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.

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