Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Noa Violet

We gasped. Our eyes welled with tears. My own eyes had been glistening with tears for at least an hour before the moment. I had suppressed them with all of the will I could find, attempting to muster enough strength to put my own excitement and joy aside in calm and collected support of my sister and brother in law.

2:04 am. The phone rang. My hand flew toward the nightstand before I had even woken up. As I opened my phone, my heart began to beat faster and faster. Could it be? Had the moment finally arrived?

Hi Molly, it's Bhadri.
Oh my gosh. Is it time?
We think Bethanie's water broke.
So... so I should come?
Yes. It's time.
Dammit. I knew I should have filled my tank with gas this evening. See you soon.

I clumsily moved my way about the dark Fairview house at 2 in the morning. I grabbed clothes without thinking, realizing two days later that I had only managed to take three gray colored shirts. Awesome. I made my way to the kitchen where I scribbled a note for my housemates that read, "Sister went into labor. I left at 2:15 am. Will be back Wed or Thurs. Whoa! Love you all." Then for some reason I believed it necessary to bring my turkey sandwich that I had made for the next day's lunch with me.

QuikTrip. 2:15 am. Gas. Coffee. And two large donuts? Why not. I have a long drive ahead of me and the man at the counter already thinks that I am high. Yes, two donuts please. My sister is giving birth right now. Not interested? Fine.

With the turkey sandwich, two large donuts and one terrible cup of coffee riding shot gun, I began the drive home. Wearily but with an excitement I had never known, I turned on the KC hip hop radio station that played music that I can only chalk up to divine inspiration. The smooth tunes of Kanye and Kelly and Avril roused me from my sleep as I drove to the midtown apartment that held my laboring sister.


The pain was gone, though pure and beautiful in its difficulty. The struggle had ended, though worthwhile and deep in its meaning.

My mom collapsed onto a chair burying her hands in her face, not out of embarrassment of any kind but out of a sheer joy. Bhadri smiled and cried and wept as he beamed at his new daughter.
And then there was Beth, somehow even more gorgeous in her post-labor hue. She looked at the little wriggling child that had been such a mystery for nine months. Her baby. And it was love.

Noa Violet Verduzco entered our lives. She flopped onto the bed, gave a little cry and within a second, everyone had fallen in love with her. She was life in the purest form. She was our family.

Welcome, little one, to a world that is not as scary as others might warn you. Welcome to a world that needs you and your life and your beauty. Welcome to a family that, despite all of our flaws and dysfunctionality, will dote on you and will encourage you and frustrate you and convince you that organic foods are better and soccer is the best sport next to frisbee and girls who don't wear make-up are cooler. Welcome to the Verduzco-Bryant clan. Welcome, Noa Violet, we are in love with you and your beauty.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


Amsterdam was lovely. Words don't really do my experience justice, as usual, but the five weeks that I spent in that diverse, bustling city full of canals and art and Turkish pizza were incredible, to say the least. I had no idea what to expect, leaving the country once again to embark on my return to Amsterdam, the city that irrevocably changed my life five years ago. I knew that the month had the potential to be life-altering, but it also had the opportunity to simply be a nice experience with some friends. Thankfully, it was the former.

On my final day in Amsterdam, I had two goals: Eat a pancake and make it to the airport on time. Both were accomplished, one with greater enthusiasm than the other. We went to the bike barn, unlocked the bikes and realized that we had a minor problem. We had three bikes for four people. What to do? Ride like the Dutch, that's what. Calley boarded my navy blue Sparta bicycle with a rack on the back, and I hopped upon that rack and held on for dear life. We shakily flew down the narrow and, unfortunately for me, bumpy streets of Amsterdam toward the best pancake house in the world. Calley was a pro, lugging my around on her back wheel, and we felt very local. No one even batted an eye at us, assuming that we were just normal Dutch girls on our way to a business meeting or an outing with friends.

Then came the pancake. A flat doughy cake approximately two times the size of my head. It was everything that I should not eat. Sugar. Ice cream. Chocolate syrup. Whipped Cream. And of course, the healthy ingredient that made it all worthwhile, fresh pears. An elderly American couple saw this massive breakfast of mine, said to me "That is ridiculous!" and then asked if they could take a picture of it. I enthusiastically said, "Of course!" and posed with my final breakfast in Amsterdam. A picture that I will never see but will be passed around that family from person to person, everyone in awe of the size of that massive sugary pastry from a foreign land.
Amsterdam, in a nutshell, was lovely. It was simultaneously encouraging and discouraging, heartwarming and heartbreaking, pleasant and awful, beautiful and dark. It was everything that I could have hoped it to be.

And now I am back in the States, living in a house with four other girls, learning how to homeopathically rid our residence of masses of gnats, feeding Liberty regulars and hyping them up with espresso and coffee at their beckon call. Although I can reminisce about Amsterdam with fond memories, I still haven't dealt with the magnitude of our research or the enormity of emotions that follow such work. Tonight I am going to attempt to lock myself in my room, although only in spirit because my door does not lock, and possibly start the process of dealing with what I have seen and heard in the beautiful city of Amsterdam and the small towns of Hungary.

Goodnight and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pocahontas is Hungary

Disney songs. Overused. Oversung. Over it.

Except Pocahontas. She will forever be my heroine. Not only because I am positive that somewhere in my ancestry we are related, but also because she is a princess who can swan dive off of waterfalls, cradle bear cubs, talk to racoons and single-handedly unite two waring groups out of her very own love for one blond haired, egotistical soldier. But most importantly, she sings songs of wisdom that have inspired me since 1995. I used to sing the ballad "Just Around the Riverbend" with gusto, assuming that some day I would face the same problems that she had. Such as, "Should I marry Kocoum? Is all my dreaming at an end... ooooooor should I still wait for you, Dream Giver?"

Fastfoward to 2009. I am twenty-two years old. I do not listen to the Pocahontas soundtrack on a regular basis; however, I do have it on my iTunes. And when I'm in need of some inspiration, I readily whip out some Native American folklore. Pocahontas sings to me. She tells me that anything is possible, that we shouldn't always follow traditions or expectations. She reminds me that to be safe we lose the chance of ever knowing what's around the riverbend.

What does this have to do with my current situation in Amsterdam? Honestly, not a whole lot. But if I can be so bold as to attempt to connect it, you really never know what's just around the riverbend. As Mother Willow so eloquently expresses in her solo, Listen with your heart. You will understand. And so we follow our hearts. To Hungary.

We have been given the amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to work with an organization in Budapest, Hungary. And so we booked cheap flights and will cross the continent into the former Soviet bloc country that is still reeling from the devastation of a post-cold war culture and economy. It is a journey that may not immediately change our lives and we might not appreciate the significance of it this weekend... but it's big. 60% of the women trafficked into Amsterdam are from Hungary. It's a new phenomenon and no one has been able to figure out why so many Hungarians, over other Eastern European women, are ending up in the city. And so we pioneer. We pack our tiny bags and head to a country full of mystery.

Was the a roundabout way to inform you of the latest turn in our research? Yes. But was it interesting? Maybe. Embarassingly honest? Absolutely.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Korean Night

The aroma of soy sauce and excitement filled the air. Busy hands prepared a feast. Hearts thumped for joy. The nervous anticipation of the greatest night YWAM-Amsterdam has ever witnessed was evident in the demeanor of every individual that had signed up to participate. No one knew what to expect. No one could imagine just how incredible, and unfortunately for you, indescribable the night would turn out to be. We pitied those who signed up too late, and even more, those who had never even heard of tonight. Because tonight was…

Korean Night.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Korean Night. You think you know, but you have no idea…

First, I believe it is appropriate to give you some information to enhance this experience. I am living on a hall of Korean men. They are kind and polite and relatively quiet, save for the one Korean who sings Jason Mraz’s “Geek in Pink” at the top of his lungs on a semi-regular basis. On one of my first mornings as I was getting dressed, I noticed a large shadow appear on my window. Thankfully my curtains were closed but the window was, unfortunately, slightly open. My room is adjacent to the roof which can double as a pseudo-balcony when the mood strikes. And my dear neighbor, a Korean man aged approximately 20 years, had climbed onto the roof and began knocking on my window. I was taken aback. What is this Korean man doing on the roof trying to get into my room? As some of you know may know, I am not the best in situations that may lead to embarrassment of one or more parties, so I casually moved my hand toward the window, attempting to remain out of sight by flattening myself against the wall, and closed the window shut. I thought that this would be the end of our rooftop relationship, but the next day as I was taking a nap, he began knocking again, this time with more force. I pulled the blanket over my head and pretended not to be in the room. I promised after that day, if he knocked on my window again, I would answer it. I would attempt to not be awkward and I would say to him that either A) he has the wrong window or B) do you need to come inside? But he never came back, and so the mystery remains unsolved.

Other than those chance encounters, we say “Hello” and “Good morning!” as we walk past each others’ rooms. We chat about the internet and edit their English notes for them. Clearly, Floor 2 has bonded despite the language barrier, and thus, Calley, LT and I enthusiastically awaited Korean Night 2009.

As we entered the normally bland and undecorated dining room, we were astounded by the transformation that had taken place in honor of our Asian friends. Korean flags with something like origami birds and trees adorned the cloth laden tables in the dining room. Red and white balloons lined the entryway. Sushi, translucent noodles, rice balls filled with spice, and sautéed vegetables painted the blank canvases of our plastic plates. Music heavy with whistles and chimes serenaded our intimate dining experience. Those in charge, and those who got into the Asian sensation spirit, wore Korean flags as capes. The whole dining room was a tribute, an effigy, to the great country.

Immediately following dinner was the real program complete with traditional dancing, a band concert, some type of dance/fighting, and games eerily reminiscent of reality shows made famous by their neighbor to the south, Japan. One game even required all participants to wear aprons, kick a pompon three times in a row, throw a wooden stick into a bucket and then run and jump onto a mattress while blowing out four candles. A relay of relays.

At the end, they all sang a song in Korean and told us that they loved us.

It was and will forever be: Korean Night.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Red Light District: A Glimpse

The Red Light District of Amsterdam. We walked down the main roads and narrow alleys, suppressing emotions of anger and deep disgust. Women, all trapped beyond their glass windows. Their bodies clad in next to nothing. Their faces caked in make-up to hide their tired eyes and beaten cheeks. Parents casually strolled hand in hand with their children, glancing at the women with little interest. Teenagers stopped to gawk. A young girl fixed her mascara in the reflection of an occupied window, seeing only herself and no one inside. Men briskly walked out of the rooms after paying 50 Euros for a body. For pleasure. For an insatiable and unattainable satisfaction.

Those women are laughed at by insensitive and oblivious tourists. Those women are perused and shopped like shoes and purses and light, summer dresses.

So what would I say to that woman in the window? I would tell her that although she may never meet them, she has advocates. Although she may never feel it, she is not alone. Although it may never be manifested in her liberation, there is hope. There is life beyond those windows. There is something more than either of us knows. We are both searching together. We are both looking for worth, value, meaning and, ultimately, love. She is not alone in her suffering. Look around! The whole world is crying out for liberation and redemption. We are all needy and broken. And so I will walk with her. Because I am her.

So join us in the abolition of men, women and children around the world who need you to be aware.

Educate yourself:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cup-a-Soup: Euro Style

I am in Amsterdam; my favorite city in the world. It is just as striking and invigorating as I found it was the last time I was here, which just so happens to be a long five years ago. Back in 2004, I came to this city in search of greater understanding and knowledge. It was a trip all-together life changing for little, impressionable, 17-year old Molly. It was integral in my life, pushing me to take risks like leaving home at the age of 18 to live in Africa, and daring me to question beliefs and form my own ideology and thoughts on life. Amsterdam captured me. I fell in love with Amsterdam, fast and hard. For the past five years I have longed to return.
And somehow, someway, I am back. My emotions cannot be contained, my heart desires to delve into the culture and I can't wait to get lost among the canals and winding narrow alleyways. I would choose to be no other place in the world for the month of July 2009. Two of my closest friends and I will be living our dreams, together in Amsterdam.

Onto much more important news...

Cup-a-soup. To you, that image probably conjures up memories of broke college dinners or elementary school lunches. For me, it is glory in a little paper packet. Five years ago, at the age of 17, I sat in my one person room in this same building overlooking a lucious courtyard in a bustling city. I sat on my bed and ate soup. And not just any soup, Cup-A-Soup. Flavor: Kerrie (Curry). I sat on my bed with a mug full of that delicious liquid on the most life changing day of my life (exaggeration? I think not). It became my comfort food for the trip and when I returned, to my utmost horror, I found that Cup-a-Soup America did not in fact supply their customers with my all-time favorite flavor packet. So what's a girl to do when her preservative filled soup box is noticeably absent from the shelves of her local grocery store? Why email Cup-a-Soup, of course! Thus, I emailed those buggers and told them my concern. I knew that they had Kerrie, but where was it? Where could I find it? Could they mail it to me? Their response was kind and thoughtful but disappointing nonetheless. Kerrie is produced only in Europe because the demand is too low in the States. And no, they appreciated my enthusiasm for their product but they could not mail it to me.

And then yesterday we were shopping at Alber Hein- the grocery store- and to my surprise, atop the shelf next to the typical- and let's be honest, boring- soups like broccoli cheddar and chicken noodle sat one lone row of Kerrie. I am back. And it feels oh so nice.

Confession: It is quite likely that Kerrie Cup-a-Soup will taste slightly less incredible this time as my taste has improved and my love for real curry has only increased. That being said, I will update you immediately upon the finishing of my first mug of Kerrie Cup-a-Soup 2009.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Resurrection Fern

One month ago I was sipping Cuba Libres in Managua with twenty of my closest friends. We were celebrating the end of final presentations and soaking up the remaining hours of our grand adventure. I was deliberately procrastinating packing the big green backpack that would lead me toward a post-Central American life. Elizabeth and I were sneaking out to the park across from the President's house to play on the teeter totters and make fools of ourselves in front of the young ice cream vendors. Chelsea and I were making plans to bike across the country and have book clubs together and prolong the inevitable goodbyes that were to take place soon. Amy and I were probably pouting. One month ago I was living with the Sandovals. I felt alive.

One month from today, I will be meandering down the cobbled and bike filled streets of Amsterdam. I will view history and art and a brand new culture. I will attempt bits and pieces of the Dutch language from a soon to be bought phrase book. I will live in an Amsterdam all together different from the one I visited five long years ago. I have changed, my perspective on life has been drastically altered and the Molly from 2002 is not the same as today. In one month, I will be in Europe. The Spanish language will not be prevalent and I am sure that I will find myself lost in a culture and language and people that are deep and beautiful. My heart will be broken each day as I walk through the Red Light District. I am going to be immersing myself in brokenness and hurt unlike anything I have ever experienced. And yet... I wouldn't have it any other way.

So as I sit here in my dad's adobe house with lush vegetation and a new lavender plant at my side, I wonder how I got this life. I am living what I have dreamed to live. I am traveling the world, country by country, continent by continent. I get to read books about history and politics. I get to live in the homes of women and men who profoundly change my life. I get to eat tasty foods and drink local beers. I get be outside. I get to study. I get to learn languages. I get to talk with prostitutes and politicians and farmers. And as I do this, as I plunge myself into uncomfortable and all together intimidating situations, I am learning more about the richness of life, the beauty of love and the pain of humanness. How did this happen? I feel like I just might be growing up... maybe.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Final Days

I am trying to find words. Words to explain or express or give a glimpse into my life in Central America. But I can't seem to find these words. This morning I left my Batahola home to move into the house with my eighteen other housemates to share our final week together. Mom, Leo and little Lupita held our hands as we carried our oversized luggage and heavy hearts to the bus. We hugged and kissed and said our temporary goodbyes, knowing that Thursday we would come back with pizza and Coke in hand to have our final dinner together as a familia. We'll watch our telenovelas and gasp with horror as Catalina pushes her ex-boyfriend's car down a hill. We'll play UNO for hours and attempt to get along knowing that cheating is abundant and UNO is serious. We'll eat pizza and marvel in the goodness of cheese. We'll sit on the rocking chairs. We'll say "Lupiiiiiitaaaaa!" over and over and over just to see that cute little smile emerge. We'll let Lola the bird sit on our heads. We'll listen to Dad play guitar and hum. We'll let brother read everything printed on the television screen in a loud, soothing, booming voice. We'll enjoy each other and laugh and giggle and love on each other. And then, some time in the future, maybe distant or maybe closer than I can imagine, we'll get to share it all again.

Meet the kids: Leo. Lupita. Jose Andres.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

El Sontule

Sandinistas. The Contra War. President Reagan. US foreign policy. Torture. Inequality. Rape. Money.

These words infiltrate my mind as I sit in this house in the middle of Managua. They are words that were once only defined by other words with other meanings in other times. However, as I sit here, legs folded in a comfortable chair, I cannot escape these words. They carry a new weight. They hold within each syllable a story. It is a strange phenomenon when words become personal.

Last week I stayed in the very rural village of El Sontule. No running water. No electricity. No internet. No sink. No door. No luxuries. Mountains surrounded the valley that held my wood plank and cement home. As I stepped outside in the mornings, the brisk air awakened my senses and the view was indescribable. Each night as I carefully made my way toward the latrine, I stopped to stare at the stars- the most brilliant and numerous stars I've ever seen, second only to Mt. Gemi in Amedzofe when the electricity would go off in the surrounding villages. It was romantic and breathtaking.

Aside from the simplicity of a life lacking in luxuries that I tend to always fall in love with, I had the incredible opportunity to live with one of the strongest and bravest women I have ever met. Isabel, a mother of six children ranging from 26 to 8, survived the Contra attacks on her community. Kidnapped. Tortured. Raped. The Contra War hit me like a slap in the face. It is not a story told by politicians and authors and journalists. It did not end in 1987. The war continues to rage. And as I sat there on the wooden bench next to the stove heated by dried corn husks, I listened to Isabel. She spoke delicately and intently. She made the war real as she showed us the mountains where she hid and escaped. We walked on the same land. We looked at the same trees. And at night, we stared at the same stars.

In countries where history, culture and politics merge so drastically and conflict so often, it is easy to overlook the personal stories. It is easier to read about war and human rights abuses and torture than it is to stare it in the face. This week, I was forced to stare it in the face. And I am honored to have the opportunity to hear firsthand, to translate the words, to sit with a strong Sandinista woman in her own home and to glance into a community with a heavy past and a bright future.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Because it's been too long...

I'm sitting in the darkened living room of my mom's high rise apartment in Venezuela. The bright lights of Caracas illuminate a city nestled beneath breathtaking mountains on all sides. For some reason, I am forcing myself to blog. It's been too long since I made the effort to write for writing's sake, so tonight, as I sit with my legs propped up on the leather couch, I will write.

For the past three months I have been living among the people of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Currently, I am living with the Sandovals in a small neighborhood in the middle of Managua, Nicaragua. The barrio of Batahola consists of dusty roads lined with cement block homes behind hammock hung porches. Not too quiet, not too loud, Batahola is tight knit and quaint. My house is hidden from street view, tucked behind two larger homes and a high concrete wall. We have no porch or hammock like our neighbors and our kitchen is outside, but what we lack in material possessions is readily made up in the personalities of the family. Papi, Mama, Jose Leo, Carmen, Leito, Lupita and Andre. What a family. Chelsea, my roommate and very close friend, and I have the incredible opportunity be a part of the lives of these amazing people.

Each night I take a bucket bath of the water saved from the days allotment of usuable agua. I attempt to clean the dust and sweat that accumulates throughout the miserably hot days of March and April in Managua. The rains have not come to temper the heat yet they taunt us with each passing cloud. After my bath, I sit with my family and watch telenovelas, futbol, talk, color with the children or read homework articles about the Sandinistas and revolutionaries. It is simple and crowded but very welcoming.

This past week I have been with my Mama. Oh how wonderful and altogether lovely it was to see her face! It was unreal. I walked through the Caracas airport, excitement building as I rushed past immigration toward my beautiful Mama. Over the past 7 days we have visited the ocean, drank refillable coffee cups, sat on the roof of a building with a view of the city drinking wine with her friends, met with a Chavista priest, peaked into mass, layed out by the pool, got sunburned, got tanned and simply spent much needed and much welcomed time together.

As I leave this world of air conditioning, toilets that let me throw toilet paper into them, constant electricity, hot water, a refridgerator full of food, cool nights, washing machines, spectacular views and time with my Mom, I am mentally preparing for the transition. When I arrived in Venezuela, to say that I experienced some culture shock is an understatement. Now as I pack my little bag that holds two pairs of clothes, a toothbrush, my journal and a book, I prepare to re-enter the Third World. It is more uncomfortable and harsher than this cozy apartment or the backrubs that my mom generously gives me when I visit, but the Third World enchants me. With all the normal amenities lacking, Nicaragua has a charm that shouldn't be ignored. I'm sad to say goodbye to my mom, as I always am and always will be, but I'm ready to embrace the next month. The final month of this little adventure of mine.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I´m just not that into you.

¨I think you just had your official welcome to Managua, Molly¨laughs my curly haired friend Amy from Rhode Island. Four girls squished into the back seat of a taxi in the heat of the Nicaraguan evening on the way to spin class turned into another eventful moment in the life of Molly Bryant. The stories keep building. Yesterday I was reminded that I am, indeed, immersed in another culture. A culture altogether different than my own; one that has undoubtedly provided moments of confusion, frustration and terror (which just comes with the territory of international travel) but mostly it has provided moments of pure humor and hilarity. As soon as I forget that I´m traveling through Central America, a man in a wheelchair tries to make out with me. At a stoplight. With a plate glass window as our only barrier.

´Tis true. I do not exaggerate, my virtual friends. Last night, our taxi driver Fernando pulled up to the stoplight of a busy intersection and immediately locked the doors and asked us to roll up our windows. We obeyed without question knowing that robbery has been on the rise here in Nicaragua. As I was innocently chatting with my friends and moving to the salsa music on the radio, a man´s face appeared directly to my left. Inches away. My eyesight might be horrific but I do have excellent peripheral vision. I slowly turned my head with the face of someone who might be described as one who feels both guilty and nervous because they know they shouldn´t be looking at whatever it is but they can´t not look at the same time. I looked. Failure! Never look.

¨Ho-laaaaaa!¨says the man as he nods and literally licks his lips. Cringe. I smiled and turned away. Surely the man will get the point. I´m just not that into him. He taps on the window. Shudder. He bangs on the window and starts talking. Holy shit. The car errupts into uncontrollable giggles. I try to remain adamant that I will not even laugh because that will just provoke the situation. Do not laugh. And then...

He sticks his mouth on the window. The window that is inches from my face. I turn to give him the look of ¨Ya Basta (Enough!)!¨And then I see it in plain view. His mouth. His tongue. The window. A part of me was literally scared. I wouldn´t say that it´s the most comforting thing in the world to have a man in a wheelchair make out with the window the lies adjacent to your body. Yet, slowly... slowly... slowly... a smile emerged. Then a snort. Then a snicker. And then laughter. Uncontrollable, deep laughter. Tears begin to stream down my face. With each kiss from the man, more tears. Tears of terror, tears of humor and tears that inevitably come with a situation like this. And then the car lost all control. It was contagious. And that damned stoplight lasted for what felt like hours.

Thankfully I had 50 minutes of spinning class from an instructor that had dance moves I´ve never ever seen before and who yelled at me to go faster to take my mind off the classy man at the stoplight. Perhaps we will meet again. Perhaps not. At least we had those 5 minutes together. On the street. With the doors locked and the windows up.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chip. Mouth. Crunch.

3:30 am. My roommate has just entered our bungalow. The door swings and makes a screeching noise against the tile floor. The light switch is turned on. Then off. Then on again. It is our last night in El Salvador and while half of the group stayed up drinking rum and Cokes and probably a healthy dose of tequila, the rest of us had less rum and Coke and tequila, played a few raucus games of UNO, danced Latin American style around the living room and descended the stairs to sleep in our comfy beds for the last time at a more decent hour, although decent is relative.

3:35am. The light is turned off yet again. She noisily walks to the bed that is a mere foot and a half from my tiny bed that is squished in the corner with sheets that don´t fit and a few springs that have slowly made their way closer and closer to the surface and my spine. She has changed clothes and is now ready for sleep. What else could she do? I assume that now all will be quiet. I can go back to sleep. I love my sleep.

3:38 am. Plastic bag crumpling. Still crumpling. Plastic bag falling to the ground. Hitting the ground. My mind races, what is happening? Then I hear it. It becomes clear. She is opening a bag of potato chips. At 3:38 in the morning. An hour and 7 minutes before I am to wake up and get on a bus for twelve hours that will take me to Nicaragua via Honduras and the open road. Bag opened. CRUNCH. Is she really doing this? How could she do this to me? She loves me! Crumpling. Chip. Mouth. CRUNCH. Chew. Chew. Chew. Each movement is like an audible bomb. Chip. Mouth. Crunch. At this point, not only can I swear on my life that she is eating each chip inches from my ear with the intent of instigating a physical brawl, but the bag must be three feet tall. It is never ending, these chips. They continue taunting me and screeching with laughter as her teeth descend on their salty bodies. Chip. Mouth. Crunch. CRUNCH.

3:52 am. The chips have been eaten. The roommate is asleep. I am awake with the echoes of fried potatoes resounding in my ears.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Highways and Byways

As we drove down the dirt rode, our fingers sticky from the fresh papaya, the sun began to set. Colors splashed across the sky and the night time coolness slowly descended on the Salvadoran countryside. The four of us squished into the old beatup Toyota pickup truck driven by our host mom, Elena, who just so happened to be a Catholic nun and one of the wisest women I've ever met. She casually asked us questions about our lives, and slipped in the seemingly insignificant question, "Do any of you know how to drive a stick shift?" Two of us said that we knew the basics of it, but we hadn't driven one in a long time. The conversation moved on, nothing too spectacular.

Suddenly, we were on the highway, darkness rapidly approaching, and we were literally averaging 35 mph. Something was clearly not right. Elena delicately pulled onto the shoulder and sweetly said, "Girls, I'm sorry to do this to you but I can't see." The four of us gave each other fearful glances wondering what we were supposed to do.

Elena: Can one of you drive?
Marie and I looked at each other with complete bewilderment
Marie: No. I really don't know how to drive a standard. It's been way too long.
Molly: I don't think I can do it. I really... I just don't think I can do it either... I mean... no. No.

After about two minutes of discussing the situation that was at hand... sitting on the side of the highway in El Salvador at night with a nun and a pickup truck full of people and no one to take the wheel...

Molly: Okay. I'll do it.
Elena: Wonderful! Let's switch seats.

I shakily opened the door, slipped into the driver's seat and adjusted the mirrors only to remember that the entire bed of the truck was full of chairs and other equipment from the day. I could not see out of the back window... at night in El Salvador. But there was no other choice, someone had to get us off the highway and back home. Someone had to drive that damned stick shift.

Literally making the sign of the cross, I put the car into first and took off. Cheers and laughter and applause errupted inside the truck. Elena could not stop encouraging me and telling me how great I was doing. Second and third gear came quickly, and the highway unfolded before me. If it hadn't been for the fact that I hadn't driven a standard in about three years and even then, it was only for a summer, or the fact that I held the lives of four other people in my hands, I might have enjoyed the drive. Instead, my knuckles were white and I thought I might have some type of emotional breakdown when, or more realistically if, we ever made it back safely.

It was completely black on the highway, no street lights to be found anywhere. We desperately searched for our turnoff, although with Elena's lack of sight it made it all harder. And then we saw it... our road that would take us back. I slowed down, put on the turn signal and waited until the massive bus that was coming the other direction passed me. Then... the car stalled. On the highway. At night. In El Salvador.

My next task was to turn the car back on, put it in first and make a left turn on the highway without stalling in the incoming lane. As I look back on this moment, I realize that it might be the most pressure filled moment of my life. If I stalled the car while turning left, we were in a massive amount of trouble. Real trouble. My mind raced with plans of survival. I envisioned screaming, "Get out of the car! Run!" I would run around to the other side, pick up little Sister Elena and carry her off the road. She couldn't run fast enough, could she? Plus, I wasn't sure how to say it all in Spanish. There would be no other way out. So Elena squeezed my hand and told me that I was going to do fine. Quietly freaking out in my head, I breathed, put it back into first gear and made a left turn onto the dusty dirt road that bumpily and yet safely led back to the church where we were staying.

We survived! Cheers, screams and huge sighs of reliefs filled that little pickup truck. Elena repeated over and over, "You're a star! You're a star! You have shown me confidence! A star!" As I got out of the truck that night, my legs and hands still shaking, I smiled a smile of survival and accomplishment. And then I ate some ice cream.

The end.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Leaves Anew

The wind is delicately provoking the floral print curtains that drape across the open window of the room that I share with two other women. A tree continuously hits the roof of our abode with the rhythmic tunes of the winds' nighttime music. A movie is being watched downstairs. Two girls are smoking cigarettes with the ease and class of 1940s movie stars. The dorky history majors of the group are gathered in their respective rooms reading the optional articles about revolutions in the 1970s. Ants are crawling across the floor in search of substance, probably the chocolate from one of my roommates' open luggage. I am drinking pineapple juice. Herein lies the next leg of my journey: El Salvador.

With El Salvador comes the much anticipated study of Liberation Theology. A new focus on economics. The fourth Harry Potter book. Rural weekend homestays. One house for 18 people. Early morning jogs. Hot weather. The continuous lack of middle class. An attempt at conquering more of the Spanish language. The Pacific beach. The Catholic Church. Numerous insects, illnesses, laughter and ice cream.

Four weeks and oh so much to learn.

Alright, so at this moment I am struggling with this whole blogging world. I say that often, but I feel it much moreso down here in Central America. I wish I could write better. I wish I could come up with a new word for adventure. Or a new word for new. I wish I could adequately, or at least accurately, describe the beauty and struggle of this small section of the world. I would like to be able to fluidly discuss the string that connects the politics, culture, language and beliefs of Central America. I would like to have funnier stories and richer descriptions. But for some reason, I feel a great sense of lacking. I do not have the words to illustrate the faces of so many who have been influential in my time here. I cannot form the sentences that would make up the paragraphs about the sights and aromas of these countries. For that, I apologize because these countries deserve some fine writing. They deserve to be known in their most raw and real states. They deserve, at the very least, for people to care. For people to become aware of their struggles and their attempts at a decent livelihood. Start reading the newspapers, the BBC and history books about revolutions. It will astound you and make your cringe, but maybe just maybe, you will see a little sliver of why we should care about these fascinating and strong people.

Thoughts from a girl who has not slept in a while and whose thirst for knowledge only continues to grow...

Friday, February 13, 2009

One Month Down...

Spanish classes are over. Las clases de espanol son fin. Three weeks of preterit, imperfect, future and that damned subjunctive are finished. How is that possible? I spent 75 hours in class with my spectacularly witty and sassy teacher, Ana; and yesterday as I sat back down in my chair in a post-presentation glaze, I glanced at Ana across the room to gather some type of hint about the level of failure from my last Spanish public speaking engagement of the semester. And she smiled a big smile, gave me a thumbs up and then made the face we like to make each other that consists of crossing our eyes and sticking out our tongues. I will receive a B+ in this intensive Spanish class, and although I am slightly disappointed in that grade, the fact that Ana told me that she is proud of my improvement and she wants to be my friend makes up for the few remaining points I lack in an A+. Starting on Sunday, Ana and I will spend our last week together in a rural village where we will undoubtedly make snide comments about our friends, discuss the politics of Guatemala and give each other beauty tips; more so, she will give me beauty tips, but I will act as though I am deeply interested in how to put on eye shadow that I do not, nor will I ever, own. And when we must finally say our goodbyes, I will have my proper Spanish grammar to remind me of our good times together and she will have a coffee mug with my face plastered across it.

Guatemala, to me, has been Ana and our incessant coffee drinking, our humor at each others languages, the way I pronounce “cámara” and she pronounces “whose,” soaking up sun on the terrace together and commenting on the unsuspecting people below. But Guatemala has also been my home stay here in Quetzaltenango. Each morning I wake up ten minutes before breakfast, leisurely walk to the kitchen where my host mom, Lisseth, comments on how cold my feet must be without shoes and then we sit down to our first meal of the day. We listen to a political radio show, she makes disgusted noises at the news of the day and then explains the disconnect between the politics of Guatemala and the real life of Guatemalans. We drink tea. We converse in Spanish. I nod my head a lot, but unlike the first two weeks in Xela, now I actually know why I am nodding. I understand her, in a way beyond language. We keep each other from being lonely in the afternoons and we play with Peggy, the lazy but well loved dog of the house. She makes me extra plantains to celebrate good grades.

My host dad is a less frequent but very vital aspect of my life in Xela. We only spend time with each in the afternoons. At around 1:20 each day you could find us sitting on the couch watching the news. Sometimes he switches channels and lands on explicit music videos of Shakira and then I blush and we have conversations like this (it has been translated into English to better suit my audience):

Dad: Molly, do you like McDonald’s?
Molly thinking ‘absolutely not’ but saying: Umm, yes, of course. knowing that we need something in common, and I can clearly see it in his eyes and in the way he asked the question that he is a big fan of the Golden Arches
Dad: What do you like to eat there?
Molly desperate for something: Chocolate milkshakes.
Dad: Really?
Molly: And French fries. What do you like?
Dad: Meekree?
Molly: Meekree? What is meekree?
Dad: You know, a meekree. They used to have it but now they do not.
Molly: I do not think I know what meekree is. What is it made of?
Dad: You know, cow. It is the ree of the cow.
Molly: McRib! You like McRib!
Disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.
Dad: Yes! Cow! McRib!

Yesterday afternoon we had another bonding moment when I tried hot pepper at lunch, and then I asked for some more, understanding that I was putting my already sensitive intestines in more undue stress than necessary. However, my dad thoroughly enjoyed the fact that I liked spicy food. Then when my host mom said it was cold, as she does at least once every five minutes, he said that she should eat some pepper and then he smiled and winked at me. I think we might have an inside joke that I am not clear on, but one thing I am sure, he did not take it personally that I went the whole day not knowing it was his birthday.

With the pierced and scabbed hands of the one who sacrificed all for us all,

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buen Provecho!

I confidently walked down the streets of Xela this afternoon, the sun warming my recently tanned face. Merely thirty minutes prior to my walk, I had successfully bought tamales for my host family and made a semi-delicious Guatemalan lunch complete with that tinge of spicy-ness. I was wearing clean clothes, a colorful scarf and my hair, recently bathed in hot spring water directly from a waterfall, was behaving moderately well. The stars were aligning. The air was clean. And then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large white horse approaching me as I can only assume would be described as a canter. Why was there a large horse running behind me? And then I realized, it was not in fact a white horse but a large white truck. It nipped my shoulder. Yes, my friends, for the first time this trip, I had near brush with death. For several weeks I have been told that I am too bold when crossing the street, but in order to get from one place to another in Guatemalan cities, its necessary to be a little bold. Today I was humbled.

To reward myself for escaping death, I met friends at a cafe and ordered a crepe which is a surprisngly Guatemalan specialty. In a few minutes, I am going to go put a picture of my face on a mug for my teacher. I have to tell her goodbye soon, and we're pretty much in love with each other (except for the fact that she's married and we're both into men). I feel like I am courting her because I bought her a heart shaped brownie, flowers and now this mug- my mug on a mug! Puns!- but Ana is so worth it. She's a sassafrass for sure. We get along well.

On Sunday I move to the rural village of Cantel. There will be no running water, internet or electricity so I probably won't be blogging anytime in the next week, not that I have been exceptionally good at posting at any point in Guatemala. In a little over a week, I move to San Salvador which I will call home for somewhere between five and six weeks. I will study Liberation Theology and live in a house with 18 other people. I am excited to continue this journey, although leaving Guatemala is going to be very, very sad.

Also, my host dad said that it is snowing in Miami, Florida. Truth or fiction? Lost in translation?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Guatemala: Primera Vez

Welcome to me being completely awful at communication. I knew that my track record for blogging would soon take a drastic decline; I just never knew it would happen during a very exciting time in my life. So I will make a concerted effort to reverse the affects of my laziness. I would like to mention, however, that I am pretty sure I’ve lost the blogging touch. My English is becoming increasingly less eloquent and I find myself have trouble expressing myself in any language. It’s a problem that has frustration and comedy surrounding it at all times. So here's to the first Guatemala blog- one of many, if I play my cards right and find the time to catch some free internet time.

I have found that the more time I spend engulfed in lifestyles and cultures altogether unlike my own Midwest upbringing, the more I realize how much I do not know. To say that a culture is complex is an absolute understatement- and that is precisely what makes cultures so attractive to me. They are deeper and richer and more complicated than one can ever really grasp. It is history, politics, food, economics, religion, tradition, ancestry, environment- and million other aspects- wrapped into the lifestyle of hundreds and thousands and millions of people. Outsiders can study it, poke it and attempt to deconstruct each aspect only to reconstruct an image that will never truly capture the beauty that encompasses cultures and peoples. It is a blatant mystery set out before me each day as I breathe the Xela air and walk down the road to school. I see a land and people that can never be captured in study- much less by these words on these pages- and I relax in that impossibility to fully understand why they do what they do. Because if I comprehend it all, the mystery would be gone along with some of the beauty. The excitement of sharing meals and stories in Spanish with my host parents would be lessened. It is comfortable to feel like one is understood, in fact, it seems almost crucial for one’s own sanity at times. It is comfortable to be surrounded by people similar and familiar, but I feel like my life is not truly being lived if I am not making an effort to search for humanity and familiarity in others who not at first appear like myself. I guess in the last few days I have just accepted that there will be great times of loneliness and sadness, but that is not a bad thing. It stretches me and forces me to reach beyond my selfish sadness and toward humanity. If I work to move past these emotions that are quite honestly a barrier to really loving people, then and only then, will I truly be living.

Also, last weekend I went zip lining on the longest zip line in Central America. And I met two men named Jorge and Carlos who strapped me to the cables and let me go. Ay yi yi!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Such Sweet Sorrow

I leave in less than 40 hours. The reality of it all is slowly creeping upon me and I can sense myself bracing for the inevitable emotions that latch on to times of departure. I am sitting in my childhood home surrounded by nothing except a wooden rocking chair and the weight of my heavy heart as I prepare to say goodbye to comfort and familiarity once again. This always happens, the last couple days before I depart to a foreign country or a foreign experience, I feel a sense of loss. I am losing months with friends. I am losing funny stories with my grandma. I am losing easy access to English books and Thai food. I am losing what seems like precious time. But then I slow myself down and I think about the adventure I am about to take part in. And the unknown inspires me to take the leap. It is terrifying, yes, it always is- but at the same time, I know it will be worth it. So I breath deep and pack my backpack with a couple t-shirts, a headlamp, way too many books, a pair of jeans, a dress and a whole lot of mixed emotions about the next five months- but most importantly, with a sense of belonging to an adventure greater than myself.

To you, my dear friends who follow this blog regularly or irregularly, thank you for caring. Thank you for taking the time to read my emotions and my strange stories about grocery store shopping and world travel. You are about to embark on this journey as well, through the eyes of a young girl who wants to soak up all she can. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Central American Addresses: Write me!

My Friends,

Monday I leave for Central America, and as much as I would like to blog and write clever witticisms and anecdotes about the past few weeks and upcoming months, I am on a time constraint. Internet is spotty here and there is no telling when my neighbor will decide to get online and selfishly kick me off her stolen connection. Therefore, a blog is coming before I leave... too much to talk about and too many thoughts surround me as preparations are becoming real, time is quickly getting shorter and my emotions reach rollercoaster style heights. But no fears, you will get the scoop as soon as I can bring myself to type again.

Until then, here are the addresses that are in high demand. Use them wisely (wisely meaning often). There are very few things in life that I cherish more than handwritten letters. Very few things. And while I am off in Central America, I would love to hear about your lives and your adventures in your respected parts of the world. This is me, asking-begging-suggesting-admonishing you, my dear friends, to write me. Or email me (mollyb24@gmail.com). Just let me know what you are doing because I would very much love to hear from you all.

Regular Postal Mail Addresses and Dates

Guatemala: January 19 through February 20
c/o Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco
5a Calle, 2-42, Zona 1
Quetzaltenango, Quetzaltenango

El Salvador: February 21 through March 29
c/o Centro de Educacion Mundial
Apartado Postal 05-181
San Salvador
El Salvador

Nicaragua: March 30 through May 9
Centro de Educacion Mundial
Apartado RP-44
Monsenor Lezcano
Managua, Nicaragua

For those who want to make the extra effort, boxes and packages can be delivered to these addresses with the same dates as above:

Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco
5a Calle, 2-42, Zona 1
09001 Quetzaltenango
Guatemala, C.A.

San Salvador:
Casa Los Pinos
Residencial Florida
Pasaje Los Pinos #6
San Salvador
El Salvador

Casa Jaime Mayer
de Montoya, una c., al sur, una y media c. arriba #1405
Managua, Nicaragua, C.A.

Email: mollyb24@gmail.com OR bryantm@william.jewell.edu

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Be Here Now.

I do not like blogging when it is expected because that defeats the surprise element of random entries about limeade and strange conversations... but today as I rolled off the mattress that consists of 50% of my bedroom furniture (the other 50% is my family's antique, non-working spinning wheel from the 1800s- not typically found in my room), I realized that indeed a new year has come.

At this time last year, I was on the water with 10 new friends. I was covered in mud, constantly wet and physically exhausted... yet indescribably happy and content. Outward Bound in the Everglades, one of my most treasured times. As 2008 creeped upon us, we celebrated by talking about our lives while balancing on board in a pitch black cove surrounded by dolphins from the ocean. Then we went to bed at 8:00 pm. It was the best New Year's ever. I remember trying to capture the moment in my head so that I could look back on it for years to come, and it worked. I was cuddling between Oyster and Panther, feeling no inhibitions and loving the intense friendship that arose out of our real need for each other. And as we sat in our evening circle, we knew that the new year was starting out perfectly, but we had no clue what would come in the subsequent twelve months.

For me, it was Ghana. It was teaching children about sustainability and playing with herbs and flowers. It was drinking margaritas and becoming best friends with some of the most fascinating and inspiring people I know. It was, unfortunately, directing Homecoming but fortunately developing friendships within Homecoming. It was sending my mom away to a foreign country with a man, not my dad. It was wanting to run away to Oregon to work on a farm. It was camping and roadtripping to California with a random friend I had not seen in years. It was dreading the consequences of adulthood. It was transition to the extreme. It was losing a sense of home but gaining something much greater. It was learning all the words to hip hop songs on the radio. It was riding my bike everywhere. It was accepting family, confronting problems- sometimes hiding them, and as David Bowie would say, it was all about "ch-ch-ch-changes."

At 10 pm last night, I found myself on the floor of my living room, every piece of furniture except one lone rocking chair moved out of the house that day by six tired, unqualified members of the extended Bryant-Jones-Verduzco clan. Bethanie, Bhadri and I lay sprawled in every direction on the floor covered in three or four blankets watching 30 Rock and drinking wine. It was New Year's 2009, but that title really held little significane. We just wanted to hang out and soak up our rare time alone with each other. Never expecting to make it to midnight, in fact, planning on going to bed around 11... we sang songs, danced like the excellent and rhythmically challenged people that we are, laughed uncontrollably, and talked about the new adventures we will embrace in the months to come. I will make my way through Central and South America and hopefully, Europe, in the next eight months. They will move to a farm in North America. And although these travels are important and life-changing, I do not think that traveling will be my greatest journey of the year- nor theirs. I have a feeling it is going to be something more genuine and meaningful.

Just like last year, I have no clue what 2009 will bring. No clue. And that is something that I love about not being in control at all times. Who knows what will happen! I am sure 2009 will consist of some heartbreak like the last, I am sure of that... but I think this year is going to be even better than the last. I just have a feeling about it. Travels, yes, they will be great. But mostly I am ridiculously excited about the future of my relationships... ridiculously excited.