Wednesday, April 23, 2014

how to write an iBook - part 2

I went to the Yucatán with a mission; to write an iBook. Armed with Sue's secret iBook writing formula, I first needed to research the Maya. After I discovered the online history books were getting their facts wrong, I immersed myself in local Maya culture, people, and artifacts. After an in-depth trip to the Museum of the Mayan World, followed by a few trips to local Mayan ruins, I stopped by a few local villages to check facts with my new found Mayan friends. It was a lot of information. How was I ever going to remember it all?

A relic from the Mayan World Museum

A few years ago I discovered a helpful traveler's trick; to take photos of writing. Have you ever taken a photo of an amazing place, only to forget later what was in the photo? A quick helpful trick, thanks to the unlimited photo taking digital cameras allow, is to snap a quick photo of the item's description or marker. In the end, it's a very helpful way to remember. But in the meantime, it leaves me overwhelmed with the sheer number of photos I have to sort through.

The actual description of the relic pictured above!

Armed with photos, interviews, background and hard fact information, I was ready to sit down and write my iBook. But I was still missing one of the most important iBook parts; the community contributed artwork. This is an integral aspect of our interactive art iBooks. But my time in the Yucatán was running out.

I showed up at Dona Vero's Monday night Proyecto Itzaes group armed with an activity for the kids; draw your interpretation of the word "pyramid." Dona Vero repeated the assignment to anyone who arrived at the Proyecto, and I know she understood the gist of the assignment. We all have ideas of what pyramids look like. But instead of drawing a pyramid we've seen before, what would each person imagine? I thought this was a pretty simple assignment to start. And it would help me with my iBook.

I am thrilled to be able to add Chixculub Pueblo contributed artwork as I work on my final iBook product. But what you will see in the final product is not a crazy idea of a pyramid. Or even a different shaped pyramid. Every person (child and adult alike) who contributed artwork to the iBook all drew me the same pyramid: Chichen Itza. Some drew it from memory from books seen/read (no one had actually seen Chichen Itza up close), while others opened a Maya culture book and copied the pyramid exactly. I was astonished; where was the imagination?

Three versions of the same pyramid: Chichen Itza

The imagination was nowhere to be found. But this is not all that uncommon. The Mexican educational system is a very exacting one. Questions are asked, answers are written in black and white, and it's a very clear cut system. What I was asking for did not have a correct answer. But that was what I was given; a response that your interpretation of a pyramid must be Chichen Itza to be correct. And yes, their drawings were correct and I will use them in the iBook. But I was looking for anything but the ordinary. I was looking for a place where imagination took over and there are no wrong answers. Where was the inquiry? Where was the imagination? Where was the ability to let go of the belief in one right answer?

I guess I have my work cut out for me.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

single ticket purchase

I can't even count the number of times I've been asked in the past few weeks if I'm worried about traveling alone. My answer is always no. But the truth is that I never gave it a second thought. I just looked online, bought a few single plane tickets, grabbed a few single bus tickets, booked a few single hotel rooms, and packed my bags. I'd like to think I'd act the same way, whether going to Mexico or Mali. But I'm sure that's not true.

I've been in plenty of danger. I've been mugged. I've been robbed. I've had thieves drop into my house in the middle of the night. I've lost almost everything I've ever had. But these days when I travel I am not scared. I wasn't even scared when I was nearly yanked out of a tuk tuk last year in Cambodia, because the motorcyclist alongside me grabbed for the purse wrapped around my leg. I was much sadder about what I had lost than scared. I was mad. But not scared.

I remember the last time I was scared while traveling. There are so many instances (most had to do with being afraid I wouldn't find a way back to my village in Honduras in time for nightfall), but the one that sticks out the most was back almost ten years ago. Becky and I were traveling via vanpool from Copán to Antigua, and had to stop in Guatemala City. It was VERY early in the morning; so early it was dark outside. We were stopped in Guatemala City - and I was scared. I don't remember why I was scared. I think it was because I was supposed to be scared - Guatemala City is a dangerous place. Or so I had been told. And that was why I was scared. I was so scared I was shaking.

But nothing scary happened. It was all in my head. We left Guatemala City with no problems and headed along to Antigua for a great rest of our trip (and a kick ass view of the ruins at Tikal). So then why was I so scared? And why don't I want to go to Mexico City? Or San Pedro Sula? Or even Tegucigalpa, which used to be my preferred get-away destination?

Because we are told these places aren't safe. We're fed statistics from the U.S State Department, such as, "theft, armed robbery, and carjacking are the most common problems encountered by American citizens. No area is immune to daytime assaults, including the upscale shopping, tourist, and residential areas in Guatemala City." No one is safe. That's very scary to see in print. But is Guatemala City any less safe than my home city of San Francisco? My intuition tells me it's not.

And that's what I really rely on when traveling; my intuition. That sense of direction, body language, intent and meaning that I pride myself on being able to decipher from all types of folks. In my family, we call this "common sense" and it is one of my dad's most highly prized attributes. He loves common sense people; we can figure out any riddle, read between the lines, and change our body language at the first hint of non-comfort with people.

 I asked a stranger to take my picture at Uxmal, Yucatán.

Thus when I travel alone, I am not really alone. I have my travel partner along with me; my common sense. This is my ability to travel. My ability to go it alone and figure it all out on my own. So perhaps the next time someone asks me if I'm scared to travel alone, I'll know the answer is "no". My common sense (and the kindness of strangers - this still exists) will pull me through. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

swimming lessons

I know how to swim. I'm not a fast swimmer, nor a talented swimmer, but I can hold my own through any body of water. It is important to my dad that his children (and grandchildren) know how to swim. From pools, to lakes, to oceans, I can tread along slowly through a breast stroke or a front crawl. Not many residents of the Yucatácan say the same.

This past week, I've spent every single day in the water. From the Gulf of Mexico, to the Cenote Ik Kil, to the Caribbean Sea, I experience joy every time I dunk my head beneath the water and come up for air. I just swim, without giving it a second thought. The cenote at Ik Kil is 150 feet deep, but I didn't even notice the sign. Instead, I jumped off the side of a cliff (the fi
rst time was scary) into the deep blue, and came right back up. I knew I would.

The deep waters of Cenote Ik Kil

This cenote (like all others) sells life jackets. When I first saw the booth for orange life vest rentals, I thought, "what a nice safety net for over-protective folks." As I jumped into the cenote, I saw lots of people floating in the life vests. I saw others clutching the side of the cave. I decided to inquire with these water-loving folks about why they weren't swimming over to the sunny (and warmer) part of the sinkhole. In Spanish, I was told every excuse for not swimming - everything from "I'm scared that I can't feel the bottom" to "I don't know how to swim." That's when I realized - the only people sans life jacket were American. So I asked again- and yes, none of the Mexicans (or Europeans) in the water could swim. But they wanted to enjoy the water. Kudos to them!

While in Honduras, if I was planning to actually go swimming, I would explain to my neighbors that I was going to the river (or lake or beach/sea) to "bathe" not "swim." I always thought this was a colloquialism. That is until I went to the beach with my new Yucateco friends. Just before Jessica got into the water in Progreso, she told me she couldn't swim. Then she ran into the water and hung out for a long while. When she came back I wanted to yell, "you swam in the gulf!" But Jessica didn't actually swim; there were no swim strokes going on. Instead, she went into the water and did what the Yucateco fishermen do before they enter the water every day to fish; they pray for permission to enter the water and pray that they don't drown. These fishermen wade into the water (as deep as they need to) and proceed to work hard to hopefully make their living. Most survive, but several fisherman do die beneath the waves every year.

Fishing boat taking off from El Corchito

These are the fishermen who bait fish and troll, by hand, with hook, line, and sinker. Some fly fish. Many drop nets, from both on land and on water (in their motor fishing boats). All go out to fish in the early morning, as well as at dusk, often times holding a Coleman lantern out over the side of the boat and scooping up squid. One thing's for sure - this is the way many families on the gulf coast of Mexico survive, and have survived, through tough times. In the 1980s, the marine industry exploded as farmers moved up to the coast after the collapse of the local henequen industry. Farmers are now fishers. But they're still not necessarily swimmers. Actually, they can't swim at all. But they enter into the water, no life jackets provided. To be this brave takes dedication, practice, and a little extra praying to the gods.