Polishing the Mirror in Argentina

Thursday, June 2, 2016 • 8:42 p.m. EST

Nearly four years ago, I sat quietly in my room on Christmas Eve about to take a trip that would ultimately change the course of my life. My family was taking this 2012 Christmas off, so to speak, as I was flying out the next morning for my first trip to Cordoba, Argentina.

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My sister and best friend Wendy has lived in Cordoba for more than five years. Back in 2012, I had no idea what kinds of adventures I had in store for me. After that fated Christmas trip, not without its own interesting twists and turns, I found myself making major life changes. Three months later, after completing yoga teacher training, I moved to a bus in Miami where I spent my days writing, reading, making and selling pottery, traveling and experiencing a different way of life. I’d move back to Chattanooga and create a different space for myself, surrounded by loving people and places. In many ways, I like to think that Argentina—and the decision to take that two-plus week trip out of the country and in the Southern Hemisphere—was my tipping point. It led to a beautiful adventure. It showed me colors and cultures and experiences, as well as different ways of thinking and living, that I allowed to influence me in positive ways.

Any sense of traveling and experiencing other cultures reminds me of the importance of that exposure; something to make you feel small, to minimize the damages or wounds (or wonderful things) that seem overwhelming day in and day out. It helps me shape my life and affects what I choose to fill my space with, figuratively and literally. Since those initial seeds were planted, it’s incredible to see what richness I’ve invited in.

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Tonight I sit quietly in my room, a different space, one that I share, and prepare for my third trip to Argentina. This time I will ring in a different solstice—just as I was getting accustomed to the shaved legs and shorts that these hazy, Tennessee summer days require, I’ll be headed to a sunny but brisk winter. Whereas before I travelled alone, I get to bring Charles on this grand adventure. We’ll be visiting for June, with a weeklong road trip to Jujuy and Salta with Wendy and Fer. It will be my first experience outside their province. I’m eager to witness the geologic wonders that these lands hold. Some salami, wine and cheese won’t hurt, either.

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Goodbye for now, creek days!

The build-up to this trip hasn’t been completely smooth, though we’ve managed to survive with the incredibly strong support system we have, offline and online. Charles and I found a sweet little apartment and combined spaces in a matter of two weeks. He completed his school year, both at UTC and CGLA.

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I’ve been on a health rollercoaster since early spring, of course. In a last-ditch effort to pull my guts through an ulcerative colitis flare, I had another scope three weeks ago, and I was admitted to the hospital for a round of IV steroids.

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While there I felt in many ways like an undercover agent, or an undercover patient if you will. Volunteers and nurses would ask where the patient was, laughing after they saw my IV. The ‘roids helped immensely, and I think I’m getting over the hump of a flare. Learning to live with this disease has been a huge, slow learning curve that’s shown me how resilient I can be. Daily I work to maintain patience, confidence and strength, and belief that the steps I’m taking will heal me. My most recent scope did show that—lots of great healing since my diagnosis in October!!!—but there is still work to be done. 25 centimeters, to be exact.

Through meditations, yoga, reading and the wildly funny and loving friends and family of mine, sometimes I choose to see ulcerative colitis as the gift, or lens, that allows me to more truly see people’s hearts. While I know a month-long adventure really isn’t just what the doctor ordered, I believe a vacation, the desert, and a sweet reunion with my sister and brother-in-law in their home is very powerful medicine.

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On a lighter note, it’s the gift that keeps giving. I almost fit all of my clothes and goodies for the trip in one bag; but alas, my new tailpipe medications really do require a suitcase of their own. I’m happy to be laughing about it at least, and I know I’ll look back and giggle at these odd, turbulent times.

Tomorrow begins 24+ hours of travel for Charles and me, hopping through Miami and Santiago, Chile, before a Saturday morning arrival in Cordoba. Three and a half years ago, on that memorable Christmas morning, even a huge transportation slip-up couldn’t slow my journey to South America. Nothing, not even broken guts, can stop this trip.

Wendy, Fer, Argentina… I’ll see you soon!

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“The Only Thing That Matters Is How We Love”

“I had a moment of complete immersion in futility! Like wtf am I doing?”


“Yeah, I’m going through something like that. Questioning whatever the fuck I’m doing here, at home, in life.”

“Well, we will wallow in futility when you return.

Or we can accept that the only thing that matters is how we love.”

****

How even on a day when I’m not at work can the weight of a Monday still hang over my head?

Key words: Hang over.

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Wendy and I took off yesterday after the trilingual asado, where I met some of Wendy and Fer’s friends. We sat around the table till late in the afternoon, drinking mate and talking about Cordoba, cultural differences between Argentina, Cordoba, Brasil, the United States, summertime conversations. I washed dishes, swept a bit (an endless task here) and we headed for the bus stop around 6:30.

The light was perfect, warm but not hot, in the golden hours of the day that I enjoy so much. We were sure we had missed both the trolley and bus for good, since it was so late on a Sunday, but as we stood on the corner with a few other women, all looking both ways for either to come first. The trolley came first, which I have come to love. As the old trolley approaches you can hear it rattle down the line, like the sound a stretched out Slinky makes. We got on and “surfed,” hanging on to the rails and swaying in our summer dresses as the trolley bounced down the road, around corners to centro.

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After walking through the ferria again, Wendy and I made it back to Dada mini bar, where we had beer the night before. I introduced her to Campari and the beauty of Negronis, the sweet and bitter poison of many summer nights. We talked about me coming back to study espanol, of course a much more difficult and expensive endeavor than it seems, especially when considering the cost of re-entry into a life back in the United States. So what is it that I want? What change is underway, what is the next step on my path or journey?

I asked her what she thought of my overly romanticized, dramatic shifts that she’s witnessed in our adult lives. I’m so passionate about something, whether it’s a person, a place, an idea or concept. I want to dive into it! Into the Pacific Northwest, into teaching yoga, into working at a magazine company, into the bici community in Chattanooga. Then I realize that all things have highs and lows. She suggested that maybe I just get bored in Chattanooga sometimes. Do I crave the excitement of South America and Latinos? Yes. But do I also just crave more excitement in my life on a regular basis, like more or different opportunities, more extreme characters, less of a conservative feel, regardless of where I am?

…yes.

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What that shift will look like, what form it will take, the change I will make… I don’t know. I only know that the shift will come from within me. It cannot be some pipe dream I chase, looking for it in different locations. Because the change is in Chattanooga, my family there. The change is here in Cordoba, in my sister and Fer and their friends. The change is within everything and anything. It’s a shift in collective consciousness that goes beyond location, beyond our physical bodies.

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The change I seek is within my heart, in my soul and within my Self. It is colorful, brash, and sometimes uses too many curse words and is rough around the edges. It’s sweaty, smelly, gritty skin. It’s messy but neat, wild and free but driven. There’s a softness and sweetness among the burning, fiery energy.

Home is where I’m going, and the journey will be an introspective one. What did I unearth here, and how will I incorporate it into my life? How do I express the newness I feel, the rebirth and rediscovery I’ve experienced, the refreshing reminder that

THE WORLD IS SO MUCH BIGGER
and I am so much smaller, merely one thread, a single fiber, connected to a great quilt!

than I’ve realized in a long, long time.

It’s so easy to get caught up in a small town life, whether the “small” feel is in your head, in your neighborhood, among your friends. It’s hard to think outside the box. When you’re thrown in head first, though, into a different society, a different culture, where do you find the least common denominator? What matters about you? What matters about other people? It’s not the car you drive, the clothes you wear, what kind of place you live in or what you do for work.

It’s your values, the way you treat other people, easiest to witness or feel or express among dear friends and families.

What strikes me most about Argentina, about Cordoba, is not necessarily it’s culture, the people, the amazing food/meat/wine/baked goods. It’s not even the simplicity and slower pace of life, though I’m really attracted to all of the things just mentioned.

MY FAMILY, my best friend, my sweet sweet sister, my role model and mentor and confidant is here. She really makes the country, the foreign experience, feel like home, whether she’s making a gringa salad for us to eat at lunch, running for a bus in a way that only Walker sisters can, turning to talk to me and only Spanish coming out, or loudly singing Hall & Oates with me walking down a street in centro at midnight on a Sunday, enjoying the buzz of the people around us, the heat of summer, the life of the city.

That is what I’m most sad to leave behind, but it only makes me appreciate every second I’ve been able to spend here, to see her life, see the province and the mountains, all while digesting and digging into what exactly I’m experiencing, what shift is underway.

Until then…

baby, won’t you carry me… back to Tennessee.

Quiet Saturday in Cordoba

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned in order to have the life that is waiting for us.”
— Joseph Campbell

With the wind blows in great change, a dramatic shift.

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blue building, gray sky

I awoke this morning to the loudest, sharpest thunder, so loud it sounded like it was in the front patio. My bed was in the living room on the floor, facing the open window, looking out. Even with my eyes closed, I saw a great flash of lightning, the storm and thunder rolling across the sky. I pictured the flat landscape around us, the geography and the amount of space and time such thunder and lightning could fill.

It continued to storm and rain through the morning, a dramatic change from the dusty, dry and hot days I’ve experienced here so far. Wendy and I walked through a light sprinkle to have a traditional breakfast of medilunas with butter and jam and a cafe before walking to the ferria de alta Cordoba. We bought vegetables, eggs and eventually wine. Yesterday we spent most of the afternoon at Golpe de Agua, a heavenly piece about an hour southwest of Cordoba. It’s like no place I’ve ever been, truly breathtaking and tranquil. While we sat by yet another incredible river, eating lunch and drinking mate, we watched gray clouds move in and a cold breeze pick up that are still with us today. The storms will be around for the day, likely, and finally, a week and a half into my trip, I know I am different, and it’s a change that goes beyond my sun-kissed cheeks and shoulders.

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Golpe de Agua

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I’m in a land of star gazing, watching the clouds and sun cross the sky. It matches my place and pace in life, as a gazer, observer, a thinker and a watcher. The quietness of being a foreigner here and not understanding or speaking the language has accentuated my observations, my thought processes. I want to observe and understand more–that is my basis for wanting to learn Spanish.

I now recall what my New Year’s dedications were last year. I can still picture in my head the post-it note on the wall beside my old desk:

SPANISH | YOGA | PHOTOS

Without this trip, I dare say my year would have ended incompletely. So this year, I have three other dedications.

HUMILITY | SOFTNESS | SWEETNESS
in the way I approach people, challenges, situations
in my thoughts and practice
with both the people I love most dearly and the ones I’ve never met

In many ways, the dedications of 2012 continue to come to fruition, over many years, many trips and many experience near and far. This year’s dedications will only heighten awareness, invite stillness, strive for balance and SPACE and FREEDOM.

****

Wendy reminded me of my yoga journey as we sat and talked after breakfast. Sometimes I forget I’m even on it, having been out of the United States, away from my community for what feels like a long time. But in fact, it’s been an essential element to my trip. Away from my routine, my regular classes and community, and away from even my mat, I practice alone in my room, moving through asanas on the cool tile floor. I use my breath and practice in the same ways, too, to balance; burn through frustration, anger or other emotions that don’t serve me; or to focus.

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Just like we hadn’t planned on the rain or storms yesterday and today, this path isn’t what I planned, but it is a choice I made that was right in my heart and true to me. There is no denying that deep down inside of me, something is changing.

The wind continues to blow, the thunder rattles outside, and here, a world away from my regular community, I find great peace.

 

Love Needs No Translation

“In this world,” said Oscar Wilde, “there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting is.” I’m counting on you to refute the last part of that questionable assertion, Leo. According to my analysis of long-term astrological omens, you will definitely be getting what you want in the next six months. You will receive your prize… you will earn your badge… you will win a big game or claim your birthright or find your treasure. When that happens, I trust you will make sure it’s an enduring blessing. There will be no sadness involved.”

–Rob Brezsny//Free Will Astrology, week of Jan. 3

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Before the New Year’s asado in Oliva

This year will be a year of humility.

I was reminded of who I am today. I am a joyous, innocent soul. I am a thinker, someone who writes and reflects a lot. I am youthful and vibrant and funny and often pegged as an “old soul.”

I was reminded today, the first day of 2013, that smiling and laughing need no translation. The most compassionate communication is not with words, but with looks, touch, sound.

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Sunrise on the new year, Oliva

The heart, the metaphorical heart, knows the right path, the appropriate fork or direction to take. Even last night, I expressed doubt at a decision. Fer reassured me, told me everything was OK. He couldn’t have been more correct. I jumped, but I didn’t fall. And through these experiences I was exposed to a side of love, compassion and sharing

that I have been waiting for. For a long time.

And it needed no translation, no ingles, no espanol.

Love needs no translation.

THIS YEAR, then, I will seek humility… in my relationships, in my roles, in the spaces I create. More softness, more slowing down, deeper breaths. Less stuff, bigger dreams.

That is my New Year’s resolution.

“Apinuyir dear friend! May it be full of JOY, DISCOVERY, PEACE, LOVE, WONDER, SWEET MYSTERY, HEALTH, LAUGHS and every other good thing!”

“To independence, love, happiness and experiencing the fullness of each moment… feliz ano nuevo!”

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New year, new doors. Oliva.

A Simple Space in Cordoba

AND SO BEGINS my own practice.

I woke up feeling more rested, but groggy. We stayed up till midnight after eating at an Arabic restaurant around the corner. I crawled onto the small mat that Wendy left in my room and just started breathing, slowly bringing more movement, heating up my core, which immediately heated me in the small room I’m staying in. There isn’t much circulation in this space, so I got warm, piecing together a basic warrior I/humble/peaceful/half moon sequence with some variations.

It was my own.

Yesterday afternoon  morning! (I arrived SO early!), Wendy and I sat outside in their courtyard and I started telling her about yoga, about breath. We eeked our way slowly into tadasana, forward folds, a full Sun A. We came to the mat and fell into conversation–about work and ourselves and our lives. How did we want to live? What does our future look like?

There is something so calm and quiet in my sister and Fer’s home. It’s off a courtyard, in the “center” of the block, and the house easily fills with natural light. It’s simple; in general, there isn’t stuff or clutter.

So this morning, my movement, my yoga was simple too. I just moved the clutter out of the way.

Sisters in Cycling: Two Hemispheres, One Love

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Sister and her bici in Cordoba making transit strikes look easy breezy

My sister has always inspired me, from the way I always wanted to dress like her growing up to her multimodal mastery as a lawyer in East Tennessee without a car. She lives in Cordoba, Argentina, now, and tells me all kinds of stories about bussing and more recently cycling around and outside of the city. She sent this with the above photo…talk about making bike riding for transport look good!

Hi Loo! So 50% of Cordoba commutes by bus, and the buses have been on strike for going on 3 days now. Total chaos in the streets and no poor people in downtown. I’ve been riding to my morning class all year, but now I’m riding to my more formal afternoon classes and loving it. I took this right after giving my biweekly workshop on presentations at the gov’t agency where I teach. Eeeeee…I love my bici and my fab helmet!

Nutcase helmets in Cordoba! Spreading the love… She told me today the heart helmet gets good attention. Bici–and sisterly!!!–love on both sides of the equator. Ride on, sister!