'¿por qué no es fácil ignorar?'
Posted 2013.03.08
Featured song: "Serénidad" by Bohemia Surburbana


I got it! I got music connected to Guatemala! I can deposit all my memories of... riding the bus on the way to the hospital... but also pondering how profound was the experience I had that week and how good a job I did!

This takes some explaining.

On the plane toward Guatemala City, while over the Gulf of Mexico, I turned on the album I bought the day before: the self-titled Bohemia Suburbana. The band first gained popularity in the mid-90s as a protest group in the last years of the country's civil war, but I didn't know that when I bought it. All I thought was, "This iTunes sample sounds like a band I would like!" So, I bought it, with the intent of listening to it on the way to Guatemala and thus begin the process of association.

I woke up the morning of the flight at about 4:30, so I was pretty tired by the time I turned on the music. I recall hearing the first four songs, but I woke up during the penultimate one, missing all of the stuff in the middle. "Well, that didn't work out," I thought, but that quickly left my mind when I looked out the window and saw water, that, as I recorded on my phone's journal app, "seems more like a leather coating, the kind you see on a sofa or a jacket."

The one thing I remember thinking while I listened was, Uh oh. I can't understand many of these words. That bodes ill for my job here. I had joined the trip as a translator, someone who would help doctors, nurses, and physical therapists communicate with patients and vice versa. If I couldn't do that, what good was I going to be? Even with the flash cards of Spanish medical terms I'd made in the past week, I didn't consider my chances of usefulness all that great.

By the end of the week, I was proved more than wrong. I gelled well with the group, and patients were so appreciative of my work that I received a coin purse, a woven bag, hugs, tears of happiness, and the honor of having a future son named after menote I had to stop and turn away when a patient told me that. Even now I sometimes question my translation, but as I turned away in that moment, I went over it again in my head, and I said to myself, "Yep, that's exactly what she said.". I did better than I ever thought I would, and even though I've known about Operation Walk for a long time, I underestimated exactly how important and fulfilling the trip could be.

On the bus drive to the hospital on Friday, our last full day in Guatemala, I revisited Bohemia Suburbana. The first lyrics I hear:

Llorando penas, tragando alcohol,
Mismo bar, misma esquina, misma silla, y mismo actor.
¿Por qué no es fácil olvidar, difícil pedir perdón?
Serénidad, todo lo que ___ tiene que bajar.
Serénidad, todo lo que quieres no podrás ___.

My first reaction:

(wide eyes)Ohmygodicanunderstandallofthis!

What was once exalted gibberish was immediately made clear. (Well, mostly clear. I didn't know what was in those two blanks ['sube' and 'tomar', respectively], and the Internet says it's "lo podrás tomar," not "no podrás tomar.") I listened to the rest of the song with a smile on my face, as every other lyric came to me relatively crystal clear.

It's going to be an odd association. For one thing, it's way too specific. I have no songs to associate with getting a child named after me, or counseling a mother as her daughter lies in bed with two full-leg casts, or translating in the first day's triage of diagnoses. When I hear this album, I only see myself looking out the bus window toward cliffs on the side of the Carretera al Pacífico, thanking my latent knowledge of Spanish for kicking in.

There's also the subject matter. That first song, "Serénidad" ("Serenity"), leads with the narrator asking why it's so difficult to forget and ask for forgiveness as he sits drinking at the same bar he's known for so long. It's kinda sad, and it's nearly the opposite sentiment of my week in Guatemala: a new place, a good time, a build-up of confidence, and a reminder of all the good things that people can do.

I suppose there's one similarity: I won't be able to forget this for a long time.

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