18 August 2007

i'll be with the monks this weekend...

[8-17-07] A blind girl told me a story a long time ago that I didn’t even get until now. When she was a teenager her parents sent her to a special camp to teach kids like her how to navigate the world. No instructions, no help, she was plopped in a small apartment with food, clothing, and a bed. She said she walked streets alone, with a cane, and had to learn what the sound of a car coming close was, or how it felt to hit the edge of a curb. When the camp ended she was covered in bruises, she showed me a scar on her left knee.

I called it child abuse. She called it "baptism by fire."

What I didn’t understand about her story, is that every bruise, every cut had taught her something she couldn’t have learned any other way and given the choice of doing it again, Francesca said there was no choice. It was something she had to do.I’ve been thinking about Francesca a lot lately. Probably, because I live in Central America in a home with people who do not speak a word of English. Every day I wake up and spend four hours with an instructor who leads me through the streets of Guatemala conversing only in a language I’m just beginning to grasp. Everyday we sit in a small café that feels like a prison sometimes (probably something to do with the bars on the windows) and every day Alenka prods me on as I write sentences an American fifth grader would be called "special" for writing.

Every day, I feel like an idiot.

I remember telling someone once that if you’re not doing at least one thing that scares the crap out of you every day, you’re wasting your time. It sounded prophetic at the time. I was pretty proud of myself. I now realize that if I could go back in time and face myself in the past, I’d probably slap myself for being so oblivious to what my words actually meant. For the past two years writing for a living, people actually gave me money for putting words down on paper. I was obsessed with communicating with others, understanding them and where they were coming from.

And now, everyday, I feel like an idiot.

I wade through my "baptism by fire" feeling, for the most part, like a bumbling moron. Every once in a while, I think of Francesca and I wonder who I’ll be at the end of all this. I think of the person I was before and the life and the family and the friends I left behind to come do this.

And I find myself scared to death.

But then I take a walk, or take a picture that makes me realize I love this place and all of its simplicities, or I’ll stop and notice that Alenka only speaks Spanish to me now because I understand pretty much everything she’s saying, or I’ll run into a friend and realize that in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve somehow already made a life for myself.

It’s a small, quiet life, filled with nothing but time to sit around and figure things out.

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