I thought, when I left home, that on this trip I might gain awareness of local issues in Latin America, big important issues like poverty, hunger, environmentalism, conservation, inequality, and access to education. Since I’ve been here, I’ve heard a few people’s opinions on those topics, but not as many as I’d imagined. Locals don’t air that kind of dirty laundry to travellers, even volunteers who are in the region for as long as a year and looking for ways to contribute. I’ve found, however, that my time abroad has given me a different type of awareness, one that I wasn’t looking for but have been glad I’ve found nonetheless.

Travelling, especially volunteering, has given me a consciousness of my surroundings and myself. I observe details that escaped my notice in the past. My senses are more in tune with the world. I’ve never considered myself a detail-oriented person, and I admit that when reading I’ll skip over the paragraphs of sensory description in my search for the story line. I rapidly lose interest in any book that starts with “The sky was that particular shade of blue that one only sees on a hot July morning, a hazy kind of blue, reminiscent of wildflowers…” On this trip, though, I’ve begun to notice those kind of details myself. The quality of light, the patterns of the clouds, and the shades of green in the hills are catching my eye as they never did before.

Hot tub at sunset

Hot tub at sunset

Here at the farm, with no internet, electronic devices, cars, machinery, or other distractions, I’m finding myself being aware of what’s around me. I notice the flock of 40 parrots overhead, squawking loudly. I see the tiny flatworm in the woodpile, and the leaf covered with dozens of caterpillars. I smell the flowers, and hear the frogs. Part of my newfound awareness comes from having so many animals depending on us here. I’ve always got an ear open for sounds of distress from the livestock. The piglets have been let out of their pen and are harnessed and tied to stakes around the property; I find myself listening for unusual squeals in case the young pigs break loose or start choking themselves on their ropes. Another part of my mind is keeping track of where the goats are, and whether the babies have been left behind by their mothers. Near the house, I keep my eye open for escaped baby chicks, who have sometimes been able to squeeze underneath the chicken wire to go exploring. If they get too close to a pig, they’ll probably be eaten for lunch.

I’m not only aware of the animals, but also paying attention to myself. My body and its rhythms are much more obvious to me when I’m so free of distractions. If I’m not feeling a hundred percent healthy, I can generally identify the source of the problem and the reason for it. The cures on the farm are simple: more rest or less, more water, less food, more food, or different food. Just by being aware of myself, I can keep track of how my diet and sleeping patterns affect my health.

The most pleasant side effect of my newfound awareness is my appreciation for my surroundings. I recognize the trees that smell nicest in the evenings. I know the rain is coming the instant before the storm starts: I heard the raindrops hit the trees nearby before they reached me. I see the tiny yellow frog as I’m walking in the grass, and I can stop to admire it. Ellen and I are constantly calling to each other: “Look at this spider!” “Stop! Come see this worm!” We might be working a little slower, but we’re happier as we do it. It’s a nice way to be.

A flatworm we found in the wood pile

A flatworm we found in the wood pile

Look at the tarantula on the ceiling! (Not necessarily the same one I found in my boot the other day. Now I check my boots every time I put them on!)

Look at the tarantula on the ceiling! (Not necessarily the same one I found in my boot the other day. Now I check my boots every time I put them on!)

 

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