Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Define "Third World"

"The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War and it was used to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Warsaw Pact." 

"Since most Third World countries were economically poor and non-industrialized, it became a stereotype to refer to developing countries as "third-world countries".

"Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term Third World has decreased in use. It is being replaced with terms such as developing countriesleast developed countries or the Global South."


Our driver and tour guide for four of the seven days in Guatemala called himself Tony.  Tony's ready laugh, his excellent English (with timely detours into Spanish when only I was meant to understand a comment) and the prodigious knowledge of Guatemalan culture, history and tradition endeared him to the whole family, particularly Daniel. Tony's omnipresent Panama hat covered a head full of information and occasional shocking anecdotes.

Daniel and I sat in close proximity on the bench seat in our rental van through hours of jolting through the countryside, and I watched covertly as my son digested the latest history lesson. If the information had come from me, he would have tuned it out, but when Tony offered it, mixed with jokes, asides and "look over there!" interruptions, Daniel absorbed it hook, line and sinker.

One of the phrases that Daniel picked up on our trip was "third world" and he used it in his guest essay about our trip. When I read his paper, I had a vague sense of unease that the term was no longer politically correct, and did a few minutes of research (as evidenced by the above notes from Wikipedia.) I told Daniel that he should correct the phrase - which he promptly did not do - and now I'm motivated by a wavering fog of guilt and OCD need-for-accuracy to retract the phrase.

I confess that I did not do exhaustive research prior to writing this; I'm only going to excerpt portions of Tony's history lessons here. There are many similarities between this history and the histories of a legion of other countries in the beautiful and resource-rich global South. Guatemalan timeline according to Tony:

First: the Spanish came to Guatemala through Mexico - and with the help of indigenous Mexican tribes - in the 1500s.

The Spanish colonized Guatemala, converted the residents to Catholicism (forcibly when needed), built Catholic churches on top of Mayan pyramids, brought new traditions, foods, and ways of life to the country.

Second: Guatemala gained independence from Spain in 1821, but 200+ years of colonialism lingered and the country's developmental path did not run smoothly.

Third: United Fruit Company (formed in 1899) dug its claws into Guatemala to produce fruit - specifically bananas - and ship them for profit to customers in America. Such were the deep interests of United Fruit that the American government involved itself in Guatemalan politics and deposed a democratically-elected leader in the 1950's (he was ostensibly 'soft on communism') to protect United Fruit's interests. Here enter the phrases "banana republic" and "blood for bananas."

Fourth: This governmental interference led to Guatemala's 30-year civil war in which one faction was backed by the Soviets and one by the United States. Many civilians died as collateral damage, particularly innocent indigenous people (Mayan) in the interior.

As I listened to Tony, horror occasionally gripped me at the injustices perpetrated on its people by European and American governments. We have all heard the story before, not only in Guatemala but in Haiti, South Africa, and many countries wrung out and ripped apart by the global North. I pulled Tony aside in Antigua, after we emerged from a church, and confessed to being embarrassed by my country's role in their problems.  He touched my shoulder and shook his head: "No, Laura," he said. "We all have both the good and the bad. We need to focus now on the good, work together to fix our problems." I have a feeling that correcting the term "third world" isn't enough.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Guest blog: Guatemala

Today I have a guest blogger - my son Daniel, who turned 18 on our adventure-filled trip to Guatemala. Daniel was born in Guatemala and came to our family in the US when he was 23 months old. Here are his thoughts on our recent trip, which was his first return to the country of his birth. Take it away, Daniel!

"When you think of Guatemala, you may think that it's a third-world (better phrased "developing") country that's filled with poverty. This is not the case. Guatemala is a beautiful land with vibrant people. Our tour guide, Tony, was a perfect example of this.  

I was blessed with a chance to visit my birth country of Guatemala this month. Guatemala is a country with a rich history, from Mayan traditions to being the five - times - running international champions of rum! Guatemala has it all and the trip was filled with adventures and knowledge.

We started by visiting the Pacaya Volcano, one of three active volcanoes in Guatemala. At the top we got souvenirs that included pieces of lava rock from the previous eruptions of the past decade. The next stop was the beautiful city of Antigua, which is one of four UNESCO world heritage sites in Guatemala (although Coca Cola was nearly responsible for getting Antigua removed from this list because they put their logo on sponsored improvements!) This city is filled with rich cultural history, especially during Holy Week (Semana Santa), where there are processions and colorful sawdust carpets lining the streets.

Soon after we headed to Lake Atitlan, which is hailed as one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America. This body of water is located within a volcanic crater created from an explosion nearly 84,000 years ago. It has a depth of 340 meters. We went across it by boat to visit San Juan la Laguna, and we stayed near Panajachel. Those are two of the 11 villages surrounding Atitlan. In San Juan la Laguna the streets were lined with vibrant colors and art, with music playing as you walked down certain streets.

Our next stop was the city of Chichicastenango, at 7,000 feet elevation, which is known for its famous markets (Thursdays and Sundays). On Palm Sunday the streets were filled with food, clothes and just about anything you could sell. Everywhere you looked you could see petite women in traditional Mayan clothing and men carrying huge loads of products.

Finally, our last stop was the Mayan Temple complex of Tikal, which contains ancient Mayan pyramids in a subtropical Guatemala jungle. The jungle was full of beautiful trees and wildlife, from howler monkeys to peanut-headed butterflies. Every temple was majestic and giant; they were built to show power and wealth. Tikal is also famous for being in 18 seconds of "Star Wars: A New Hope."  

Guatemala is a land that I'm lucky to call home. It's been through a lot but has a sense of hope and community as it continues to thrive and provide unforgettable memories, rich scenery and traditions.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Return to Guatemala

Our electronic photo frame has been rolling through images of our first Guatemala trip, in 2008, where we met Daniel for the first time. Aden was in first grade, William in preschool, Daniel nearly two.  The children stare at the cameras with big eyes, unable to comprehend the enormity of the changes about to befall each of us. Daniel's facial expressions vary from shocked sorrow to frenetic activity to tentative openness toward his siblings, adoration for his dad, suspicion towards me. 

This morning I opened my eyes in disbelief that today we return to Guatemala with a now almost-18-year-old Daniel. The past sixteen years have been full of challenges that we could never have foreseen. Adoption trauma is real. Families can fracture and mend, children and parents may harbor vast ranges of emotions, some apparent and many brewing under the surface. On frequent occasions I struggled to make it through the day, pushing toward some invisible end zone, a ticker-tape barrier that I could burst through and announce a triumphant finish.

As any parent knows, the idea of "finishing" seems laughable now. Parenting knows no end, no definitive marker that allows one to turn off the anxiety, worry and emotion. And yet, this return trip may offer some closure. Daniel's excitement towards the itinerary - hiking the same volcano when he can actually notice and remember the lava, visiting the pyramid in Tikal where Star Wars was filmed, seeing Lake Atitlan where Mayan aristocracy lived - his positivity gratifies me, though I know it covers an understandable nervous hesitancy about going back to the country of his birth, one he only knows through stories.

We leave shortly, feeling positive and ready, unsure of what's to come but strong in the knowledge that we have all come a long, long way.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Covid Poetry Part 2

 My third round of Covid and my second poem of the round. This one still evolving, called


Thursday, March 7, 2024

Writing Poetry While Covid Positive

 My third official bout with Covid started yesterday with another positive test that looked like a pregnancy. (At my age the positive for a pregnancy would transmit greater shock and connote a much bigger problem). In between trying to focus on work from home and hopefully going to the drug store to pick up my Paxlovid, I am running down a few old poems that need revamping. Here's one-

Swimming Outdoors in Midwinter

Air bites exposed skin but the
Sun’s rays at altitude are aphrodisiac.
Light hits tinted goggles while frosted bubbles 
Drift by defiant purple toes.

Canadian geese and airplanes fly 
Between jet-trail corridors overhead,
Black webbed feet in ragged V's as
Spurts of snowflakes feather down.


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Leaving a Mark

A few nights ago I stumbled out of my high-waisted jeans, apparently unable to lift my right knee high enough to extricate that leg from pants. Dancing around on my left foot, I finally toppled over and caught myself with my left hand, leaving a nighttime application, anti-aging, avocado-oil handprint on the cold tile.  Rob called from the other room, "Are you OK in there?"

I looked down at the handprint and felt a wave of hysterical laughter rise - alongside a sinking feeling of loss. Insert hysterically laughing/crying emoji here. A strangled response emerged, "Yep. just fine. I couldn't get out of my jeans, but I will recover."

Later that night I slept too hard on my left side and temporarily pinched a nerve behind my shoulder blade, rendering me incapable of turning my head in either direction.  Injured while sleeping - a common occurrence. I've suddenly lost my smooth neck, gained a million more freckles and gray hairs, and now require pillows to box me in on both sides at night to prevent shoulder injury.

The years have left a few marks on me, even as my smile lines (and magical photo frame) note that most of those marks have been happy. The impacts are accelerating, too, just like the days and months that whirl by (how is it already March?)

Our house also records history - different notes from the different family members. Black grease marks in the master bedroom wall from the years Rob had an elliptical machine up there, current Peloton towels, fans and sweat marks on the bike.  A broken stair-rail pillar from Daniel's hasty grab as he whirled down the stairs, hallway art from Aden's prolific period. Senior photos, William's bedroom holding his trophies and occasional closet resources for Daniel. The cats, too, share their marks; cat hair drifting into the corners, claw marks down the leather couch.

After almost twenty years in the house it's time to re-paint, re-finish the wood floors, update the kitchen. I'm sometimes excited by the possibilities and sometimes reluctant to contemplate the loss of our visual history. The same principle goes for my face... sometimes I want to investigate youthful promises of various skin care professionals, start wearing makeup again, use eyebrow serum, etc. But then I waver, detained by either exhaustion or resignation. This is who I am, and I'm grateful for the life I've lived.

But I may sit down before taking off the next pair of high-waisted jeans.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Sting of Message in a Bottle

I used to do a lot of work with immigrants and on the immigration issue. As long-time readers of this blog might know, I have been to the Arizona/Mexico border six times and deep into Mexico once (where we drank tequila out of Pope shot glasses with a Catholic priest). My old social justice group from church had immigration reform as one of our top priorities and we volunteered in detention centers and in various immigrant support organizations throughout the Denver area. 

That work has receded from my working memory, buried by COVID and the post-pandemic anxiety over the mental health of my children and my friend's children. I got busy working with young people through coaching, and though we still give to the organizations I formed relationships with back in the 20 aughts and 2010's, I had in large part buried those experiences under the busy-ness of the present.

The musical production "Message in a Bottle" brought the memories back on Friday night. Rob and I went to see this brilliant dance performance (choreographed and directed by Kate Prince), sponsored by the music of Sting, with his co-worker and her husband. Seated next to the co-worker, I didn't want to burst into the tears that threatened throughout the first act but instead clasped my hands together until the knuckles glowed ivory.

In the words of Lolita Chakrabarti's synopsis, "we live in a world where one person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. In 2022 statistics show that over 100 million people around the globe had been forced from their homes." She goes on to summarize the story of "Message in a Bottle": "We follow the fortunes of a father, mother and their three teenage children who face this brutal reality (of civil war) together."

The dancers' moves were magical, the versions of Sting's songs poetic and moving. The first act showed trauma of war, separation, abuse, abduction. As I watched and clenched my hands I kept thinking "this is happening, this is happening now."  In Ukraine, in Gaza, in Lebanon, Syria, Venezuela, in so many places around the world families are being broken by forces outside of their control and it's just dumb luck that my family and I are safe and together.

Why did I stop my work? Is it a post-pandemic selfishness that cares only for myself, my own family, the children of my community? The only interactions I have now with the immigrant community are postings on social media and twice-yearly donations. Nearly forgotten are the days of teaching English in the Aurora detention center behind bars with men and women from around the world, the days of washing feet at the border and of pushing for reform.

The issue of immigration will only get more pressing, as we can see in the news everyday. We currently have no good answers for the issues that come with climate change and global destabilization that will surely contribute more and more people on the move, desperate for someplace safe to raise their families. I think I need to go back, to do something more, and I owe this discomfort and sorrow to Kate Prince, the dancers, and Sting.

Monday, January 29, 2024

A Flood of Gratitude

One of my swimming friends, an amazing athlete (national champion masters swimmer, biker and hiker) sees an acupuncture specialist about thirty minutes from my house. My ears perk up whenever Kathleen mentions her appointments and the great results, but the drive time had kept me from following up until recently, when I got information and made a first-time date.  Wear and tear from the high school swim season plus general fatigue and incessant nerve prickling in my scalp helped me focus on a plan of action.

D. did not disappoint. Traffic was bad and I made it with just two minutes to spare - cutting things much closer than I like - but my heart rate subsided and I could draw a deeper breath within ten minutes of my sitting down. No one else was in the office, and I unburdened myself of medical history, current emotional and physical challenges, and desired healing. 

In our discussion it came out that I blog and meditate for self-healing when not overly busy, but of course I jettison both of these therapies (at the time I most need them) when my schedule gets crowded. She gently prodded me to get back to both, hence this first blog post in many weeks. Letting myself go off the rails without the support of two stabilizing influences seems short-sighted and destined for failure, and yet it often happens. 

When D. treated me, dimmed the lights and withdrew, I felt a flood of gratitude rise from somewhere in my core and flood upward and out through my tear ducts. I lay in the darkness with acupuncture needles in various locales, weeping for no discernible reason except for this strange and lovely feeling of gratitude.

Since my visit last week I have had much more energy and a more positive outlook. I'm going back on Wednesday (before our high school league championships), hoping not only for my own peace and optimism but that some of the joy will rub off on my girls, helping them to swim best times and hit their goals.