Equilibrium - 5 Years (Section 2)

From private to community life. "Honey how was your day" is no longer a questions shared within the nuclear family.

Over the past five years, strangers have gone from smiling faces to acquaintances to neighbors to friends, and a few have even gone on to become family. Our daughter loves her Mama Gelia next door as dearly as any blood relative and squeals with delight at the mere mention of Fredy, her Honduran Abuelo. We have rejoiced in the birth of hordes of children born annually in Las Lomitas, and mourned as some are too quickly returned to the earth by weeping parents. Still other squeakers have grown into energetic owners of shrieking voices and muddy feet ripping across our front porch, playing the game of the week. Those that were once “other” have become “our own.”

Although to be fair, they have not become “ours” as much as we have become theirs. We were the outsiders; they accepted us in. As much as we are able, we have lived among and as them. The local language with all of its grammatical errors and colloquialisms, has become our own. Hillbilly Spanish dreams fill our nights and roughly re-told tales roll from the half-toothed mouths of our friends. We painfully learned to hand-patty tortillas, scrub laundry by hand, squat back on our heels to chat with friends at the roadside, squeeze milk from vile goats with their swinging horns, deal with egg-stealing opossums and rats, run outside at the sound of raindrops to yank dry diapers from the line, swat away the joint daily fire ant and mosquito incursion sweeping across our ankles, eat one more red bean, straddle our truck over the suspension-eating rocks, ruts, and rivers of the roads, avoid the dangerous parts of town, sew up gaping machete wounds, and struggle to push the tired wheelchair on a rocky road of a young friend permanently-paralyzed by a bullet through the spine.

Whatever the difficulties, we have also been delighted by shockingly-clever wit, conversations late into the evening, flowers brighter and bigger than Las Vegas neons, sunrises to rival any Hollywood closing scene, the perfect wood-smoked tortilla with mantequilla and cuajada, armadillo tacos, true community life, friendship, sincere work ethic, deep connection to the natural world, brilliantly-colored birds flying through centuries-old canopy of immense cloud forests, and people willing to sacrifice for the good of others.

Some cross-cultural challenges have required more intentional efforts in order to overcome. We were initially and immediately pinned as “Gringos” – nameless caricatures representing ignorant, rich, white foreigners. Who needs to learn your name or get to know you, when Gringo or Gringa is the easiest thing to say or understand? Words have a tendency to lock people in the cages of initial perceptions. Even more gratingly-difficult for us was the adjustment from the highly-independent, ferociously-private US mindset into a communal, collectivist living situation. I have always enjoyed the companionship of friends and “community life,” spending significant time with friends. However, we learned that as much as we value social interaction, as a culture we also subconsciously value privacy and personal space to an astounding degree. In the US, most members of society are very conscious of time, and accordingly schedule most social interactions in advance. Las Lomitas does not work that way.

People arrive any time, day or night, and might just sit in that plastic chair for a couple of hours to visit, sometimes conversing, at other times just being present with you. Bumping into someone on the road or at the store could easily turn in to an hour-long discussion. When this happens several times per day, social exhaustion sets in quickly for the uninitiated. However, over time we learned to appreciate that person in the chair. Their presence and their time is often meant as a gift – an honor for the recipient. Instead of being annoyed or perplexed by their sturdy attendance in our home, we gradually learned to just be with them. Sometimes chatting, sometimes drinking coffee, sometimes just being near each other – sharing our selves and our lives.

Lacking unnecessary insulation, simple home construction techniques lead to most outside noises becoming inside noises. The auditory evidence of nearby dogs, roosters, birds, rain, thunder, neighbors, and firecrackers blend into the rhythm of your daily soundtrack – at times somewhat discordantly. The house itself often turns against you when deafening rainfall, claw-bedazzled creatures, and oranges falling from on high happen to interact with your simple metal roof – each sound amplified many times over. All of the music of neighbor’s family life become part of your private space when their house and outdoor restroom is 10 feet away from your bedroom window. All of the laughing, tearful, fearful, laundry-scrubbing, bowel-moving, plate-washing, fire-stoking noises from next door mingle into your own daytime conversations and evening dreams as a kind of social osmosis by proximity begins to take place. The lines between families and households slowly begin to blur. Lives, livelihoods, futures, menus, and crises become shared by nature – whether you want them to or not.

As I look back on these years, it is obvious that the intercultural blending process has been more one of equilibration more than assimilation - two powerful reactants mixing and balancing one another to reach a new state of equilibrium. Both parties are altered: our perceptions, pre-conceived notions, and skeptical minds. The result is neither one nor the other, nor a mixture, but a new substance all together. When we approach one another with a desire to understand instead of overcome, our differences cease to become obstacles and instead become assets bedecking a rich, diverse, relationship bonded in mutual appreciation. If one of the two parties are unwilling or unable to initially accept the other, love must become the reactive component and override the natural fear of the unknown and unfamiliar

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