A Passion for Peace

Responsibility, respect and a loving connection with all beings and for this Earth we share.

La Pura Vida in Costa Rica

San Jose certainly is a different pace to Lima, and we're enjoying it a lot. Once again we're living in a studio apartment, but this time with an epic view of city in the valley below on a mountainside. Like growing up in a big family I imagine, this is our way of practicing creative ways to carve out personal space and accept the spectrum of moods humans can express. There's no place to hide! Here's a photo of Luke's "office set-up" to show the view a bit. Often we find hummingbirds and butterflies flitting around the foliage, squirrels that appear to be a mixture of brown and gray with varying color schemes such as gray body and brown tail, or brown head and gray body, colors in large swatches only, not calico like a cat or patched like a pup. (Photo by Luke)

Being tropical, Costa Rica is full of amazing flowers and trees and animals and insects we are becoming better acquainted with. This week upon opening up the wardrobe, Luke was greeted by an army of ants surging out from amongst his clothes. "You need to stop listening to Marc Maron and come help me immediately!" he screamed. The specificity of his request caught me off-guard and I turned around to see him standing in front of the clothes' closet with an army of ants surging out towards him and into our apartment. I grabbed his flip flops and together we set about eliminating them one by one, resulting in quite an ant Holocaust. One flew into my eye, some escaped under the bed and had to be chased down, and in the end we felt terrible for all the deaths, but the boundary had to be set. I put some garlic on the shelves to keep them away and burned sage as a peace offering to the ants while listening to the rest of the Marc Maron podcast. (He, along with Louie CK and Bill Burr are our favorite comedians at the moment.) (Photo by Luke)

Last week we were at the beach, the Caribbean coast in a place called Puerto Viejo. It was beautiful, calm, and slow. I enjoyed it immensely, and also find such environments a bit confronting because they highlight my ever-present opportunity to learn the art of relaxing. I feel such a strong pull to be working and doing, it can drive me crazy and be hard to balance with letting go. I'm practicing deeply, though, and back in San Jose in addition to quilting, writing, meditating, cooking, shopping and keeping house, yoga, being with Luke & making some friends here, dancing, reading spiritual texts, keeping up with friends & family, and future planning work, I am volunteering on an organic farm in the suburb where we live, an hour's walk across town from our place. Here is a picture from their facebook page which shows a bed and a bit of a much bigger project. Three young friends started planting on a lot owned by one of their uncles who's in a legal battle at the moment so the only allowable use of the land is organic farming as luck would have it. At the moment there's lots of lettuce and kale, radish, cucumber, herbs, green onion, hot pepper, and eggs from the chickens. I meditate to the sound of the chickens clucking with my hands in the earth. I love it. (Photo by Slow Farms Escazu)

From our perch we watch the clouds drift across the city bringing afternoon showers this rainy season. The drip of rain and Luke's guitar-playing fill my ears as I click away at the keys. I've been wondering why we didn't come here first instead of a big city like Lima, but then we wouldn't appreciate this as much if we hadn't done that first. So I'll just love where we're at and dream of moving up even more when we move to the US later this year. Thanks for reading this, sending lots of tropical love to you. <3 br="">

Posted byValerie at 11:45 PM 0 comments  

And now we are here.

So now we're in Australia. After physically arriving it tends to take me a week to feel my mind and body are back in sync and gather what I need around me and feel settled in. I found a salt lamp shop in Sydney and for me that is immensely necessary in a small room with a 60-inch TV. Before the lamp, it felt like a wave of energy attacking me such that I couldn't even have it on in the room. Ah, the life of a canary. Lots of sage-burning, sleeping with crystals, spending time with trees and animals also helps me. Last week to find the spot for our Engagement Party we walked through the largest park in the city and saw an orange-bellied bat colony amid a grove of paperbark trees. It was so heavenly! (Bark from a gum tree, looks scribbles to me)
I have grown pretty tired of cities. Of course there are exciting things such as our symphony visit at the famous Sydney Opera House, finding dosas in a South Indian restaurant, a funky old-school-style dress while op-shopping (thrifting) and looking forward this week to visiting a contemporary art museum, but mostly I prefer the company of trees to buildings. My favorite visits in most cities are to their parks. This past weekend we took a trip to the Blue Mountains a few hours outside the city where we hiked, did some canyoning and rappelling led by Luke's outdoorsy brother, and successfully searched for kangaroos and wallabies so I could see some in the wild finally. (Which also means I saw wallaby roadkill for the first time too.) (Photo: kangaroo sighting!)

When we were in Santiago I felt so at ease compared to the rest of our initial landings in the cities of central and South America. It is much more similar to the US in my estimation, and looking around at friendly, overweight people, streets full of shopping, McDonald's and Pizza Hut's and people fiddling with their fancy PDA's all around me, I felt simultaneously comfortable and at ease, and also uncomfortable that this was what felt comfortable to me. Soon after arriving I did my first Vipassana meditation retreat: 10 days without speaking, two vegetarian meals daily (a bit hard for gluten- and dairy-free especially when people act out a bit of a group dynamic feeding frenzy), and 10-14 hours a day of meditating, or at least sitting still with yourself and just being. It was certainly challenging, useful, at times incredibly full of pain, at other moments full of bliss, mind and body heavy and full and busy in periods, and clear and light and quiet in others...a grab-bag. The idea of sitting still and not becoming overwhelmed or scared by your pain or attached to or chasing your pleasure but just being with whatever is there is very appealing as a practice and a life philosophy. Very restorative-sounding, and restoring is exactly what I need lately before additional South America adventuring and US visa waiting... (Photo: drawing of a tiger I made)

Posted byValerie at 6:38 PM 0 comments  

Life in Lima

We've been living in Lima since mid-December now, and I've been very delinquent about writing here, so it's time to catch up a bit.

In addition to Spanish, our main adventures have been a crash course in living in a tiny space together and learning about and accepting challenging aspects of Peruvian culture. Living is going smoothly now for the most part, an occasional 'ahh! this stupid tiny kitchen!' outburst from one of us notwithstanding. And yes, it is challenging to live in a studio without a kitchen sink, but we are managing very beautifully lately. The cultural aspects most challenging for us are two-fold: people lacking the ability to say no (and so promising things they do not follow through on and taking personally our holding them accountable for this), and lacking respect for timing (a meeting scheduled for 2pm could easily begin at 3:30pm with no phone call to say anyone is running late). But knowledge is power, and we are accepting more and learning to plan according to the norms here. And we have met so many wonderful people we are enjoying making friends here immensely.

Our apartment is on a (relatively) quiet street in arguably the safest/easiest to live as a Westerner part of Lima, called Miraflores ('look at flowers' is literally the meaning of the name). I say "relatively" quiet because the construction everywhere screams out as Luke said yesterday, 'Look at me, I'm Peru, I'm growing at 7% a year'! I walk around the city often with earplugs, or at least earbuds, in. There is a lot of noise pollution here.

Air pollution too, potentially, but I suspect it may also be pollen we are not used to, and the fact that Lima is the second-largest desert city in the world after Cairo, but you'd have a hard time realizing it looking around because there is so much vegetation. I adore the parks here, and we live near quite a few. It is such a blessing to have trees to snuggle up to and grass to plop down upon, especially compared to other South American cities where aspects of nature were sorely lacking (Photo: Parque del Amor in Miraflores)

We've gone a few times to the beaches south of the city where LimeƱans like to play in the sand and sea in the summertime. The water is cold and refreshing, the sun strong, and the sunsets amazing. It's nice to be on the west coast and yet in the Eastern US time zone. (Photo: pebbly beach near our house better for surfing than lounging)

I have found work with an interesting project here called 'The Institute of Latin American Restorative Practices' affiliated with a program in the US. Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a training in restorative practices in Spanish, and am now working on helping improve the training even more and integrating opinions of participants. The main thrust of the work at the moment is the creation of a 'restorative zone' in a challenging neighborhood in inner-city Lima, based on an ongoing and successful project in Hull, England. It is certainly an ambitious undertaking, and every person who is trained in restorative practices and begins implementing aspects of them into their lives, whether in schools, homes, or wherever, is already contributing to improving communication and community in my estimation, and so the project has already been a great success 2 years in.

Physically I have become a bit thin but feel healthy, if not incredibly strong and robust at the moment. I am easing into a regular yoga practice again and enjoying long walks through the city and the parks here. I am going easier on myself lately and still sifting through a lot of intense emotional energies that require self-care and attention. But in general, life is unfolding and opening up more beautifully, realistically and peacefully from the inside out, and I very much enjoy and feel fulfilled and supported living this way here and being with Luke.

We may not be experts yet by any stretch, but our Spanish is definitely improving, and our confidence increasing too so that we are planning a trip to the jungle to get off the beaten path a bit soon. We've also had a couple visiting friends of mine pass through Lima, and it has been a real treat to see them too. (Photo: courtesy of Colette since my camera died, a bar in Barranco called 'Ayahuasca')

I have been noticing for some time people often saying to me they hope I am happy. I used to wonder why, and lately I am finding it easier to be. Isn't that lovely!

Posted byValerie at 11:23 PM 0 comments  

Snapshot Impressions

It's been a whirlwind of a month in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru, and I wish to share some glimpses of memorable moments in that time.

Middle-aged men and little girls alike excitedly feeding ducks in a waterfront park with a Loch Ness monster statue in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

A waiter arguing with me that a flour tortilla is actually corn because that's what they order from the producer and that I will not be sick eating it. (I avoided it but ended up with soy sauce gluten poisoning anyway.)

Our bus into Peru dropping us at a Customs Patrol Center at 3am. The guards gave us two plastic chairs to sit/sleep in til sunrise while they watched a movie about a Hispanic woman who met American hippies on a beach and got drunk and drugged.

Luke seeing a huge splash in the sea and subsequently witnessing the breachings and spout-outpourings of a huge humpback whale migrating home while breakfasting at our hotel in Punta Sal, Peru. (Photo on left: hotel view)

When our taxi van got a flat tire in northern Peru the driver attempting to drive the wheel onto a rock in lieu of using a jack but instead using the rock to dislodge the entire front bumper.

Listening to a man rile a crowd of educators who then tranquilly marched with their students through the streets of Piura, Peru to protest low teachers' wages while police in full riot gear and shields stood by.

After a man in a fake janitor suit swept my bag away, our landlady and her maid marching me back to a mall in Arequipa, Peru, screaming at the security guards and insisting I file a police report, all of this concluding six hours later with a policeman writing a report typed by lifting his finger before pressing into each key.

Border guards in Bolivia denying my dollars because they 'looked bad', saying it's real money in the US but not in Bolivia. (Only US citizens have to pay $135 visa, no one else.)

Ubiquitous in Bolivia: llama fetuses and dried baby llamas used for religious ceremonies and sugary popcorn that has the texture of a cheese puff. (Photo on right: a real llama)

Everywhere we go finding few parks with grass fenced off so as not to be used and being chastised by police not to touch it or even to lie on each other's lap on a bench.

Following "Love Day" a series of weddings in a church on a busy street in La Paz with musicians, guests throwing confetti and the couple dancing in the street outside while another wedding is taking place inside.

Feeling like I was sitting at the top of the world on an Andean mountain of higher altitude than Everest base camp, meditating and taking in the view. (Photo on left: the Andes outside La Paz)

Finding (British) Indian food for the first time on this trip. Verdict: tasty and permanently out of papadum.

Hiking pre-Incan ruins of Tiwanku/Aymara at a famous temple site and on Isla del Sol where a mesa is still used for ceremonies near the sacred Puma rock where they believe life began at Lake Titicaca. (Photo below: Isla del Sol)

Our cute Spanish colonial loft-like apartment in Cusco, Peru, home of the Incas, gateway to Machu Picchu, and so full of tourists that a sweet-natured shoeshiner spending 10 minutes cleaning up Luke's converse knock-offs in a park asked for $15 for his services instead of the local price of $2. (Luke told him the shoes cost less than $20 to begin with.)

Scouting out the local market of food and artisan wares, complete with cow and pig heads for sale, though what you use them for I am not quite sure. (I'll spare you the picture.)

Posted byValerie at 2:08 AM 2 comments  

La Vida Loca

Sunday afternoon whilst wandering the streets of Manta with Luke I was musing how unremarkable and not quite as crazy life here in South America has been as compared to life in India and South Africa in the recent past. Sure it may take five trips to the tailor who runs a business out of his house to get him to correctly complete a three-minute task of sewing a patch under a tear in Luke's shorts, and sure we got a fake $20 from an ATM and need to visit a bank this week with our receipt to try to exchange it, but all in all, especially in this non-touristy city in Ecuador nothing especially remarkable has happened, which is fine by me--not as many crazy ups or downs as some other places. (Photo: streetscape in Manta, Ecuador)

Then last night while enjoying evening air and a view from the roof of our apartment building, a school employee showed up with a stranger and started showing him around and asking us questions such as where to recommend this man buy his groceries. We quickly followed them back downstairs and realised that the man had just moved into our shared apartment. Last week another couple from the US stayed here with us and the Ecuadorian couple, which was fun and we were warned ahead of time, but this time someone just showed up, and besides not having cleared any space in the refrigerator or cabinet out of politeness, I had made no space in my mind to feel safe in sharing the apartment with someone new. In addition, I felt incredibly disrespected that we were not so much as informed when we were with various employees over the past two days, nor by the one with whom we live. This stirred up a lot of anger and feelings of unsafety in me, and I spent some time processing those, which included writing a kind but strong email to the school director explaining how I felt and how incredibly preventable this entire experience was. Luke looked at the email through his Western male lens and thought I talked an awful lot about feelings which men may find tricky to take, but I pointed out that the Spanish culture here is better versed in emotional health than we Anglo and Germanic westerners tend to be and that I think he will respond well.

The next morning I awoke to an apologetic email from the director full of responsibility for "causing me such distressing feelings"and assuring me he will speak to the staff and make some changes to policy so that this does not happen again. Imagine our surprise when upon returning to our apartment during a break from class there was a sign on the refrigerator 'Please Leave Space for Other Students in the Refrigerator.' Outrage! We would have made more space if we had but been informed! We quickly went back downstairs to school to speak to the employee we live with, and he apologised that he keeps doing things without telling us first and said the sign was intended for people next week because many new residents are coming to stay after we leave this weekend, and that because of our not being informed last night, the director sent him new instructions to help inform with signs around the apartment. Relief and laughter soon followed. What an unnecessary series of events! (Photo: bamboo scaffolding holding up a concrete building)

Later Luke looked in the freezer to gather some ice. Inside the freezer was our avocado. Por que? (Why?) Which employee would put our avocado that was sitting on top of the refrigerator into the freezer, and why? We left it on the counter to thaw. I don't have much hope that it will be remotely edible, and I have never heard of a frozen avocado. As I sit here typing this, I am informed by Luke: our avocado has melted. Crazy? Maybe just a bit. (Photo: sunset on the Ecuadorian coast)

PS, an update: In case you were wondering, thawed avocados have the texture of rubber. We didn't eat it.

Posted byValerie at 3:42 AM 0 comments  

Impressions & an Electrocution in Ecuador

We're now in the land that is granting asylum to Julian Assange, one of the few times in recent memory Ecuador has made news on the world stage. People here seem excited to see what happens but not actually convinced that it's good or bad to support Assange, just interesting. We've since learned that President Correa over the last 8 years has become chummy with Castro, Chavez and even Ahmahdeneyad, so I assume this move to help Assange and statements such as that he will not receive a fair trial in the US are aimed at flipping a political finger at the US and shoring up support for moving Ecuador off the US dollar and onto its own more volatile currency again. But what do I care for Assange? Frankly, I think that shoring himself up in an embassy and insisting the US leave him alone is a weak move from a rather arrogant boundary-pushing man.

And nowhere but in Latin America would I have competition for music playing on the roof of a city building at 9am on a Sunday morning while doing my daily dance meditation. The country seemingly recycles a handful of Spanish and another handful of remixed English songs, sprinkled with salsa and meringue earlier in the evenings. By midnight, all the clubs around the town are pumping pop-techno poison, including the megahit that translates to 'Everyone knows that the drunk man falls down,' and another entitled, 'I don't want to water, I want liquor.' And speaking of water, the water in all these countries is not fit for drinking, but this water is apparently full of mercury and even in the shower smells fairly foul. Boiling it for tea or coffee results in brackish-like taste, and as in India, everyone buys bottles or purifies their water here. (Photo: from a cafe in Panajachel, Guatemala)

However, there is always the shower, and ours are suicide showers, so-called because one must first flip an electric switch and that heats the water coming out of the showerhead. When we first tried it, Luke got a shock. An electrician came and spent all day in our room, then said it was safe. That night Luke got another small shock and asked me to come and see. Super-sensitive Valerie touches the knob where one turns on the water and ZAP sparks and smoke pour out of the top of the showerhead and I sustain an electric shock throughout my body, complete with red skid-marks up my arm, adrenaline pumping. We got a new shower the next day. And the day after that, the toilet bowl exploded and leaked its contents all over our floor. Always an adventure!

Sometimes I wonder where the day has gone completing simple tasks in such places. For example, Luke went fresh veggie and fruit-shopping at the market this morning while I wrote papers of Spanish vocabulary words and posted them all over the house, such as 'Estufe-Stove' and 'Cortina-Curtain,' etc. When he returned I washed and cut the fruits and veg for the week (this took 1.5 hours). Then I made lunch which required also washing some greens for a salad (1 hour).

We're continuously told that Ecuador has a huge crack cocaine problem and that it's unsafe to walk the streets (or the beach) at night, but we've yet to encounter anything suspicious ourselves. We've been most freaked out so far walking a few blocks in Guatemala City one night, but we're not looking to test it out either. In Guatemala people were surface-friendly but seemed often a bit in shock or shut down, like an entire country still processing trauma and scared to open up to themselves and each other, and certainly outsiders. We never got much past surface conversations about history, politics and people's needs and desires, and I don't think that's just the Spanish-speaking barrier. It's a beautiful and relatively peaceful place these days but has many depths yet to unearth. A former president fled to Mexico and was extradited back in 2010, was recently acquitted of money laundering charges in Guatemala but faces extradition and trial for similar charges in the US. People cautiously ask for change and seek to better themselves through work, education and celebration of culture (more than 50% of the country is considered indigenous Mayans), while also cautiously concerned that the country could collapse and the government is not to be trusted, with genocides occurring into the 1980's. (Photo: Guatemala Mayan farm)

Ecuador is expensive, having replaced the insecure sucre with the US dollar in 2000, but people are more sure, more wealthy, and often more worldly and aware of the impact of change and how politicians are catering with small rewards to short-sighted and desperate people and removing liberties, relying on exports of oil and threatening to shake the stability gained over recent years. It's an interesting time to be here, and I am so glad we went to Quito. It is possibly the prettiest big city I have ever seen. Nestled snugly into a valley in the Andes and dotted with parks, it sneaks up the mountainsides so that nearly every neighborhood has spectacular views. The old quarter shares aspects of many European Spanish cities such as small winding streets, cute cafes and churches laden with amazing art that scream 'God is glorified through gold' (and one presumes, the sweat and toil of underpaid workers in centuries past). Still, the city is spectacular. (Photo: church in Quito)

Now soaking up more Spanish classes after a false start at a small beach hostel with the smelliest kitchen we have ever experienced, uninterested teachers and a perpetually cloudy beach in Canoa, we are studying at a proper school and living in an apartment in a city called Manta. There are nice grocery stores and even a few restaurants with non-Ecuadorian food for variety (mostly Italian, but a nice break from plantains and ceviche, as yummy as those foods are). I'm still introspective but am more actively looking into PhD programs, visas for Luke in the US, and will soon edit my website. I can't imagine living without him anymore, and we're both settling into that space well. It's a new and welcome transition into planning our lives together. Here's hoping it doesn't include any more electrocutions. (Photo: Quito skyline from our hostel)

Posted byValerie at 10:12 AM 11 comments  

Guatemala Dreamin'

I’m sitting this morning with the sun shining and warming my feet on the terracotta tiles of the front porch of our rented house in Panajachel, Guatemala with a view of a tropical garden, a blue sky with fluffy fast-moving clouds, and a small tree-covered mountainside. Paradise, right? So why have I been having a tough time here? One reason is a parade of sicknesses between Luke and myself, first a five-day intense stomach bug for him, then for me, and now for him again--this time with antibiotic--and we both hope the dance doesn’t pick back up with me again this week. I do feel rather achy today. Fingers crossed. (Photo: view of one of the volcanoes on Lake Aititlan from Panajachel, Guatemala)

The other is the emotional intensity and ongoing inner surprises I have been experiencing while continuing to allow my emotional backlog to come up and out so I can be truly present within myself and conscious of what I’m experiencing, that lovely and elusive in-the-moment living. A woman I knew called it ‘conscious awareness of self,’ but it’s more than that; it’s conscious awareness of oneself and one’s place on the planet, of meeting one’s own needs and helping others to as well. A man I know said your freedom ends when it impinges on another’s. If that’s true, it seems to me that no one and nothing can ever truly be free. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be in our interconnectedness and oneness on Earth. (Photo: butterfly in a nature reserve in Guatemala)

I’ve had a lot of wishes lately. Like right now despite my enjoyment of the sun part of me wishes it would rain so I’d find it easier to feel cranky despite the glory of this morning and this place. But then I remind myself that I feel better when I wish for things to be the way they are, and that when I push a wish to come true I often don’t even enjoy the outcome. I learned that in a huge way recently.
I get frustrated with myself sometimes that I’m not enough of this or I’m too much of that; I can be very forgiving of others and still set pretty impossible standards for myself. I’d say I’m working on it, but I would be chided for working too much, so I’ll say I’m steadily letting it go and leave it at that.
I’m realizing I’ve had a lot of preconceived notions about what it’s like finding one’s life partner, some from Disney and others from personal observation and other societal input, and what I’m learning lately is how much these impede me from being in the moment and place ridiculous constraints and “should’s” on top of otherwise amazing life experiences.
Right now my wonderful boyfriend and I are supporting each other, are physically together in our own little house and enjoying the luxury of studying Spanish in a beautiful little town on a lake a mile high with views of three volcanoes in a school laden with magical gardens of tropical birds and plants popping out of every nook. Daily we trawl through the local market for fresh food for supper, where a fresh and peeled coconut costs 60 cents and handfuls of juicy soil-covered tomatoes are abundant and even cheaper. Our Spanish teacher is a sweet lady, a Mayan doll probably less than five feet tall and skinnier than I even after the weight loss of a week of not eating. Want to diet? Try being Western and living in a developing country for a while. (Photo: forest hike in Guatemala: look how big those leaves are!)
Years ago I met a girl in India who excitedly told me how when she had a worm in her intestines she ate all that she wanted and yet lost 30 lbs. I don’t think Luke has a worm but two weeks of not holding down food does slim a body down, and more understandably than that girl, he is none too pleased.
As for what we’ve been doing, months of long distance and head- and heartache are steadily ebbing into a conglomeration of comfort and playfulness and peace. We travelled the Yucatan and communed with the iguanas at Chichen Itza, a famous series of Mayan temples; rode in a buggy pulled by a horse named Achilles around the rainy and dreamy-looking yellow city of Izmael, Mexico; saw a several-foot-long green snake slither across the road just before our tire hit its trail; swam with locals in sunken cave-like cenotes, sloshed down streets with water halfway up our shins a day after receiving an obligatory sunburn; shared a meal of the tastiest homemade chorizo in Luna Restaurant on Flores island in a lake in Guatemala; bumped across Belize in a series of so-called ‘chicken buses’ that are old US school buses reappropriated for public transport in central America; ate at a Tuscan-dressed hotel with beautiful botanical gardens complete with topiary and a lawn chess set at Lake Aititlan; meditated in a magical space-age chair in a restaurant in sleepy San Marcos; met some lovely Mayan weavers who keep their craft alive and spend three days making one five-foot-long and one-foot-wide intricate table runner; visited a sacred ceremonial and supremely smoky cave full of families and shamans in ceremony to fulfil their deepest wishes and desires; successfully navigated the bowels of Guatemala City one night despite receiving incredibly sketchy looks from people on the street; and found friends in others and mostly in each other along our way. (Photo: Mayan weavers wearing their handiwork)
We have one more week in Guatemala, and then the adventure continues in Ecuador.

Posted byValerie at 9:38 PM 3 comments