Friday, December 23, 2005

Campo vs. Conferencia

So I’ve had a taste of the Salvadoran world for the last four months, and now I have some time to relax and reflect (some of the things that I do best). When I first got here, everything was adjustment. Someone would ask how I was, and I would just say that I was adjusting. Which is quite true, considering all the things that are so very different about El Salvador. I mean, walking out the door every day here, is more than an adventure, it can be downright alarming and exciting all at once. Not to mention that fact that, the simplicity of a single moment can evoke great reflection and questioning. Imagine having lots of these moments in one day!
The first month here was all over the place, and sort of unsettling. I was living in someone else’s home, I didn’t have a routine to begin adjusting to. In some ways, the month of September was all about me metaphorically dipping my toe in the water.

At CARECEN (work) life was intense. By my first week, I was looking at our human rights files, of people who disappeared in transit, or who died. I’m talking pictures of dead bodies, personal letters, pictures...the whole nine yards. Talk about putting a face on migration! That experience alone will stick with me for the rest of my can’t really forget something like that.

At any rate, things have slowed down a bit. I’ve had time to collect myself (daily), I’ve picked up a routine of sorts, although that is sort of relative in this mas o menos land! I’ve become familiar with the city, the busses, what to expect in terms of the weather, and how I can feed myself on a slim budget (I LOVE Pupusas).

I’m figuring, that this next part of time after Christmas is when I really get into it. I’m really looking for something different. Don’t get me wrong, being in the CARECEN office has some advantages, but I need to be with the people more instead of behind a computer. A lot of the work we do in the office is boring really. Phone calls, computer searches, collecting data, writing name it. Life in the campo is with the people, those who have or will migrate, working with their families and talking to them about their reality. Because the thing is, there really are two realities here...

Campo vs. Conferencia

There is the life that is lived by the people...those that struggle everyday and are forced to reckon with the pressures of a global economy and the abuse of US consumerism everyday. A lot of these people don’t have options. They don’t have a job, their family struggles, and their only idea is go north and find something else...anything else.

Then there is the world of people who do a lot of talking about "issues". These individuals may have been part of the campo reality at some point, or they work with those in the campo now, but are now working within the realm of "professionalism". They talk about the reality at conferences, at fancy hotels, where the level of water in your glass never goes past a half full before a waiter comes by and fills it. In the reality of Conferencia, you try to get really important people to come so that they hear the message...and maybe even give your organization some extra credit. You spend a lot of money to make some people comfortable while they learn and explore the facts. You pack them with information, bring in the press, have your break time for side chatter and future planning, and you have yourself a successful movement underway.
So what the heck does this mean for me?

Well, I’ve experienced a lot of the Conferencia reality since I’ve been here. I’ve been to all the major hotels, I can spot the human rights Lady a mile away. I’m beginning to recognize who is important and who is REALLY important. And most importantly, I know what bus to get on to get to each hotel, because really, it’s all about being there (and for me, experiencing the other half).

But where I really want to be is in some canton that I can’t even pronounce the name. I think that public education work is really important, but I want to be the one experiencing things and then writing it all down. When an important UNDP document says that nearly 600,000 people have left the country from Jan. To May, I want to be able to know that I had contact with at least some of them on a personal level. I want to know that they had a cartilla in their hand, that I shook their hand and wished them a safe trip (instead of learning about them on a general basis at a conference).

As the year 2006 approaches, I am thinking that there are a lot of things left to know and experience. I want to take the year and make it a challenging one, so that by the time I leave in February 2007, I can say that I know what Salvadoran migration looks like from both sides of the coin. It’s all about having a well rounded experience...and that’s what I am aiming for.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Entre Amigos

A few years back in college, I decided I was going to do a paper on the history of homosexuality in Latin America (it was for a Latin American History class). Well besides the fact that I was a little bit ambitious, I did learn a great deal about the culture of homophobia in Latin America in general (and I learned even more about Cuba, after a narrowed my topic down). Who knew that paper would end up manifesting itself into further exploration and discovery later in my life?
At any rate, I remembered that I had read some articles on an organization in El Salvador called ENTRE AMIGOS, an organization devoted to the GLBT population of El Salvador. In my reading, I discovered that the founder was one of the few openly (and public) gay figures in El Salvador at the time. I also remembered that he had received death threats and such for his work with the GLBT community.

After my personal research, I found nothing else to note about the group and figured that it had fizzled out, thinking that maybe it was suppressed by the government, or maybe the founder just decided to go back underground. How very wrong I was...

About a week ago I was having lunch with a coworker and she was sharing some pictures that she brought from home. Pictures of when CARECEN first started (the organization I work with), pictures of her family and some of her friends. Then she showed me this one picture taken a few years ago. The photo captured her with about five other men, including an drag queen (depending on the culture, you might also refer to her as transgendered). My coworker continues to explain that these are her friends from "AMIGOS" and that they are all gay. She specifically points out the other woman in the picture (besides her) and says, "that’s a man!"
I smiled and told her that I knew...

We continued on with our conversation about her friends, about the GLBT population here, gay culture, and the misc. people who come into our office that are gay. Apparently there are a lot, and she knows them all! In addition, she has a lot of friends who are in the sex industry here, both men and women. He tells me about so and so who sells things at the market by day as a woman, and at night she is a cross dressing prostitute....or some of the men she knows that don’t even hide their identity and dress in women’s clothing, sell things at the market and also provide sexual favors. She knew a lot more about gay culture here than I had ever expected I would learn as a "Catholic" volunteer.

In my curiosity, I asked her how she knew all these gay people. She proceeded to tell me that she only hangs around gay people...she doesn’t really like straight people (even thought she identifies as straight). This I found interesting. But basically, her extensive knowledge comes from the fact that she has been involved with ENTRE AMIGOS for a long time, the same group I had thought fell off the face of the earth.

Much to my surprise, ENTRE AMIGOS is flourishing here in San Salvador, and by the next day, I was on an official tour! As it turns out, EA is so close, that I pass the office everyday on my way to and from work!!!

What I learned...
At EA, we had a long conversation with one of the directors, Joaquin. He talked about the history of the group and what they do now, which includes advocacy work and a lot of community education in relation to homosexuality in general, and also a safe sex campaign. EA is the only group in El Salvador that works directly with the GLBT population and does HIV / AIDS education. Basically, the conservative administration here won’t even touch the population, and EA is forced to tackle the reality alone. While other AIDS organizations get a ton of money to do education work, EA has to rely on private international donations. If you want to talk about human rights, look at the inequality of funding will make your head turn!
Joaquin told us about their creative campaigns and the extent of their work. As it turns out, even our organization has worked with EA in the past, helping HIV + migrants, travel in a safer way. I also learned about their charlas they do (little chats) in the parks and areas where there are a high concentration of gay people (who probably aren’t being educated correctly).

At any rate, I gave Joaquin my name and number and told him that I would be interested in helping the organization. I explained with a smile, that although I am a Catholic volunteer, I still have a life and free time to work with other people..and have diverse experiences. The way I see it, the GLBT community is one of the most oppressed and marginalized populations here, and so I think it’s my job to learn more about them, and be a witness to their struggles.
So when I actually start doing something with ENTRE AMIGOS, I will let you know.
On another note...and related to the topic at hand.

I went to a mass on World AIDS Day at the Cathedral here. I noticed that there was a person on the opposite end of pews who would be identified as trans. I couldn’t help but think to myself, "Man, she has a lot of courage to step into this church, with the culture of homophobia surrounding her!" She was surrounded by people when the mass started, but as the mass went on, people gradually got up and left their seat for another location, so that by the end, she was all by herself.

My heart was very affected by this observation, and it has sat with me ever since. I think it’s kind of funny that a week later I was introduced to ENTRE AMIGOS!

Everyday, I learn more and more about the culture here...including the things that people don’t normally talk about. Even though I am Catholic, I am glad and grateful that people have been comfortable enough to share such personal, and sometimes controversial things about their lives. I am a better person for it all.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Padre Jon Cortina

(Google Images)
A good man died today and now a country mourns his presence. Padre Jon Cortina has never left the Salvadoran people. Even with death threats and the assassination of his fellow Jesuits in 1989, Cortina continued living the Gospel of Jesus by accompanying the people of El Salvador through a war, disasters and picking up the pieces to begin a new life. Romero was killed along with the Maryknoll church women, and still he picked up his cross. Jon was a champion of human rights, when the US government broke every rule in the book. He accepted his calling with dignity and a kind heart, while impacting the souls of those he spent his full life with.
Even after the war, Cortina continued the investigation of human rights for the people of El Salvador. He formed an organization called Pro-Búsqueda, which helps families locate children who were disappeared or kidnaped during the war. It was one of the many ways Jon helped the Salvadoran society grieve and pick up the pieces.

Padre Cortina spent a great deal of his time in northern El Salvador, an area greatly affected by the war. There, communities are still isolated from US materialism, as they struggle to put food on their table in the mists of a condition of poverty that the government still neglects in some ways. His love for the people can be seen in their faces, as they talk about the amazing relationship he had with them.

A few days ago, I attended a mass at the local Jesuit university where Cortina taught. The mass was to celebrate his birthday and pray for his health. And the pews were packed...people flowing out of the chapel. Just the presence of so many people was a testament to his great love. But there was much more than that. The emotion in that room spoke volumes; as I looked around, I could see people taking deep breaths as they tried to emotionally grasp the reality that they would soon face. I sat next to one woman who cried through the whole mass, start to finish, and her body shook as I hugged her for the sign of peace. There were students, professors, community members, families helped by Pro-Búsqueda, and volunteers just like me, sharing at a table of a collective memory.

The Salvadoran people have faced death head on with the destruction of their past. A vivid memory paints a picture of a culture formed in the image of suffering, and as one of the spiritual healers has died, one must ask "how much sadness has to exist?"

Many will say that Padre Cortina is a prophet, others will declare him a saint...but such labels are not important in retrospect. The important this is, we was there through it was his presence...and something tells me, he will never leave.
For more info on Padre Jon check out this blog from a friend.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Connection

Do you ever have these moments, when you meet someone, and you are forced to think just a little bit more about everything in your life? It’s because of who they are, the conversation you have with them, the way you are attentive to their words and the way your heart peacefully reflects on their presence. There is something intrinsically perfect about their personality and how your soul craves a certain magnetism of spirits. It’s not about who you are, but who you might become. It is about the moment you meet and every second after. It’s a connection worth having, worth remembering (even if it was just that moment).

I met such a person...I had this experience.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Vatican Document

Some of you might have been checking the blog periodically for my upcoming thoughts on the Vatican´s document about gay seminarians. There is a long story about all of this, that is better left to fireside chats by the beach with a cup of coffee. However, I will say a few short things and then leave you to think for yourself.

In my humble opinion, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, does not know their community very well. In addition, it is my belief that they forgot about what Jesus taught in regards to judgment and love. Furthermore, this new document is not only sad, but is also a powerful display of the institutionalize homophobia of Catholicism, and most of Christianity for that matter.

As a Catholic who believes in the unity of humanity and the true vision of the Universal Church, I am not prepared to give up when the going gets tough…and believe me, there is a tough road ahead of us. Instead, I urge you to speak to your priests, bishops, and laypeople of your communities. Let them know what you really think, and let them see the vision that you have of one unified body. In addition, pray for our priests…especially those who are being forced back into the closet…that their hearts may stay close to those that love them well.

My heart is sad but my spirit is strong…

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Building Strong Relationships

You know, Thanksgiving is a really great idea in concept. To give thanks for the blessings in your life is a practice that should be practiced in your daily life. The whole history around the day is crap (see this article I just read), but the idea of giving thanks really resonates with me, and has caused me to reflect a bit more deeply.

My mental inventory of blessings, leaves a lot for me to be thankful for, but by far, the people in my life, make my days truly complete. And I can say with an honest heart, that being far from home certainly makes the situation difficult. It is hard to be away from those who give you life. It is hard to conduct life without their presence, and in turn, also miss parts of their life.

Nevertheless, they are always with me, even in the most random moments of my day. And even more importantly, there are those who may not be from my "home", but they certainly have significant roles in my life.

But here’s the’s the more personal side of my thought. I build relationships everywhere I go. I engage my heart in conversations, I invest my emotions in people and I very truly fall in love with those I come into contact with. I can’t really help’s the very fabric of who I am. The kicker is, I fall in love with these people...they fall in love with me...and then I leave!

I can’t even explain how hard it is to leave someone...leave many someones, over and over again. To say goodbye, see ya later, and start all over again. It really is hard stuff, and if you think about it for a long time, you could get stuck in a holding pattern.

You see, the temptation here is to say, "Well, I am going to be here for only _____ time, and so I will find some friends to hang out with while I am here, but really I’m not going to invest very much so no one gets hurt."

I know that people live their life like this. I know that people let this certain fear of intimacy and loss, dictate their life, but in reality, the unhealthiness of this attitude, maintaining this level of superficiality, is what I most afraid of.

Besides being afraid of fire and heights, I am afraid of people not knowing me, and in turn, that I might not be able to connect with people. Now for the record, this fear is not really active in my life. At my current state in living, I don’t have a hard time building relationships (even if I am a little socially awkward at the phone) , but I think if I actually allowed myself to be tempted to hold back on the building process, my actual fear might become more of a reality.
Building strong relationships, as difficult and challenging as it is, is what I believe to be the core of the human experience. To honestly open your heart to another person (even in time of pain), can be one of the most fulfilling and REAL experiences of your life. And even though I have failed miserably at some points within this process, I never stopped valuing the people or the relationship itself.

With that said, I have also come to realize, that not all relationships are meant to last forever. There are some connections that are meant for a perfect time and a specific place, and the duplication or revisitation of the moment is impossible to rekindle. But that doesn’t mean that the relationship was any less meaningful or important in the journey of life. It doesn’t mean that love was not shared, or a true connection was never made. There is no fault of one person or another for not keeping in’s just the way things happen sometimes. And yes, this too is painful. But if you think about the people in your life that you might have only known for a short period of time, chances are, some of those people made a significant impact in your life. The professor, the mentor, the high school best friend, the coworker you had at your first real job...the list goes on. Those are the people who left a mark on your heart, who helped shape a bit of who you are, and in some ways, simply acknowledging their role in your life, helps when building other new relationships that may or may not last very log.

You see, I’m not really very judgmental when it comes to the people I surround myself with. Yes, there are certain traits and characteristics that I am fascinated and attracted to in a person, but really, I build relationships with a lot of different people. Because the way I think is this, "What if, this person, is the one who will completely turn my world upside down...what if this person is the one to make me think of something in a new way...what if this person is the one to introduce me to the love of my life...what if this person IS the love of my life...what if this person was put in my life so that I might help them...what if, what if, what if?"

Man oh man, these are the questions the rest in our hearts every day, and sometimes we really don’t even know it. And sometimes, we are so very afraid to know it. For all the struggles, the joys, the sorrow, the uneasiness, the awkwardness, the loneliness, the incompleteness and the completeness, I am a better person for sticking with the process of building strong relationships, and really, it has all been very worth it.

On this day of giving thanks...please know that I am thankful for YOU!
(PS...I know this is a little cliche, but if you know me, you know it is from my heart...and you know that I am saying it with that certain smile...and that there is always a warm hug, and tender eyes of compassion looking right back at you to know that I really do mean it!)

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Simple Little Moments

It’s the simple little things in life that make me really happy. And I try to fill my day with simple moments. Sure, there is a lot of depth and beauty in the complicated intermingling of relationships, but I value the small moments...the good conversations...the hugs...the passing glance and smile...a really good laugh.

I love the moments in a day when everything seems to add up. When you wake up with a smile on your face, share a good lunch with a friend, encounter a random stranger on the street who engages your heart, and finish off the day with a good book.

And then there are the little gifts that a day brings. Like when it’s Monday and you have an unexpected visitor or a really good email from a friend.

Today, was one of those good simple days, full of simple moments that made me smile.

1. I was given a book by a friend so that I can understand the reality here a little more. We talked about the book and how it makes him feel. Sure, it’s going to take me forever to read it (it’s in Spanish) but I feel that this simple little gesture is like a glance into his world. And there is something really profound in that simple exchange...

2. I had lunch today with a coworker that I see once a week. We talked about simple, food, clothing. But we make each other smile, and that’s a good thing!

3. Today I passed my a man on the street. He usually just sits there, and I think he sort of waits for me to walk by everyday because he says "Hello" with such exuberance. I look forward to my passing moments with him.

4. And then this afternoon when I bought a papaya and brought it home to cut up. Sure, I almost cut my fingers off (I’m not too skilled with knives...see blog about my hobbies). But, I love papayas because they remind me of my childhood and some really good moments drinking papaya juice. The simplicity of eating a bowl of papaya, brought a little feeling to my heart that made me be really grateful for that moment.

5. And then there’s the really swell music I’ve been listening to while I do work. I great little mix of great musicians that I can sing along to, and not really care who is listening. Songs with meaning and emotion really make me smile.

So in all, today has been a great day because of all those little moments that make the day complete! I may be a simple girl, but I find a lot of meeting in all those little moments that go unacknowledged.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

My New Hobby

(My new baby made especially for me!)
I’ve found a new hobby! Go figure that it would take me this long, but there’s no time like the present, right? I know that I should have picked up the guitar way back with I was a kid. After all, having a mother who is a musical genius, might actually mean that I have music in my genes too. But apparently, it’s just taken me a while to get on the bandwagon.

Anyway, I have a new friend here, Vince. He happens to be a really talented musician, and he is teaching people guitar here. So far, I’ve been taking lessons at the Episcopal church in the evening with these young kids. And during the day I paint their church. Thursdays end up being fun days! (And No, I am not going to become an least not now.)

So Vince asked me why I want to learn guitar. And I said that I want to serenade women! But in all seriousness, I figure if I can sing, I might as well start playing the music as well. So my goal is to be able to sing and play my new favorite songs like Casas de Carton and Todo Cambia. But I’ve also had a recent discussion about great songs to know how to play, and after giving it some thought, maybe learning American Pie won’t be so bad after all!

In other news, I have picked up a new art project as well. Wood carving....go figure! Ya, that new hobby isn’t going as well as the guitar lessons. I cut open my left thumb on the first day. Which made my guitar lessons, the next day, a little challenging! What can I say, it sounded good at the time!

Small Christian Community

This Sunday, I took a walk in reality. A breath of fresh air mixed with the truth of non pretentious faith within a community. And in some ways, the experience was like coming home...

With some friends, I went to a Small Christian Community in the Mejicanos area of the city; an area that I once didn’t live too far from. Mejicanos is an area that is marked with violence, but many of the people have a deep faith that transcends their surroundings, a characteristic that is indicative of El Salvador.

This same faith is what made this group of believers, Pueblo de Dios y Camino, rise up and form a community. This community meets in a home and shares the word like the first Christians did. They don’t follow Rome really, and in some respects, the hierarchy here still seems to have a watchful eye on them. I think that this community still might consider themselves Catholic, but they probably aren’t recognized as such. But does it really matter?

The great thing is, there is a certain feeling of equity. Today a woman presided over the service, beginning the prayers and initiating parts of the liturgy. When I think of the liberation of the women in the Church, this is what my vision is like. And I can’t help but smile.

And it’s not like she had a sermon prepared. Instead, it was the community that interpreted the readings with real life examples from their lives. Examples from the journey...from the streets of El Salvador to the political oppression that they face every day.

Communion was simply sharing bread. There was no formal blessing or hierarchical presentation, it was simply the humble faith of the community that transformed the moment...that changed the bread into something that one needed to receive.

You know, as a good Catholic girl, there is no judgement in my heart about this experience. It was so very obvious that God was there, and that she was blessing them with such a rich and real experience. I’m sure that Rome is pissed and doesn’t really understand the reality of the church today, but my faith, I hope, will never be complicated with such a critical view.

I truly do respect the individual hearts of others, even when they think differently than I do. But I most certainly envy those who are searching...searching for God, or meaning or a new way to believe. Those are the people that I crave to experience life I too have been in that place, and will continue to be.

This community that I visited today, was like that, and I couldn’t help imagine myself coming back and engage my heart in the pursuit of true community...a community of faith.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'm doing just fine...

I've found my happy place!

I get plenty of rest!

Sometimes I work!

I've managed to make friends!

I make sure that I have plenty of time to reflect.
In a nutshell I am doing just fine. So don't worry!
ps...more pretty photos to come

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Christmas Season!

So today I walked into the office and found that I had entered a winter wonderland! Strange, considering that I am in El Salvador. Apparently the Christmas season is in full swing here. I didn’t get the memo! Stores pretty much have been getting seasonal supplies for the last few weeks, and I guess my office jumped on the bandwagon and now we are ready to show off! We have lights all over the place, little Christmas trees and tinsel! Simply Amazing!

I will admit that this is a little odd, considering that I am use to the fan fair after Thanksgiving, but since they don’t celebrate the oppression of the pilgrims here, they can begin Christmas any time they please!

All I have to say is, if this is anything like Christmas in Belize, then I am in!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Typical Day

(Google Images)
So today was my first border visit to Hachadura (the western border to Guatemala). Basically, our objective was to put up posters, leave some cartillas about human rights and figure out if this new project will work. The new project is for people that are being deported back to El Salvador. The get back to the border, with no money and they have to find their way home. So the idea is that we would have a fund for them to have bus fair back home, some food, and a shelter to stay in overnight. Otherwise, people end up doing desperate things and there also isn’t a whole lot of dignity in being forced to sleep in the street. So Luis asked some people around the are about the feasability of the idea and how we could work out logistics. Easy enough.

The real interesting part about our trip today was the drive, and our encounters with the law. That’s right, we had several encounters!!!

OK...number one...early morning on the Pan American Highway. Luis is driving along, pointed out all the mudslides, sighting statistics....the usual. All of a sudden, we are going down this hill and there are like five military men with big guns on the side of the road, and they end up flagging us down. Great! So we pull over. The guy leans in and holds his gun just so...asks where we are going. We say, Hachadura. Then Luis asks, "why?" You know, I would have let it go, but whatever....the guy explains they are just doing random questions. Ok...blood pressure back to normal....

Later in the day, killing time at the border, sipping a coke...a border patrol truck pulls up in front of us. All these guys get out....with their big guns. This one guy stays behind as he looks for something in his pocket...meanwhile, he’s literally dangling his semi-automatic weapon as he looks for spare change. My God, what if he gets spooked....

Then we go to the guns there. Just pretty olas (waves) and some shells. The sand is wicked hot (notice the Rhode Island slang...I still have the touch)...and I also find a dead blowfish (a first for me).

Back in the car we get. On the Pan American Highway again. We are almost into the city, not too far from where we were first stopped, and we see the cop and then military guys running the opposite way on the highway with their weapons drawn. The police officer had a shinny silver gun and the military guys had big automatic weapons. Let me also mention that their uniforms are all wrong...a really bad fashion nightmare (with pants that taper to the calf...who wants that?) But besides that, these guys are really scary! Anyway, a little way up the road is another police officer standing next to an abandoned bus, talking to another guy...must have been a robbery or something.

Number heard it correctly! We get back into the Antiguo Cuzcatlan area...where my home is and there is a big accident. Then just down the road we get chosen "randomly" for another vehicle check. It’s like we are wearing a big target. By this time, I already have my memorized statement in Spanish ready just in case (I work with CRS and I need to call this number). You know, your mind wonders to the most random things when in the company of law enforcement. Plus, its hard to get out of my head that these guys have big guns AND might have been in the war at some point...killing people. (Mind you, this is all a little drastic, but is just the beauty of the mind).

Anyway, so we get through the gauntlet and are in the Santa Elena area. I notice that it’s an area for rich people and it seems that we passed places like UNICEF. "Interesting!" I think to myself. Continuing down the street we come across the fortress like place, covering the space of a full block. Plus, this place is really rich looking and has lots of police and military guarding it. We get half way down the block and I ask Luis, "what is this place?"

He says in plain English, "It’s your home!" (My home, meaning the US Embassy). Ya, I saw the huge sign as soon as I finished my question!

So I let out a good laugh, and say to myself, "Of course it is!"

Luis says, "You don’t know your embassy?"

And I say, "No, and I don’t particularly want to either!"

He laughs and pats me on the head (a quirky little child thing that he does to me...which is case and point for this interesting cultural conversation on age that I will talk about at a later date).
We continue down the road and I think to myself, "If that is what my embassy looks like, I don’t want to be anywhere need that place!"

(Now I know that I might be singing a different tune if I have a bullet in my body or I am at serious risk of having a bullet in my body, but for the time being, I think will stay way from at least one of the sources of oppression around here!)

So this is basically just a typical random day in my world!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Spanish & Meg

Everyday I murder the Spanish language a little less and I feel better about this illusion that I have, that some day I might actually become fluent or bilingual (although I am finding that the definitions of such words are in the midst of debate). Either way, I just want to be able to express feelings, complete and correct thoughts, as well as some common jokes. Then I might be happy.

And today I got a little closer to that goal.

I had a conversation with a coworker today about Mercedes Sosa, a brilliant vocalist who has this song called Todo Cambia, and it simply makes me melt.

The fact that I can talk about such beautiful music at least a little bit, and have the person across from me understand what I am saying, and also understand how much I truly enjoy the song, makes me wonder, and actually believe that I am progressing just fine.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...when someone calls, I still can’t understand what the Hell they are saying to me on the other end of the line, and so our conversation goes a little bit like this...

Them: "Blah, blah blah (a word I understand) blah, blah"
Meg: "Oh si?"
Them: "Blah, blah (oh, another good word), blah"
Meg: "Oh, gracias...adios"

Please note: In real life, things aren’t that bad. I get along just fine, but just imagine speaking a foreign language over the phone. A lot more depends on expressions than you think. I’ve learned that the hard way from language assessments over the phone. Some really smart people in some really important offices call me, blab about stuff in Spanish...I attempt to answer them...the interview is over...I feel like crap. Trust me, it’s a dumb idea and experience you don’t really want in life.

So to sum up, my progress with the Spanish language is getting better and I’m just glad I’m not trying to learn Swahili, because that seems more difficult. But somewhere in my head I’ve decided I want to learn Portuguese and French too (languages of the developing world), but I really have to slow down on these thoughts because I still have to master Spanish.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Romero and the Jesuit Martyrs

(complemts of Google Images)
Every time I walk past the UCA (the Jesuit University here) I can’t help but think that people were murdered there. I came to El Salvador knowing a bit of history and a very specific history of the Jesuits here, and yet it was my own apprehensive heart that prevented me from really knowing the place that the six Jesuits and two women were killed in 1989. I didn’t want to visit until I was ready.

Well, Friday began with a bang! I accompanied a coworker and a friend to the Hospital of Divine Providence, the place where Oscar Romero lived and was murdered. Another place I was avoiding out of fear....

So as the story goes, Romero was made the Archbishop of El Salvador in the mid 1970's. He was appointed as a person who would not make a lot of changes and maintain the status quo. In the beginning, Romero was a friend of the rich, and they thought they were supporting someone "safe". But as history took its course, Romero also evolved. Through his relationship with Rutillo Grande (now a Jesuit Martyr), Romero learned about the reality of the poor of his country, and he was forced to live life with his eyes wide open. In time, Romero became the true man of God that he is known for today. He became a man of the poor and began speaking out against the oppression of the rich and the government. His sermons were prolific and prophetic, and like Dr. King, he knew his words had consequences.

While saying mass at the hospital chapel (a hospital for those with terminal cancer), Romero was assassinated by a man who was later linked to the School of the Americas. A week later, Romero’s funeral was packed with Salvadorans flowing out into the park. The government used the opportunity to open fire on the crowd, killing the defenseless mourners.

Today, Romero is the Salvadoran Saint. Although Rome will probably never canonize him for political reasons, Salvadorans have already given him sainthood status. He is there national hero and a beacon of light. And in some ways, because he is a martyr, his message has been heard by even more people. On behalf of the government, killing Romero was probably one of the worse moves they ever made!

I visited his humble home on Friday as well as the very spot his body fell when the bullets hit him. I saw the bloodstained clothing he was wearing and his limited personal possessions that proved his commitment to live in solidarity with the poor.

It was an intense experience to say the least, and in a way, I felt closer to the Salvadoran people by getting a closer glimpse of a person they admire so greatly.

By Saturday, I woke up and decided to take the morning off, knowing the evening was going to be filled with more intensity. By three in the afternoon, I waltzed down to the UCA so join the festivities of the 16th Anniversary of the Jesuit Martyrs.

The first thing I saw on the campus were the unusual amount of gringos. They come here in delegations for the learn more about liberation theology...and experience the certain mysticism that martyrs bring. But besides the gringos, I saw beautiful alfombras (rugs made of sand). Groups of students at the UCA get together and interpret the reality of El Salvador through artistic expression. They spend tedious hours on this one large rectangular space that will later be photographed and destroyed. Simply amazing pieces of artwork, and onetime occurrence.

By the time we had seen the alfombras, it was time to finally go to The Romero Center and see the Rose Garden, the place were the Jesuits were found. They have a little museum off to the side with personal effects from the Jesuits as well as the other Latin American Martyrs including the Maryknoll church women, James Carney and Rutillo Grande, to name a few. One of my favorite memories about that experience was walking next to a campasino man as we went through the museum and when we got to the El Mozote display, he tapped me on my arm to show me all the bullets they found in the mass graves. I looked into his eyes at that moment, and I could see a certain sadness of collective pain he has faced throughout his long life in El Salvador. And the thought did cross my mind, "was he from the area of El Mozote?"

After the museum, I went to the Rose Garden and just stood there for a few minutes. I couldn’t help but visualize the last moments of the Jesuits and two women. The horror of finding soldiers in your yard...hearing gunshots in close proximity and knowing they are coming to you next...wondering if there is a way to escape...saying a last minute prayer before death. Today there are rose plants in the space where some of the Jesuits were found. Besides contemplating the cycle of life to death and the symbolism of death, the site itself has a certain calm intensity....
After that experience we decided to get some good fresh juice and take it easy before the vigil. We saw some friends, went to the chapel to see the stations of the cross art by Roberto Huezo (a really talented Salvadoran artist).

By 6pm the vigil started and also welcomed thousands of people. The was an interpretive dance that kicked off the vigil and I couldn’t help but cry (I’m one of those closet emotional folks...connected to everything and everyone but you can never really tell). They danced to this song that I hear often here, and that I like a lot, but this time I really listened to the lyrics and reflected.

Translation of the refrain: "Changes...there are many Changes..."
I couldn’t help but think of the cycle of changes here in El Salvador. A brutal history of murder and corruption marked with committed, loving people who don’t give up. The poor who fight every damn day for ever ounce of dignity. The United States who parades their wealth here and flaunts their level of power by influencing government policies like its their job. The Salvadorans that I know, who have such a deep and sad history of love and loss, of assassinations and struggles. And I think "cambios, muchos cambios..."

I wonder if anything really does change here...the acuerdos de paz that are for shit...the US presence that make me want to denounce where I am from...the Salvadorans who always talk about the past for fear it will happen again, so that we may never forget. How could you not get caught up in that experience.....

So after my little moment, I joined some friends, including my house mother when I first came to Salvador (she took such good care of me). It was really a special experience walking through the vigil with her because it is her history that she shared with me that I think of every day now.

I think of her three daughters who are my age and now live in San Francisco. I think of how her brother was a member of the guerrillas, trained in Cuba and killed here in El Salvador (17 years old). I think of the 1986 earthquake that took her house as she had to care for her three girls alone, without a husband. The trauma of dealing with the aftermath of the disaster and the war with her children. Her connection to the people of her country and her commitment to her faith. I remember her story of how she was there in the park at Romero’s funeral when they opened fire. It’s all these stories and more that I remember every time I hear a song...or hug her...and so walking next to her in this vigil was really important (and unplanned).

But let me tell you, this vigil was huge...thousands of people with individual histories and a real feeling of understanding and solidarity. It wasn’t particularly somber, but I think it is part of the historical mourning that is taking place here.

After the vigil, was the mass. And all I really want to say about that was that the sermon was really rockin. Whoever the guy was, he was really right on. He really got to the core of the reality here. From the long standing poverty, to the government corruption, the unequal distribution of wealth, the collective sins brought on by violence and the ever present "natural disasters" that he also believes aren’t quite so NATURAL. I really found myself hanging onto his every word, really glad I believed in the same God he did...really glad he was representing Catholicism...the Catholicism that I know and Love.

At any rate, after mass, was an interval documentary and a solidarity concert. There is really something awesome in this world when you can sing some really great music that has such a powerful message that people connect with. Music can move mountains man, and when you think of the power of music and media here, your thoughts can really go somewhere.
So that’s how I ended my night. I sang Casas de Carton as I lulled myself to sleep, and found myself thanking God for another really great Salvadoran day. And these are the moments that remind me that this could be the rest of my life....

On a side note: Bought some swell music and a T-shirt with Romero, Che and Marti on it. The shirt is so intriguing that I couldn’t help but buy it in the hopes that it would create future conversation. I’m not so convinced that these three men had the same ideals, but I do see some of the similarities and their differences are what makes the shirt interesting!

A Letter from Dad

I recently received a letter from my father after a rather heated discussion about faith and religion over the phone. My father and I are both very passionate people, committed to the ideals that we believe in, and matters of such great depth evoke a certain emotional response.
My father is a compassionate and humble man, and this is what he wrote to me.

Dear Meg-
The church is certainly in turmoil, but no more so than many hundreds of times throughout history. In the fourteenth century there were actually two popes and people were forced to choose or be persecuted or killed. People of wisdom and courage did not choose but rather set their sights on the true leader of the church, our Lord and Savior.

Any Catholic with a brain struggles with his or her faith. All good people struggle with their faith. It is part of being alive. It matters not that we fall but rather that we once again stand, take a step and continue to struggle forward.

People in the church that persecute the faithful for their sexual orientation believe that they are in power. But rather, we are the church and our Lord is in power.

Do not allow people to have power over you. We people of faith will stand up against this injustice. It will not last, our Lord will have His way.

I Love you Megan and I have faith that you will continue to struggle as long as you live. I have Faith in you and I believe in you. And I pray for you.

Enjoy each day
Cherish each day
and I miss you
With My Love,

PS. I heard about Sister Jennine Grammick. Her ministry to Gay and Lesbian Catholics, helping to bring them back to the church. I saw her show on PBS but I do not have info on her. It was a beautiful piece on Sister Grammick "In Good Conscience" a documentary. I did not see the documentary but rather a small piece on her work on the PBS show "In The Life".

You know, my Dad is a very good man, and reading his letter reminded me how important the struggle is...and so, I am still here!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A Sticky Situation

In El Salvador, having a plan is really not the best way to conduct life, at least not in my opinion. It has been my experience that in this "mas o menos" culture, a lot changes in a short period of time. And with that, even time is sort of relative anyway. Plus, there are just those days when you have to change everything you wanted to do, abandon ship and get the heck out!

Case and Point:
Yesterday, was a Monday, one of those Manic Mondays they call it. I decided to sleep in (until 7:15am) and got up to do some work on the website I was putting together. Usually I read the news in the morning, but I was pretty consumed with what I wanted to do, so I skipped the news and said I would read it later (mistake numero 1).

I did my thing on the website and then went to meet my friend so that we could have some lunch and then go to a museum about the history of the war here.

So I met my friend around 12:15pm and we went to get lunch. The comedor was packed and so we had to get food to go, and we at it in the park (which is sketchy at night). Then we board a bus and go to the museum that she says is open ALL day (at least that’s what they say). Well, as it turns out, the museum is closed until 2pm. Operation: Change Plans!

We decided to go to the Cathedral in the center of the city. This is where Romero’s body is and there’s a lot of life downtown too. Plus, I have to meet another friend there later in the day, so it sort of worked out perfectly for me.

We hop a bus and off we go to El Centro (a sketchy area, but part of the Salvadoran experience). When we get to the Cathedral, we hop out and there is a whole mess of people in the park (more than usual). Across the street, at the Cathedral, the doors are closed (they are open during the day for free flowing traffic) and the gates are plastered with "Anti-Articulo 103" posters.

I say to myself, "this looks like a protest!" Then I survey the scene a little more.
Most of the people in the park are men, and some groups of them are starting to get energized, and there are men in the bell tower with masks. I think again, "this is probably not the best situation to be in."

So I get out my little book that has phone numbers to call my other friend to tell her to meet at another place. While I thumb through the book, a police officer comes up to us (not my favorite group of people) and he asks in plain English what we are doing there.

I respond in Spanish that we were going to see Romero but the Cathedral is closed and so I was going to call a friend and we were going to hop on a bus again. He continues to speak in English and says that we need to leave now, that the situation is very dangerous. According to him, gang members took over the church because they want "their rights, or something like that." He also includes that they are not suppose to be protesting.

I thank him for the heads up and that we are leaving as soon as I alert my friend. He says that’s a good idea!

Well the phone card doesn’t work, and right about that time there was a loud noise and people started to flock to the other side of the park....our cue to leave. We hop a bus back to where we came from.

I get back to work and try to call my friend, but have to wait for my coworker to call a bunch of people first. Life is all about patience here. I try and try to get through, but I can’t
Plan B: I talk to Luis and ask him what to do about my meeting with my other friends back in the hot zone. He says, "I have experience with these sorts of things. "By the time you get back, the people will have left."

It doesn’t seem to me that Salvadorans are the type to give up so quickly, but I took his word for it because he IS a Salvadoran and he "has experience".

So I hop back on the same bus and head to the Cathedral. When I got there, the mob was also still there, and my friends, gringos like sitting ducks on the side of the street.
I said, "Dude, we’ve got to get the hell out of here!"

Five minutes later, we start walking. Process is always slow with a group of people (especially people caught in the moment). We walk a bunch of blocks away from all the action to the place where I later bought my new guitar (I am starting lessons).
We made it in once piece!

The Reality:
There is a maximum security prison in Zacateculuca that is affectionately known as "Zalcatraz". This prison houses criminals from the gang Mara Salvatrucha (many of the members once lived in the US and have been deported back due to crimes committed).

The people in the park protesting were members of a group called COFAPES (family members of the incarcerated) as well as other gang members. They were protesting Article 103 which was bringing about reforms at the prison around visitation rights.

The protesters were denouncing the really horrible conditions of the prison as human rights violations (the facilities really stink and people are really packed in there ie overcrowding.) and they wanted some changes.

Now human rights groups are trying to work with them and settle this matter in a peaceful way. The president of El Salvador said "they do not have any justification." So there you go! I haven’t heard anymore lately, except that the Cathedral is still being occupied. But that’s the story in a nutshell.

My opinion:
I really have no opinion on the situation, except that I can see where the people are coming from. I am a bit disturbed that the media is portraying the protesters as a bunch of gang members (as if gang members shouldn’t have, there was a lot of family there too).
At any rate, I had a different experience I guess you would say and I am alive! What are ya gonna do?

For further reading about the prison situation, check out these links

LA Times

Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Special Day

(Google Images)

Today was a really special day because I got a really different view of la realidad. Fr. Dean invited us to go with him to the Ignacio Martin Baro Cooperative in Llanos Verdes, a part of Jayaque. I knew this morning when I woke up, that this was going to be a very memorable day because traveling with a Jesuit in the campos is an experience in itself.

We began the trip by traveling to Las Palmas, a part of the city that was really hit by the rain in October. Las Palmas, a marginal community just a short distance from my house, struggles with the reality of city life. There is a good deal of violence in this community due to gang influence as well as the combination of different political parties. Dean told us that during the rain, the river rose so high that homes were totally wiped away with the mudslides that were created. You can look down the side of the road now and see what use to be the material possessions of some of the humble dwellings there. While Dean visited a home there to get some of our traveling companions (Silvia and Martin), I got out of the car an looked down the side of the road for myself. It was an incredible sight of sadness and loss, and I did take a moment to say a little prayer.

While I waited for Dean, I simply stood on the sidewalk and greeted people as they walked by. One older man came to greet me and we talked for a while. He told me all about the area, things that Dean had already mentioned. We talked about this mans family. He had 7 brothers who died. I didn’t ask why. He also told me about God. As an Evangelica, he thinks that God is only for the "good", but I explained that I think that Dios is for everyone. He thought a minute and we talked some more, but clearly I didn’t notice that everyone was packed in the car and ready to go. Unfortunately, I had to cut our conversation short and hop in the car. I did think to myself as I left, "what would it be like if I lived there?"

In the car, I met Sonia and her novio Martin. Sonia’s mother works with Dean in the Las Palmas community and Martin is a student at the UCA. I found out later that he is studying psychology, and so we had a lot to talk about. He is a very kind young guy who has a certain internal compassion. I always admire that in a person.

We continued on our way, with a quick stop in San Benito, a community of the rich, where once, their priest, a young guy, started to make some changes and he was killed. Change is dangerous here....

On our way to the Santa Tecla market, Dean showed us the areas that were totally destroyed by the earthquakes of 2001. You could see the mountains in the close distance, with the mudslides from the rain and the obvious possible danger that another earthquake could pose. We picked up some beans at the market (a market frequented by natives for the cheap prices) to later give to a particular woman.

We then drove for about 30 minutes outside of the city on the Pan American Highway, known for its curvy way through the mountains. It was really a sight to see all the sights where the mudslides were. Incredible....

Eventually, we arrived at the cooperative that Ignacio Martin Baro helped encourage. Ignacio, affectionately called Nacho, was a Jesuit who was killed with his 5 other fellow priests and two female domestic workers in 1989. Together, they are called the UCA Martyrs and this week is the anniversary of their assassination.

Nacho was known for his commitment to the people of Llanos Verdes. The children knew him for the candy that he had for them, while the older members of the community knew him for his dedication in accompanying them in the reality. He visited people daily and had strong relationships with them. They say that he is still there with them.

So there was a beautiful mass at the cooperative with beautiful music and really great heartfelt worship. You can tell that the people of Llanos Verdes have a different relationship with God than the rich of the world. These people have a simple faith really grounded in the reality of the world around them. I always say, if you want to know who the crucified Christ is, go meet the poor of the world...they are connected to God everyday.

The sermon that Dean gave was really great, and we had commented before, that here, it is much easier to connect with the people through a sermon. You don’t have to stretch so much to make the readings apply to life. Everything really fits with the realidad of today, and the people hang onto every world because the words are about their life.

After the mass, we had tamales and some cholocate with people. I walked around, and met some of the Casa kids, and then we left for some more visits with Dean. Up the mountain we went, and stopped to visit a man that is bedridden. Nacho had visited him religiously. After that, we went to find a particular woman that was friends with Dean. We knew that she was living in a school now since the rains washed away her house, and so we had to find her. Luckily, we found her walking up the hill as we were going down. She was such a kind soul, full of joy. We talked on the side of the road there with her for a while, and I couldn’t help but look around at the beauty of the place I was, and the beauty of the moment and think, "God, this is such a great life, and this is exactly what I want it to look like!"

After a while, we gave her the beans, which she was so grateful for. I later found out that many people can’t even buy beans sometimes because they are so expensive and so they go without a protein source. And so for this woman, the 5lbs of beans that Dean bought for her was protein for a while. She continued her walk up the hill with her grandchild and I thought, "The people suffer here so much because of the rich and yet she is so full of joy."

As it started to get dark, we began our drive back to the city, but we stopped at a church that was being used as a temporary shelter after the rains. At one time, there were 700 people in the shelter, but as the rains subsided, thanks to God, many could go back. Now there are a bit more than 100 people there, yet many of them are children. It was dinner time when we arrived, and the kids flocked around us, wanting to learn some English rather than get their dinner. The main woman of the shelter gave us a tour and showed us the reality across the street.

"See,"she said, pointing to the mudslides on the side of the mountain. "This is where these people use to live, and now they are here, and the government hasn’t helped us."

I noticed that most of the people in the shelter were women and children...lots of children, who were so happy to see us. And as we left, I noticed some soldiers who had just arrived. I asked Martin, "why are they here?" And I knew my answer as I asked the question, as I saw the smile on Martin’s face.

If you think about it, the poor forced together by result of a disaster that the government hasn’t helped with, makes a community that is very dangerous for the government. These soldiers were there to monitor the "situation". A disgusting reality and abuse of power that is all too familiar in El Salvador.

As we left this community, I couldn’t help but make not of how important that moment was for me. As the children waved as we drove away, someone commented on how different campo life is in relation to city life.

We continued on our way once again, but quickly made another stop at a little comedor to get some drinks and pan ducle. As it turned out, the place we were sipping refrescos at, was a favorite place of Monsenor Romero. He liked to come there to rest, and he was very involved with the community there, and good friends of family at the comedor. We had a nice snack complete with a guy who played tunes on his harmonica for us. To think that even my snack time meant something today...that at one time, Romero also reclined at table and sipped the same cold drink that I was enjoying. And thus, life comes full circle.....

Today was a great day full of really important thoughts and experiences. Although I like my job at CARECEN, working with migrants and their families, I can’t help but think if I would like this kind of life better...accompanying the people of the campo...going to their homes everyday... being with them during their daily struggles. It’s a different life, that is for sure, but maybe it is what my heart is looking for.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Can't Breath...

(Google Images)

There are some days here when I feel like I can’t breath. I wake up in the morning and I want to take a deep breath and welcome life in, but then I remind myself that I’m in San Salvador. Instead, I stretch, take medium breath, just enough to let myself know that I’m alive, and I continue on with my new day.

When I first got here, I kept waking up with a sore throat. I would tell people this, and they would say that I’m getting a little gripe, and would go on to tell me that it’s because of the lluvia. But as the day went on, this would clear up, and that was that. But I came to figure out that I did not have a gripe and the lluvia had little to do with my sore throat. In fact, my body was adjusting to the pollution of living in the city.

Now one would think I would be use to this by now after living in Detroit for the past year (and I use to live near River Rouge), but in fact, I find the conditions worse here.

There are some days that I sit on the bus, and cars pass by with the trail of black diesel smoke behind. And then there are the busses, with no sort regulations on the amount of pollution they create. I stand on the side of the road, waiting for whatever it is I am looking for, and I dream of wearing an oxygen mask. And then there are the days that I just dream of being in the campo.
The air is cleaner in the campo. You can smell wildlife and stoves burning (also not very good for the lungs..but they smell better than exhaust). Campo life is also a lot more tranquilo...and maybe that’s what I’m looking for.

I didn’t take any deep breaths today...I’m actually holding my breath for the day that I can. I think this country girl is just adjusting to city life....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rosa Parks

Here's to show you that even criminals are good people. Even an every day citizen can spark change. Even women have voices.

Rosa Parks was a great woman and an important hero of our time. I hope we never forget the importance of one human being and what one soul can accomplish in a life.

(I found the photo on Google Images, complements of )

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Disaster Spirituality

I was reading another mans blog the other day, looking for the perfect passage to inspire conversation in a reflection group. I was looking for a quote that would comment about spirituality in the midst of a disaster. A book called Like Grains of Wheat: A Spirituality of Solidarity had a perfect quote that I found in this particular blog, and it has really struck with me ever since.

This community also understood how much the disaster was worsened by the long legacy of injustice, repression and exploitation in these countries. They understood why the poor people who had been forced to live in areas most vulnerable to natural disasters were once again the vast majority of the dead, injured, and homeless. They understood how the deforestation and over development had altered the climate of the region and left the earth vulnerable to the landslides and flooding caused by seven days of torrential rains.

Solidarity means more than giving food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless, it also means addressing the question of why they are hungry and homeless.

Here in El Salvador, asking the question of why has been very present in my mind lately. After a month of disaster, one simply prays that things will just stop. After watching the news every day, seeing people suffer, listening to the government and their lies, things just become more frustrating. I sit on the bus and I can’t help but wonder what life was or is like for the person sitting next to me. Sometimes I imagine them leaving their house in the morning, saying goodbye to their family. In my mind, the person sitting next to me lives in a home made of scrap metal and wood, and sometimes in my mind, the house is resting on a hill with a straight drop down.

It’s easy to imagine these conditions, because I see them everyday. My bus drives by marginal communities where homes have fallen in the valley below due to the rain, earthquakes and mudslides. It’s not hard to find someone around here who hasn’t been affected this way. And that is the reality that sticks with me every day. I wish it was just me and an active imagination, but this time reality tells the truth.

So if I am really a person of solidarity, then it is my responsibility to ask the tough questions. And trust me, I’ve asked these questions before, but this time it’s different, because I had this little revelation of sorts. It goes like this...

The so called "natural disasters"are caused by unexplainable forces of the earth. But we know that with things like global warming, the patterns and reactions fo the earth are changing every day. And we know that part of the problem of global warming and other abuses of the earth are caused by an over consumption and pollution of the earths people. But ask yourself, who is doing the over consuming here? Is it the campesino who still uses an ox to till his field, or is it the rich guy who insists on driving his BMW to work everyday instead of taking the bus, even if it’s just for a mile and a half?

El Salvador had a hurricane, earthquake and volcanic eruption all in one week. The effects included flooding, mudslides, falling volcanic ash, power outages, contaminated water, destroyed homes (the list goes on). The fact that all three of these "natural disasters"occurred in one week, doesn’t really seem like coincidence anymore.

When you think about who uses the majority of the earths resources or where the rich have placed the poor people of the world, it is not hard to see all the strings attached to this "natural disaster". Not only is the current situation in El Salvador, and all over the world, a perfect example of environmental racisism, but its also are really good example of a generational cover up of one giant human rights violation.

I think that the term "natural disaster"was created to take blame off of someone, or some body of individuals (ie the government). I think that when we use the phrase "natural disaster"we are welcomed to feel sorry for those affected, but we aren’t encouraged or mandated to change our lives.

Blame it on God....blame it on the earth...blame it on the cosmos...whatever. But why would anyone actually take the blame for the historical proof of oppression that has contributed to the suffering that we know today?

This is not a conspiracy theory...this is not some kind of liberal crap on a stick. This is what the poor have known for a long time. Think about it....

The tsunami, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, wars...who are the ones who suffer and die?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Voces Inocentes

(This photo was found with Google Images on the website of Cine Premiere)

A few days ago I watched this film called Voces Inocentes (Innocent Voices). It was one of the first things I heard about when I came to El Salvador. EVERYONE asked me if I had seen the film, and being the new gringa on the block, I could barely figure out what the heck they were asking me. But, I am proud to say that I purchased a pirated copy of the film the other day and watched it in its entirety in the original Spanish (no subtitles for me, unless I wanted to read the Portuguese, because English wasn’t available).

Let me just begin by saying that Voces Inocentes is one of the best films that I’ve ever seen (and if you know me and my little obsession with film, that’s saying a lot). I don’t know, I have just been thinking about this film all week since I’ve seen it. I want to watch it again, but I’m trying to pace myself. The story is really compelling, but watching it in El Salvador is like having a religious experience. It’s hard to explain (even for me).

Voces Inocentes is the true story of Oscar Torres, the screenwriter of this film. The main character, Chava, is only eleven years old but he has become the "man of the house" as his father abandons the family in the middle of the civil war (typical of a Salvadoran family during the war and today for that matter). At this ripe age, Chava not only watches the violence of the war erupt in his community, in his school and in his life, but he has to face the reality that in one years time, he will turn twelve. During the war, the Salvadoran government forcefully recruited twelve year old boys to fight in the war against the guerilla forces of the FMLN. It’s a reality he dreads and you can certainly see that his tender heart is not meant for the life of a soldier.
Chava’s story is not unique to El Salvador or the world for that matter. TODAY there are more than 300,000 child soldiers fighting in more than 40 countries (statistic found on VI website). As I learn more about the realities of El Salvador, I am always amazed at the individual stories of people here. I have met people just like Chava and his family. And I think for me, that is what made this film all the more real.

I seriously recommend that you see this film. Spend the ten bucks if you can or get yourself a pirated copy like I did!!! It’s a great way to learn about the reality I am finding, as well as entering into Salvadoran culture in a unique way. Plus, I am always a fan of education through film. And when you do see the film, let me know what you think.

Here’s the film website for you

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Wonder Posted by Picasa

Blast from the Past

I just came across this old blog that I wrote in college. I am deciding to keep it only for the purpose of showing that life is a process. If you care to indulge yourself, then by all means, do so.

Homosexual y Cochino

"Homosexual y Cochino"

This past week, I encountered the rather rampant homophobia of the Latin American world. Backed by a culture of machismo, El Salvador seems to take certain social cues from their religion of choice. If it isn’t the legalism of Catholicism, it’s the over emphasis of particular biblical versus emphasized within evangelical Protestant churches. Either way, the horrid displays of homophobia here seem to be a common practice.
This week while I was in the campo doing migration education in small communities, I came across two incidences of direct homophobia that exhibited a certain lack of diversity education.
1. While sitting in the car outside of the local house of culture in Santa Elena, I noticed some graffiti on the next building. The words, "Homosexual y Cochino"were displayed. I certainly could figure out what the homosexual part was all about, but this word, "cochino" was something new, and something told me it wasn’t good. I asked what cochino meant. As it turns out, cochino means dirty, like a pig. So apparently, someone at this place where graffiti is, is considered gay and dirty.
As it turns out, the graffiti was on the wall of the local post office. In that case, I wonder, what exactly does this graffiti imply?
The letter carriers must be gay and dirty, or maybe the woman at the front desk? No, maybe these individuals in question mean to say that anyone who enters the post office or benefits from their services is gay and dirty! Certainly that can’t be it!
I tried to wrap my head around this phrase and what it meant, but I came up empty.
Typically with homophobic individuals, they have this belief that homosexuality is wrong, however, they don’t have any great evidence for their beliefs. They may be able to cite a biblical quote, or give a stunning moral example (those men who have sex together just isn’t "natural".) But most of the time, the actual argument of a homophobic person has no real educational or intellectual backing.
Incidentally, this graffiti on the post office was situated directly across the street from an evangelical church that was blasting religious propaganda. I wonder if there is a connection?

2. While driving to a more remote location, we passed by a house with a "manwoman". In other words, a transgendered person lives at this house. While passing by the house, the person in question, was sitting on the porch and waved and smiled at us. "Cindy"as she is called, was once a man, but had an operation, and now she is a woman.
Certainly, this operation that Cindy had was expensive and rather time consuming. I found it interesting that she actually went through with the whole operation, in light of the economic strain. It’s something I wouldn’t have expected in El Salvador. Certainly I am not implying that there are no transgendered people in El Salvador, but I just assumed that the actual operation would be too costly for Salvadorans.
At any rate, the individuals that were in the car with me, who pointed Cindy out to me, didn’t seem to mind too much about her change. They laughed a little bit about the concept and continued on. I expressed that I had friends that were the same as Cindy (and I wished I had a more politically correct word in my vocabulary to explain "transgendered") and they seemed to be a bit surprised (as if they didn’t know that more of these people existed), but in total, they didn’t seem to care too much about Cindy.
In general, I’m not sure their reactions were as much homophobic as they were a direct result of a lack of diversity education...something pretty typical in the campo of El Salvador.
Nevertheless, I will continue to monitor the situation of homophobia here in El Salvador. It is certainly not easy being gay in this world. Of course some places are more accepting of diversity than others, but El Salvador is certainly not a the top of the list. Incidentally, neither is CRS (just a point of reference).

Monday, October 10, 2005

Gay? What is that all about?

There are times when the search for personal identity can be one of the most painful moments in a persons life. There are realities that one faces, harsh realizations, and tender moments left to reconcile with. It’s all a part of being alive, of being fully human...accepting and loving the depths of who you are. This metamorphosis is a right of passage made of internal growth to build inner beauty and strong character. However, not everyone has such a positive awakening of self. There are those among us who struggle with who they are, simply because there are those who will reject their life and the love they have within them.

Tomorrow is October 11th, National Coming Out Day. In the United States, millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals will come together and celebrate who they are. This special day is meant to be a testament to the nation, that the GLBT community is strong in love. It is a day to encourage open hearts, and acceptance within society so that some day we might have the RIGHT to LOVE those in our lives.

The theme for this years National Coming Out Day is “Talk About It”.

Society is only as homophobic as you let it be. If you listen to the gay joke and don’t say that you are offended, you might as well have told the joke yourself (don’t worry, we’ve all been there). If you haven’t come out as a straight ally yet, you should do so, because our real allies are those who are out of the closet too. And if you are gay, you know that coming out is a process, and so on this day, continue your process of loving and living well, by being OUT in your communities.

No one said this was going to be easy, and as any gay person can tell you, some days are better than others.

The following is a short list of things you can do to be a better ally or even combat the homophobia within you. Hey, lets be honest, not everyone is ready to accept gay people for who they are, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change.

1. Express your love. If you know someone who identifies as GLBT, make sure you tell them how much you appresiate them. Give them a hug and tell them that you love them. Many times, we lose those we love because a lack of acceptance. Families disown us, friends can do the same. We end up building our own families and communities, but it is always important to know that we are loved. So on this day, shower you GLBT family and friends with love. Leave your judgement at the door, and simply let them know that you care.

2. Come out as an ally. Nothing says I love you more than standing up to homophobia and oppression. Real commitment in a relationship is demonstrating loyalty in the difficult moments, and sometimes it’s as easy as wearing a T-shirt that people will see, and know that you are accepting of the GLBT community. Here’s one you can check out…
To be a ally, check this out…

3. Educate yourself a bit. If you don’t know a lot of gay people, or haven’t been a part of someone’s “coming out story”, then now is the time to of awareness for you. Many times, coming out is traumatic and painful, but on the flip side, realizing one’s sexuality can be a liberating moment full of love and acceptance. Check out these coming out stories, and learn what it’s like.
But don’t stop the education there, expand your world and start meeting people. Watch a movie that has a gay person in it. Read a book by a gay author, or attend a lecture in your area about homophobia. Every little moment is important for you, and each experience should be processed through dialogue and self reflection. We all have to begin somewhere, and education is always the first step. (Note: If you want to get really educated, find out what it’s like for GLBT individuals in other countries. Depending on cultural differences, things can be a lot more difficult and even violent. And in our sheltered world, the reality can be eye opening.)

4. Host a GLBT friendly event. Maybe you will host a GLBT documentary and speaker at a local community center, or encourage religious dialogue at your own church. Any event that promotes dignity and love of the GLBT community is another step in the right direction .

5. Monitor your words and encourage healthy dialogue. In the spirit of this years theme, freely talking about GLBT issues in every facet of life means one less place we have to be closeted. Learn about the power of words and identify those phrases in the lives of GLBT individuals that are encouraging and those that are offensive. Many times, these words will be different for everyone, but it never hurt to ask. Here is a list of terminology you might want to stay away from.
* Fag or faggot or dyke
* Lifestyle
* Love the sinner, hate the sin.
* Homo
* Fruit

Look, this is the bottom line. It’s damn hard to be gay these days, but it sure is a lot easier than it was in the past. We can use all the help we can get, so that one day we can lead lives with the same rights as everyone else. We are normal people who go to church, have families, jobs, we vote and we have love in our lives. Being gay is not about’s about love...and it’s about identity. We’ve all lost people in our lives because they couldn’t love and accept us for who we are, but now is the time to start accepting new people in our lives who are willing to love AND fight oppression by our side.

A Haiku (or Three)

A Haiku or Three

1. Great heart of depth
transparent visionary
compassion spirit.

2. Connected to one
trusting liberator feels
humble in stillness.

3. Passion, loyal, fee
gracious in mind, body, soul
connected to you.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


We’re in the middle of a national disaster here. There’s a very testy volcano, a hurricane just passed over us, and the rain doesn’t seem to want to let up. There are mud slides everywhere, flooding in the streets and there are thousands of refugees in shelters all around El Salvador. The poor are suffering immensely here, and I can’t help but wonder where God is in all of this.

Today on the news I saw one particular story that has been challenging my heart. In times like this, it can become second nature to turn your heart off when there is such extreme suffering all around. During these moments, may be easier to watch the news and see the devastation and think, “It’s not me!” But I can’t be like that. I can’t just turn my heart off when things get difficult, or when I feel that my breath is being taken away. There is a part of me that naturally enters into the intensity of the moment, even though it is difficult. Today there was a moment while watching the news, that a felt my heart leading in that direction.

The story goes like this...there was a mudslide, and the force of the mud crashed into a cement home that left the building destroyed. There were three children in that home when the slide occurred, but the rest of the family was not in the home at the time. Two of these small children died within the rubble of their home, but one little girl was still holding onto her life. She had been trapped in such a way, that the bottom half of her body was covered with cement blocks and pieces of her house. She rested on her stomach, sometimes crying in agony, as the rescue workers labored to set her free.

The camera crew on this particular news worthy event, made sure to get a closeup of all the action. The collected shots of a rescue worker wiping the blood from the girls head, or another worker lifting pieces of rubble off her tiny body. The reporter also made sure to comments from the crowd.

He asked one rescue worker, “Why didn’t this family leave the house yesterday for the shelter?”

The man replied, “We asked them, but they didn’t want to leave.”

The reporter then found the mother of the child, a woman who already lost two children today, and was facing the possibility of losing this girl too. The reporter asked the mother, “why didn’t you leave yesterday when the red cross asked you?” (You could hear the cries of the girl in the background.)

The mother, in tears replied, “We didn’t want to go to a shelter. We’ve heard of those places, crowed, full of disease...and there’s no food. We decided to stay here.”

The reporter pressed on and said, “Now you have two dead children, and this other little girl is trapped.”

The mother cried.

The reporter went on to interview others, who commented and blamed the situation on the negligence of the family. The reporter seemed to prove his point, and just as he was wrapping up an interview, the little girl was being lifted out of the rubble.

She was calm, yet shivering. She was very conscious, and had an IV attached to her hand as five men carried her away on a straight board. As she was being taken way, the reporters final comments on the situation were something towards the effect of, “Due to parents negligence, two children paid the price with their life, while this young girl will face pain.”

I watched this whole story unfold for five minutes, and then I saw it repeated on the next newscast. I found myself being more and more angry with that reporter. He was a man of privilege, at least to an extent. He had a steady job. His home probably isn’t in danger. And he will probably not have to spend his evening in a shelter tonight (unless of course, there is a big story there). And he will probably have a shower a good meal when he goes home tonight.

He is in a position of comfort, a place where it is easy to criticize others. But at a time like this, his privileged criticism was graphic and heartless (in my mind at the time).

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t really matter what choice the parents made in the past. The reality was, there was a mud slide, that no one could control, and there was a girl in pain that needed more support and encouragement than a group of voyeuristic reporters looking for a good story.

The story that the reporter wasn’t telling was this...

There are shelters all over the city and the country, and the list of refugees keeps growing everyday. Despite nation wide collections of clothing, food and medicine, there is still not enough to meet the needs of the people. The shelters are over crowed with people who are already poor, and access to clean water and food is like a roll of the dice. People are sick, and unknowingly spreading diseases to each other, as they are in such cramped quarters, and they have no where else to go.

There reporters aren’t telling that story too often. They prefer the graphic details of people being crushed by buildings, or swept away by a flood. They forget about the dignity of the people, and the real humanity of all of this. The reality is, it is the poor who are suffering here in El Salvador. And if Christians want to talk about the crucified Christ, he is here today in the midst of all this destruction and pain. The cries of a young girl pinned down by cement, is Christ speaking to our hearts, and begging us to give a damn, because his daughter, who he loves, is suffering.

I think if we are honest with ourselves, and the reality around us everyday, we have the ability to see Christ in everything. We have the ability to discern his voice in a difficult situation, and face the challenges that are put in front of us. It is the voice of Christ that encourages us to ask questions, while still leaving room for the dignity of those around us.

I see poverty every day here, and it is hard for me to not engage my heart. I have seen many of these things before, but today this little girl will serve as a reminder for me.

I will remember how she and her family were not treated with dignity.
I will remember the calm demeanor of the little girl, and her cries of pain.
I will remember the choices that were made by the girl’s family, and remind myself that often the poor are trapped between inhumane conditions on both sides.
I will remember that Christ was present, although I couldn’t necessarily identify him.


I come from a culture of consumerism, a place where materialism can be likened to storing treasures in heaven. In this culture, everyone has stuff (Stuff: a technical term for the clutter of possessions that one acquires within a period of time). And like a creature of habit, I too acquire objects to fill space in my life.

There are people in my life who think that I am not materialistic. They think that since I move to these far off places of the world, with two bags and a carry on, that I am not exercising materialism. They think that I am not attached to the stuff in my life, and that I am above the struggle of acculturation within my society.

I am here to tell a different story.

The fact of the matter is, I struggle with materialism. Like an alcoholic that craves a drink, I too crave certain luxuries in life. And at times, I have found myself stretched, when thinking how to do without these things that apparently bring richness to my life.

Lets take an inventory of the things I brought with me to El Salvador.

The Basics:
Clothing... I have some really hot T-shirts for every occasion of life. I have a collection of fun T-shirts that I find for cheap at second hand places, and the great find is half the excitement. And while we’re on the subject of T-shirts, let me just note that I wear half the clothing I brought, and the rest is still packed in a bag.)

Shoes...I did ok in this department. Two pairs of sneakers, two sandals and one pair of dress shoes. I love a good pair of shoes, but the reality is, I don’t wear too many shoe combinations here. So I don’t need them.

Music... Many of you know that my interest in music spans the gamete, and collecting albums over the years, as equaled one really large collection. And to conserve space, I managed to put most of my favorite music on my laptop.

Books... If you have been to my parents house, you will know that the small square of space that I call my room is filled with bookcases of books. I read everything from history books (my favorite is Latin American History), travel books, poetry and books on theology and prayer. I literally have hundreds of books that I have read or partially read. Now, when it comes to El Salvador, I was able to restrict myself quite well (I

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


In the Spanish language the word “Bastante”means “enough”. But the meaning goes further than this simple translation. This one word is used to describe the degree to which something happens. In a common conversation, for instance, you will find a Salvadoran explaining that it rained enough (meaning that it rained an adaquate amount or maybe a little too much).

I happened to learn the more profound meaning of “Bastante”after my first week here, and lately, I’ve just been relishing in the intensity of this simple statement.

Just after my first week in El Salvador, I was invited to a national conference of migrants and migrant organizations. I went with a coworker and I met others associated with the issue once I was there. I was just getting my feel for the country, and the new issues of my life, and so naturally, I was asking a lot of questions and simply watching what was happening around me.

The organization that I work with happens to be one of the leading migrant organizations in the field, and we had helped organize this conference. There seemed to be a lot of people at the conference, and I had noticed a few people that were pointed out as migrants.

At one point, I asked Luiz, my token tour guide at work, what I thought was a simple question.

I asked, “How many migrants are here?”

Being a typical American I guess, I must have been looking for some kind of cumulative answer that would result in a positive or negative reaction. It’s not like I knew what a lot or a little was at this point, but it was a simple Spanish sentence in my world, and chances are, the answer would be simple (in the form of numbers, that are easy to translate).

Instead I received this answer....

Luiz said to me, “the question is not ‘how many migrants are here,’ the answer is bastante.

And he left it at that...for me to figure out.

In the context of Salvadoran culture, his answer explains a lot about the people here. What he was saying was this...

It doesn’t really matter how many migrants were at the conference, the fact that there WERE migrants there, was enough! The fact that migrants were represented there, was enough! The fact that migrants could come back to El Salvador from the US (which is quite the sticky situation, and quite dangerous at times), was enough! Luiz was telling me that there were enough migrants at that conference to offer a voice for those who attended and the larger international community.

Here in El Salvador, the outcome of an even is not measured on the amount of data collected, or the number of people that attended. The real measurement is in relation to the quality of interactions within people. The fact that migrant organizations in the US and those in El Salvador could spend time in one room for a while and share thoughts and ideas, was enough reason to have such a conference. The fact that migrants could come to this place and speak about their experience, and maybe see their family and country again, was enough reason to have such a conference.
Bastante means enough, but it means more in this cultural context, and once I figured this out, I understood a lot more.

For example, I was invited to another migrant conference a week later at a swanky hotel called the Intercontinental. The kind of place that would be hundreds of dollars in the US...a place where the rich go to be wined and dined. (So much for simple living!)

At any rate, there were more people from the public at this conference, people who belonged to other organizations that worked with migrants in some way. At this conference, we were presenting current information for other organizations and the press, on the current state of migrants here and abroad.

A coworker of mine came to the conference late, and asked me how many people actually showed, followed by “bastante?”

I replied, “Si, bastante!”

I haven’t mastered the Spanish language but certain little realizations go a long way.

***For a little treat, check out this link and find a picture of me. I am the one in between two men, the guy sleeping is Luiz! How perfect!