It’s Friday afternoon. I just made myself a cup of iced coffee, grabbed two cookies, and drug one of the semi soft chairs out onto the porch. It’s hot, but there’s a kicky breeze, so no complaints.
We kept our younger daughter home from school today—she threw up during the night—but then she seemed to perk up enough that we took her along to Bezaleel with us. Walking down the driveway, we first passed the neighbors’ maid and then a hired hand. Both greeted us with the usual Buenos dias, but they greeted our daughter by name. When we take her out in public, it always amazes us how everyone seems to know her. She’s forever wandering off and smiling at little kids, so she makes friends quickly. And with her blond hair, she turns heads. This morning I had the distinct feeling I was walking with a celebrity.
Once at Bezaleel, I dropped off my ingredient list for the next week’s baking project (sweet raisin biscuits), visited with the librarian, checked in with a teacher who is helping me set up a twice-a-week tutoring program, signed out some children’s books (in Spanish) to prepare for said tutoring program, and interviewed a student. I’ve made up a general student interview and am attempting to interview about 30 students in hopes of getting a better understanding of the student body, their perceptions of the school, and their struggles and dreams. Also, the interviews provide me an in to the (what often feels like) impenetrable school.
When I was ready to leave, my daughter opted to stay at Bezaleel with her papa, so late morning I headed back into town solo, made a couple purchases, and then walked home. Upon arriving, I was pleased to discover I still had nearly three whole hours before the kids barged through the door. I ate some cornflakes, typed the interviews into the computer, chopped up a giant mango, and then headed outside to the hammock for some reading.
My husband and I have been feeling a little at loose ends with our work here. The only specific tasks and jobs we have are the ones we create for ourselves. On one hand, this is great. We are in complete control over how we manage our time and where we put our energy. But on the other hand, it’s exhausting to constantly be fishing around for meaningful work, and I often end up feeling guilty.
Guilty that I’m not putting in more hours at school.
Guilty that I’m not hanging out with the Guatemalans more.
Guilty that I’m not making lots of creative meals with all the local produce.
Guilty that I’m not spending more time tutoring my own children.
Guilty that I’m not reading more books.
Guilty that I’m not doing more to improve my Spanish.
Guilty, even, that I’m opting to go to bed early instead of staying up late watching movies.
Work harder! Do more! Be productive! Relate! Push! Struggle! Stretch! Grow! Relax! Have fun! shriek the voices in my head.
So I try to pace myself. I try to make some food from scratch to counterbalance all the white bakery bread. I do a little recipe testing and then tell myself that’s enough for one day. I send some emails and try not to feel bad about the ones I haven’t sent. I focus hard for 15 minutes of Spanish study with one child before releasing him to go play. I lay down in the hammock and make myself read eight pages of an interesting, but definitely not light, book because it will make me a better person and I need to be disciplined, dagnabbit.
I think what’s bugging me most is my lack of friends. There are lots of friendly people, lots of good people, lots of people who, by all appearances, seem to respect and enjoy us. But we haven’t found people like us. I don’t have Guatemalan girlfriends. We don’t have other families with which to get together and feel at ease. We are by ourselves here.
Which makes sense, really. I mean we’ve only been here three months. But we only have six more months to go, yikes! I gotta get cracking!
And then, naturally, I beat myself up. I should reach out more. Invite people over. Work harder. Be more carefree. And for crying out loud, lighten up already.
And so it goes.
The rational part of my mind tells me that while I certainly could improve in some areas and it’s always a good thing to try to better one’s self, it’s better to start slow (maybe stay slow, too) and keep things in balance then to throw all caution to the wind and burn out in no time flat. We can be helpful and do little bits of good here and there, but honestly? How much can we really do in nine months? We can give our time, share our skills, offer encouragement, and that’s about it. It’s not like we’re going to swoop in here and blast the place full of earth-shattering good deeds. I had no illusions that we would do that, but being here and experiencing The Not Doing It feels a bit awkward.
“What’s the point?” we frequently ask ourselves. “Why are we here? What purpose does our bulky, foreign presence serve?
These are hard questions, and I worry them over, some days more than others.
But the answer, perhaps, is no different whether I am in sitting in front of the wood stove on my down-filled, Ralph Lauren (secondhand) sofa or sitting on a rat-chewed, saggy chair in the tropics. The answer is to care for those I love, learn new things, treat people kindly and gently, listen and watch and ask questions and smile.
Is it enough? I really don’t know, but here’s to hoping!