Friday, November 03, 2006

The simple joys of my life here in Guatemala!

Well how the heck is everybody! I can tell that I am doing amazing and of good health! It is amazing how time seems to take on a life of its own and just sort of fly by. I have very little idea where the past three months went but I am eager to share some of my more exceptional experiences and my outrageous vacation to Peru with you.

When I last wrote you all I had just moved out into my own house and since then I have dedicated much of my free time working to make it my home. Many things were needed but my first task was to get all of my things off the ground. This is not an easy task, especially considering that I have the bullheadedness to build all of my own furniture by hand. It is going pretty well though. I now have some pretty nice furniture and I still have all of my fingers to show for it. My other labor of love has been working on my garden. I am definitely over excited about my first garden though. Most every day I go outside, sit down, and blankly stare at any little sprout that pops up just wondering, will that be a beautiful flower (love it) or a noxious weed (get rid of it). Unfortunately I have no idea what the plants I am growing are supposed to look like so weeding is a rather stressful process for me. These little things, however, hold great value to me because it is important to be able to have your own little place where you can go to and just be yourself. It is an incredible feeling though, to be sitting out in front of my house, eating a colorful meal made with fresh ingredients from the market, watching the lighting bugs bring a faint accents to an already amazing sunset and come to the realization that I am actually here, I am really doing it and you know what…It is good!

Work has been amazing as well. I have covered the themes of water, what to do in case of an earthquake, self esteem activities, and done a workshop for teachers on effective teaching techniques. I even got invited by one of the sixth grade classes to go to some theme parks called Xocomil and Xetulul. On our way we went to many places such as zoos, waterfalls and Mayan ruins but I was blown away by the theme park. It was as good if not better than any Six Flags or Disneyland that we have in the states. It was really a treat for the kids too. They worked all year doing side project and selling random things for shitty profits just to raise enough money to go, which is a lot of money, especially here in Guatemala. I found it curious though that when we got there many of them wouldn't go on any of the rides. They seemed to be content just to be there and see the rides. You can, however, tell that they brought home many long lasting memories though and they really seemed to appreciate that I was there with them.

Also as you probably have noticed I like to take a lot of photos. A good part of the photos are for leisure but I also put a great deal of effort into taking photos of the kids in my classes so that at the end of the year we could watch a slideshow that would help us review what we have done during the year but more importantly help improve the self esteem of the kids. There is a real lack of self worth here in Guatemala. It seems that many families only value their kids because of their ability to help the parents with work because of economic hardships. For this reason many families don't find it important to send their kids to school past the third grade and often find the kids tending their shops or helping out in the field (school is also expensive for many). My sharing a slideshow with the schools was intended to help show the kids their worth. Seeing their photographs hopefully brought them the feeling that they are beautiful and that someone does care about them. The slideshow was an amazing success. I was on the verge of tears to see and hear their reactions of joy and laughter when they showed up on the screen. Kids down here think that it's hilarious to see pictures of themselves. The hardest part of the whole thing was explaining to them why they had to go so that the next class could watch the show.

That being said I would like to talk to you about the second half of September in which I got to go on my first vacation and got to see my parents as well as some of my best friends in the world. Now most would think that this would happen in the States but in fact we went to Peru for two weeks. You see my mom (Millie Miller) just finished a children's book on the world and said that when she finished she would take a trip to the place she found most fascinating. Well, much to my luck, she chose Machu Picchu and thus we all went to Peru.

Peru is, for lack of better, words an awe-inspiring country. In Cuzco (our staging point for trips) you find a thriving tourism metropolis with the finest restaurants, an overwhelming supply of arts and crafts, and all about it the ruins of the Inca Empire. Our trip on the Inca Trail was however the most outstanding of all our adventures. It is a four-day treck that follows an incredibly elaborate stone path that is carved out of the mountain by the Incas and surrounded by the majestic glacier capped peaks of the Andes. The mountains made all the more impressive because they wear a heavy cloak of ominous clouds that give way for only occasionally for glimpses of white peaks contrasted with a clear blue sky. On the trail itself you go through a cloud forest that is so lush that the natural fauna is practically littered with a colorful diversity of fragile flowers and all life seems to grow out of a thick carpet of dynamic mosses. In rout you encounter many small but impressive ruins that only hint to what the region must have been like at the height of the empire. Then, on the final day you come up over the last high pass and look down onto a magnificent city placed on top of a mountain only to be surrounded by Peru's famous glacier capped peaks. The detail and grandeur of the city makes it clear that Machu Picchu was a place of special importance to the culture.

From there we went on a trip to the rainforest to a little town called hell (Infierno). I got to tell you though, if that was hell it was the neatest hell I can imagine. We stayed at an upscale eco-lodge in the middle of the forest. There was no electricity and thus the whole place was lit by candlelight. The rooms were a personal favorite of mine. There were only three walls so you sleep with an amazing view of the rainforest and were entertained by the distant sightings of howler monkeys in the trees. It is hard to describe being in the rainforest though. It is not so much a place of impressive landscapes but rather of strange sounds, bustling life and contrasting textures. It is quite a stimulating feeling to be in a place were you can feel that there is an intense competition for life despite its abundance. We had the opportunity to swim in the feeding waters to the Amazon River, go piranha fishing, enjoy a trip up above the canopy, explore the forest at night, visit a hidden lagoon, see the many variety of Macaw and parrot that come to feed at the Clay lick, and get within arms reach of curious monkeys. Truly amazing! You leave the rainforest after four days and have the feeling that in those three days you have just barely discovered what it is to be in such a rainforest.

In all my life has been incredibly privileged here. I have a wonderful job where I do work that is important to me and valuable to them, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to go on incredible adventures to Peru and I now have a place I can call my own. As always I am eagerly waiting to hear how all of you are doing so send me an update even if it's just to say that nothing has changed. Thank you for the opportunity to share my experiences and I wish you all the most wonderful of days and hope you are well. With much love,

Jonathan Miller