Monday, December 8, 2014

San Isidro Labrador

Two weeks ago I went with six other international election observers (aka my buddies) to San Isidro Labrador, a town in the department of Chelatenango where international companies have threatened, and some have already started, to explore and extract gold. This is a very dirty process, using and then dumping massive quantities of arsenic into the water supply. And from my former life, let me tell you, arsenic is REALLY hard to get out of the water once it’s in there (think dried Play-Doh on a shag carpet – it sticks to EVERYTHING). Mining in El Salvador threatens not only to extract resources without any pay-back to the people, but to contaminate the country’s largest water supply, the Río Lempa.

The election in San Isidro, though small, was the second ever community consultation in the country. Although the past three presidents have upheld a mining moratorium, communities are afraid that if a new president comes into power, the moratorium would go bye-bye, as would their water supply. And so communities are taking advantage of a constitutional right to hold their own consultation. Us foreigners were there as election observers to uphold that the election was clean, and that everyone who wanted to vote could. And it was… all but three out of 250 voted NO to the mine, with two YES and one null.

Being an election observer, especially on an issue that is so near and dear to my heart, was an exhausting but important opportunity. In the heat of the moment (literally the sweltering, sticky heat), it ain’t all that glamorous. You sit and watch, you write a report, you go home. But what it meant is far bigger. These communities are following the lead of environmental movements in Canada, in Australia, and in the U.S. (Exhibit A: Keystone Pipeline), where in the face of political paralysis, communities take it upon themselves to openly declare what is often the unanimous will of the people. In El Salvador, I am not “the people,” but I can use my unique voice as a gringa to validate and affirm the voices of those clamoring for things to be different.

You can read the full story here (with another nice mug shot of yours truly).

This was just too good not to photograph.

One thing the State Department doesn't tell you... El Salvador is GORGEOUS.

And so we woke up to this. Life is rough... real rough.

Cori (roommate) is really excited.

It's like Indiana Jones but better... we get vests.

Lining up to cast the ballot.

Then you have to ink your finger so no one can vote twice.

Cori is excited... again.

One of the voting centers was held at a school... thus, tiny chairs.

Now all my grammatical errors are recorded for posterity.

For the very old, a little assistance is necessary.

Catie, our fearless leader.

Management had to come in and hold down the fort.

San José Las Flores says NO to projects of exploration and exploitation mining.

In case you can't tell, that first column is NO, the second column is YES. They're convinced the person who voted YES had dimentia.

Real fascinating stuff, I know.

They held up each vote as it was removed from the ballot box and showed it so everyone could see.

Press conference the next day to report on our findings. "It was a clean and transparent election, with an overwhelming majority against the mine."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Day In The Life

Yes, we are WAY overdue for some blog posts. Last time we checked in, I was slightly less-than-enthused about returning full speed back to El Salvador. Or, in the words of my very wise little brother, "the honeymoon period is over."

Since then, things have been looking pretty great. But rather than tell you, I figured the best way would be to just show you.

Memena welcomes me back to El Salvador with an appropriate bouquet of vegetables... cilantro, brcooli, red pepper... the woman knows me so well.

Sorry folks. Nothing but blue skies and sunshine down here... hearing tales of Buffalo's horror 6-8ft simply makes me chuckle.

A good friend from capoeira moved to the United States a few weeks ago, and in his honor, some buddies through him a going away party ("despedida"). But not just any despedida... oh no. This is a part thrown by professional chefs, which means of all things, homemade sushi.

But seriously... homemade sushi.

Burro, in green, is one of the masterminds behind the whole affair. He also happens to be my neighbor... you might want to get a napkin to wipe that drool off your chin.

So this happened.

And this (that green spiral is perfectly prepared cucumber art)

And that was all she wrote...

This month Cristosal had two extraordinary staff additions with Susana Barrera (left) and Celia Medrano (right) joining the ranks. It is such an inspiration to be able to work alongside both Celia and Susana. Every day I learn more and more about the type of human rights advocate, and even the kind of woman, I want to be by watching them.

I also had my first gig as a professional translator! Here is a group working with CRISPAZ, a solidarity NGO here in El Salvador, with the two board members I translated for. What a neat opportunity to get to know another organization's work, and do good at the same time.

 What a small world it is! David Boeri from WBUR, NPR's Boston member station (and my go-to choice for Mass Pike traffic) came to El Salvador to speak with Cristosal staff on our work related to protecting victims of forced displacement caused by violence. I have no shame in admitting I was COMPLETELY star struck.

And the latest staff photo... that's all for now with more to come! 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Home Sweet Home?

In many ways you'd think coming back for a second year would be easier than the first. My clothes are already put away, I know my way around, my stomach is accustomed to the everyday bugs. But these first two weeks back have been the most difficult since I first arrived in San Salvador over a year ago.

The big difference is how much I'm willing to let myself fail. I remember when I first arrived. Every moment was unique. It was beautiful. It was a learning opportunity. I was risking something extraordinary, and so every success was a celebration, every setback a sign of positive change, of moving forward.

Despite my latest blog post, I have not been treating this second year as separate. I go to work at Cristosal with the highest of expectations. I come home and move on to the next thing - jump back into capoeira, clean my room, meet the roommates, go on adventures, re-embrace the Salvadoran diet, have everything handled. And predictably, it's exhausting.

I remember sitting in the sunshine during my first week in El Salvador, holding a small bowl of yogurt and fresh papaya. I remember savoring this odd, new fruit, and just listening, watching the flowers in the garden, feeling the warmth on my skin in the middle of October. I remember feeling filled up.

Now that I have a routine, places to be, things to do (and no "excuse" to slow down, to take things slow) those moments are few and far between. And now the trick is going to be to learn how to give myself the same grace period without the wonderful excuse of I just moved to a new country.

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