Stop me if you’ve heard this one

I wrote an article for CFI.
It’s mostly everything I’ve already said in one post or another, but I feel compelled to share.
If you get through it, I promise colorful binders in the next post.

(On re-entry from Belize)

Doc: Hello Ms. Wilson, It’s time for your two-month check-in. How do you feel? Are you reintegrating? Adjusting well? Back to normal?
Me: Hang on. The zookeeper is trying to drag me out of the rainforest dome.

Two months ago my life was full of coconuts and lime, pick-up trucks, 90-degree days, meandering walks and dirt roads.

Today my life is filled with things it was missing in Santa Familia, like 8-lane highways and Starbucks and Fruit Loops and Grey’s Anatomy and 49 different kinds of Paul Mitchell styling products. Oh, and deliciously delicious Oreos- all of which disguise themselves as happiness.

But right in the middle is a gaping hole called “community” and another called “family” and one called “Antonia’s Kitchen” and a few more little ones called “good weather” and “sweet limes” and “dollar ice-cream cones”.

I have resigned to the fact that when I take a group of kids to the zoo, like I did on Saturday, and we walk into the Tropical Rainforest Dome, I’ll want to cry—and not just because the kids aren’t interested about the time I lived in a rainforest, but because I know in the deepest part of my heart that no matter how much money I make, or how many friends I have, or how many degrees I earn, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

When I see birds or monkeys behind a cage in the zoo, I automatically think of Ronnel pointing out a toucan on the way to the sinkhole and feeding jackfruit to this little spider monkey our neighbors had in the village.

One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for a dollar ice cream cone or a Snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour.

Daily, those little triggers open this giant door inside called “My Other Life” and I wonder what they’re all doing there in Belize—what the weather is like, what the village gossip is. I can almost feel the sun and the breeze, the warmth, the sweet smell of coconut and campfire, and I can picture myself sitting with Ms. Mig on the back stoop peeling sweet limes.

Tonight, I’d give anything to hear Antonia’s deep laughter in the kitchen. I’d love to walk to the store with Inez. I’d love to flop down on David’s couch and catch up with Nelly.

Sometimes the best I can do is go to the zoo.

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Week Twelve: SOS

I’m drowning in Fruit Loops and America’s Next Top Model.

It’s killing me, literally. I may have turned diabetic this week for lack of self-control and the abundance of Oreos and Milano cookies. I turned down lunch at the Indian buffet today, because yesterday I ate my weight in cheesy potatoes and didn’t think I could be trusted at a buffet.

Also, I spent 5 hours in the eye-shadow section at Ulta and tried to buy shampoo a few times with a 20% off coupon and finally settled on the Paul Mitchell Color Care line with a buy 2 get 1 free option, but gave up after not being able to pick the third product.

I guess you could say I am overwhelmed with the overabundance of food and hair product options.

After a complete meltdown on Sunday, it took a full 24 hours to figure out what was really going on.

Here it is: There are holes in my life that can’t be filled with Paul Mitchell Color Care Detangling Conditioner or cheesy potatoes, even though I am thankful for those things and love them with all my heart on a normal day.

I have come to the sad realization that we have everything backwards.

I was upset on Sunday because my family jumped through hoops to get to the right church (out of hundreds in the city) at the right time (out of 8 services) to meet my brother and sister-in-law, who didn’t even show up or call to tell us they weren’t coming.

In Santa Familia there is one church with one service, and your brother lives 5 houses down. Not everyone has cars. Most people just walk. And if Antonia doesn’t show up, Father Foley goes to her house for lunch—just to make sure everything is okay. Most people go to church if only to make sure Father Foley doesn’t show up for lunch.

As I settled in on Sunday afternoon with my bag of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), I understood that no matter how many cereals I can choose from, or how many Salon Style conditioners I get to use, no matter how great it feels to drive around 8-lane highways in my shiny SUV, passing two malls and 15 Starbucks, I will never have the quality of life I had in the village for those short few months.

My entire family will never live on one street; I’ll never be within walking distance from everyone I’ve ever known; my best friends are not my cousins or my nieces or my back-door neighbors.

Kids there have 15 moms and 15 dads—aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends. It was so cute to watch David’s eight-year-old son curl up in Imanuel or Ricardo’s lap, and to watch Juliet be passed around the church from aunt to aunt to cousin to cousin (though it was sort of embarrassing when she woke up while I was holding her, took one look at me, and wailed like she had been abandoned at the local homeless shelter).

I’ll probably never speak 3 languages or enjoy a fresh orange or a chocolate-chip ice cream cone as meaningfully and effortlessly as I did with Inez and Frances— though my cherished single-dip cones on the curb of Ben & Jerry’s and Baskin Robbins with Bec and Sprinky rival.

But that’s my point. Happy, simple meaningful moments are rare and hard to come by here, which is why they are etched into my memory and logged as happy places for me. It was never about the ice cream (except that one year when they had Chocolate Oddessy 2001). It was 20 uninterrupted minutes on the curb with my good friends.

In the village, moments like that happened all the time. Nobody had anywhere to rush off to. My time there was a thousand simple, meaningful moments strung together into days and weeks. One of my favorite memories will always be that half-an-hour between dusk and total darkness when Inez and I would walk to the shop for an ice cream or a snickers or in search of hard-to-find flour. It was just nice to be with her, and to not have anything else to do but walk around together.

Now I have no choice but to settle for The GAP and America’s Next Top Model in lieu of everything my heart really wants—community, an entire Sunday afternoon with all my friends and family in one place (can you even imagine it—all your best friends and family together in one location, for LIFE?)

My friends and I used to joke about living in a commune.

In the village, they have that. They have community. Not as a concept or a small-group idea. But as their actual life.

We have water, Tyra Banks, paved roads, Fruit Loops and Paul Mitchell.

(And we think we’re the lucky ones.)

I agree: in some ways, we’re privileged. I feel blessed to live where I live with the opportunities that have been given to me. Even after village life, I don’t feel guilty for loving Target. Or TV. Or the mall. But more than privileged, I would argue that, mostly, we’re distracted. And I sort of feel sorry for us. I think we are distracted in order to not be depressed.

For example. On Sunday, when family plans fell through, I got my tall-nonfat-sugar-free-caramel-macchiato, sat down with a handful of Oreos and the Disney Channel (don’t judge), periodically checked my Macbook for emails, and when there were no emails, I downloaded new songs on iTunes.

So I enjoyed a day of first world conveniences. But only as a filler for what I really wanted, which was to hang out with my brother, or chat with friends, or, in the deepest part of my heart, be celebrating Easter with everyone in Santa Familia.

Moments:

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“Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good.”

For Good
Steven Schwartz

Week Eleven: Home

I’ve been asking myself all week why we put ourselves through the pain and agony of good relationships. I mean, there are always goodbyes. I knew that going into this. I just didn’t remember it being this hard. Or depressing.

I’m home.
Ahem. I mean, I’m home!

Timeline:
School dismissed on Thursday for a two-week Easter Break.
Antonia left on Friday to present her Thesis in Canada.
Frances and Inez left on Saturday to spend Easter in Gualtemala.
The Cabbs leave next week for Houston.

After a long delay in Miami and an unexpected (but provisional) overnight in Chicago, I arrived in Indianapolis on Friday safe, sound & exhausted.

The first thing I did when I got home: put on my skinny jeans.
They fit!
(One more amoeba, and I think I could enter the world of singe-digit sizes. Note for next time. Two amoebas- good. THREE amoebas, size 8.)

My arrival was two weeks earlier than planned, so I surprised my family at my sister-in-law’s baby shower on Saturday. Here is documentation of the magical moment.

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This is my grandma. After the picture was taken, she cried and stroked my face through the entire prayer, and then she had to sit down. Sprinky not only laughed at her, but laughed at her DURING the prayer. Then I laughed at Sprinky laughing at her, and, well, you know how laughing and praying goes…

Lisa & McKenzie were at the airport to pick me up, along with my dad and his fiancé—wiggedy-what? Rewind. Fiancé. Yes, my dad is getting MARRIED. He met someone while I was in Belize, and she happens to be just perfect for him.

Upon further investigation, I am happy to report: I approve (and not just because she reads my blog or drove me to Martinsville today to pick up my car). She maintained a perfectly respectable distance while I bawled my eyes out and made a fool of myself in the middle of the airport, then offered a sympathetic hug for the entire situation: the crying, the never-having-met, the jet lag, the Chicago ordeal and arrivals in general, because, as it happens, she is a nurse and makes several medical mission trips a year for weeks and months at a time. She understood.

Besides, she loves my dad. He loves her. I’m cool with it. The only question is which dress I should wear in the wedding. He told me I could pick anything, which was thrilling for me. I am stuck between these two dresses. Your vote would help.

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Moving on.

I was able to attend the CFI board meeting on Friday night and surprised half the board members, which was fun. I fully intended to speak words of wisdom about the trip, but every time it was my turn, I just started crying. I guess that’s just how “goodbyes” followed by “hellos” are— our absolute lowest and highest moments all in the same breath.

Considering the debriefing period of the next few weeks and my transition back to Fort Wayne, I feel sort of stuck in Week Eleven and truly believe I could be happy living Week Eleven in the comfy bed at my dad’s house for the rest of my life.

After all, I have Trix & internet.

But, alas. I don’t know how to thank all of you for supporting this adventure, which turned out to be the most fun, challenging and meaningful time of my life, and for walking alongside me in the last 6 months. Your contributions, comments, cards, packages, emails and phone calls have been essential to this season of my life, and the lives of countless kids and families in Belize.

From the deepest part of my heart, thank you.

Many people have asked what’s next. I’ve been wondering that too.
I’ll be in Indianapolis for the next few weeks, and back to Fort Wayne in April for the summer. I just accepted the scholarship to Tulane ($9000!) and am working on finding housing for August.

Many people have asked how I’m doing. I’ve been wondering that too.
Let me put it this way. I burst into tears today at a traffic cop who told me to stop. I’m not sure what that means.

But I do know that I miss my Belize family (more than words) and I hate the weather here. I love driving, and I love the mall. I love Starbucks and I love bug-free sleeping.

I miss eating fresh oranges and walking from store to store with Inez looking for flour or choco-bananas. I miss the teachers and the pace of life there. I miss having a purpose.

But CFI has done a great job of providing a period of debriefing, lots of opportunities for me to “unload” and relax, and have helped in every possible, thoughtful way with re-entry. What they don’t know is that someone in Fort Wayne will have to debrief me from Lisa and Denise in a few weeks. I feel like a suction cup that just can’t let go, like I’ll die when I’m not somehow connected to CFI or Belize…

I am looking forward to meeting Lily (my niece) any day now and looking forward to time with friends in the Fort.

Other than that, I’m still working things out. Just know that if we run into each other and I burst into tears, its not you.

Here are some other pictures of the shower and the first time I got to feel Lily kick! (Note, in the shower pics, my awesomely awesome skirt from Guatemala)

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The afterparty

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Also, here are some answers from the report I sent back to CFI during my last week of service. They are the same questions many of you have been asking and might be of interest, especially to those who supported:

Regarding the purpose of the mission, what was the most rewarding part of the experience?

The most rewarding part was watching the kids become excited and participate with enthusiasm on a daily basis, their ongoing retention and application of concepts, and, ultimately, the increase in knowledge as reflected during post-test activities. (And I’m talking about little things here, like how they were able to give the definitions of empathy, toxic, abstinence—words they didn’t know before I came; the ability to list 5 different ways to say ‘no’, for example, or 3 ways they can calm down during an argument and then apply it all in role-play situations.)

Regarding the purpose of the mission, what was the most challenging part of the experience?

The most challenging part was adapting the program to fit different age groups and grades within one classroom, or within one session. For example, in any given class, you might have a kid who is 8 and also a kid who is 12. It was hard to figure out how to organize the sessions.

What was the greatest reward personally and overall?

The greatest reward personally and over all has been the relationships built with the students, with the Flowers and Cabb families and the slow inclusion of me into daily village life—that I can walk down the street now and almost everyone runs to the door yells, “Hi Miss Brooke!” instead of “gringa!”

What was the most challenging aspect personally and overall?

The most challenging aspects personally and overall have been bugs, sickness, dealing with water & electric outages, the laundry routine—general aspects of day-to-day life. I had more than a few showdowns with giant spiders, ants, no water when I really want to brush my teeth, etc. The illnesses were challenging, but manageable.

Knowing CFI is educationally focused, what do you see to be the most critical need at Santa Familia School and at San Marcos School?

The most critical need at Santa Familia: ink for the printer, internet at school, art supplies and art lesson ideas for each age group, PE equipment and outdoor PE activity ideas for each age group.
San Marcos: water system, art supplies & activities, David insists he needs an SUV. Exciting sidenote, San Marcos village was in the process of getting electricity the week I left. The poles were up along the main road and all the kids were asking me about TV with glowing eyes.

Was there anything regarding the purpose of the mission that you felt you were not able to achieve? If so, what?

I was not able to complete the second week of programming for 2 classes at Santa Familia school due to illness.

What did you miss most?

Tall nonfat sugar free Caramel Macciato
Oh, and friends and fam, of course.

Would you consider doing this again?

Absolutely. This was one of the best experiences of my life.
I wish I could do it again right now. Hopefully, November…

We are having a celebration on March 30th (and no, I did not throw my own welcome home party- it was thrown for me) but please come if you are in town. I would love to celebrate and share pictures and stories with you who have been so supportive during this time. Besides, it’s a great excuse to get together!

(Email me for directions.)