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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Faith and Reason

Last Sunday I was in Seattle for Cristosal’s Executive Committee meeting. We were hosted by St. Thomas in Medina, where the Rev. Lex Breckenridge spoke during the Sunday forum about the intersection of religion and science. Lex was one of the first folks to open my eyes beyond gut reactions to words like conversion, transformation, even Jesus. To the idea that these are just words, and spirituality is a personal experience, and therefore a personal interpretation of what we want those words to mean to us. They can be offensive, neutral, healing, transformative, challenging… it’s up to you.
 Much of this past year has been a personal journey to unify three seemingly disparate worlds that I walk in: the lofty scientific, the inner spiritual, and the very real lived experience of Cristosal’s human rights work with marginalized communities in El Salvador.
 Lex highlighted the problem that when we choose between scienceor religion, we hold these fields to a moral ideal, an absolute standard as the answer. Yet both are flawed: technological innovation brings us nanotechnology and the hydrogen bomb, religion inspired the globe-shifting acts of both Martin Luther King and the Crusades. To pursue one without the other (faith without reason, reason without faith) is to lose those checks and balances that mean we make choices for the benefit of others, not solely ourselves.
DSCN1363 DSCN1358
  One of my favorite philosophers says that change happens when we look at the world as it is, and compare it to way we think it should be. And that starts with recognizing that we don’t truly understand the world as it is. Lex highlighted recent studies in quantum physics showing that our world does not operate as mechanistically as we’d like to believe. Quantum particles, separated over light years, continue to have an inexplicable influence over one another, to be connected despite every basic law that would suggest otherwise.
I moved to El Salvador with the understanding that reason alone would not allow me to understand the world, nor give me the complete skill set I needed to change it. One of the great opportunities of working with Cristosal is the opportunity to understand human rights in a faith-based context. I’ve realized that our work is truly an expression of faith – a belief that all humans are created equal in dignity and rights. We then take that belief and design programs to ensure it is upheld in realty. Which quickly becomes a very messy, and very human, process. And through that experience, I have made a very calculated, and very comforting deduction. It cannot be done alone.
In a culture where we value individual achievement beyond all else, I (like those quantum physicists) have come to the conclusion that nothing exists in isolation. Whether we pursue a better life, a better world, through science or faith (and any other field besides), we will find that nothing can be achieved without the other.
A dear friend of mine Ashley Cameron, who just returned from her YASC year in the Philippines, sent me this quote from Archbishop Desmond Tutu that sums it up perfectly:
“A person is a person through other persons. None of us comes into the world fully formed. We would not know how to think, or walk, or speak, or behave as human beings unless we learned it from other human beings. We need other human beings in order to be human. I am because other people are.”
Noah, Lex, and I outside of St. Thomas
I return to El Salvador on Monday for my second year with YASC. Though there are arbitrary date markers of start and stop, this year will continue as a process, a continuously evolving product of the relationships I share and the conversations we have together. Thank you to all of you who have been a part of that incredible process so far, and I hope you will continue to join me in the year to come.

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