domingo, 21 de noviembre de 2010

Where the Hibiscus Blooms

Bendición de Dios. God’s Blessing. If only I had thought to ask Mauricio, this community’s young leader, why they decided on this name. At one time, this place made have seemed like a blessing—a place for thirty poor, rural families to finally put down roots, to have something of their own, to give stability and a sense of belonging to their children. But from an outsider’s perspective, it seems that this community has seen nothing but the opposite of blessings since coming to this land.

In the middle of the night on Sunday, September 26th, torrential rains due to Hurricane Matthew caused the two rivers that surround this little community to flood. One women tells of lifting her three-month old baby over her head, arms fully extended, as she struggled to keep her own head over water. Others tell of scrambling onto their shaky roofs in the pitch black night by light of cheap cell phone, watching the waters rush by.

These humble homes—shacks by any other name, pieced together with found and collected bits of corrugated tin, wood, thick, heavy sticks, cardboard, mud, plastic tarp—are constructed on packed dirt, and interiors of homes and the narrow roads that run through the community turn immediately to mud in heavy rain. Disease, manifested by mosquitoes and white mold that grows everywhere in the dampness, accompanied by threats of continued rains and further flooding that keep coastal El Salvador on orange alert, force the community out. There is no formal shelter nearby, and so, as so many other Salvadoran communities do in times of crisis, the community seeks refugee in the nearest primary school.

lunes, 6 de septiembre de 2010

The Women of Llano Grande: Walking the Unpaved Road Towards Development and Justice

Llano Grande's residents—thirty-five families, many composed of various generations—are among the many rural families that live in extreme poverty in El Salvador. People have lived in tin and clay shacks since arriving to the community, some ten years ago, waiting for land titles to apply for housing projects. When it rains, they and all their belongings get wet, and when it doesn't, their homes are converted into ovens. After the Ida rains last November, the bean crop was largely destroyed and corn rotted.

The community has no electricity, no health clinic, no community center, no school and no corn mill. In the community, there is “no paid work, there is no development, especially for women, and we're responsible for providing for and caring for children,” according to one of the many women in the women's committee I was able to meet with. From Llano Grande, it is a twenty to thirty minute walk down the dusty, unpaved road to the main street. From there, it is another hour's walk to Tecoluca, where the nearest health clinic is located. A grassroots organizatin in the region had offered a high school scholarship to a young person in this community, but the only high school age youth had already stopped studying. Because of the distance to the nearest school—an hour-long walk—many children make it to the sixth grade, at the most. At our late-morning meeting, the time that children should be entering the last class of the day, a handful of young, school-aged girls were present.

martes, 24 de agosto de 2010

Organic Veggies and Powerful Women Tucked away in the Chalate Mountains

This article was originally written, in a slightly different version, for the SHARE Foundation, who, thanks to sistering groups in the US, was able to support a women's organizing and leadership project for 2010, the continuation of similar projects over the years. Part of this project, to support women's organization and empowerment and respond to the ever-worsening food crisis in El Salvador, was the funding of ten women's communal vegetable gardens. Following is the story of one of these gardens.

Los Pozos, Carasque. From Chalate proper, its another two-hour drive down roads that remind you of the many corners of El Salvador long abandoned by many consecutive governments. It's almost the Honduras border, across the Río Sumpul, site of one of the largest massacres during the twelve-year civil war, taking the lives of some 600 women, children, babies and elderly as they tried to cross the river and escape from the Salvadoran army, only to find the Honduran military shooting down at them from the other bank.

We make it to Los Pozos, but only about halfway up the mountain to the vegetable garden, where the women are waiting for us. We leave the Share-mobile and, in our flimsy flip flops, hike our way up. As we emerge from the brush, we see the vegetable garden, encompassed by cyclone fence, overlooking the view that could make even a lifelong city slicker fall in love: every shade of green imaginable, with the shadows of the clouds lazily making their way over hills and through valleys. Out here, there are no telephone polls, electric wires, bus noises or pollution.

lunes, 16 de agosto de 2010

"us" and "them"

I have spent some time recently poking around for insight into the immigration debate in the US, to see what the proposals are and what the rhetoric is. And while the banner drop in Phoenix (as part of protests against the Arizona law) puts a big smile on my face, the vast majority of the discourse and sentiment leaves me dumbfounded. Anger and fear abound, while real conversation about all of the realities of the immigration issue has been left out, completely.

In mainstream media, there seems to be no talk of the hundreds of people this year alone that have died of thirst, heat stroke, exhaustion or hunger while trying to cross the Arizona desert to feed their families. Certainly not about the situations of poverty and lack of opportunity and employment and hunger and, yes, violence that push people out of their homelands and communities, and never discussion about the US policies that exacerbate—if not create—these situations.

I'm not in the United States to witness the immigration debate. I know that not all people share the hateful, ignorant, bigoted, racist ideas that have left me angered, heartbroken, speechless. I know that not all people share these ideas, and man actively oppose them. And not all people in the US have had the opportunity to live outside of their country, to experience other realities and walk alongside the people whose futures and livelihoods this debate so coldly banters around. And not all people in the United States have a vision of history beyond a fourth grade textbook or a connection to native America.

jueves, 8 de julio de 2010

On Believing

I never thought of myself as an idealist, but I have always very strongly held to the idea that things can and should and must be better, have to be just and right. And lately I find myself wondering, do you reach a point in life where you let that go?

These days, I am finding it increasingly difficult to believe in and hope for the most and the best in others and the world and have these ideals met, and it's painful. Not in every situation or with everyone, of course. There are amazing people in my life and amazing things happening. But I live in a country, in a world, where life is pretty raw, and I wonder: Do I have to stop expecting and demanding and hoping for the most from everyone, because it might just run me into the ground if people keep failing to live up? Do I agree with that? Is it okay? Would it somehow make me a sellout? Because it feels like a very uncomfortable idea to me. I simply don't want to expect less, or demand less. I just don't want to. Things should be right and just, because they should be. And everyone's voice should be heard and people should be empowered and participation and consensus should be the base of decision-making and human dignity and relationships...

But I also don't want to burn out at twenty-six.

lunes, 28 de junio de 2010

Reflections on Inconceivable, Unexplainable, Senseless Violence

Last Sunday, now a week and a half ago, a public microbus was taken hostage by alleged gang members and diverted from its route. As he pulled to a stop, the driver was shot and killed. All those aboard were threatened—“no one moves”—as the bus was doused with gasoline, the door was locked, and a match was lit. The bus, with over thirty passengers inside, was quickly in flames, those trapped inside literally burning to death. Anyone who tried to escape by breaking through a window was shot. Sixteen people have died, the remaining fifteen hospitalized with varying degrees of burns, some in comas.

I read today about a mother who was on the bus with her two children, ages eight and eleven. The three were returning home from a day in el centro, enjoying their Sunday together as a family, when the bus was lit on fire. To save her daughters from burning alive, she tried to break open a bus window with her elbow. The glass wouldn’t give, and in her desperate attempt, she completely shattered her elbow, and, as she kept trying, her arm. She finally broke through, throwing her girls out of the bus one by one. But the threat—no one moves—was serious: the girls were immediately shot at with a 9mm and M16s by assailants surrounding the bus. Miraculously, both girls survived their gunshot wounds, albeit with scars that will last a lifetime. Their mother is in the hospital in a coma; she went unconscious soon after launching her children from the window and was rescued when police arrived at the scene ten minutes after that attack. Her arm was amputated, sacrificed in an attempt to save her loved ones.

sábado, 5 de junio de 2010

How can we walk with love in a place that all too often responds by bringing us to our knees?

It has been over four years since I packed my bags and moved my life to El Salvador. As I sit down to write something to send to friends and loved ones about how I am and where I am, one thing consistently comes to mind. Life here is deeply exhausting, in many senses.
El Salvador is like a petri dish of all social ills, six million people crowded into a tiny country where justice and oppression abound in place of opportunities and dignity. The reality is life-draining and easily leads to feelings of complete impotence and desperation. Is there anything that can be done to create change? Is there anything I can do to create change? Is this all hopeless? On the best days, we believe that the arc of justice is long, but bends towards justice. On the worst days, the healthiest response seems to be running as far away as possible, far, far away from the world.
There are moments where the levels of violence make you sick, and perhaps more, your response to them. How is it that you, too, have come to accept the twelve murdered people per day; how is it that those people came to represent a number that you, too, throw around and talk about abstractly, without thinking, feeling, caring for the names, families, stories behind the numbers? One of my own biggest internal struggles has been the mistrust, distrust, suspicion of fellow human beings, especially men, and more especially young men, that I have been encouraged, nearly forced, to develop. Everyone is approached with caution, and instead of giving people the benefit of the doubt, we are encouraged to assume the worst in everyone. Instead of being able to offer my smile and hello to the people that inhabit the streets and sidewalks, the people that work the stoplights for change, eye contact is avoided, windows are rolled up and car doors are locked, greetings from strangers are ignored and the street is used as barrier between oneself and suspicious looking characters.
The walls that we are subtly and outright told to put up go absolutely and irrefutably against our feelings of humanity, our desire to offer love to all that we encounter. And against the dignity of all beings, even those that sniff glue on the corner or treat us as sexual objects.