I went to a bar last night in Antigua with los estudiantes de Alemania and was approached by a man who asked, Are you as smart as you look? I suspect it was because I was wearing my new spectacles, which have a certain “sexy librarian” appeal to them, and in fact looked rather librarian-like in general in a pair of black pants, white shirt and floral sweater. I did not answer him, first because he was obnoxiously drunk, second because he didn’t ask in Spanish, and most importantly because it was a stupid pick up line. La chica alemana Christine, in her infinite 19-year-old wisdom, turned to me with a look of disgust on her face but I found the whole thing pretty damn funny. How smart do I look sir? There are more than a few people who think I am pretty stupid. I don’t happen to agree with them, but these people would say quitting my good job, moving to a foreign country where I know exactly one person, shifting from one career to another – the latter one not likely to make very much money – and gallivanting around for months on end without making a single dime is pretty stupid. I did really want to ask him how smart he thought I was, but Christine, Michael (el chico aleman) and I busied ourselves with Gallo beer and selecting Bruce Springsteen songs on the bar’s iPod.
But the question stuck with me. Are you as smart as you look? Since I first decided to move to Guatemala this nagging question keeps creeping up in my head, Is this smart? As I packed up my apartment in New York – Is this smart? As I wrapped up my last day at work – Is this smart? As I flew across the country, through Mexico, into Guatemala, back to Mexico, into Honduras, then back to Guatemala – Is this smart? As I drove through the streets of Guatemala City into Antigua in the wee hours of the morning – Is this smart?
This repetitious question was caused by self-doubt. It was caused by an insecurity within myself, a fear of doing something wrong, of making a mistake. But I have made countless mistakes since I have been here. For instance, I took the wrong bus to get to Antigua from the San Juan house and ended up in Santa Maria de Jesus, an hour away from Antigua, and had to devise a plan to get back. I was busy texting Carolina with a very important message while walking down the precariously narrow sidewalks (the message was “Hi”) and ran into a concrete window base level with my temple and gave myself a concussion and a bump on my head the size of a golf ball. In fact, every time I open my mouth to speak Spanish, I am proud to say the number of times increase daily, I make linguistic mistakes. I am learning, abet not very gracefully, that mistakes are a part of life. They happen. Some mistakes you can fix and some you can’t. Some things you thought were right end up being mistakes in the end. Some things were never mistakes to begin with.
I guess what I am trying to say is I am coming around to the fact that you have to be a little stupid to be smart. If the events that led me to this moment weren’t smart, I do not care one little tiny smidgen of a bit. For the first time in many many months I feel happy. Whether I get up rested and peaceful raring for running, yoga and school or I get up battered, tired and hung over, I wake up knowing I am going to make 99 mistakes today and as long as they are made out of genuine need or curiosity rather than laziness or entitlement, my mistakes are worth every bit of the struggle it takes to work past them. So sorry to disappoint sir, but I am certainly not as smart as I look. Despite my apt fashion choices I am dumb as a doornail and wouldn’t have it any other way.
The San Juan House