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!

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