December 16, 2008

My Favorite Nightmare (ever)

This morning I awoke from an awful nightmare – I was driving and hit another car, of which amassed into a ten car pileup. I was of course worried about those involved, and thankfully all but one were perfectly fine. But my mind was elsewhere. “I cannot go abroad!” I said aloud. “The insurance will cost too much! I cannot afford to leave!” My heart is in Latin America. I was utterly downcast. All I have wanted and worked for in these last months and years was destroyed.

My nightmare was interrupted in this precise moment by a knock at my door. Es siete y media, Rosi. It's seven thirty, Rosi. It only took seconds for tears to pool in my eyes, not because of the strong emotion of my nightmare, but of remembering where I was waking up. I started laughing as tears wandered down my face.

I awoke this morning in la hacienda of a dear friend, Pablo Corral. I awoke in a sanctuary. The gardens are enormous. They have 90 acres. An avocado orchard, an apple orchard, a grove of eucalyptus trees, and a huge vegetable garden. Some cows wander around. Both cultivated and wild flowers are everywhere, most of which I do not recognize. I love that they meander around the orchard floors as though they own the entire earth. They truly do.

I awoke at this early hour to imbibe the morning sun as it kissed the wet flowers, to eat the smell of the wet ground as last night's rain evaporated, to let my soul dance as I received this amazing gift. OK, let's be honest. We awoke early because we wanted to catch the sun for a few photographs.

The house is grandiose. Just like you would expect a hacienda to be. All of the wood is from the local eucalyptus trees, rough hewn, and offering excellent presence over the tall rooms.

The house is an “L” shape, and inside the arm of the house is a large courtyard covered in red and yellow burgambilla and the tallest ferns I have ever seen. All of the walls facing the courtyard are not walls at all – they are windows. A giant sun room. The house has such substance that it has its own chapel. The chapel has intricate catholic relics and has such a quiet presence that one knows God must be near.

More on this reality of a dream in a moment.

I laughed in the face of my nightmare; it could not have been even one speck more of a lie. The last five days have been a dream for me. (Except the day I was erm... rather ill. To be expected.) I cried because I am incredulous at my good fortune; I have no paradigm to comprehend my new world. Plans that you would prosper... said the Bible verse from my friend Jen, which I received just before I left Oregon.

I vividly recall years ago, perhaps in 2001, when I was prophesied over. “You will travel to places you have not imagined. You will not conceive of the voyages ahead.” I do not remember who spoke these words, but at that time my heart was only in Mexico. Later I was to travel Poland, Greece, Turkey, and much of Mexico. Those words came true.

Yet I experience them impossibly more vibrantly now.

On Wednesday, about 25 hours into my journey to Ecuador, I was tired of sitting. The flight to Quito was amazing simply for the emotion of my voyage. Five hours of sitting in the airplane understandably tired me, especially after traveling so long. I stretched in the isle of the plane, watching maybe 15 others doing the same silly dance. I mentioned in my last entry that I met Pablo, a photographer, and Karolina, a student on her Christmas break. We all exchanged contact information.

On Sunday I attended church with Karolina... Well, not really. I spent the entire service crouched over the street gutter puking, in the restroom puking, and walking to the supermarket trying not to puke. Fortunately there were three doctors attending church that morning, and they came to a consensus on what medicine I ought to take. This is the day I was ill. Either way, Karolina was more than gracious to me, as were her friends and family.

I'll interrupt my story by speaking of my second CouchSurfing host, Felipe. He is more than gracious, and looks to be a Latino cross between Scott from church and Manny the Greek. I immediately liked him, and we were friends before blinking. He was amazingly hospitable, kind, generous, and sensitive to my experience. Hours after we met we went salsa dancing. Meaning that I danced on my very first day in Quito!

Salsa dancing is much different here. There are few women in exotic dresses. Most are in jeans, many of the best dancers wearing slip-on shoes. The men do not ask you to dance. They stay with those they know, whether it be friends or their usual dance partners. Everyone's shoulders bounce a bit when they dance, which is completely wonderful to me, as my Latin American dance partners in the States are always reprimanding me for bouncing too much. Dancing is wonderful. The Latinos here breathe the dance, they dance for the joy of dancing, for the delight it brings. To dance is to truly live.

Felipe knows... Everyone. Everywhere we went, he ran into friends. But, then, he has his fingers in everything, but in a non-meddlesome way. The government passed a new constitution a few months ago, and congress is passing laws furiously. He is the director of a think tank / watch group that governs congress' behavior to verify that it is legal and such. His office is in the World Trade Center. And he was the keynote speaker at a conference with many former presidents from all over Latin America. He owns two coffee shops, and lives in an amazing studio apartment five floors up which overlooks the city.

The best thing about both Felipe and Pablo is that their community stature have nothing whatsoever to do with why I enjoy them. It is their compassion for others, their desire to grow, and their introspection. And so many other things that I admire and respect.

I decided that Felipe is the best CS host in all of Quito. Without question. I stayed at his house for a few days. I gratefully laid in bed some mornings, resting in the morning sun and spoiled in his queen bed which he insisted I take while he slept on the floor. One day I spent two hours cleaning his apartment. It wasn't dirty. Just, you know, a bachelor pad. He was so busy with his presentation for the press conference he was to give, with the cafes, with the university students he mentored, too busy to dust. It took two hours because the dust was rather thick. I cleaned everything but the toilet and bathroom floor. You gotta draw the line somewhere! We spent a bit of time in the apartment after I cleaned it, and I honestly don't think he'd noticed. I thought this was strange, given that his cologne and toothbrush and all common daily items had been shuffled. Oh well – I am simply thankful to improve his world even a little bit, even if he never knows. Tomorrow, if I remember, I will go to the supermarket and buy a dust pan. This would have been quite helpful.

And then we have Pablito, little Pablo. When we met, he was wearing a frumpy forest green coat, hair tussled, and glasses quite dirty. What struck me about Pablo was, as I mentioned, nothing to do with his reputation. His face was radiant. His eyes crinkled, almost closed, because he smiled so much. His laugh was joyous and soft. While waiting for immigration he invited me to lunch. Yes, lunch would be... stellar. Karolina knew exactly who he was, that he indeed was the man of widely acclaimed photography, and that the world was better for having him. I called him the following day and he asked to meet at his house. I thought for a moment, and then agreed. I laughed, how hard can it be to look up a journalist for National Geographic if something bad happens?

I arrived at his house on Friday, late by at least 20 minutes. I now know that no matter how confident a Quiteño is in giving directions, they are often wrong. I learned to ask on every block to make sure there was a consensus on the direction I ought to head.

I was buzzed into the large metal door to enter a courtyard with delicate giant ferns. As I approached the solid wood door to his house, he opened it with a smile. This was the only expectation I had. Walking into his house was... not overwhelming, but still immense. Gorgeous photographs were enlarged to 6'x3', covering half the walls I could see. They were brilliant photos of the people and places of his journeys, of his photo books on the Andes, and Colombia and Australia and Peru and so many other places. Light came in from beautiful windows. Music came from all directions. floor is a golden eucalyptus and is calming, and relics of his travels and antiques of his family graced the ancient chests and trunks that served as his coffee tables and cabinetry.

His dining room was engulfed in a large table set for two. Blanquita, one of the house help, was serious and too formal – certainly an odd contrast to the radiant Pablo. I sat down, a bit too chatty, yet smiling all the same. We were served a lovely lentil soup, Blanquita rushing about and making sure that Pablo always had just enough to eat. The music was not in Pablo's taste, and he left the table to change it. Now I was overwhelmed, immensely grateful to God for this experience of knowing such a kind and wise man.

Tears formed. I tried to suppress them and to calm myself knowing that Pablo would be back shortly. No matter, he returned, and I simply explained my tears as joy of the rich experience I have had in Quito as I wiped my eyes with my napkin.

He was humble, kind. We spoke of life, of love, and of faith and spirituality. But not really of photography. His profound and raw grasp on truths of this life was obvious. I have much wisdom to learn from this man, I realized. Simple truths, ones that were universal and tangible albeit not observable.

He spent about ten minutes helping me with my camera... the settings were awful until he fixed it. He took a few photos of me when measuring the light – Ha, I thought. A National Geographic photographer took my photo! THANK YOU, all of you, who helped me purchase my new camera!

His photographs are so amazing, he says, because he spends time with people. He says he often talks with his photo subjects for three hours before ever taking a photo. This is part of why his photos are so profound. The other part is his empathy for the person he interacts with as he experiences their pain and joy, as his soul touches theirs. And when I look at his photos, I can see such a true caption of their soul and essence.

You know how preachers say that God is everywhere? That God is the same no matter where you are? That His love is always present? That the same God is here as in the streets of Mexico, and on the other side of the earth? We hear these preachers, but, in a sense, it is only theory. They are only speaking the words of text, of belief.

Pablo stated that God is everywhere, He is in everyone, no matter what walk of life or physical location the earth. Somehow his words seemed more true than those of the preachers – He had seen, had breathed God's love with those in desolate conditions and couples in love and those with no hope in their eyes. He could say so because he knew it; he had palatably experienced it. I visualized him kneeling with the old women, an exchange of love before thinking of picking up his camera.

This man had truly experienced God's love over all the earth.

That first afternoon we talked for five hours.

I stopped by his house the next day only briefly. He had to submit some shoot to Rome. Right. I brought a yellow rose, which, in my culture, symbolizes friendship. We ended up speaking for six hours, including dinner at the best sushi restaurant in the whole of Quito.

I learned that Blanquita is a soft soul, and only putting on a face for whomever Pablo's new prestigious guest might be. Me. Later I ate with her, Cristina, and Teresa. All were so gentle. They had served Pablo and his parents for many many years. They are darling; they are family. They kept addressing me with usted, which is a formal way of addressing another. No, TU! I said. No, just you, informal! They balked, saying it was customary to say usted. I don't care, I said. Tu. Finally, after a true argument, they acquiesced. I am the same as you! I insisted. They smiled.

Did I mention that Pablo knows everyone? His great grandfather is Antonio Borrero Cortazar, former president of Ecuador. He is great friends with the owner of the sushi restaurant and the gourmet ice cream shop, has vacationed with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and knows and the owner of the best chocolate company which exports world wide. He does not name-drop, he simply mentions these in passing as they apply to the moment. He always mentions them by saying, And my good friend, the owner / president / etc. I love this. He honors his friends at all times, of which I greatly aspire to do. I have never heard a negative word from his mouth.

He told me that it was unfortunate that I am headed to Manta, he doesn't know many people there. But, here in Quito, he knows so many. It would be easy for him to help me to find a job.

He invited me to his finca,his farm, the day we met for lunch. I considered it carefully, but knew his soul is too good to doubt. We arrived in the evening and discovered the orchards in the cold rain. The light was still vibrant in the overcast afternoon. His property ended on a cliff. But nothing like Oregon. More like a chasm, with tall walls that were covered in aloe vera cactus and brilliant green grass.

Humming bird in the courtyard

We later cooked fresh tuna, eggplant, and corn for dinner. It was positively one of the worst meals I've ever eaten. Well. I ate five bites of the tuna, two of the eggplant, and only one of the corn.

We laughed so hard – How can we screw this meal up? We did overcook the tuna intentionally. It wasn't worth me becoming ill yet again. Even still. He told me that it was better this way. If I would have had a delicious meal, I won't remember it. This one, however, I'll always remember. Later I recounted the story to Blanquita, Teresa, and Crisitina. They laughed hard and agreed.

The morning of my nightmare I awoke in paradise.

Waking early at 7:30, as I mentioned, was for more than to just enjoy God's nature. It was to have a quick photo shoot in the early sun. I donned a vintage black dress and my momma's pearl earrings and ventured into the cool morning. I sat under the burgambilla on a wet bench. What is that sound? I asked. The hummingbirds. I was surprised – they were only a few feet from us, and not afraid. Their wings sounded like thunder rolling from far off. There were so many birds singing. Not like home, with loud shrill voices, but truly singing, something I could listen to forever.

Our one hour shoot turned into three hours as I draped myself over rotting benches, laid up against the cement cross, sat in the bishop's chair (yes, really), danced in the courtyard, stretched in the sun, and otherwise laughed. I find myself quite insecure in front of the camera. I never know how to hold a serious face. Usually in the past I'd just think of someone that I loved who had died. But this tone of seriousness does not reflect peace, so instead I found myself trying to look serious, but instead cracking up laughing. Oh well.

The night before when we were cooking, I asked him to take a photo of me. I was freezing cold and wearing two ponchos How fitting, I thought, to be in Ecuador at una hacienda wearing ponchos Of course! What else! After three photographs he told me I was photogenic.

During our photo shoot, he mentioned again that I am photogenic and have amazing natural beauty. I believed him for the same reason that I believe God is everywhere after he spoke it; he has seen more faces and shapes of bodies in a lifetime than anyone else I know. And I have seen his portraits. They are amazing. I thanked him for his sincere compliment, not really knowing what else to say.

Link to the photo shoot:

... End of letter- No more time to write! Sorry for the abrupt end.

Off to the organic farm. Talk to you at Christmas time!


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