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?