Aside from the task to find time to write this blog, I struggle to balance an expression of my personal growth with some interpretation of our endless supply of anecdotes. Regardless of whether or not I succeed, both of these culminated in an understandably overwhelming yet indescribably rewarding few months. I want to extend my gratitude to those who read this (can I ask who in Serbia is tuning in?), but also apologize for the infrequency with which I am able to post. Hopefully this post offers support to my claim of a lack of time to blog.
I’ve been told the key to good writing is to lose any inhibition and just let everything flow. I was challenged with how to start this specific entry. Initially, I began with a description of the coolest 48 hours of my life, but that quickly became it’s own post. My next move was to go through the several hundred pictures I accumulated over the last month. If I had to summarize them as quickly as possible, I’d say three things.
1) There are weeks where I only took ten photos because we spent so much time in thought, reflection, discussion, and our rooms, writing essays. Photo N/A
2) When there was free time, there was grilled meat.
3) As Hermana Laticia pointed out, I have an exceptional amount of photos of the Boys. I acknowledge that here in a series I call “The Jakes Take Photos”:
Most of those photos came from our fall/spring break (depending on the hemisphere) where we spent some 48 hours on the bus as we made the following journey: 24 hours to Bariloche, 6 hours to Puerto Montt, 10 hours to Santiago, 9 hours to Mendoza, and 9 hours back to Córdoba.
Bus travel is the norm for South Americans, and to them, 24 hours isn’t actually that bad. Frankly, after midterms, it wasn’t too bad for us, either. I had just completed a mediocre essay for Contemplatives that addressed the question I touched on at the end of my last post: “What does it mean to be a contemplative in action?” I tried to coherently combine as much as I could from our Casa curriculum. Ideas like how capitalism exacerbates our failure to recognize the people in front of us as human beings, and therefore, humanity; how vulnerability is essential to personal security and how our ability to experience emotions, be them love, hate, pain, joy, or sadness, has a profound impact on our capacity to appreciate the lives of others; and, most of all, how mental presence plays a fundamental role in how those aforementioned “insights” manifest themselves.
From an academic standpoint, I wasn’t terribly successful. I tried to integrate all those thoughts with six psychological/theological sources into a deceivingly short five-page paper. But I put more time into the outline of this essay than I have for any paper I’ve ever written; that is to say, I made an outline. I developed strong communication skills from my salesman father, family dinners, and the countless number of apologies I gave for reckless acts I committed throughout my childhood. This culminated in my ability to write an essay, the day before it was due, without having completed the readings and without much of an outline, and still earn a satisfactory grade. I used to take pride in the fact that I only read two books in my entire high school curriculum. Now I recognize not only is my level of academic writing lower than where I’d like it to be, all those years of school would have disciplined my mind to focus with more intentionality than I possess today. I consistently strain to stay present at praxis, a task made infinitely more difficult when I can’t explain to a child why I, a 20 year old man, am unable to do multiplication and long-division because I wasn’t “there” to learn it.
Much of contemporary society focuses on how honing presence through meditation can allow one to sleep less and be more productive at work. But Doug, our theology professor, warned us about the use of contemplative practices strictly as tools or means to an end. He helped us realize if meditation is used strictly for that purpose, much of its benefits are ignored. Yes, presence offers higher task-efficiency. But more importantly, it allows for countless opportunities everyday to more fully experience the love of those around us. From a religious perspective, I believe this love is what many interpret and mean by God. From a physiological perspective, it’s the synchrony of mirror neurons and biochemistry triggered by touch and eye contact. (I wrote a paper on this last year. I won’t go into it though because I haven’t even started to discuss Patagonia…) Anyway one wants to look at it, the people in our lives are incredibly important. They shape who we are and who we become. And while I didn’t realize it before, those around me shaped me into what is so frequently discussed in the States: an emotionally repressed male, currently incapable of experiencing the full spectrum of sensations required to validate the humans in my life.
Yeah. That was big.
I have a lot of privilege that offers me, sometimes unfairly so, lots of wonderful things. But of all the things I don’t deserve, a break from an intensive study-abroad program seemed justified. So we return to the 24-hour bus ride to Bariloche. We all had high expectations as to how productive we could be on that leg of the trip. Books to read, journals to write, Spanish to learn. In the end, sleep and the provided entertainment (The Social Network, The Dark Knight, and Avatar, all in English) won out. I love window seats on airplanes and buses, but this trip didn’t offer much of a view until the last few hours. Here’s a visual summary of our trip:
I took that last photo right as we arrived Saturday evening along the lake, about a ten-minute walk from our hostel (downtown Bariloche is small). Aside from the chocolate, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the town itself. 100% of its economy is from tourism (albeit for good reason) but none of the people in the tourism industry seemed happy to there. Every Argentine high school senior who can afford to go makes a celebratory trip to Bariloche upon graduation, which I’m sure contributes to the community’s general disinterest in its visitors. In reality, none of that mattered because all the Boys wanted to do was climb some rocks. We succeeded, and found one of the coolest restaurants along the way:
The next few days were just a time to unwind from our schoolwork. Early Tuesday morning, we caught an international bus to Puerto Montt, Chile. It was absolutely the most beautiful drive I’ve ever taken, at least until a few days later, when I went back through the Andes several hundred miles North. We found a place to stay, and more importantly, something to eat soon after we arrived. One word: seafood. Given our group’s different travel agendas, we decided to take a natural-tourist excursion on Wednesday. The goal was for Jake WC and I to make it to his former exchange student’s house in Frutillar by Thursday, so we had some time to kill. It was an excellent use of our time, but Friday with Paola’s family resembled something strikingly similar. (We went to the exact same places, but our second go around we found new spots to explore.) Per usual, Jake hooked it up with a place to stay. And this one felt like home. Paola spent close to a year with Jake’s family, so her family made sure to show us a fabulous time. We got to experience all the tourist sites with Chileans who weren’t there to sell us anything which offered a whole new perspective on the area. But here’s another series to illustrate the obscene amount of photo’s I have of Jake, most of which are from our excursions. I call it “Jake Dwells in Chile”:
Paola’s entire family treated us to an authentic few days in the South of Chile, filled with stories, ricisima comida, and best of all, Spanish. Their dialect is incredibly clear, which prepped me for the remainder of my break – alone – in Santiago and, in turn, the best 48 hours of my life. In the weeks prior to our vacation, I struggled immensely with Spanish. There were days when I understood nothing around me. I couldn’t comprehend even the most basic of sentences. It threw me into a bit of a lull. But now, with six weeks left of my Casa de la Mateada experience, I feel good. There are still days where I feel as if I can’t understand anything. There are days when I feel this may not be the place for me. There are days where I feel sad to be away from home and friends. But I’ve started to feel. What more could I ask for?