There is something about getting on an airplane. I just love it. Perhaps, because an airplane is usually a place I feel unusually at leisure in ( I get to read the Globe and Mail and indulge in a little TV–both rare at home). Perhaps it is the kindling of possibility in beginning a journey. Perhaps, it is like “new car smell”…full of newness, shiny chrome, and a low odometer reading or perhaps, all of the above.
After a crazy few days closing up my YYT life for a few weeks, it was a relief to sink into my airplane seat for the long day of travel ahead. Books, newspapers, and hopefully a few new episodes of some show or another awaited. The flight to Toronto passed quickly, the one to Miami even sooner. After a bit of a wait in Miami, we stepped onto our TACA flight to Guatemala City and were greeted by “New Airplane Smell.” I don’t think I’d ever been on such a new plane. As the plane descended towards the airport, we craned our necks for a view out the window as several volcanoes were poking their summits through the afternoon clouds. “Would we stand atop one of those we wondered?”
The closer to the ground the airplane drew, the more my earlier excitement turned to nervousness and I wished the flight wouldn’t be over so soon. I recognized the feeling from many previous flights when I was heading into an unknown situation/adventure. I’ve come to expect it and knew to talk myself through it since every adventure so far has been worth walking through the nervousness for…. The airplane doors opened, we followed the signs to immigration and customs, and then we were here, Guatemala!
The driver from our Spanish school was there to meet us and whisk away to the slowest moving travels of our day-evening rush hour in Guatemala City. Strapped safely in the van, we were amazed at the skill of the motorcyclists who wove through and around the parked cars. Different than when I was in Kathmandu, I was now a proud owner of a motorcycle–having listened to the seeds that were planted when I was last surrounded by motorcyclists. I watched, hoping to pick up riding techniques, but had to close my eyes when one motorcyclist was texting on his phone while riding his bike!
We arrived in Antigua after dark so had no idea really of what awaited us in the morning. Mario dropped us off at our host family and we were welcomed warmly with a yummy bowl of soup. Given we’d been up almost 24 hours, we excused ourselves and headed for bed.
The next morning as we walked into school we looked behind and noticed that a huge plume of smoke was rising from Fuego. Fuego is the most continuously active volcano in the world and we’ll be climbing it later this week. An exciting start to the day! One of the true joys in travel is being exposed to things that are different than home: building materials, houses, food, and ways of being in the world. Photographic theory tells us that we take the most number of photographs early in a trip because that is when we are most aware of the differences (and we want to capture them).
We are also most aware of the similarities. Antigua is ringed by large volcanoes and green hills–looking out our window the first morning, I could have sworn we were in Kathmandu. I think there are ways in which geographies repeat themselves and I feel privileged when I get to experience them over and over again.
The newness and the difference invite an opportunity to reflect on how we do things and how we might do them differently. In Veronica’s house, the water for the shower is heated by a 6 inch water heater at the end of the shower nozzle–no water tank, no keeping water heated for hours just on demand. Cool! And scary when we notice the wires are held together above the shower with just electrical tape…Most buildings here are behind walls and bars. In most cases, we can just wonder what is behind…when we get admitted to the inner sanctum, there are many treasures/rooms/gardens and I wonder how it is that the place I live has no bars or gates or walls.
We meet our teachers and dive into the humbling experience of learning a new language where one trades an adult vocabulary for that of a toddler, where expressing a complex idea becomes near impossible and “I like carrots” is a sentence that is cause for celebration. As the hours go by, memories of past instruction are stirred and brought to the surface with comprehension leading the pack by a large margin. My teacher has me write a story each day for homework and I’m tongue-tied to the present tense with no future and no past–perhaps that is how it always should be. I marvel that are at least 66 forms of each verb in Spanish and wonder how it is we ever learn language in the first place and both curse and welcome the frustration of being a learner.
As a teacher, I value placing myself into the role of student on regular occasions so I can experience the volcanic emotions that rise and fall like lava in the negotiation of new territory: lingual and otherwise. I swell with pride when I get the answer right and crush with disappointment at a wrong response. I relax into the unknowing and celebrate a willingness to take the risk to try. Today as I finish off my three days of lessons, Victoria sends me off with three instructions:
Embrace the learning-listen, watch, read, and most importantly take the risk to speak
Do the work-memorize, practice, conjugate…
Have patience-it takes time and work and risk to learn anything but there is no greater joy.
And so I will close for now, with an appreciation of difference and similarity, risk and safety, and newness and antiquity…it’s all here.