Eso es alcanzar lo más alto,

lo que tal vez nos dará el Cielo:

no admiraciones ni victorias

sino sencillamente ser admitidos

como parte de una Realidad innegable,

como las piedras y los árboles.

Jorge Luis Borges

Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923)

This is the best that can happen,

What heaven perhaps will grant us:

Not to be wondered at or required

To succeed

But simply to be let in

As part of an undeniable Reality,

Like stones of the road, like trees.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

That's how the light gets in

Once again I am sitting in the ANADES office.  Alone.  It’s 20 minutes past the time everyone is supposed to be here and they are always very punctual.  This tells me that, a) it’s Saturday (which it’s not), or, b) once again I have missed some information about when and where I am supposed to be.  But this time I have an excuse because I was sitting in my room sick most of the day yesterday and don’t remember anyone saying anything about this morning.  Most likely they forgot about me and since there is no-one here to get any direction from at the moment, I’ll be creatively productive and write another post.

A few things that I’ve been thinking about recently are homesickness, ordered/disordered attachment (even though social workers aren’t supposed to say things like disordered attachment), and being a privileged guest in an unprivileged society.

I’m sometimes asked if and when I get homesick.  I feel like I haven’t been gone long enough to have had really strong pangs of homesickness, but I’ve noticed that when I’m sick I do miss the comforts and familiarity of home.  I miss sitting on a nice clean couch in front of my own big TV and drinking Canada Dry ginger ale.  I miss having someone to call up and not only be able to say “I’m sick, I think I ate something bad”, but being able to go into vivid detail about exactly how sick I am.  I also miss the last day or two of being sick when I feel good enough to truck out to mom and dad’s house and have someone make me soup and listen to me whine.  Just so I don’t come across as completely egotistical, I’ll say that there are times when I am feeling good and also wish I could sit in my parents’ living room just to hang out when it’s not all about me.  But the feelings are definitely stronger when I get sick. 

Which leads to attachment.  I like to think I have fairly ordered attachment but when I was away this weekend and got sick, instead of missing “home” I was missing my little dormroom at ANADES where I have been all of 2 weeks.  It got me thinking about the little kids I used to work with at Children’s Services who were in such a state of instability that they would form superficial attachments within very brief periods of time, knowing from experience that their living situation would probably change again shortly.  When I accepted this assignment I knew I’d be in Pennsylvania for 2 weeks, then Guatemala for 3 months, then in El Salvador for 3 years.  I didn’t know that I’d have two placements in Guatemala, or that once I got to El Salvador I’d be living in limbo for what looks like might be a while, not knowing when or where I’ll be living next.  And so here I was, missing a little dormroom because after two weeks in the midst of lots of confusion, uncertainty and what sometimes doesn’t feel like much support from anyone, at least the dormroom feels like something familiar.

And lastly, at the end of the day, despite accepting and not judging my responses to life in central America, I need to realize that I have chosen this.  And I was able to choose this because of a lot of privilege like race, socio-economic status, education, place of birth… you get the picture.  This hit home yesterday afternoon when I told my supervisor that I was sick and he got really concerned and took me to the ANADES health clinic.  There I was given a pitcher of coconut milk, some little pills (no idea what they are), a bottle of homeopathic gastrointestinal medicine which went a long way in soothing my stomach, and everything I need to get tested to see what’s wrong with my stomach (I won’t elaborate). 

As I, a white privileged stranger in a very unprivileged society, was sitting there being taken care of by kind and caring people, I felt really humbled.  I live in Mejicanos, an area of San Salvador where there is a lot of poverty, including children and adults who can’t have basic health needs met.  And I felt like here I am, not being able to contribute anything, and just taking resources away from a place that has few.  I could justify it by saying that in the end MCC probably reimburses my expenses and that within some time I will be contributing.  But as they were helping me and providing for my needs, there was no sense that they were thinking, “who is this silly gringo who talks like a 3 year old and thinks he’s helping us?”  Nope.  They were kind and patient and giving.  So with that in mind I will keep plugging away at learning Spanish, I will practice being patient with my living situation, I will keep trying to connect with local people instead of searching out other north Americans, and I will continue to participate whenever and wherever I can, even when it hurts. 

This is from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That is how the light gets in.


  1. Beautiful, Lynden! Thanks for being brave enough to let us into your mind, and considerate enough to leave us out of your gi tract. :)

  2. You are very welcome my dear cousin! I saw that you've got a blog and have started reading that, and am enjoying it as well! Thanks for your encouragement.

  3. wow.... that was awesome. It made me sad, lonely for you, yet so proud of you. I've been reminded lately that life was not supposed to be easy, and you're actually living that truth while I sit in my comforts of home. I wish too that you could be at mom & dads, chatting with us on the couch, yet I'm so thankful that you are giving of yourself, even when its not easy, and doing what you're doing. When you talked of the care takers not judging you or being angry, that really made me think.... what wonderful people.

  4. They are really wonderful people, more concerned about my health than I appear to be. And today my boss told me that he thinks my Spanish is really good. It was a good moment!

  5. Oh thats awesome, probably the best compliment you could have gotten eh? Kinda like when an African man told me I was doing good with Ellies hair! lol But no, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be, and then to think everybody's listening to see how you're talking. Ya, I good moment indeed:)

  6. One other thing, I went in this morning to see the nurse who helped me yesterday and to say thanks and that I had stopped vomiting. Her whole face lit up with a huge smile, she said, "how wonderful!", and gave me a hug. I stood there frozen with a very startled look on my face because no nurse has ever given me a hug before for getting better. Part of my very warm welcome to El Salvador.

  7. I'm looking forward to reading more about your experiences. New insight for me, and yet something familiar resonates with what you are talking about.

    And maybe the next time (because, hey, there's always a next time!) you get something nasty tromping around in your gut, it may give you another point at which to reflect and bless us with your thoughts.

    Thanks for your kind words on my last post too.