ArtCorps Artist Andrea Shigeko Landin travels to Guatemala’s capital with her youth group of budding photographers and documentarians from the highlands.
This I have found to be true: No matter how far you go, you will always find something familiar; and no matter how long you stay, you will always find something new.
My time left in Toto is rapidly diminishing and this realization is entering my daily life more and more. It’s going to be so hard to leave, I know that already; my eyes often tear up just thinking about it. Sometimes I think about my first few days here when I arrived in January–the novelty, the exhilaration, the foreignness, and the fear.
But these emotions did not run away with the mango season; no, they continue to be familiar friends. Last week I took a group of kids to the capital, the group that is working on a photography and interviewing project, with the goal of creating a small exhibition about the customs and traditions of Totonicapán in November. The trip stemmed from my realization a few weeks ago that none of them had ever seen any sort of museum or art exhibition, and so the idea of doing one of our own was abstract and unobtainable. So after getting permission from the organization, we planned a trip to an exhibition in Guatemala City that addresses issues of race, class, and history in this country. I had the privilege of seeing it last year, as it was sponsored and compiled by the social science research center where I studied last year in Antigua. Similar to never having been to an exhibition before, none of the kids had been to Guatemala City (the capital). As we worked on making the trip a reality, their excitement was contagious. The day of our excursion, their enthusiasm never waned, from our 5am departure to our 9pm return. The exhibition was great, but the highlights of our trip were the things I never expected.
“Andrea, look! Look! Quick, take a picture!” Upon the request of several of the kids, I whipped around, expecting to see something bizarre. Then I realized they were pointing at the sky, and it was an airplane that they saw. Of course–this flying metal thing that they had only heard about on the radio was indeed extraordinary. Despite not only having seen, but flown on so many airplanes that I have lost count, I feigned excitement as well and pulled out my camera. A few more grazed the sky throughout the morning, and the kids never got tired of pointing and gasping. And something strange started happening to me. With each airplane we saw, my fascination with them, which had previously been non-existent, grew. By the 4th one I found myself nodding in agreement with the kids as they expressed their incredulousness and staring at the sky until my eyes hurt and the planes finally ducked back into the clouds.
But the most exhilarating, hands down, was the elevator. First the kids insisted on running up all 22 flights of stairs to reach the top floor of the building. I followed them a little reluctantly–it was like the stair master on level 20. Then came time to take the elevator down. The kids starting screaming before I even noticed we were moving. My instinct was to smile and laugh at their reaction, but I wasn’t sure what my role should be in this situation–maybe I should tell them to calm down, that there were other people in the elevator, and that we shouldn’t disturb them? But it felt unnatural to suppress such elation. So I kept my mouth shut and with each floor we passed in this pulley operated glass box my smile grew. Before we even reached level 1 they wanted to go up again. I could tell the attendant in the elevator was a little bothered, but by that point I had forgotten my role as the responsible adult, so I asked him if we could go up again. He hesitated, and then, in an effort to convince him, I told him this was the first time we (yes, I said “we”) had been in an elevator and, for that matter, had been in the capital and we only had today so could we please just have one more ride. He finally said yes. The kids once again began to shriek as we went up and watched the people and cars outside get smaller and smaller. Then down, all 22 floors, and this time the noise from our group was even louder -because I was screaming with them.
So I’ve learned that finding something new in a familiar environment doesn’t necessarily have to be something one has never before seen. Sometimes you experience novelty and delight through another’s eyes, and it becomes your own. And as for finding familiarity in far away places–well, I think my perception of distant and foreign has changed quite a bit. To me, California matches that description pretty well right now. But I’m sure when I get off the flying metal thing and go down the pulley operated glass box in the Los Angeles airport, the flood of familiarity will be exhilarating, delightful, and will make me smile. Tears creep into my eyes just thinking about it.