October 22, 2021 / 16 Cheshvan, 5782

#4 VAYERA
Considering Options

Genesis 18:1-22:24

healing the body
making the path as I go
shifting perspectives

From HebCal.com (Hebrew Calendar) – Parashat Vayera tells the stories of Abraham’s three visitors, Abraham’s bargaining with God over Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s two visitors, Lot’s bargaining with the Sodomites, the flight of Lot, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, how Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father, how Abraham once again passed off his wife Sarah as his sister, the birth of Isaac, the expulsion of Hagar, disputes over wells, and the binding of Isaac (הָעֲקֵידָה, the Akedah).

In a hammock on the beach in Puerto Viejo, considering options

I spent this last weekend in the lively coastal town of Puerto Viejo. I came to get some relief from the merciless bugs that have been feasting on my body: the coloradillas (chiggers) – microscopic bugs that get you when working in the fields; the puruchas – tiny beach insects you also can’t see or feel until tiny red dots appear with a little black stinger in the middle; regular old mosquitoes who visit daily, especially at dusk. For the last weeks, my entire body has been covered with the itchiest red blotches. Covered. I have been using every natural plant and over-the-counter remedy suggested with only fleeting relief. After so many sleepless nights, I decided I just needed a little break. 

I worried that I might not be able to make it in Gandoca for the long term. After a tearful conversation, sitting on the front porch with the ever-compassionate and reassuring Delia, I felt encouraged to go away for the weekend. Delia lovingly told me “We have been living here for all of our lives. We grew up with this hot sun and this hard work. From the time we were small children, this is the life we were prepared for. Give yourself time. Take it slowly. Tranquilo. Don’t push yourself so hard, so quickly.” She affirmed that I have a strong, hard-working body and encouraged me to get a good rest this week-end. She assured me that all was good.

It brought up for me the options and privileges that I have that others in Gandoca do not have. Much like the European adventure I embarked on after high school graduation, I have been determined to explore different cultures and lands not as a visiting tourist, but as someone who could immerse in community as an active and engaged participant. Although my time in Gandoca is framed as a “service project,” I have resisted feeling myself to just be dropping in for a brief stay as some sort of do-good-er or eco-missionary. 

I have felt that to really be part of the community life, I needed to be here for an extended amount of time—like years or, at least, months. Anything less feels more like this is just a little cultural excursion for my own benefit, catching a glimpse/a snapshot of a life that I can never really be a part of. So, I was thinking to stay in Gandoca for the duration of the Shmitah year.

When talking with my new Jordanian friend, Ali (who is in Gandoca for a month and will then spend the next month traveling through South America, including visiting Machu family Picchu), he encouraged to me to hold a broader view. When reflecting on our shared class privilege and mobility options, Ali observed “Whose to say that we are more privileged with our material wealth? This tiny village is rich with family bonds and continuity of traditional ways; an abundance of plant life to sustain them and wild animals to learn from; surrounded by the almost unbelievable beauty and awesome power of the jungle and the sea, with rivers and lagoons all around.” It’s true – their lives are full and rich by a completely different standard of measurement.

The other volunteer in Gandoca, Maylu, is from the Netherlands. Although only in her early 20s, she has been traveling the world for years. Sitting on the the beach together one afternoon after she arrived, Maylu told me about her travels through Vietnam, Indonesia, India, and beyond. It got me thinking about places I’ve imagined visiting but never have. As I tended to all of the puruchas bites on my butt after our beach conversation, I thought: “I’m 66 years-old. If not now, when?!”

That’s when I came up with the possible framework of visiting seven different places, for seven weeks each, over the course of the Shmitah year. I thought about the places Maylu visited and considered what it would be like to go to Hue in Vietnam where Thich Nhat Hanh is living out his days at his home temple. Machu Picchu. Bali. Tahiti.

Being in Puerto Viejo has given me a little perspective on my Shmitah journey (and also, happily, some time to heal from constant itchiness!). It has also been a time to consider more deeply the questions of what it means to be part of a community and to remove myself when life feels uncomfortable and arduous. How to honor my need for alone time in a community where no one seems to have alone time separate from family life? How to live in such a way that respects the ways of community and honors the needs of my own body and spirit?

Framed by this week’s Torah portion, these are the questions and considerations I am taking into the week with me. I welcome any input or reflections you may have as well.

I’m looking forward to returning to Gandoca this afternoon. To returning to my new friends, the families, and village life. With my body literally feeling like a clean slate, I also wouldn’t mind offering it up again to the locals to partake of in moderation.

The journey continues.

With love,
Yael

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