Friday, July 15, 2011

Home and Away

This past week, MPI-G and our summer volunteers celebrated America’s Independence Day at a friend’s restaurant in Panajachel. Together with the plethora of American volunteers, students, and other ex-pats living in Pana, we gathered to celebrate the birthday of the grand ole US of A. And celebrate we did. Decked out in all of the red, white, and blue apparel we could find, we laughed away the afternoon eating hot dogs and potato salad, belting to Alabama and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and swapping stories with fellow Americans abroad. In the midst of a sometimes-oppressive rainy season in Guatemala, it was great to savor a small slice of home and rekindle old friendships.

Years have passed since I last celebrated July 4th in my hometown of Norfolk, VA (my last home celebration was in 2nd grade!), and what’s more, 4 of the 6 past Independence Day’s, I have been abroad. However, whether in Spain, Germany, France, or Guatemala, I have always encountered the same dilemma of how to celebrate America’s Independence Day, and I believe that this dilemma draws on a larger issue that my roommates and I encounter every day. Namely, when we travel to other countries, we want to immerse ourselves in our environment and be fully present in mind, body, and spirit. Yet, in order to accomplish this immersion, must we give up our American lifestyles? Is it possible for us to be fully present in Sololá, when we sometimes crave specialty American foods, or spend nights on Skype with friends?  Are 4th of July or Thanksgiving parties counterproductive to immersing ourselves in the local culture? It is a fine line to walk, and my roommates and I constantly struggle to maintain a balance between time spent here in Guatemala and time thinking about the States.

Throughout my past year and other travels, I have encountered several people who fall on the extreme ends of this balance. For example, some travelers and ex-pats constantly compare the United States to Guatemala, and make a subconscious (or even conscious) decision that Guatemala is simply the “better” country. Whether regarding coffee, the markets, the language, or even the pace of life, the United States does not compare to Guatemala, and many people harbor or vocalize these thoughts on a daily basis. Other ex-pats and travelers carry this sentiment to an even further extreme and go as far as to denounce their home country. Not only does the American government, culture (or lack thereof, as some would argue), and lifestyle fail to compare to the ones found in Guatemala, but they are also inferior in their own right.

On the other extreme, some travelers try to follow their normal lifestyles to a T. Favoring their American diets, modes of transportations, and language, they never dare to emerge from their comfort zones and try new ways of living. These people also constantly compare the United States and Guatemala, but America reigns superior in these comparisons. 

For me, being fully present in Guatemala is an ongoing balancing act, and I frequently find myself wavering between the two extremes. Now, there is no right or wrong way to live abroad; everyone is entitled to their opinions and to the experiences they desire. However, I believe that it is possible to walk the line and find that middle. I do want to prefer Guatemala or the United States. I neither wish to sever my connections with home nor overlook the amazing people and nature of Guatemala. I am so proud of the country that raised me, yet Guatemala is a fascinating country and I feel so blessed to have lived here over the past year. Maybe there is a middle ground; maybe you can walk the line. During the next month, I hope I can be fully present in my life here, while still embracing aspects of my own culture. So yes, I will take that hot dog, but could I get some picante with it?

No comments:

Post a Comment