miércoles, 7 de enero de 2015

No nos sometamos al terrorismo

Sin importar si están o no de acuerdo con las opiniones de Charlie Hebdo tenemos que recordar que la base de un mundo libre es la libre expresión. El poder criticar CUALQUIER religión cuando entra al ámbito público al igual que a la autoridad es absolutamente vital para las sociedades libres. Este no es solo un ataque a periodistas y caricaturistas, sino un ataque a nuestra libertad. Mi corazón está con los Franceses! #jesuischarlie

lunes, 8 de septiembre de 2014

Germany; reflections on a blissful trip

Once again I found myself overwhelmed by the bliss of traveling. There were so many moments were I told myself, maybe I should write on my journal, maybe I should take a picture or update my blog; but the breezes, the sunsets, the company, the tastes and smells, my asthma, the conversations and moments were meant to be enjoyed and not interrupted by an attempt to immortalize them. Now that I am back almost recovered from my jet lag and getting back on my routine I can't help but think about these amazing months and have an impulse to write in order to reflect and remember.

A trip always starts with with a thought or an impulse. For me it is an urge to see places I have heard or read about, a need to get out of my routine and jump into a world that is unknown and which pushes me out of my comfort zone. It's almost an addiction, but one that can bring more clarity and happiness than any other. I had always dreamed about visiting Germany since I was a kid. I remember looking at picture of the Berlin wall, the Alps, listening to Beethoven and then seeing city names like Bonn, Hanover, Hamburg, Cologne and wondering how life would be in those places, what the cities would smell like, how the weather would be like and the how the people are. Lately I kept making friends with German Buddhist travelers and telling myself I got to go there soon, and so I started working on it.

After I made the decision to go there I found the volunteer gig at an organic farm, (which I previously wrote about) and started shooting emails to get a tentative itinerary down. I knew from previous experiences that it would be better to plan to visit only a few cities and make it to Germany before making to many fixed plans, and so I arrived to the farm. During my time there I was lucky to be able to travel with Gerd Boll to the places were he gave lectures on dharma and travel with other Buddhist friends to lectures and events which allowed me to get to see the region and meet local sanghas (Buddhist practitioners). I got to go to Hamburg one weekend, visit Kiel multiple times which allowed me to make really strong connections with the amazing people there, among other smaller towns and cities.

Staying in the farm for a month allowed me not only to loose at least 5 pounds from eating only organic and extremely healthy and well balanced meals, but also to experience life in the German country side, the pace, the food, the values, the changing weather. This place had a quiet and laid back pace which I had never experienced for more than just a few days. Having no internet, no car and being immersed in a community which spoke a language I wasn't fluent with was simply amazing. But the things I enjoyed the most was the quality of life and punctuality.

I think these two come hand in hand. Germans seem to have an internal time-measuring mechanism that allows them to know how long a task will take, and without the stress get ready for appointments and commitments right on time. I would have thought such punctuality would be accompanied by a certain degree of neurosis, but instead I found out that it simply makes life easier, makes you more reliable and relaxed as you don't have to be wondering when people will show up, or freaking out when you are running late. Consideration for other people's time is key and makes life so much easier! If they were running two minutes and thirty seconds late they would always call, text or send smoke signals, because everyone's time is precious. Of course when it comes to neurosis, I'm not saying all Germans are exempted... there were cases. But the ideas and stereotypes I had were challenged and changed, and my habits as well. Now I feel a certain degree of satisfaction when my bus is on time in Minneapolis and I can plan my bike ride to be where I have to be on time.

My relative isolation also made me enjoy the people. I think in this modern world sometimes we enjoy our friends across our iPhone or computer screens more than those we have in front of us sharing the here an now. Of course, I tell this to myself, and some of you may be exempt from this craziness, right? I only had access to cable internet at times when there was nobody around the kitchen where the connection was, because the main rule at the house was that the internet use should not interfere with socializing and meditation. I learned to sit, listen and relax which of course was also due to the fact that I didn't have enough German skills to babble like I would in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French. However the Germans I lived with were also amazing examples. Despite the hard work at the farm and their busy lives there was always time for wholeheartedly greeting and asking me about my day, sharing something about theirs and talking politics, soccer, dharma or teach me some useful German phrase. Of course this was life in the country side of Schleswig-Holstein.

I learned to enjoy naps, country side bike rides, walking through fields and pick my own berries for dessert, enjoy the morning coffee, the fresh air, conversation with friends, the cold Ost-See swims and simple visits to town to have ice-cream. I was all of the sudden not in need to run around doing something all the time, spending money or going crazy with sudden inactivity. However I would have loved to be in a big city during the World Cup final, but our barn "public-viewing" and champagne drinking was equally enjoyable and maybe safer than the streets of Hamburg, Cologne or Berlin.

After my month in Großholz another part of the adventure began and I started planning my trip to Rodby and Copenhagen. First I talked to an old acquaintance in Cologne and told him I would stop by for a couple of days. And as I said, it was good that I was flexible and had no fixed plans, because this old acquaintance became my boyfriend and after Copenhagen my plans would change a lot. But that's another story...

Cologne showed me a different face of Germany; a very multicultural and urban one. Kersten and I walked all over town and even though I was in a mild culture-shock coming back from rural Germany into a big city, I couldn't help but notice the relaxed and safe atmosphere there was in Cologne. Coming from the U.S. and Guatemala I was constantly weary of strangers in the streets, and a little nervous about walking around dark streets at night. Kersten had to remind me, "you're are in Germany". It took a while for it to sink in, but once it did I couldn't help but thing "Wow, this is life!"

Acknowledging that I did not hang out with every single citizen of Cologne, I have to say that I was fascinated by what I considered a very healthy life style, similar to that of my family in France. For instance I became amazed by Kersten's love of fresh brötchen, and the fact that there was a bakery on almost every corner, like Starbucks in Seattle. Fresh preservative free bread was the way to go. The day could rarely start without him walking to the bakery to get the famous bread for breakfast. But fresh bread by itself is not as exciting; there were no frozen foods, very little food in the refrigerator, farmer markets and fresh produce were bought daily, etc.

But my favorite thing was when I would see little kids drinking Apfelschorle (apple juice with gas) or simple Apfelsaft (apple juice) instead of Coke. I slowly started to notice that most corner stores did not have pop like Coke, Pepsi or 7 up, but instead very low sugar drinks like Club Mate (a hierba-mate tea drink with gas), Apfelschorle and Fassbrause which became some of my obsessions. There were also a lot of people jogging and biking like in Minneapolis. Perhaps it was a way to make up for the ridiculous amount of smoked tobacco. There is even a smoking booth in the Frankfurt airport. A small box inside a building were people go to smoke and inhale ten other smokers' concentrated smoke at the same time!

But enough nicotine-talk. Being interested in identity dynamics I was pleasantly surprised by how easily and yet tactful Germans would approach me and ask me where I was from. It was pretty obvious by looking at my non-blond, non-blue-eyed self that I was not from Germany yet I did not feel unwelcome or uncomfortable like I have sometimes felt in certain places in North America. The question wasn't meant to place me in some category, but to genuinely learn something about me. Most of the people who asked me where I was from knew where Colombia and Guatemala were and knew a thing or two about my countries like: "Tikal is an amazing Mayan archeological site, have you been there?" or... "I have heard Medellin is a beautiful city, and Bogota is interesting but very big and busy." or... "I have been to Colombia for a couple of weeks..."

I also appreciated the fact that most would consider my language limitations and switch to English, but most times I would quickly beg them to speak German and help me learn. They loved it!

The amount of Germans from so many different backgrounds who travel amazed me. And even more amazing was the fact that our conversations occurred in perfectly fluent English. Two German farmworkers I got to know well as we worked together at the farm told me about the trips they made when they were getting their degrees or certificates in farming or biology. They received state aid to study abroad or were able to save money doing farm work to travel to Israel, Australia, Spain, etc... I can't imagine a Guatemalan farm worker making money to even travel for leisure. Another thing that amazed me was their fearlessness when traveling, so many of them had crazy stories because they would never even conceive dangerous situations as the conditions in Germany are humane. For instance they would have never imagined that taking public transportation could be a "trip" in itself, like taking a chicken bus across Guatemala which sometimes can be like playing Russian roulette.

This was even more extreme when I visited Copenhagen and I met University students who not only did not pay for school at all, but did not have to pay for their study abroad programs in Kathmandu, Quito, Tokio or you name it. But Denmark is a different story. I'll have to write about later.

After Denmark I spent three weeks in the Alps at a Buddhist course setting up dinners, counting thousands of people who ate at the cafeteria and later cleaning up the service area after them. I met many amazing people, but lets just say I learned something about patience. I got to see my lama and experience Tibetan initiations for the first time in this life. I was able to pitch my tent in the one spot that would become a swamp after the first shower, stay warm during very wet and cold nights, take showers in front of twenty other women in a common shower, use the same toilet 2,000 others used on the same day and stay sane and happy. I enjoyed every bit of it, but by the end when my asthma was keeping me from going up the hill without stopping every five steps I could not wait to go back to Cologne and take a long hot shower by myself and sleep in a bed.

I then got to go to Berlin which was a big dream of mine. I wanted to see the places where so much of recent history had taken place. I did my share of memorial and museum visits, but my favorite part was staying in an apartment in Prenzlauer Berg and experiencing the neighborhood. Its music and noises from the cars in the morning, to the music coming from the Swingers Club downstairs or the neighbors' parties. Walking to the supermarket, taking the train Mitte or simply walking to a restaurant from any country in the world. And the amazing coffee everywhere I went, but especially the fact that Berliners seem to love dogs and dogs are welcome anywhere except hospitals and fancy restaurants. They are everywhere and by then I had finally learned to ask "May I pet your dog?" so I could indulge in petting some of the happiest dogs I have ever seen. The metropolitan touch did it for me. Quality of life, culture and history; I'm sold! But then my trip was coming to an end and I had to head back to Frankfurt, say goodbye to Kersten and fly across the Atlantic to my beautiful Minneapolis.

I know it has been a great trip when it does not stop when I get home. Instead I can enjoy life in Minneapolis with these new perspectives and lessons learned making every thing so much more exciting and fresh.

jueves, 26 de junio de 2014

First impressions of my organic farming experience at a rural Buddhist community in Germany

So here it goes, my first blog since I began my organic farming experience at a rural Buddhist community in Germany. I still think it is a little bit random, but nevertheless amazing that I ended up here. It all started with the realization that I want to have some level of responsibility, tasks and a schedule during my break to make it more productive and meaningful than the summers before. I asked around and searched the web for jobs in anthropology or music, but for the amount of time and the time of the year it was almost impossible to find something like an internship. So I began searching for something I could do that involved my Buddhist practice and would give me some space to develop and clear my mind before graduation.
So our wonderful Diamond Way teacher Gerd Boll was the first idea my dad threw my way and I went with it. He offered me a volunteer gig with a place to stay, food and enough time to meditate during the day. And given that I have been obsessed with the idea of visiting Germany and have great admiration for the way Buddhist teachings have flourished in this country it wasn't a very hard choice given the amazing offering. I have been here for 12 days and a few impressions and reflections I've had motivated me to sit down and start writing about this in case it might inspire other organic farming friends, Buddhists, or anyone else who might come across my writing.
The farm is at least 20 minutes by car from the nearest town called Eckernförde which lies on a bay in the Baltic Sea. Despite the relative isolation there's always a lot of activity around with at least 20 seasonal workers from many Eastern European countries, especially Poland and former Soviet Union territories living in the land. Some of them are Buddhist practitioners and some are here for the jobs the farm offers during the summer time. This already makes for an interesting experience for a big city girl like me who has always been terrified of the "apathy" of suburban life, and even more petrified about the idea of not being able to run to a corner store or pharmacy to buy random shit I really don't need.
My first day I noticed that the food left for me at the retreat kitchen was all organic, vegetarian and with German labels. I should mention then that I have never visited a German speaking country before and have only taken one semester of German and 11 levels of duolingo before arriving. Of course for the carnivore I am, my first thought was to head over to the town the next morning and get some meat and some other random toiletries and snacks that I apparently didn't need because I already forgot about them. Little did I know that I was at least two hours away by foot from the town and that everything closes after 5 PM so going on a random shopping spree is impossible.

My first day or two of work were another interesting linguistic adventure. out of the eight people working the strawberry fields six are Polish, one is Russian and then me. All with beautiful unpronounceable names that are slowly starting to click in my ears. One of my colleagues who I would describe as the alpha female is convinced that the louder she speaks in Polish the more I will understand what she says. The good thing is she always screams with a beautiful big smile and offers help and comments even though I still don't have the slightest clue what she is saying. Something about strawberries, "Erdbeere"... Non of them speaks fluent German or any German at all, but know pretty well their berry picking vocabulary so they understand things better than me.

The only one I can relatively communicate to is a young man from Tajikistan who speaks a little German and has the patience to pay attention to my 3-year-old fluency in German, which saved my life this morning during a rainstorm by telling me there were rain jackets in the shed after I asked him where he got his auf Deutsch! There are a lot of smiles which are cheesily better than words, but yesterday morning two of my berry-picking colleagues came to me and said "good morning", and I got excited and handed them buckets for discarding the nasty moldy berries we find on the fields and they said "Thank you very much". Somehow such a simple effort to communicate from them warmed my heart after 10 days of working in silence and the company of my delicious podcasts for five hours a day.
I have to admit however that I keep eavesdropping, and although I don't understand a "shit" I do understand "Kurva". After watching my colleagues drop boxes of strawberries or complain loudly and continuously repeat "Kurva! Kurva! ..." I just assumed it was an equivalent of shit, f@#% or something juicy and expressive like that, and indeed it was. If I stayed a whole year I could learn Polish I guess, but my afternoons are filled with German love! Being a guest at the retreat house I have shared the place with seven beautiful German Buddhists who have already earned a special place in my heart, but today I have the time to write only because they are all gone.
I have been exposed to Autobahn-speed German conversations from day one which has forced me to shut my mouth and learn to listen carefully. Of course the listening carefully does not mean by all means that I understand. Lets put it this way, I began by understanding a word out of an entire sentence and making the rest up and now almost two weeks later I'm understanding the sense of a sentence and making only a few words up. However my tongue is still tied as speaking a word of German besides "Danke" and basic greetings scares me to death.  But we're getting there, this is just a phase!
All meditations here are obviously guided in German so I've given myself the challenge of learning new dharma related words everyday, and now I'm starting to need my English booklets less and less and just enjoy the German sounds which start to somehow make sense.  I'm now even able to understand conversations about dharma in German among the sangha. Most of my sangha speaks fluent English, even though they judge themselves to harshly and get all self conscious about their English all the time. This has definitely saved my life as I would be seriously bored to death if I couldn't at least chat a little bit with someone about something besides "Erdbeere". They are all wonderful. Maria who is about my age brought me a German-English dharma dictionary to help me out, Ergin who loves to hear me speak Spanish brought me a Long Life prayer from Lopon Checho to Lama Ole last night, and all of them are always hugging me, smiling and bringing a lot of warmth and love to my days at the retreat house.
It is amazing however how this situation of relative linguistic isolation has filtered my speech and even changed my thoughts in what I would consider a good way. At least on the basic level of cause and effect. With my developing German skills I can't fluently critique or complain about futile feelings, emotions and situations. Because non of them are Spanish or English native speakers or have lived and studied in Spanish or English speaking countries our ability to talk about these futile topics is limited, and instead all of our conversations are positive, encouraging and I think constructive. The amazing thing for me is that not having these conversations is also changing the way I think. The few frustrations that have arisen during my stay have been neutralized by what I naively first called "lazyness", but then realized after listening to some of Lama Ole's lectures is "wisdom". Haha! Why think the Polish-alpha-female doesn't like me or thinks I'm stupid? Instead she knows what she is doing and she sees I have no experience in farm work and decides to help me. If she gets a little exasperated that's her own problem, all I can do is smile and laugh at the ridiculous situations that arise and enjoy every second of them.

This stay has also messed with the concepts I had of my own habits, my schedule and time management. I am now waking up early everyday to have breakfast  and coffee which was a totally foreign concept in my world. I work until 1 PM and then have lunch with Gerd's family and all the farm workers which is simply wonderful. (I'll have to write more about just that next time) After lunch I nap for half hour and then meditate for a couple of hours by myself before the whole sangha meets for 16th Karmapa meditation in the evenings, and afterwards I find time to study German, read a little bit and send a message home to my parents and brother. Somehow I am able to be productive and relaxed at the same time which I attribute to the amazing example of highly productive, happy people you see in this part of Germany, especially at the farm, and of course the 4+ hours of meditation everyday. It only reminds me of why as Buddhists we take refuge in the sangha, seeing so many great people around me makes me want to work harder.

With this being said I understand that this is a retreat, much like a laboratory in which I have the ability to generate the conditions with which I'm able to work with my mind, change certain habits and replace them with nicer ones and recognize attitudes and tendencies I've always had. Now the challenge is to drill these habits so that hopefully something sticks once I jump back into my last semester of university studies and the normal amount of stress and disturbing emotions of "everyday" life. With that being said, I'm going to hit the cushion now so I have time to shower and look decent by the time the sangha arrives to meditate together in a couple of hours and keep enjoying the rest of my stay here. And if you're in Germany come visit, I wouldn't mind having some housemates in the next couple of weeks. I promise to cook you a nice vegetarian dinner!

lunes, 12 de mayo de 2014

A different strain of Mexican

Despite some friends' beliefs I am not a burrito connoisseur, nor do I have Mexican parties with sombreros, nor do I celebrate Cinco de Mayo or Día de los Muertos. I am different strain of "Mexican", called Colombian-Guatemalan. And other than speaking Spanish and liking soccer I'm not very Mexican at all, in fact Colombia is a separate country with different people like England and the United States, or francophone Switzerland and francophone Belgium. 
If you want recommendations on a Mexican restaurant or perhaps how to party like a Mexican you could Yelp it or Google it and then invite me. I'm also curious and interested in learning about Mexican culture. And I'm positive that there is more to it than Chipotle, Taco Bell, Tequila, telenovelas and sombreros. In fact I've visited Mexican land and the food is nothing like Chipotle or Taco Bell, is heavenly! You'd be surprised.
Take note...

miércoles, 1 de enero de 2014

Happy New Year and best wishes!

Now is the time of the year when everyone gets all worked up over a number, the truth is from 11:59 on December 31, 2013 to 12:00 on January 1, 2014 we will still be the same, unless we, ourselves change things. Unfortunately a change in a calendar month or year won't fix all your problems, get rid of your not so pleasant habits, give you all the things you have always wished for, get you good friends and partners, or make you the amazing human being you have always wanted to be.

However this is not a rant about our New Year's resolutions, nor as depressing as I may have already made it sound like. I actually just feel like reminding myself of something I want to keep reminding myself everyday for the rest of my life. Not just for what remains of 2013: We are what we have thought, said and done. And the only way we can change our lives is by changing things now, not waiting for 12:00 AM on the 1st of January to come and expect some kind of external power to change our lives.

I am no saint, nor have I reached every goal I've set for myself this year, nor have I fulfilled every dream I've ever had but this year definitely showed me in very tangible ways that I can change things starting with daily actions that get me out of my lazy and conformist states of mind.

I am happy to reach this symbolic finish line, because I have been inspired by amazing friends who are compassionate, intelligent, strong, talented, passionate, hardworking and persistent in their causes and lives. Friends and family who guided me but didn't keep me from figuring out that I'm the on who needs to get my shit together and that I'm actually able to do it.

But more than having been inspired by their words, I was inspired by their actions. By friends who like anyone else, had great accomplishments, as well as shitty moments in 2013 but looked for new ways and kept working their butts off, bringing limitless new possibilities to their beautiful lives and those of others around them. I'm grateful for all of the people and situations this year. You're truly amazing, inspiring and helpful beyond words!

I have many goals like everyone else, and I'm very excited and motivated because I have already started working on them and just wish that they will bloom in 2014. Some of my goals are very generic, but what can we do if we all wish for happiness and health in our lives?

This year I lost 35 pounds and will lose the remaining 25 in 2014; I have been studying German for a semester and doing duolingo daily and hope to be able to hold a conversation in German by July; some friends and I started a 30 day meditation challenge that turned into a 120+ day challenge and I wish to finish prostrations this year; I wrote songs, arranged and performed music with friends in 2013 and hope to further my music career in 2014; I let go of difficult situations and wish to have the wisdom to keep doing this and open up to better situations  and possibilities in 2014.

There are always new things to hope and wish for, but I'm happy to reach this symbolic finish line knowing I'm not starting from scratch, but I still have the possibility to change things and accomplish good things. Wish you all the best: limitless opportunities in your career and life, good health to you and your loved ones, and enough stability to face challenges with wisdom and compassion.

Much love!