Saturday, October 30, 2010

Solo Dios con nostotros

First things first. I'm realizing that I've kind of thrown most of you into the deep end without giving you floaties or anything like them, with regard to where I am and the general situation here. Without meaning to be mean (since I'm a Minnesotan), I have to say plainly and clearly: I have never been to South America and it is not where I am now. In fact, there are a full three countries plus a little corner of Honduras between me and the very tippy top of South America. :) El Salvador is in Central America, which is the land that connects the continents of North and South America, also at times known as the Americas and also (especially outside of the US, where we consider ourselves THE ONLY) known simply as America. (That's right, in a lot of places, there is not a recognized north/south divide.)

I found a couple of maps to orient you to more or less where I am. (Now let's see if I can actually put them up on the blog.)

First, Central America, the general region. El Salvador is the little blue rectangular one nestled in between Guatemala and Honduras.

Alright, second, El Salvador itself. Click on this photo and it should get bigger. You'll see a finger-shaped lake an inch or so directly above the capital, San Salvador. That is Lake Suchitlan, on which Suchitoto (the town where I live) is situated. Suchi is also listed on the map, on the south side of the lake. Two days a week I take a boat sort of around the lake, staying on the south shore and not actually crossing it, to the school I teach in.

Ok, hopefully this helps a bit. Also, I'm not especially close to the equator. I'm probably about as close to the equator (and this is a big guess) as Minneapolis is to the North Pole. Sorry for having made assumptions before and not given y'all the tools that may have been useful. Now you can have a better picture in your head of where I am. (And I think, if today is indeed daylight savings, that we are even in the same hour as Minnesota. We're basically straight south.)


That was a nice geography lesson. Now on to something that is really current in the country. It effectively hasn't rained here at all this month. This is unusual for October. Usually October is the strong end to the rainy season and an important time in the bean crop cycle. The two times it has rained, it has been fast and furious - not what you want hitting DRY topsoil. This being the case, the bean crop is completely lost. Beans are already up above a dollar a pound (and have been for a couple weeks). This means that most people simply aren't eating them, whether they buy beans or grown their own. Since this is often the primary source of protein...well, you probably get it. And since most kids are getting out of school, they are facing two months without the government-provided nutrition program food that they receive in school. (Which isn't perfect, but it almost always has protein. And for the kids that really need them, it simply has calories to get through the day.)

One of the vigilantes at the Art Center and I were talking a few days ago. He works here over night and during the day works his land. His beans are gone. He said that there are some that might re-plant, hoping for some unexpected rain later in the season, but we are rapidly hurtling toward the dry, dry time of the year. Toward the end of the conversation, Eduardo said something that hit me hard: "It's only God with us now."

In any other setting in which I've ever found myself, that would seem like perhaps the bleakest statement possible. But somehow, for a Salvadoran to say that, even given what relatively little I know from my time here, it was galvanizing. There was no despair in Eduardo's voice when he said it, and when he looked at me and turned to walk away, there was sadness AND fire in his eyes. So many people in El Salvador are already all too used to having only God with them. But given that reality, they know better than I ever will that these situations offer no invitations to lose hope.

I don't know enough about agriculture - here or anywhere - to know what realistic expectations might look like in this scenario. But I do know that what is realistic or pragmatic has never before been able to capture or enclose Salvadorans in despair. (Of course I speak in hyperbole, but not by much.)

Prayers are more than welcome. Turning off the lights and taking other small actions - as well as big ones - in the interest of slowing climate change is all the more welcome. Buying beans from close by instead of beans - or whatever food - from far away wouldn't hurt either.

Happy Halloween. The day when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest. While something rings appropriate that this precariousness would come at such a precarious time of the year, let's remember and reaffirm that none ought to live in such uncertainty. For those of us who worship a God who invited herself to a meal in the home of a tax collector - someone who was not a very good neighbor - now seems like a good time to recommit ourselves to living as good neighbors, on the incomprehensible scale that that word takes on, and refusing to let God be the only one who cares so actively.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You're not the boss of me (aka, mujer super-penosa)

I'm getting back in the rhythm of journaling these days and ended up writing for a bit this morning. It was a time of some good reflection and it seemed worth sharing, if a bit personal. gentle?

The first thing is that tomorrow is my grandpa John's 94th birthday. So in the midst of my day in El Sitio I will be giving thanks for the life and gifts of a person who is far away, yet so present with me every single day. After a really frightening illness a couple years ago, it is even more clear that every, every day is a blessing and I give thanks for both the number of his days and the richness of them. The role he has played in my life is indescribable, both through his own presence and through that of his children and other grandchildren.

Some questions that we've (the CAP equipo of volunteers) been turning over for a bit, along with What feeds me?, include Who am I? What do I believe? and one of mine, using imagery that we came up with on my last venture down here (with CGE), What does my puzzle piece look like these days?

There is a line from a Carrie Newcomer song that keeps popping up in my head: It's not the things I've gone and done I'll regret or be ashamed of, but the things I did not say or do just because I was afraid.

More and more, I'm realizing that I am a person with a lot of pena. (Would that there were a good English translation for pena. The meaning in which I'm using it is a sort of fear-shame-hesitation.) I have lived in the presence and shadows of so many extraordinary people, I think I am - and in many ways have let myself be - intimidated by their talent. I've always had the sense that I have the passion but lack the tools and skills.

As tempting as it is to look back and analyze times in my life where I see the evidence of this, I want to look forward. I want to claim the opportunities to take risks, make myself vulnerable, and live into my potential. My pena keeps me from doing that. It also, I think, leaves no room for true humility, which is utterly not based in fear, but rather a conviction that I am indeed a child of an incomprehensible God and the only proper response to that is awe.

These thoughts are going to keep percolating throughout my day life. It's been a relatively productive morning - I have laundry up, but I hope it rains. I didn't get all the soap out anyway.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

It's 3:30pm and we've already had 56 people in the museum today. (That makes it a pretty darn good day.) Nothing extraordinary to report, in general. My days tend to consist of, in rotation, El Sitio, the museum, and patinaje. I work, hang out with the other volunteers, hand out with the folks from the museum, wander town. There is something comfortable about a routine, so long as it doesn't become inertia. I'm getting to know my neighbors, through the young guys who come to patinaje and live next door. (A word on language: English needs a word that works like "joven" that isn't as pretentious as "youth" when referring to a specific number of people.)

The kids in El Sitio are in final exams this week. Christy and I wrote the English exam and Christy proctored it on Wednesday. (I didn't go since I was a bit sick earlier in the week.) Thursday I went and helped with the language arts exam. It's not the most enthralling thing to proctor another teacher's exam, though this one included the word "playboy," so as the only native English speaker, I was in high demand to tell the kids what it meant (which I was also under instructions not to d0). Once a few of them started finishing, I noticed that a sheet of paper was going around and quantities of change recorded - noticed, but didn't think to ask about it. Turns out the kids have to pay for the paper that they write their tests on.

We're starting to get in the habit of going on citas (dates) as volunteers. We got good at doing group stuff before I left and now that we're six, we want to be more intentional about getting to know each other individually as well. We're trying to figure out how we form ourselves into a community, which doesn't come easily (or even naturally, really). And on top of that, how do we act within and interact with the larger communities in which we live. We had a really good conversation yesterday about where we're at and what is really feeding us here. For almost all of us, that answer at least in some way included the kids we work with. But it was a good jumping off point for me to think about other people, places, books, activities that are feeding me as I am here. (And I mean that not just "as I'm here", but as I am here - as in existing, being).

So I want to know: What feeds you? What gives you life and joy? I'm still turning this one over and enjoying the process.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chi chi chi le le le! Los mineros de Chile!

I'm glued to CNN's livestream feed of the miners' rescue in Chile. If you want to watch, too (because it will be going on for many more hours), you can take a look here:

They've been down there for 69 days, since August 5th. That's only three days after I got to Suchi, which has already seemed like an beautiful eternity. My brain can't even begin to wrap itself around spending that much time in a pit in the ground. And my heart? Forget it.

They're about to load up the 13th miner into the capsule! Que todo les vaya bien, mineros!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fallen leaves and other priorities

In second grade, I was not the most organized child, so my teachers and parents instituted a means of daily communication via a notebook that I brought back and forth between school and home. Sometimes it included explanations of my assignments and other times it was for short exercises to be done at home. It was my "Brain Stretcher Notebook." One of the first activities was a list of "words about fall." Since I'm visiting Minneapolis and enjoying the fall colors (if not appropriate fall weather), I was delighted to find the list yesterday. It's pretty much the same as what I love about fall now - only my spelling has changed. (And if any of the words are confusing, say them out loud, as though you, too, were a second-grader.) I think this list explains a lot about me.

1. Fallen leaves
2. Chilly wether
3. Racking*
4. Jumping in piells
5. Migeration
6. Voting
7. Coats jackets exet.....
8. Heaters
9. Storm windows
10. Shorter days
11. Begining of school
12. End of sumer**
13. Pants not shorts
14. No more DQ
15. Rain
16. (if in MN) snow
17. Hibernation
18. Apples
19. Punkins***
20. Flowers dyeing
21. Halloween
22. Harvesting
23. Caning****
24. Scareacrows
25. Jack-o-lantern

*That would be raking, not racking the spoils of some hunting excursion
**It is so sad when civilizations come crashing down
***The n is definitely the result of dad's North Dakota accent
****I'm fairly sure this is canning, caning not taking a large role in my childhood

I have adored having this time here in the Cities this week. It is bizarre visiting a place that has always been my home base. I hadn't realized just how much there was to do in a short time! I'm getting done most of it and seeing a lot of really great people. I'm reminded why I can so easily choose that this would be my permanent place. It is lovely that people here seem to understand that Suchi is also, in a different way, becoming a home for me as well.

One thing I've noticed is that the people here and the people in Suchi must be of the same batch. Some of the other volunteers over the last couple months have mentioned that people in Suchitoto are remarkably friendly and helpful. This is absolutely true - so much so. But it's never seemed out of the ordinary to me, more just what people do for/with each other. Now that I'm here for a bit, it really is coming clear that it is familiar because it is the culture I grew up in, too. You do just stop and talk with your neighbors and with strangers (which is how you turn strangers into neighbors).

Anyway. I am incredibly blessed to have had this time here with family and friends and places. The surprise held - Ella had no idea I was coming until I was here. The wedding was beautiful and joyful. I went to the farmers market and walked down the Greenway. I'll return with new books and new underwear (!) and having voted. It's not tidy, by any means - there are so many people that I have already missed the chance to see while here. But it's been good for my soul to be here for a few days and it will be good for my soul to return. There are two new volunteers who arrived the day I left and I am so excited to meet them. And I can't wait to see the other three CAPsters and the rest of the community.

I went for a run yesterday down along River Road and it was glorious. Sun overhead, shade from trees, leaves underfoot. I saw a handful of runners with their ipods in and couldn't help but think "My God! Why would you run with headphones when there is such a limited window to hear the leaves crunching as you run?" For some reason that struck me as a reminder about perspective. For someone who has the whole fall ahead of them, why bother worrying about missing the sound of leaves? But for me, in this time of acute enjoyment of my favorite segment of the year's cycle, those sounds are gold. I want to be more aware of the times when I am the headphoned runner, tuning out what I ought to be enjoying and giving thanks for. Otherwise I am at risk of missing the beauty of the simplest yet most important entry on my list.