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Whispers from Atitlan, Zion on the Horizon

There was a lot swirling in my head as I sat behind the wheel of the SUV driving in the dark. At that moment a list was forming of all the things I had to take care of when I got back from this camping adventure. But it was hard to focus on the future…

There was a lot swirling in my head as I sat behind the wheel of the SUV driving in the dark. At that moment a list was forming of all the things I had to take care of when I got back from this camping adventure. But it was hard to focus on the future when Central America was still part of my immediate present. What I learned, experienced, felt- all of it- needed to be processed.

Having just got back from Central America, I found myself in the deepest most hottest of heat waves gripping Southern California this summer. To say that I wasnt prepared for that was off the mark given that I’d just spent the last few days in Guatemala soaking up the western highlands cool crisp summer storm air. Lake Atitlan and the alpine climate. My head floating somewhere near the islands in the sky amidst the ocean of clouds.

Being in Southern California’s heat wave was like being dunked into the waters of the Boiling River. I was shocked at the drastic change in weathers, and jetsetting already discombobulates you! Regardless, two days after my arrival I was tossing my Camelback day pack into a rented Chevy Tahoe several hours before even the faintest rays of dawn would begin to creep and driving for Utah’s Zion National Park with the family and two of my cousins.


Everyone was curious about my trip, but they all seemed to want that one minute version of my three weeks of travel, and worse, I didnt have sound bites for people. I had 500 years of history, politics, culture, and foriegn policy swirling around in my head like a thick frothy glass of lassi, not your glass of waterdowned Roafzah. If I don’t provide a soundbite, I get the same response, “well you obviously had to have had some sort of experience to share.” But if my sharing took more then a minute, the eyes glazing over and this sense of “well I wasn’t looking for that” starts creeping into our interaction and makes for a uncomfortable reality.

Its not that I need time to reflect to create soundbites. I need to reflect and process also because I feel challenged in so many ways. Integrating back into life in the States is a significant exercise in toggling with adjusting to multiple realities.

In fact, I was questioning everything. From that cup of coffee I was drinking to the clothes I wore. I felt like I was betraying the things i learned, the emotional tugs i experienced, the resolve i had made to not be part of the system. Revolutionary betrayel confounded me and I was upset with my own weakness. Plus I still couldn’t get my head wrapped around the idea that the promises of globalization I had ate up were rose colored theories. What takes the place of globalization?


But this was a family camping trip. Check. I needed to get the right mindset for the trip. Check. I was back home. Check… maybe.

I found the concept of “being back home” a bit strange. To me the the idea of having a sedentary life, to not be on the move again is difficult to adjust to. I so quickly slip into the life of the itinerant. For me its easier to slip into that lifestyle then it is to slip back into “being back home.”

Benjamin Button deserves being quoted on how it feels to be coming home: It’s a funny thing about comin’ home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You’ll realize what’s changed is you. Its simply that everyone kept on living their lives, whereas I was coming back to that point in time I had left. Worse, I was coming back with ideas challenged, incubating radically different perspectives on things. Wrestling with whether the old and new could exist together or a totally new framework for viewing the world was necessary.

After a trip like mine, its hard to just pick up and start living where I left off, for that particular reason. I was finding myself smack dab in the middle of some of the very ideas I was wrestling with in Central America. Namely, here on this camping trip to Zion National Park, with the intersection of indigenious communities, national parks, and the politics of these two.


I was at Zion National Park, a place that had its indigenous people pushed out violently to be settled by white Mormon settlers. When its natural wonders were first recognized it was accorded the status of a National Monument with its indigenous name- Mukantaweep. When the National Park Services directors moved to make the monument a fully protected National Park they decided to change the name to Zion, for branding purposes and to appease the local Mormon population that continued to refer to the area as Zion.

Response to “Whispers from Atitlan, Zion on the Horizon”

  1. On Being a Yosemite Virgin | Affad Shaikh

    […] Its been incredibly glorious experience with adventure! And this particular trip, coupled with Zion in the later part of summer, have been a bit nostalgic. There was a time where I could only get one trip in during three years. […]

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