Thursday, 12/27, 2012, around 6 PM

Checking in with how I feel today.  I’ve been here almost 2 weeks, and been sick most of that time.  I have a pretty deep cough and not a lot of energy.  By the way, I’m not the only one complaining about the cold weather.  The locals are complaining too.  It’s been unusually cold, below freezing every night, and no such thing as heated buildings.


Being here is hard.  Why were my earlier trips not hard before?  I was doing volunteer work.  If I was hanging out among poor people, it was to do good for them.  Apparently that took the edge off the huge disparity between me and them, at least as far as I was concerned.


Other people have told me they find it depressing to go to poor countries, and I wasn’t sure why it didn’t depress me.  It was exotic to me.  I told myself that I liked to be where life was close to the bone, without all the annoying artificiality that we have in the U. S.  Every public space in the U. S. is covered up with an attractive façade, interior and exterior.  We don’t have to deal with the underlying dirt, corrosion, and rot.  We walk into Fred Meyer’s and all we see is the products, attractively displayed. And we smell nothing. Even the “Fred Meyer” sign outside is replaced often so it never seems to deteriorate.  And that’s Fred Meyer – never mind Abercrombie and Fitch.


For those of us in the middle class, our cars actually work.  The windows go up and down and the cars have mufflers.  I look at the mini-buses here, jammed full of people, with the kid who collects fares hanging out the door; windows, doors and seats broken; pouring out black diesel exhaust.   To us, our cars are a magic carpet, a quiet and reliable thing that will take us where we want to go, without thinking about what it would be like if it didn’t have window panes and a muffler and it broke down often.


And then, beyond the poverty there is the corruption, crime, and the fact that dissidents are murdered.  Up until about 16 years ago, the people were living with genocide, and today dissidents are still disappearing.


This trip is different.  I would say I’m depressed. The environment is oppressive, so far.  Having to walk around to do daily errands in a crowded, noisy, polluted city is oppressive.  My brain isn’t working very well, and I’m not very well organized. That is to say, I try to be hyper-organized to compensate, but it doesn’t seem to work very well.  I was convinced that Juliet’s flight to N.Y. is at noon Saturday, but I didn’t look at the ticket and actually it’s at 4:25 PM.  So I made arrangements to be in Guate in the morning, and now we have to figure out how to pass the day in Guate and me get to Panajachel before evening.  Juliet is worried about me.  I told her I’m actually learning Spanish in the school better than I expected, so my brain is selectively functional, but she is concerned that I am losing it, falling apart. 


At this moment, it seems to me that the idea of going to a poor country without a plan to do something was pure folly.  If I want to learn to manage anxiety, this is an absolutely ass-backward way to do it. This is a way to induce un-manageable anxiety.  If you want to learn to “be” rather than “do,” a place to do that is a zen retreat or a yoga retreat, not a failing state that’s being taken over by drug traffickers.


That’s where I am right now.  It may change.

Now it’s the next morning and I’m about to upload this whole thing.  The sun is shining and my mood is totally changed.  Juliet and I are departing for Guate this afternoon.  More later.