Puerto Rico

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Of God and Mofongo

By Marisa Mohi, true believer

I’m not a religious person. God, for me, has always been more of a question or intangible possibility than an absolute. My views have evolved throughout my life. I’m no longer so devoutly agnostic as I once was whilst growing up in the conservative safe haven that is Edmond, Oklahoma. The further I get from the people shouting at me that alcohol is a sin and educated women are tools of the devil, the more I can envision a god.

For the past few years, as I have gone through graduate school, everyday I’m overcome with intense feelings of love and gratitude for the place and person I am today. I have never felt so comfortable and content in my entire life. The further I get away from the city I grew up in, the more convinced I am that there is a god out there, just not the one in Edmond that wanted me to fry.

I don’t mean to bring up a controversial topic. I’m a good country girl and I know better than to talk about religion or politics in polite company. And I know this all seems wholly irrelevant to Puerto Rico. But I’m getting there.

I’ve always been terrified of water. Pools, lakes, ponds, and stagnant mosquito-ridden puddles used to make my blood run cold. I’m not a strong swimmer, I’ve never looked good in a swimsuit, and my family isn’t the type to pack up and go to the lake. Up until my trek to Puerto Rico, I had only seen the ocean once before.

On New Year’s Day, I stepped off the sand on the beach in Luquillo and made my way into the waters of the Atlantic for the first time. I didn’t swim much, and I found out that I wasn’t good at boogie boarding, but I did wade out a little and experienced real waves for the first time.

Before this day, I had been feeling intensely homesick. I was the furthest from my family that I had ever been, and I was surrounded by a class of near-strangers. But when I stared out at the waves, I didn’t really care anymore. I finally was beginning to understand why so many people love the ocean, an entity that used to terrify me.

As the days wore on in Puerto Rico, we were so busy that many of us lost track of time and couldn’t really tell you what day of the week it was. Some complained of missing their boyfriends or girlfriends, or wanting to see their family. While I did miss my family, I really didn’t have any desire to go back. Even now, as I sit on my couch staring out the window at the dreary gray deathscape that is winter, I think that I could definitely go back.

It’s not just the ocean or the white sand beaches though. I think it was the people there too. There were so many people constantly surrounding us in San Juan that I initially felt scared. I had never been to such a big city before. As we ventured away from San Juan to cities like Ponce and Juana Diaz, I began to feel less like an outsider. Though my Spanish is still the Spanish of a public high school classroom, I still felt like I could make my way through Puerto Rico.

So, my initial reason to take this course was to get away from my family and see the world in order to become a better writer. I’m not sure if my writing has gotten any better, but I definitely have a new perspective on my surroundings. I think seeing a place unlike your home forces you to consider new ideas and makes you adjust your opinions just a little. Going into this trip, I thought that I would always live in Oklahoma. Graduate, get a job here, and finally raise a family. After this class, though…I’m thinking there might be some other things for me on the horizon. I now have places to go and a to-do list to go along with them.

So what does all this have to do with my imaginings of a celestial being? Well, maybe nothing. Or maybe everything. I am thankful that I was able to go on this class trip. I am thankful that I had the experiences I did—sleeping on a beach, hiking through a rainforest, swimming in a waterfall, standing on an 800-year old tree, seeing more neoclassical/Spanish revival architecture than I could even recognize, eating fresh pineapple on the side of the road, seeing a religious festival and standing in the middle of it…

And even now, as I wallow in flannel pajamas, I can almost still feel the ocean and how it felt to be hit by a wave for the first time. It was a whirlwind two weeks to say the least. And somewhere in the middle of all of it, I became content with just going with the flow. I stopped missing my home. I didn’t care that I was sleep deprived. I welcomed a dish called mofongo with open arms. In all of this, I would say there is more than just a tincture of grace. This opportunity to travel, the experiences I’ve had, and the new friends I’ve made—these are all things I would call blessings.

Did I find religion in Puerto Rico? Nope. But some of the feelings that I’ve come to over the years have been reinforced. And maybe for a once-staunch agnostic, seeing the ocean and riding the wave of travel is a good first step.

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