Adventure: Reflection and Looking Ahead

 

Seven years ago today I embarked on an incredibly transformative life-adventure: backpacking through Europe by myself for 3.5 months as a freshly graduated 22 year old.

I spent time journaling and reflecting this morning. Here’s today’s entry:

January 14 [2017]:

On this day seven years ago I flew from St. Louis to Dublin. That experience ended up being one of the most transformative of my life. In some ways I can directly link to that experience as a point in which everything changed. I learned to see life differently. I grew independent. I grew quieter and more reflective. I became imaginative and wanted to see the world through experience rather than didactic moralism. I fell deeper in love with books and writing and creativity and art. I have wanted to explore the depths of knowledge and adventure. Suddenly I was dissatisfied with a normal (9-5) life. Some might say I’ve become “unhinged” ever since; I’d just say “unsettled.”

When we have experiences such as these there’s a temptation to try and re-create them. But we can’t; it does disservice to the memory and the experience. In a sense, we can’t look back in life. We can look in the mirror (self-reflection and growth), but we can’t turn around. Re-creating sublime moments is a sort of prostitution [soiling what is supposed to be pure]: we’re plucking at the divine fruit we were meant to taste once. We forget we’re in the garden of mystery where every tree bears a different fruit. Savor that which you’ve already enjoyed, remember it, cherish it, but search for new fruit.

I’m thankful for the adventure that started my adventures. Let’s keep moving forward.

Since that trip in 2010 I’ve had the incredible privilege of backpacking around Scotland (and the West Highland Way), hiking the Na Pali coastline, traveling and getting my CELTA in S. America (Ecuador and Peru), Scotland again to hike with a friend, and Italy with my family. I now live in El Salvador. I’m not rich monetarily; but I’m rich in experience. Travel itself will not fill emptiness in your life–it will not “fix” you. You can be filled in so many ways. Nevertheless, don’t settle for mundane. Keep pushing at the seams of life.

Here’s a link to my inactive blog that recounts my Europe trip in full: Go.

Finally, read it or don’t, but below is a final piece of warning/advice. Happy Saturday!

 

[Note: As I scan webpages here and there, I want to leave this warning/advice to any readers. Don’t commercialize travel. I hope that’s not what I’m doing by blogging about this. There are a zillion travel tips and organizations and resources (many of them helpful, many of them that I have used from time to time), but don’t lose the spirit of travel. It’s not an industry for some Fat Cat to get rich off of…feeding into the Western world’s dissatisfaction with life. Travel, done correctly, is painfully intimate–no one can understand your experience like you can. It is sublime. It is mysterious and soul-seeking. Stepping out, I mean really stepping out, was never meant to be a two-second affair, snapping off a bunch of photos and scampering back to safe and normal. Now, it’s okay to return to what the world might call “normal” because YOU know that you’re no longer normal, and you adjust your life accordingly. You bring that spirit of change and  new eyes back with you. I feel that I’m rambling a bit here; I don’t know how to put this into words. But I see some people’s travel posts and sites, etc. from time to time, and it seems that they are more interested in how their experiences are perceived by others rather than letting those moments be their own. Remember when Sean O’Connell in Walter Mitty explains that “If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera…”? Leaving aside the irony of using a major Hollywood quote to make my point, let’s take a page out of O’Connell’s book and not feel the need to prostitute our moments, OUR OWN. Let’s pursue truth and beauty and self-discovery, not gimmicky tourism-industry shenanigans. I hope this makes sense. Thanks guys!]

El Salvador: Birthdays

This past weekend was my birthday. I’m really close with my family, so it’s not always easy to be away from them during celebrations. However, living abroad has the unique advantage of celebrating in new ways.

First, my school department took me to El Zócalo, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in El Salvador. I was donned with a sweet sombrero and cape as the waiters sang and brought me flan.

Second, three of my classes on Friday threw me a little party: cake, ice cream, soda, balloons, silly string, even a picture of me on the dry-erase board.

And I got a cake from my school department!

Also, I learned about a fun little tradition: “Mordida! Mordida! Mordida!” How it works is… well, if you don’t know, I’ll just let you experience that one for yourself.

Lastly, my other family came to my house Friday night, and we enjoyed homemade tacos, fun, and games.

All in all it was a wonderful birthday. So many people sang for me, brought me food, cooked me food, gave me gifts, and warmly wished me a “Feliz Cumpleaños.” Gracias a todos! Wonderful country. Wonderful people.

El Salvador: People and Places (and links to a couple recipes)

I have been a bad blogger the last week or so. Things got busy, and I never really sat down to spend time sharing literature or travels here in El Salvador. Forgive me. But I’m here now!

First of all, a couple weekends ago my friend Fernando and I ventured out to La Puerta del Diablo. Unfortunately, it seems like the devil was a little inundated. Rain only allowed a few pictures before returning home. Here’s all we got.

There are worse things though; Fernando and I will return another day. After Puerta del Diablo we returned to my house and cooked steak and potatoes. Good ol’ comfort food. By the way, Fernando’s nickname for me is “Chele.” Basically this means I’m white. Chele is the nickname for lighter skinned Salvadorians. So at least I feel accepted.

Last weekend I visited El Tunco. Many locals like to remind us estadounidenses that there is more to El Salvador than our third world perception. There is incredible scenery, tourist spots, and very modern urban life. Of course it’s sad that there are areas of violence, but El Salvador is a beautiful country with even beautiful-er people! By the way, El Tunco gets its name because the rock formation is supposed to look like a pig. Eh…I don’t see it.

Finally, what is life without your friends?! Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of our friend, and her favorite cake is carrot cake, so I tried my hand at it. [Below is the recipe…it is awesome! However, for me (probably user error) the frosting was a little runny. I will probably keep the cake recipe and search for a new cream cheese frosting. Additionally, I’m adding a great pizza crust recipe I used recently for friends. I would suggest heeding one commenter’s advice (Crikkitt was the username) who doubled the recipe, added garlic, and oregano.] After we all went out to eat, we returned to my apartment to eat carrot cake and dance salsa. I’m terrible, but I’m learning. Yay El Salvador!

“No-Yeast Pizza Crust”

“Carrot Cake” 

Buen provecho!

 

 

El Salvador: Día del Niño and Grand Views

Although officially Día del Niño is observed on October 1st, students at my school celebrated with half day of school on Friday, September 30. The half day was filled with food, games, and a spectacular performance from the seniors. It was really amazing to watch them band together in rehearsal (okay, I only saw one rehearsal) and commit to preparing for their amazing performance Friday. Children from all grades dressed up like Disney characters, but the seniors put on the show. The spirit and culture is amazing, a country that knows how to honor and celebrate.

“It may be that [God] has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” -GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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Though Día del Niño was the highlight, I had a great weekend with friends. On Sunday we capped it off by visiting an incredible lookout: El Mirador de La Giralda.

El Salvador: Juayua, Ataco, El Principito, and Grace

[I missed a post last week, so this is basically a combination of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s posts.]

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Yesterday I went to las cascadas de Juayua with some friends. We’re in the rainy season here in El Salvador, but if we wait for ideal conditions in life, we’ll sell ourselves woefully short. Thus, we plowed on and had a great time despite the rain. Unfortunately, the weather did prevent decent pictures. Still…

These waterfalls pour into crystal clear pools where one can relax and enjoy the surrounding environment (the jungle). I guess we couldn’t exactly relax too much since it was really cold, but we did have fun. Built alongside these pools are multiple tunnels leading to other pools. Though a little intimidating to plunge through a tunnel in the dark, it was a neat experience. We had a great time, and tried to stay dry, but most of our stuff got pretty wet. Afterwards we cleaned up as best as we could (I was directed to go inside this poorly lit house to change. As I walked in an old lady was moseying about and soon left. I changed quickly hoping she wouldn’t walk back in while I was stark naked!).

After the waterfalls we ate a delicious lunch and then visited Ataco (now my second time) to walk around and grab some coffee. There’s some really great wall art there!

As you can see, there’s a painting dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s work, El Principito (originally in French, Le Petit Prince). This work is significant throughout the world, but it is especially significant in this region of El Salvador: Saint-Exupéry married Consuelo Suncín de Sandoval of El Salvador, and Ataco is near Sonsonate, the departamento where she grew up.

I started reading El Principito to work on my Spanish. Here are a couple favorite quotes so far:

Las personas mayores nunca pueden comprender algo por sí solas y es muy aburrido para los niños tener que darles una y otra vez explicaciones.

 

Cuando el misterio es demasiado impresionante, es imposible desobedecer.

Finally, I’m also reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel for the first time. In his fifth chapter, Manning goes into great detail to discuss the exchange of grace and wonder. This idea of wonder I think accurately relates to my experiences in El Salvador as well as to what I’ve read so far in El Principito.

     The spirituality of wonder knows the world is changed with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.

In the grasp of wonder, I am surprised, I’m enraptured. It’s Moses before the burning bush “afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:6). It’s Stephen about to be stoned: “I can see…the Son of man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). It’s Michelangelo striking his sculptured Moses and commanding him, “Speak!” It’s Ignatius of Loyola in ecstasy as he eyes the sky at night, Teresa of Avila ravished by a rose. It’s doubting Thomas discovering his God in the wounds of Jesus, Mother Teresa spying the face of Christ in the tortured poor. It’s America thrilling to footsteps on the moon, a child casting his kite to the wind. It’s a mother looking with love at her newborn infant. It’s the wonder of a first kiss.

I’m learning to live with wonder in the moment. Thanks for sharing in part this journey with me.

El Salvador: Día de la Independencia y La Naturaleza

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I didn’t anticipate posting about El Salvador again so soon, but I captured some more great moments that I wanted to share.

In El Salvador, Independence Day is September 15th, and this year was the 195th celebration. Despite a turbulent history there is strength, perseverance, and tremendous national pride.

My friends (i.e. my second family) had to pick me up at 7am (I begged not to be picked up at 6am) in order to avoid the chaotic traffic of the parades that took place the entire morning. We drove to Nueva Ascension, the birthplace of my madre salvadoreña, and I was blessed to see more of this great country.

Finally, a piece of advice: if you ever find yourself in El Salvador during the month of September, go to the nearest Mister Donut to enjoy 2×1. They’re delicious, and they’re Salvadorian.

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Río Lempa
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elote asado…originalment mi amigo lo llamó “elote quemado” jaja
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and here I thought you were supposed to drink water from a bottle
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thank God for four-wheel drive
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I love these guys…
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un rancho
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look…I found my new means of transportation

 

Finally, to reiterate the beauty of this place.

 

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El Salvador: My Adventure So Far

“Life itself is a quotation.” -Jorge Luis Borges

As stated in my “About Me” page, the purpose of the blog is to share literary posts and resources (especially for my students). However, I’m living in El Salvador and wanted to share some of my experiences so far. There’s so much travel literature that exists, so there’s my loose connection: for the win!

I arrived in El Salvador nearly two months ago, and as a first-year teacher, most of my time is spent grading and lesson-planning. However, I’m trying to get out and see this beautiful country as well!

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Parque Arqueologico San Andres
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Lago de Coatepeque
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Catedral de Santa Ana
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Catedral de Santa Ana
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Teatro de Santa Ana
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My Salvadorian family…my home away from home.
Resultado de imagen para el salvador pupusas
…and of course, pupusas (con curtido y salsa)

 

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El Día de los Farolitos is a festival on September 7th in the area of Ahuachapán. The day has two origin stories: a remembrance of a great earthquake that hit around 1850 or the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s birth. Beautiful, colored lamps are displayed throughout the town (we visited Ataco, the most popular celebration destination and a real gem). Though I saw one other gringo, this is a celebration for Salvadorians: music, street food, dancing, and lots of people. After walking around for a couple hours, my friends and I finished the night with dinner at Sibaritas.

So many great adventures and so many to come! So far, I think the farolitos are my favorite experience.

The “American Dream” in a Cross-cultural Context

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“Has US literature woken from the American Dream?” is the name of a books blog article put out by The Guardian last year. The author recounts his perusal of an American art gallery in which he was “struck by this wilful avoidance of darker, pressing realities. Art preferred to revel in a certain pastoral romanticism that seemed to promise the limitless expansion of the American dream.” In the proceeding paragraph, though, he makes a different statement about American literature:

“Literature, on the other hand, has always taken a more complicated and occasionally far more direct, moralistic stance on the American dream in the face of everyday struggle – even, or especially, when that dream is packed in a moving truck, driven out of the city, and restaged in some sort of pastoral Eden. One could argue that the American dream is the subject of every American novel, a sort of blurry-eyed national obsession with having it all and coming out on top, or in the case of most plot-driven literature, the failures and breakdowns in that quasi-noble pursuit. I’ve asked a few voracious reader friends to name a book where the American dream is a happy one: most were stuck for an answer.”

This was a novel idea to me. Has American literature always had a nuanced and wary relationship with the American Dream (I’m visualizing an awkward middle school slow dance)? Because I think of the ideology as rather ubiquitous. Curious, I googled (PS, I love that this is a word now) “most famous american novels” and found this page. Granted, I realize the list is not official, but I do appreciate the reasonable diversity listed among the titles. Anyway, as I scanned the list, I realized that few if any of the works actually held a sentimental view of the American Dream. Obviously, minorities write about how the American Dream is oppressive (e.g. Silko), but even white dudes note at least that it’s hollow (e.g. Fitzgerald).

This year I’m teaching in San Salvador: today begins my second week. My eleventh grade classes are studying American Literature, and my objective is to begin by thinking critically about the American Dream ideology. This is an especially interesting goal since I’m teaching non-estadounidenses. So much American culture gets transmitted around the world–especially television, cinema, and music–and the allure is powerful. I’m thankful, however, that American Literature actually creates a platform to discuss the shortcomings of our fractured mythology.