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.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Being a messenger of peace

I’m sitting at the ANADES guesthouse getting ready for another week of work after a relaxing weekend.  I’ve noticed that once I’ve dived into the week and am surrounded by the work and the people I’m working with, things are fine and I get by with my limited language skills.  It’s the time for reflection during the weekend that is a bit more difficult.  Take for example my mild panic attack this afternoon.  I was watching a movie that I normally would enjoy, but today I couldn’t really get into it because my mind was thinking about too many things.  I paused it halfway through to go get some pop, came back to watch it again, and then started to feel really anxious.  I realized that even though I really have nothing to worry about in the big scheme of things, I was (am) nervous about facing another full week of constantly straining to understand every second or third word, and then based on that, choosing the most likely of the possible things that are being said to me, and then coming up with a response that makes some grammatical sense.  I’ll stress that in my mind this all needs to be done in a very short period of time so that nobody clues in to how completely lost I am in this country and this language.

So then I plugged in my Rosetta Stone computer Spanish course which really doesn’t help at all except to prove to myself that I am doing everything I can to make this work.  And then as I write this I am thinking, “so what happens if you come across as weak or not in control or scared?”  It’s easy enough to say (theoretically) that I am working with people who face poverty and weakness and probably fear on a regular basis, and what do I think I can possibly share with these people if I can’t recognize and accept those things in my own life.  It’s an entirely different thing to intentionally shed the mask of control and accept that I will screw up many times.

This past Friday ANADES had a service/mass in honour of Oscar Romero, who I’ve written about in the past.  We reflected on a question by Romero that had to do with what it means to be a messenger of hope, today, in our everyday lives and the lives of the people we interact with.  Well, I certainly don’t have any shiny new techniques that I can pull out of my toolkit and start social working people in Spanish with.  At this point I think all I may have is my wit and charm (which, truth be told, haven’t really opened too many doors yet) and my ignorance of their language, history and culture.  Is it possible for me to be a messenger of hope by accepting my weakness and allowing them to teach me?  Hopefully.  For starters, it might help to put us on more equal ground.  It may also give others a belief in their own gifts as they teach me. 

Maybe things this week will be alright.  Maybe I’ll fall flat on my face.  Maybe somewhere in between those two I’ll spend less time worrying about losing face and more time enjoying the time I have with the people here.  When I think about being here in El Salvador, I can’t believe how lucky I am to have been given this opportunity.  I’ll close with a quote from Oscar Romero:

"Beautiful is the moment in which we understand that we are no more than an instrument of God; we live only as long as God wants us to live; we can only do as much as God makes us able to do; we are only as intelligent as God would have us be"

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

El Salvador

At long last, I am posting from my new home in San Salvador, El Salvador.  I'm currently in the Mejicanos district of San Salvador which is where the partner organization ANADES is located.  Here are some pics of ANADES and the surrounding community of Mejicanos:
The main gates of the ANADES compound

The guesthouse at ANADES where I've been staying the past few days
The streets of Mejicanos...

I've been promising pictures of San Julian where I will be working and where I thought I would be living for the next three years.  Turns out it's gotten quite dangerous and they want me living in San Salvador, at least for the first while. Anyway, I didn't get any pics of San Julian but this is the finca that I've described in the past:
The finca San Jorge outside of San Julian

The countryside surrounding the finca at the end of the dry season, you can imagine what this looks like when it's all green and fertile
So I am too tired at this moment to describe in any depth what the past week has been like.  Suffice to say I took three buses this morning to the central terminal, then an hour long bus ride where I got off at a pothole in the rode, then climbed onto the back of a few pickups, then climbed up a mountain for half an hour in insane heat and humidity, then helped to deliver two workshops in Spanish, then did the whole trip back in reverse.  I'm not complaining, and a lot of the day I'm really enjoying it, but I am too tired to think at the end of the day...

And with that said, good night and maybe I'll post something more intelligent next week!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sightseeing in Guatemala

I finally got around to uploading the pictures off my camera from the last month.  I'm sure people from home often wonder exactly what it looks like in Central America so here are some pictures to give a bit more of an idea.

Panchita, my Spanish teacher, and I
Here are some pics from Alta Verapaz where I spent last weekend for an MCC team meeting.  We spent our fun day tubing on the river that flows through the caves.  I didn't want to get my camera wet so I don't have pics from inside the cave but I think someone else took some pics with their water-proof camera so if I can get copies of those I'll post them at some point.
Me on the back of our "taxi" driving to the caves
Country-side in Alta Verapaz
House of a campesino
Some of the team making our way down to the caves
Entrance to one of the caves

About a month ago I went along on a sightseeing tour of Guatemala city with a Canadian school group that was here doing a learning and serving tour.  I got some pictures of the dump where some of the poorest people in the city spend their day scavenging for things to possibly sell later.

The dump
The city that has built itself around the dump

 One thing about the dump that I learned is that there used to be a whole squatter town built up right around the dump but the government forced them away.  So now they've built higher up.

And last but not least, I went with a group of American university students on a field trip to the zoo.  Although I'm not a fan of animals living their lives in cages I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Guatemala City zoo.

I'll be leaving for El Salvador on either monday or tuesday next week (i.e. 4 or 5 days) and am getting very anxious to go.  I'm having a going away supper tomorrow with some of the other MCC'ers here in the city.  One is from a mennonite colony in Paraguay and the other is from the states but grew up eating some "Mennonite" food as well.  We went shopping this morning and bought what we needed (or as close as we could find) to make verenikya.  Our country reps who are from Colombia will be coming as well and claim to be excited to try our creation.

The next time I post I will most likely be somewhere off the beaten tracks in El Salvador.  It's been almost a year now that I've known I'll be living in El Salvador, so you can imagine how ready I am to finally be there.  Deséame suerte (wish me luck)!