There are some people you meet in life you just know will be remarkable from the start. To be part of their lives, though on the periphery, has been a powerful joy and delight for me. Soon I'll be seeing them again. Would you like to meet them too? See below...
Ana-Maria was a Dutch volunteer working with the same organization in Ecuador when we met her in the mid '90's. She was coming down a set of office stairs when I first spotted her and she greeted me with open arms, like she knew we'd be friends for decades. I was instantly drawn to her take-charge style and boisterous humour. When Rob and I were struggling in Guayaquil (once referred to as the ugliest and most dangerous city in South America) and about to pack the whole adventure in, she found us an adobe house over a river in what was to become the most beautiful city in the world for me - Cuenca, where she was living. This move extended our stay for a few more years, and they were by far, the richest. I cried when we left there.
When we moved back to the Yukon, Ana-Maria came for an extended visit to sort out what was next for her. She'd been unable to fit in again to her regular life back in Holland. Like us, it felt like everything had been changed forever. After two months, she made a declaration from our hammock in the living room (which was our only piece of furniture in Cuenca), "I had to come to the Yukon to find out that my life will be in Guatemala." And off she went, to quite her job, to sell her house and all her assets, to fund this primal urge. It must have been the ultimate test to be stranded for a stint at the Amsterdam airport, leaving everything she knew for certain behind, about to launch into a fresh new adventure, on September 11, 2001. "Didn't you feel like it was a sign to go back? Weren't you afraid to go on? You were in limbo, there was so much uncertainly!" I asked. "No, to me it was confirmation that I was doing exactly the right thing." This sums up Ana-Maria quite well.
I first met Scheherazade/Arlaine in Antigua, on a cobbled stone street. She was limping mildly and her head was bent in serious concentration. When she spotted Ana-Maria and I approaching her, her face burst open with stories of her recent fall and her determined ideas about life. I took notice of her unusual spirit right away. Arlaine once described herself as a starlet when she was young but the course of her life was altered by the reform school she was sent to. I'm not exactly sure what a starlet is but I know it involves poise and presence, which is still vibrantly visible. As was true of Scheherazade, Alaine's stories shaped who she is today. During my month in Guatemala I watched these two amazing women formulating and creating their new existence there, each with their individual projects in mind, going forward.
Several years later, while recuperating from surgery (on a futon Rob had cobbled together for me out of logs punched out of the guest cabin windows), I got a call from Ana-Maria and Arlaine. They were on a white beach in Mexico thinking and scheming with me in mind. Would I be interested in spending a winter in La Paz, running Arlaine's small inn while she concentrated on the building of her project in Guatemala? Well, let me think about that... A few months later Arlaine picked me up in L.A. and like it was perfectly normal, we drove down the Baja road, fueled on tuna salad and many more stories.
Arlaine's latest update: http://cpss.wistia.com/m/sn10bX
Arlaine's website: www.ninosdellago.org