more on bikes

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I rode my bike daily. It was a piece of shit but my most cherished possession and the source of the biggest scars on my knees.

Independence has two wheels and slips in and out of fifth gear after one too many rocks to the de-railer.

I ride my bike daily. Her name is Ginny. As in Virginia Woolf. As in A Room of One’s Own because Denver is mine.

On my bike, I’ve asserted myself as someone who brings safety with her. Doesn’t need it created for them. “Fearless” of riding home late at night even if it’s alone.

I ride my bike daily to prove to myself the space I take up is deserved.

I ride my bike daily down paved roads with stop signs on a trail made just for bikes. No more knee-deep flash floods or popped tires on jagged cobblestones.

Or cat calls.

Or worse than cat calls.

But sometimes, when you tell me

“you look pretty today”

It twists around and warps like an old busted up record player and I hear it the way they said it.

Sometimes when I make a sharp turn I remember brushing myself off in a ditch

bent spokes

broken eggs

rocks in knees

all because I said no

 

 

“& I walked off you/ & I walked off an old me” -maggie rogers

 

 

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the RPCV tour: Part II

Greetings from my sickbed in Arequipa, Peru!

Yeah, I got food poisoning. Or something. Anyway, Kait is out at Colca Canyon trekking like a badass while I nurse my Ritz crackers and gatorade but really, this works out for you, relatives who might read this blog, because now I have time to write.

Peru is a dream I never want to wake up from.

From our arrival, we’ve been scooped up into the arms of these incredibly kind, helpful and funny people who marvel at the fact that we’re gringos who do in fact speak Spanish. We ask questions that no one else really asks because we’re trying to understand the way Peruvians move in the world, the intersectionality of indigenous culture and conquistadores, which fish makes the best ceviche and why…our curiosity is our charm, I suppose. We’ve met some characters, that’s for sure.

We were taken from the airport to our hostel by a jolly, English-speaking taxi driver who told us “I lived in the U.S. for 32 years, but I got deported.” When we asked why he said “I sold drugs. But I’m a good boy now. I found God. I cannot lie to you.” His honesty was at least slightly endearing.

Honestly, Lima is a lovely city. We were told by nearly everyone we met that Lima is only worth a stopover, a resting place to get everywhere else. But we found ourselves enchanted by the city. The ride from the airport to our hostel was chaotic in a way that only a city in a developing country can be, and we took comfort in it. The hustle of the people and the complete disregard for traffic laws made us feel at home.

We arrived at our hostel  (1900 Backpackers Hostel…honestly my favorite hostel I’ve stayed in ever. Wonderful staff, comfy beds, beautiful building) and were asked “ya wanna take a ceviche making class?” and we were hungry and it sounded fun. Mauricio, the dangerously handsome hostel chef, took us to the local mercado where he bargained with the señoras for fish, sweet potatoes, ginger, hominy, hot peppers and limes. Kait and I were more than charmed by him and for the price of taking a walk and buying a piece of fish we ate some incredible ceviche that we helped make (and by helped I mean, we peeled some ginger and watched Mauricio cut the veggies like a pro and died a little inside). That night we stayed in for dinner at the hostel just to see what he was making, which really worked out to our advantage because we met other really lovely humans worth pulling all-nighters for.

We spent the next day with another PCV and a friend Kait had met in Patagonia who coincidentally went to my high school (small world right?) and ate ceviche at a hole in the wall (el Cevichero, in mercado Suquillo, go there) and wandered along the coast, which looked like La Jolla, built up on the bluffs, one long stretch of parks and beautiful apartment buildings with garage doors because the people who live in said apartments have cars worth protecting. We got on the night bus to Huaraz feeling dreamy and like Peru was a place we were going to fall hard and fast for.

We arrived in Huaraz at 5 a.m. and made our way to our hostel where the owners were kind enough to let us check in early and let us sleep in a bed for a bit. If you’re ever in Huaraz, stay at La Casa de Maruja. It was a little far from town, but our stroll to the Plaza de Armas was our first act in acclimatization so it works out. Huaraz is very Uyuni-like, it serves as a base camp for backpackers heading to Huascaran National Park, where we spent one day hiking to Laguna 69 (a name that even made us sex educators giggle every time we said it) and then three days doing the Santa Cruz trek and HOLY CRAP, MOTHER NATURE, YOU ROCK. So does the human race. We made friends on both hikes. Actually, we haven’t met an unpleasant person yet on this trip.

Our trekking group consisted of four Americans, three French girls, a Canadian girl and an Israeli couple. Our guide, Jaime was the biggest jokester and we spent most of the three days laughing at each other over just about everything. Unexpected friends are my favorite kind. We got along so well we had a celebratory “we’re finished!” dinner and then three of us took a night bus to Lima together (which in true South American fashion, was three hours late).

We’re in Arequipa now. I mustered myself out of bed to explore the beautiful plaza and drink a banana ginger smoothie from a cute cafe.

I know I mentioned in my last post the feelings of fear/insecurity re: men and I am so grateful that Peru has shown me otherwise. I walked through town today in a sundress (it’s beautiful out!) and not a single person cat called me. On our hike, we walked through a group of men fishing on the river and they greeted us politely with “buen dia!” and made sure we had enough water. Gloria Steinem mentioned in “My Life on The Road” (aka mine & kait’s travel philosophy bible) that machismo is a product of conquistadores, and that within indigenous cultures it doesn’t exist, not even in their language is there a difference between man and woman, their pronouns are neutral. That equality transcends language (in Huaraz, we heard a lot of Quechua on our hikes). I feel safer in Peru than I ever did in Paraguay. It makes me somewhat sad that I’ll always have that little black raincloud over my service, but it warms my heart to know that Latin America as a whole isn’t such a scary place for women. I still have some issues to sort out, but I feel significantly less scared than I did at the start of this trip, and that’s something worth being pretty excited about.

Here’s hoping my body bounces back soon, there’s more hiking to do.

Besos,

H

THE RPCV TOUR PART I

So I didn’t think I was gonna write in this blog anymore. My creativity kind of tapped out in the last five months of my service — monotony doesn’t really inspire you to write new things. But here I am in my friend’s apartment in Buenos Aires after a 20 hour bus ride and suddenly there are words again.

I just finished leg one of my RPCV tour. Iguazu Falls, Argentina. It was the only part of my trip that was alone, which was nice because after leaving Paraguay I was feeling feels that no one deserved to be on the receiving end of (also why I haven’t called you in a  couple of weeks, Mom).

I hopped my last Paraguayan bus to Ciudad del Este last Saturday. Of course, the bus took longer than promised and of course, I missed the last bus to Puerto Iguazu, but it wouldn’t have been Paraguay if something hadn’t gone askew. There were only a few people on my bus, it was quiet, the soy fields and sparse trees of the country I’d tried to call home for the past two years flew past my window…I was leaving. I ate my last bus chipa. I hopped in a taxi to my next destination and stamped out of Paraguay for the last time. It felt happy and sad and frustrating.

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Happy — because I’m done. I’m free. I will hopefully never again worry about being spat on or run off the road when I ride my bike. No more shitty campo buses making me carsick even when I fall asleep. No more inconsiderate neighbors burning their trash when i put my clothes out to dry. NO. MORE. CAÑA. Maybe now my hair will start growing back. Maybe now I can stop being afraid of every man who walks by me in the grocery store. Also, happy because of the sad. I was going into my last week in site feeling nothing but excitement for my trip, no sadness for leaving, and feeling big heaps of sadness meant I really had put my heart and soul into my two years here, I hadn’t half-assed it.

Sad — because when will I next see my favorite Paraguayans? A, H and I sat on my porch my last night in site crying for an hour, because we didn’t know what else to do with ourselves. My host family have been my people for the past two years. They took me in during a really sketchy and unpleasant time in my service and I’m so grateful to them and there was no amount of thanks and i love yous i could say to get across what I needed to say. When I left the States two years ago, I knew that I’d see my parents again. I legitimately don’t know if I’ll ever see my host family again. That breaks my heart.

Frustrated — because of the impact this country has had on my mental health. I am sitting in Mo & Simone’s apt in Buenos Aires now and am trying to sort out how I’m going to get past the man-hating Paraguay has instilled in me. More on that later. Frustrated because my work here seems futile. I don’t know if any of the impact will stick. The infrastructure, the culture of Paraguay says it won’t. Who is my host sister going to talk to about the big taboo topics I have no problem confronting? Who is going to encourage my brother to continue to be respectful, faithful, and challenge the machismo stereotypes of Paraguay? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that the rest of Paraguay will tell my sister to sit down and shut up, and tell my brother that he’s less of a man for only having one girlfriend. I hope they don’t cave in.

Frustrated — because if one more person tells me what a good person I am for serving in the Peace Corps I am going to lose my head. I am no more noble than a doctor or a journalist or really any other human in their mid-twenties trying to figure out their place in the world. I want to give you all a blanket thank you and want to stop talking about ME. I have stories I’ll want to tell, but right now I need to process it all so I have something real to say to you instead of talking out my ass. 

So I went to the Falls by myself and thought about my happy sad frustrated feelings and got instantly happier the second the mist hit my face. When a wave crashes on the shore, you can see that the bubbles and water droplets came together and formed one big wave. That water is both big and small. But at the falls, the water falls in big giant sheets. It was the best kind of feeling small. I love feeling small in the face of nature. Sad dispersed pretty quickly. I was beyond content being alone (with like a million other tourists) and some big water. Frustrated of course manifested itself when a man who took my photo made a slimy-sounding comment about my looks. Of course, that man was attached to the friendly couple from San Diego I had met and was chatting with. Their guide and driver. But they were so eager to hear about my service and she worked with battered women and they were a gold mine of familiar California chit chat so I stuck with them, despite the weird vibes from their guide. Eventually it was time to go and they offered me a ride back to my hostel and I said ok because I was already sunburned and the bus stop had no shade. I spent the whole car ride, especially the part after the driver dropped off the couple, feeling uncomfortable. He drove too fast, he took weird, zig-zagging turns like he might be trying to confuse me or get me lost. He kept saying my name which sounded slimy and dirty in his mouth.

When I told another volunteer that story, they got it. But the second I told someone who hadn’t lived in Paraguay, it felt like maybe I was projecting. It felt like maybe I am being overly cautious? I don’t know. I still haven’t figured it out. Paraguay has set me up to assume the worst about men, and I have never felt like that before. I have great, respectful, marvelous feminist men in my life. They have created an unrealistic expectation of what men are like. And Paraguay has done the same, only opposite. I don’t want to be scared, but honestly I am.

Yesterday, after discovering bed bugs in my bed in my hostel in Puerto Iguazu (classic south america), I hopped a bus to Buenos Aires to reunite with some loves from college. In true South American fashion, my 1 p.m. express bus arrived at 2 p.m. and made 10 stops as opposed to the promised two. We arrived five hours later than expected, and the whole ride I sat next to someone who smelled like fish guts. I was cranky when I arrived, but then I stepped out on to the streets of Buenos Aires, a city that a year ago grabbed me by the heart and said “come back soon” and I am so, so glad I listened. I drove through the city and grinned, like that scene when Lizzie McGuire arrives in Rome and her taxi casually rolls past the Trevi fountain and she gasps. That was me. I am Lizzie McGuire. Some seventh grade dreams do come true. So I’m going to be here until Friday and then play by the ocean and then meet Kait in Chile and maybe if creativity strikes again I’ll write some more but no promises. 

This has nothing to do with Peace Corps

The year Obama was elected, the wall in my history teacher’s classroom read

DISSENT IS THE HIGHEST FORM OF PATRIOTISM

and for homework we read Howard Zinn and The History of Women in the United States

and we voted for Obama in our mock election and shouted his name at the top of our lungs at the end of the presidents song long before he was elected.

KennedyJohnsonNixonFordCarterReaganBushClintonBushOBAMAAAAAAAAAAA

Barack Obama took office when I was sixteen. I tacked the front page of The Press Democrat with his inauguration photo on my wall.

“We have chosen hope over fear.”

I realized today how crucial those two statements were and continue to be in the decisions that I have made and will make. I realized today how crucial it was to watch the Obamas as I grew up, and how important it was that he was elected when I was sixteen. Just old enough to give a shit. Just old enough to know how important this was going to be. Sixteen year-old me, armed with patriotic dissent and a shit ton of hope, somehow became twenty-four year-old me, swinging condoms full of water and shouting from the rooftops about the importance of consent. I can honestly say that none of that would have happened if it hadn’t been for the culture of courage set forth by the Obamas. My president made me brave.

 

 

 

I feel so incredibly lucky to have grown up with the Obamas. To have spent my high school career in a place where we filled classrooms with the Grateful Dead on vinyl and posters of MLK and Harvey Milk and Gloria Steinem; my college years surrounded by advocates for first-generation college students, consent gurus and defenders of democracy. To now be working in a place where I can encourage youth across an entire nation to speak out for gender equality. To see the smoke before the fire.

 

So today, well, it’s already inauguration day here, so I guess yesterday, I thought about all those sixteen year olds who are just old enough to give a shit, sitting in their history classrooms, wondering what this means for their futures. To the sixteen year olds who will watch the inauguration in class and be scared rather than hopeful, please don’t forget

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism

So thanks, Obama, for eight years of hope, for giving me a space to be brave.

Oh and thanks, Mr. Horner, for putting a poster on your wall that maybe was only there to cover up a hole or a stain but is regardless v important.

I have never been good at conclusions in writing so I’m just gonna leave this here.

 

An ode to my Abuela

In the coming month, I’m going to try to post something I’m grateful for in Paraguay every week. I’ve been so negative about my service and the country as a whole lately and my shit attitude doesn’t help anyone, especially me. It only makes sense to start with the woman who always cheers me up on the bleakest of days.

***

“Do you want mate?” Abuela asks me while thrusting the guampa into my hand. It’s a little too hot outside to drink mate, I think, but I sip the familiar mix of yerba, rosemary and siempre vive flowers through her fancy silver bombilla that my sister and I bought her for her birthday this past year.

“It’s better for you than terere,” she says matter-of-factly. This is my favorite thing about her. She makes ridiculous comments like this with such conviction, but not the conviction of someone who’s trying to convince you of truth, but that of someone who doesn’t realize that there could possibly be any inaccuracy in her statement.

“Why is that?” I asked her, hoping to hide my cringe as I burned my tongue…again. Will I ever learn?

“Well my Abuelo and Abuela, they always ate lunch at eleven, and then at noon, they started drinking mate,” she replied.

“That doesn’t answer the question…” my host mom says, rolling her eyes and laughing at her mother.

But Abuela doesn’t give a single shit. She goes on sipping her mid-afternoon mate that’s better-for-you-than-terere even though it’s the same thing just with hot water instead of cold. She is the epitome of contentment.

***

My Abuela is my favorite member of my host family. She is arhel (difficult, bull-headed, sometimes downright bitchy), she never wears a bra, she loves pizza, she thinks Dengue was invented by the U.S. government, and she loves to fish. She is a woman of very simple pleasures, but when it comes to treating herself, she loves Johnnie Walker Red.

Abuela was the first person in my community to stop treating me like I was special. Which might sound like a weird reason to have so much affection toward her, but trust me, not being special is great. Well before any other member of my community, she made me wash dishes after lunch, she showed up on my porch unannounced asking to borrow something, she gave up on finding me a boyfriend. She made it clear I was one of her own. If I ever leave overnight, or on vacation, she is the first person to greet me upon return like I’ve just returned from war.

Once I thought a cow ate my favorite wool socks from the clothesline, but then I saw them on her feet the next day.

“My socks are dirty,” she said. “I’ll give them back I promise.”

The next day they were washed and return to my clothesline.

In the wake of one of the darker months of my service, Abuela has continued to be a sassy, free-boobin’, pizza lovin’ light in my life. She reminds me that even if work is falling apart and I feel under utilized in my community, I am still loved and I still have a reason to be here. She is the first person I think of when I souvenir shop on vacation and the only person in the family who can out-drink my host dad.

***

My host mom leaves for Asuncion to visit a doctor. My siblings and I are on our own for dinner, which always means homemade pizza and life chats. I pull a pepperoni and olive masterpiece from the oven and laugh as my sister, brother and I tell stories we wouldn’t dare tell in front of my host mom.

“DO I SMELL PIZZA?” Abuela, who has been asleep for an hour, shouts from her room.

The kitchen is silent as Abuela enters, ready for second dinner.

“Oh, is this sex talk pizza?” she asks, cutting herself a large piece.

We all muffle giggles.

“Well,” she sighs, “What do you wanna know?” 

La musica nos une

My best friend B once told me that she feels less far away from people when she knows what they’re listening to. And I was reminded of that this week as I saved a bunch of people’s spotify playlists. I’m listening to Jacob’s “folk” playlist right now and every time a new song comes on I smile and it’s like a little piece of my dear friend is in the kitchen with me as I’m cooking my lentils or writing my grad school apps. Molly’s “some type of way” playlist has been an anchor in my service and I listen to it any time I need to feel something other than what I’m currently feeling in that moment. I follow my friends as their music tastes transition from chill summer vibes to heavy fall tunes and somehow I feel slightly more connected to you. When I need to dance it out, I put on Monique’s “hipshakin” and dance around my kitchen with my host sister. I am both home and homesick when I listen to your tunes but it makes me feel just a little bit less far away, knowing that we all are listening to the new Bon Iver right now. I even feel like i know Barack Obama a little better for having listened to his summer playlist. Literally, thanks Obama.

So in the spirit of making the world a little smaller, this is a collaborative Spotify playlist. “Oñondivepa” means “everyone all together” in Guarani. Add what you can’t get out of your head, what made you cry on the metro the other day, what you last danced to in your underwear. If nothing else, indulge me, please! And maybe we’ll create a really kickass playlist that will be the soundtrack to everyone’s next road trip. Who knows.

 

A play by play of a typical day

“Today is a good day to have a good da.” -someone whose words are now all over Pinterest.

I realize I never really told y’all what I actually do…so here’s what a good day looks like.

5:45 a.m. — The sun wakes me up. I say no thanks and go back to sleep.

7:05 a.m. — My alarm goes off. I say no thanks and press snooze.

7:15 a.m. — My alarm goes off again. I say ok ok I get it and get out of bed.

7:17: a.m. — Is it really already 85 degrees? That doesn’t bode well for the day. I might melt. I pour myself a glass of cold brew coffee and bring my book out to the porch to say hello as the kids who are late to school walk by. Warm mornings remind me of summer camp, when we all got there kind of early to drink our coffee together and secretly plot how to get Adam yet another Melon Head. It’s the kind of warm that promises a toasty afternoon but the morning is so pleasant you can’t help but bask in the sunshine and let it melt the ice in your coffee. These mornings make me homesick for summer in California. But maybe someday they will make me homesick for Paraguay. Who knows.

8:00 a.m. — decision making time. Do I run now, before it gets too hot, or wait until sunset? I decide to run now because there are a lot of people out during sunset and I like to pretend I’m invisible / hope that no one sees my abysmal attempt at running

8:15 a.m. — slather my body in sunscreen and hope it doesn’t all melt off with sweat while I run. Press play on “This American Life” and set out trottin’. Ira Glass is talking about getting thrown into the deep end of the pool, literally and figuratively. Naturally my mind goes to the pool, jumping into Grammy’s pool when I was four — my parents’ discovery that I was a mermaid. Being pushed off my first starting block because I was scared to do a real start. 500s at practice. How is it that my body did that every day for ten years but now I am jogging at a snail’s pace and contemplating death? Make a vow to swim every day when I get home, get those ripply back muscles back. Zone back in on the podcast…have no idea what’s going on. Wave like a lunatic to a group of kids who are trying to catch frogs in the creek.

9:00 a.m. — Overshoot my house on purpose so I can say hello to one of my favorite families. Mama Cristina is working in her garden. Our normal banter ensues:

Mama Cristina: HOOOOLA HAAAAAANNAH! QUE GUAPA!! (she has a big voice, the kind that is necessary when you raised four sons)

Me: Holaaaa gracias!

Mama Cristina: You look skinnier! Are you in love? Do you want some beets? How about tomatoes? Cilantro? (she hands me veggies she she points them out. She’s never really waited for my answer.)

Me: Wow thanks!

MC: Ok now go take a shower, you stink, then come back and drink terere with me.

Me: ok byeeeeee

9:45 a.m. — Awkwardly do cool-down yoga on my patio while passersby stare at me.

10:15 a.m. — Take a cold shower because that is the only option.

10:30 a.m. — Call Kaitlyn. Listen to her gush about her recent vacation. Feel no FOMO. This is weird, I think to myself, had this been a conversation in the states a year and a half ago, I would have felt jealousy bubbling up in my soul. My friends went on an amazing trip without me and I couldn’t go! Que pena! But instead I’m blissed out just hearing how happy Kait is. If you let the FOMO get to you out here in the campo, you’d never be happy. And it feels good to be happy for other people’s happy.

11:30 a.m. — Cross the street for terere with the host family. Auxi and I are wearing the same shirt. That’s embarrassing but kinda cute. Abuela is shelling beans, which she has been doing for three days. I offer to help but she swats my hand away telling me it calms her nerves. I don’t know what Abuela has to be nervous about but I say ok and sip the terere Auxi hands me. She put leaves from the lemon tree in the water, and it has that peppery after taste I’ve come to love.

12:30 p.m. — Speedily inhale whatever Abuela made for lunch…wonder why Abue has been cooking lately because we always complain about how her cooking gives us diarrhea. Maybe I should start cooking my own lunches? I’m too broke for that. Remember that I have to pay rent this weekend.

1:00 p.m. — Slather myself in sunscreen, hop on my bike and head to the school.

1:05 p.m. — Regret what I ate for lunch.

1:10 p.m. — Arrive at the school. I’m greeted by middle schoolers running toward me shouting PROFE HANNAH! PROFE HANNAH! One stops to hug my sweaty self. “we’re so happy you’re here!! What are we talking about today??” Think about crying because this is literally what I dreamed about when coming to Peace Corps — kids stoked to learn with me.

1:30 p.m. — Finally quiet the masses and start teaching. Today’s class is about sex and gender. Spend 10 minutes explaining that we’re not talking about sexual intercourse but biological sex. Like male or female. So like man and woman? No. So like masculine and feminine? Nope… My favorite profe comes in and explains it in Guarani. “OHHHHHHHH” the whole class says. Now they get it. Except for that one kid in the corner who is too busy making paper cranes.

1:45 p.m. — Single out paper crane kid and make him summarize what I just said. Watch his face go from calm/cool/collected to potentially going to pee his pants. I sure showed you, crane boy.

2:30 p.m. — Leave class. I think they got it? I can never really tell if they’re just indulging me or if they actually get it. Slather myself in sunscreen and hop on my bike.

3:00 p.m. — Get home.

3:01 p.m. — Make popcorn

3:02 p.m.  — Start personal statements

3:10 p.m. — Fall asleep staring at the same sentence I’ve been trying to rephrase since yesterday.

4:15 p.m. — Wake up to being attacked by mosquitoes.

4:30 p.m. — Cross the street to help Lorena make empanadas and listen to her gossip. “This is just between you and me but…” she always starts. Paraguayan women are like hairdressers in the states. They know all the secrets and they share all the secrets. She asks me what my secrets are. She knows I have none. Asks me for the umpteenth time if the male volunteer who visited last weekend is my boyfriend. Tell her no for the umpteenth time. Roll my eyes. She doesn’t believe me.

5:00 p.m. — Call Kaitlyn again. Tell her all about paper crane boy and what I ate for lunch. She listens and responds like I’m telling her I won the lottery.

6:30 p.m. — Throw whatever vegetables I have in the pan. Crack an egg.

7:30 p.m. — It’s dark. Time for bed. Put on Parks and Rec and watch until I fall asleep.