Thursday, February 9, 2017

Seeking Hope

I am sitting inside a warm house, watching the snow fall outside. I have reliable internet, running water I can drink from the tap, a hot shower, and a sewage setup that is advanced enough I can put toilet paper in the toilet instead of the waste basket.
Lo de Marcos Sunset

All of these things are different than what I had in Mexico, and yet I find myself missing what I had there. Being abroad fits like a glove. Certainly there were things I missed while I was abroad, but some of the basic infrastructure pieces didn't seem as important as I watched the sunset on the beach, or sat with the woman at the juice stand I frequented, chatting for an hour.

 I found myself wanting to get to know the people in the towns I visited, something that I haven't felt all that compelled to do lately in my regular life. I wanted to know what made them tick, and I found it. It was a great reminder of the reason I began to love travel in the first place: to remember that peoples' lives are different in other countries, and that the priorities that sometimes feel like they're trying to suffocate me in the U.S. are not priorities elsewhere.

In Mexico, there is more emphasis on enjoying every day. It is not that the people don't work hard, but they seem to be more interested in living now instead of later, when retirement kicks in. They have smile lines around their eyes, and value a good conversation over wiping down the counter again. Granted, it's possible to find all of this in the U.S. as well...but at least for me, invisible audience, the pressure to perform can be massive. I don't feel it here.

That's not to say that it doesn't exist here. I spent a day on La Isla del Coral, a very small island in the bay off of Rincón de Guayabitos, north of Lo de Marcos, which is where I spent most of my trip.
Snorkeling on La Isla del Coral
Lupita Chávez was my tour guide. She picked me up from my hotel, rode with me on a boat piloted by her son, fixed me up with snorkeling gear and led me out into the water to see the fish, the coral and the other sea life. When I got cold and tired of being in the water, she got me a huge lemonade and some ceviche then dove back in to hunt for oysters.

But Lupita wasn't just a tour guide. She's from this area, and was one of the founding members of a community group that have worked for years to obtain protection status for this island. They have cleaned up trash around the island, managed to get government support to prevent fishing in its immediate vicinity, and they now charge an entrance fee for people wanting to visit; all the money goes back to preservation.

Lupita seemed calm, assured and passionate about the work she and her husband have done here, until I asked her what the best case scenario would be for 10 years from now. She froze.

That's a good question, she said. And then she told me that she has worked so hard on protecting this island that it made her physically ill. Lupita and her husband now own the island's restaurant, and have closed their other restaurant on the mainland because the two together -- plus all the other work they do for the island -- is too much to keep up with. She told me that many times she would leave the house before her children woke up to go to work and not return until after they'd gone to bed. That the amount of time and effort she has put into making sure her grandchildren have an island to enjoy is taking a toll, and that it is not sustainable for her.

I get it, invisible audience. I understand the struggle to serve a cause, and follow a passion, and the toll it can take. I understand the need to balance priorities, and that sometimes the body's only way to deal with the stress is to break down. And I understand what it's like to fight an uphill battle in search of creating a more sustainable future.

We can only do what we can do. I looked at this capable, strong and passionate woman and I saw everything she has taken on and accomplished. It gave me hope. It gave me hope for the island, because there are more fish than there were before, and the coral "sings" more than it did before Lupita, her husband and the cooperative got organized. It gave me hope for myself, because it's so easy for me to see how far I have to go instead of how far I have come. It gives me hope for the U.S., despite the hopelessness I have felt recently.

I hear it, invisible audience. The passion behind trying to create a better world, and the exhaustion that comes with it. What she has done is monumental, and yet from the front lines it always seems like it is not enough. It's just not true: it is enough. It is all we can do.

Love and passionate kisses,