Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reflections and Retreats

One of my favorite perks about being a Program Director is the retreats that MPI requires all PD’s to take each quarter, once every 3 months. Financed by the organization, these retreats not only allow PD’s to get to know another part of their host country, but they also provide a space away from work in which PD’s can further bond as a team and develop their group dynamic and vision.

Last Monday, my coworkers and I returned from our second retreat, in which we spent six days in the tropical climate of Guatemala’s Caribbean coast. The trip began with a lengthy, yet luxurious charter bus ride to the port town of Puerto Barrios from where we snagged a water taxi bound for Livingston. We then spent two days in Livingston listening to reggae, relaxing at postcard beaches, and venturing into the jungle where they filmed the original Tarzan movie. Following these excursions, we boated up the Rio Dulce to Lake Izabal, the largest lake in Guatemala, and to our pleasant surprise, both the river and the lake exceeded the guidebook descriptions

Picture a tranquil, brilliant blue river narrowly enclosed in a steep canyon whose walls are masked by cascading green plants and flowers. Innumerable white herons are nesting in the nearby shrubbery, cormorants are disappearing and emerging amidst the gentle waves, and flocks of prowling pelicans are diving into the water in search of fish. Eventually, the river opens into a lake so immense that you cannot see the mountains encasing the far shore. Now, picture yourself on a small boat amidst this nirvana. Let me tell you, it is nearly impossible not to ponder the world and your life, when you are surrounded by such an idyllic environment.

Following this reflective voyage up the river, we kayaked and tanned for one day at the isolated Denny’s Beach Resort on Lake Izabal, then stayed the remainder of the retreat in Rio Dulce town at a rustic hostel nestled into the jungle. The capstone of the trip, on the last day, we visited Finca Paraiso, the world’s only hot water waterfall. Though we all left the falls drenched in the rotten-egg smell imparted by the sulfur, it was worth every scent to be able to stand in a cool stream while simultaneously being showered by hot water. Dana and Jared, brave souls, even jumped off of the falls into the pool below.

Possibly due to my love of Bob Marley, or my passion for all things aquatic, or maybe even my weird obsession with humidity, I found the coast to be an ideal retreat location. More than eight hours away from our home and comfort zones in Sololá, my coworkers and I were able to explore unfamiliar locations together and come together as a team. Amidst the rewarding chaos of directing programs, fulfilling organizational roles, and maintaining relationships with community members and other expat volunteers, we sometimes forget to spend time together as a group. Immersed in our relationships as coworkers, we sometimes overlook our relationships as friends. I am so grateful for the retreat, as it reminded us of the importance of these friendships.

While our time with MPIG offers us a unique professional experience in the field of international development, the position of Program Director also allows us to form lifelong relationships both with community members and with our coworkers/housemates. As our time with the organization draws to a close, we must remember to cherish and cultivate these friendships. 25 years later, we may or may not remember the details of a 6th English lesson plan, yet I am certain we will recall the memories we make together as friends. Our work will always be a priority and will shape us into our future selves. However, every person we meet, every friendship we form will also become a part of us and we must remember to treasure those relationships and each other.


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