  I know this is good and probably healthy for my soul.  But I feel very alone in this realization.  I'm waking up to a new world each day on every possible level.  Everything feels different.  There is no one to blame or give credit to the situation but me.  And at the same time, I know that I'm not in control.  Why has it taken 30 years?  Or is this what happens as you grow older?  It seems that I need new coping strategies, new ways of behaving, new methods of discovery.  

Or maybe I'm just superimposing a bunch of philosophical thoughts onto myself because I'm in a "milestone" year of my life and my subconscious is telling me that this is what you do.

I am unsure of myself.  I am unsure of my capabilities, my strengths, my weaknesses, my judgement, my tendencies.  Are they each what got me here, or what holds me back?  I am questioning everything that has always felt normal.  I'm not sure why I'm doing this.  I feel like I'm walking a balance beam, arms held out wide, wildly wobbling across the beam. I have to figure out just how I can remain steady and walk it straight without such a constant wobble.  

In the intro to this blog I say "the name of the game?  Change.  Lots of it." Those words have never been more true.  Now I must tap into that strength that everyone believes I have.  I knew going into this that change was inevitable and that I needed it and thought I was ready. I knew that I needed to revitalize my soul and that it would require vast amounts of physical, emotional and mental adjustment on my part - with nowhere or no one to turn to but within. I knew it needed to be public so that I am not just accountable to myself.  Except that, I am learning, being accountable to myself is probably the most rewarding of all.

The journey continues.