Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Good," not "Fun"

View from the first hotel
I am currently on my way back from a six-day trip from Guatemala. When I leave for work trips, people often tell me “oh, have fun!” This happens to Eric too – more frequently, in fact, as he travels more than I do. When we get back, one of the most common questions we hear is, “Oh, did you have fun?”

To be totally honest, I’m exhausted and emotionally spent from this trip, so much so, that if someone asked me right now if I had “fun” on this trip, I would likely cry. Fun is for vacation. This is something else.

The alarm went off at 4am. This was after the room clock alarm went off at 1am, scaring me out of sleep because I hadn’t set it and making me paranoid for the next hour what time it “really was, even if my watch, the clock, my phone, and Google: “What time is it in Guatemala City right now?” all told me the same thing. Note: this was the second time on this trip that this happened as we stayed at this place after arrival and before departure. Housekeeping either has a wicked sense of humor, or, more likely, accidentally clicked it on while straightening up. I left my tip by the alarm clock, just so they knew that I was in on the game if there was one… also, tip your housekeepers when you stay in hotels. No one else makes your bed for you for minimum wage!

We at the airport by 5:15, and my supervisor and I were so tired that we both walked away from the shuttle without our bags from the luggage compartment. Fortunately, we didn’t get far before he remembered that we had, in fact, brought more clothes with us than were on our back. I’d like to say I would have remembered but there is a solid likelihood I would have been in Dallas by then.

I’m not complaining about travel. In fact, I love travel, and I love that I am able to travel for my job. I get to see new places, and, most importantly for me, I get to meet and get to know the staff that I have the honor to serve. On my last two trips, I’ve been able to meet and talk with the staff and volunteers from our church partners who do the incredibly hard work of implementing programming with children coming from lives of extreme poverty. On this trip, the team in Guatemala also set up a time for us to talk with a group of other NGOs that our office has been in collaboration with, and the synergy was exciting. In the course of 6 days, I filled an entire new notebook with notes and action items.
How I usually see the countries I visit

I do, in fact, have some “fun” on these trips. Thursday, on our trip back from the region we were in to the capitol city, we stopped and saw a historic city, and toured ruins dating back to the early 18th century when the town was destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent flood. We stopped by a coffee plantation in the shadow of a volcano, drank late-afternoon cafĂ© con leche (or sin leche in my case), and picked up beans to bring home. But this isn’t the main or even ancillary purpose of these trips. Most of the time, I see a country from the back seat of a van while being shuttled from airport to hotel to meeting. We were lucky this time to see a bit more.

The work I saw is good work. Really, that’s the question to ask. “Was the trip good? Was it valuable?”

The trip was worth it in so many ways, and there is great opportunity to make progress in preventing sexual violence against children in Guatemala – this was the focus of the training I came to observe. There was so much good in this trip. But 12-14-16 hour days, working in two languages – one I don’t particularly speak, and across cultures, takes a lot of energy. Constant conversations about sexual abuse, physical abuse, exploitation, community violence; hearing real life stories from people who are dealing with the worst of human behavior, make you tired after a while. Travelling hours and hours by mini-bus over mountain roads and oil-pan banging potholes whilst carrying on conversations eventually give you a headache you can’t quit.
Coffee with co-workers

When all this converges, I get a little fragile. Frankly, things that aren’t that funny are inordinately funny (I just sent Eric a text that said “I just watched a man put back a bottle of Guinness in favor of a bottle of Miller Light. I think my soul died a little,” and then had to go pee I was laughing so much. It’s time to go home when you laugh at your own jokes.) Minor things make me more emotional (as in, purposely staying off Facebook today, the day after the election and the day of the Women’s March, because people can be rotten.)

I’m better at this than I used to be (my first Compassion trip wrecked me for weeks) but I also know I don’t have the same mental armor for child protection work (yet) that I used to have back when I was in direct practice.

I have several more hours in the airport, and then I can go home.

When I get there, just please don’t ask me if I had fun.

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