Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Fotos Finalmente!

It's been nearly three weeks and already so much has happened! Rather than give you a laundry list, I have some scrollable photos below. And then there's what you can't see in the photos - being surrounded by Spanish, discovering "the vegetable lady" where you can fill four bags of produce for $8, trying to surf for the first time followed by the world's best fish burrito, or listening to the torrential rain bounce off the tamarind tree while I work.

Beyond just living in an entirely different language, there's the slang. Amid all the Salvadoran words, there's two you should know. "Chivo" means cool. Use it often. The second is "tranqui" (short for "tranquila" or calm). I like it because it also sounds like tranquilizer. 

My housemate Stefano tells me at least 3 times a day, "tranqui Anna... tranqui" because I, the American, am learning to adapt to a world where everything does not operate on my minute-to-minute schedule. I expected to be continually frustrated, but have found that there is an incredible joy and adventure to be found in spontaneity and flexibility.

On Monday, I went to capoeira class (did I mention I found a capoeira group?!) only to find that the teacher wasn't there. He had no cell phone or way to communicate if he would show up... so eventually I left with the other students. Suddenly I had a free evening, and was invited to the friend's home where I met his adorable son, their adorable dog, and drank a delicious cup of coffee offered to me by his professional juggling housemate. And we proceeded to speak in Spanish for the next several hours, listening to the sounds of the rain and watching the dog chew on balloons until they popped.

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. 
Anne Lamott

Preparing lunch with the girls from CoEscucha - a group of expats that meets once every few weeks to recoup and talk about our challenges, our gratitudes, and of course, to eat.

 Two of my wonderful housemates, Bianca and Olivia

 The garden where two of our friends celebrated their baby shower

 Of course, it's not a baby shower unless you hang diapers from the cieling
 ... or if the father-to-be doesn't give a saxophone recital
 These are photos from the latest trip to El Carmen, one of the communities where Cristosal is working on rebuilding the road, forming a water association, and starting the El Carmen Chicken Company! You can find out more about El Carmen and the work Cristosal is doing here.

 The president of the community association in El Carmen, Noah, Director of Cristosal, and Kenia, one of the lawyers on Cristosal's staff.

 A quick side note: The man on the left was one of the two that helped push Noah's truck from the muddy depths of El Carmen's road in the middle of a torrential rainstorm. Without him, we very well might still be trying to get back to San Salvador.

 Practicing capoeira at the local University at sunset (yes, that is a volcano in the background)

 In the absence of a dryer, we hang all the dirty laundry in what I affectionately call "the jungle"
 Buen provecho! (The Salvadoran version of bon appetit!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


A fellow YASCer just wrote a wonderful piece about humility - she's living in S. Korea, dealing with an entirely different language and culture. Though I'm on the other side of the world, living in a country where I stand a much butter chance of understanding and being understood, and where people greet each other with "amor!" and buseros (bus drivers) poster their private microbuses with enormous, graffiti'd banners with their girlfriends' names on them... I get lonely sometimes. And I figure if you can't mention it on your blog, well bottling it up inside isn't a great alternative.

My first week at work has been a rollercoaster with the requisite incredible highs. And to be honest, not so many lows. My first day we took a round-about hop-along bus ride, jumping from one to the next, to visit the community of Las Anemonas. They're a group of about 200 families that used to live in the mountains of El Salvador, but after a hurricane in 2009, they've been relegated to temporary shacks with tin roofs off the main highway. I visited the neighborhood with Kenia, Cristosal's resident lawyer in training, because... get this... the kids want to have a workshop on breakdancing.

Now I had a whole bunch of thoughts about this. Is that really how we want to spend our efforts? I thought this was a serious development organization, focused on healthcare, education, all that social services mumbo jumbo you see on fliers or hear in the ads where they zoom in on some adorable child with puppy dog eyes. And then I gave myself a little smackdown. Here I am, yelling to the world how capoeira has changed my life, challenged me, given me community, family, and confidence... and these kids want to learn to break dance. Can somebody give me a Hallelujah!

Since coming to work with Cristosal, I've got a whole bunch of thoughts about development should work. Why are we trying to bring people out of poverty when it seems that wealth accumulation is the problem? Isn't that when people get corrupt, dissatisfied, jaded? We don't live on a planet where everyone can live like a middle class American, so how is the work I'm doing, in the long long long term, sustainable in any way? Not to sound cliche, but this linear development scheme ain't gonna work unless we finagle ourselves a new world order. Not that I know what that looks like, but it doesn't look like the United States. Pretending we know what we're doing only goes so far... actually I think that cover was blown decades ago, we just haven't realized it yet.

Noah and I grabbed lunch this afternoon (chicken soup, bottled water, tortillas, extra veggies for $3) and proceeded to go more in depth into development theory than any of my classes at Columbia ever did (or perhaps I was just 1000% more attentive with tortillas at my fingertips). And he cut my internal debate off at the knees. We're not trying to eradicate poverty. That doesn't make you happy, it's impossible to do it for everyone and still have enough resources, and it's just a distraction. Nice idea, but no.

We're working towards something else, something that only recently people have started to measure. The complete recognition, acknowledgement, and respect of people's fundamental human rights (flashing lights - this is gonna be a theme over the next year). Folks are guaranteed the right to shelter, food, all that good stuff... but fundamentally they are guaranteed a voice. Which means most of the time we need to just shut up. But over decades of historical interventions, coups, and generally being ignored by the local, national and international judicial community (including the good old US of A... all those history classes I didn't take would have been real handy right about now), it makes sense that folks get resigned. I saw a moment of it in El Carmen... These are folks who fought as guerrillas in the Civil War - every last one of them - and then when the government they fought for (and lost limbs and family members for) finally came to power, they were given crap land to squat on to make sure the other side couldn't come back and take it freely. I don't know what that's like. But at the very least I can imagine that it's gonna take something to believe in a utopia again.

I don't have answers, far from it. I got a whole bunch of questions, a lot of books Noah gave me to read to make up for the years I spent studying geochemistry instead of Latin American history, journalism, and human rights theory... and luckily a bunch of broccoli, a beer, and some chick flicks to drain my brain at the end of the day. I miss you all, but I wouldn't trade this experience for the world. Sometimes I just want my mom, or to walk around at night without worrying, or just to be in capoeira class again with my mestre. And that's ok. Because for now I'm here, and it's gonna work out, and most of the time, my brain is on fire, my belly isn't nauseous, and I'm surrounded by incredible people who have my back. And that's pretty good.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Green Lens

A good friend of mine recently gave some great advice - something he called "the Green Lens." He said we choose how to see the world, rather than being lucky or having a bad day. Yes, a pigeon pooping on your head might unequivocally suck, but for the most part it all depends on you. When I arrived in San Salvador on Friday, I thought about Scooby Doo, collecting evidence for how incredible this experience could be.

In fact, as I look back over this blur, I feel truly blessed. I remember beautiful, rolling hills whooshing past as we drove from the airport into the city. I remember a small, perfect office, with a garden in the middle and a tamarind tree blossoming just beyond the window near my desk. I remember Olivia, my new co-worker and housemate, graciously answering all my questions, misinterpretations, and guiding my jet-lagged butt to the "super" (grocery store) to buy bananas, lentils, rice, and ingredients for the lasagna we made for my first dinner.

I remember relishing almost every drop of Spanish I've heard since I arrived. Our house has self-imposed rules. With four Americans and two Salvadorenos, we speak Spanish 95% of the time, with designated 30 minute moments for English practice. But everything sounds better in Spanish.

I remember on the drive to the office from the airport, Noah (the Executive Director of Cristosal and my new boss) would point out everything, from the huge political campaigns painted onto the mountainsides, pupuserias lining the highway or the "Zona Franca," an area where most constitutional rights are suspended for the sake of enticing transnational business. I'm starting to realize Noah can see in four dimensions. Whereas you or I might look at something and see what it is (plus an added meaning or two, like "gee that dog is cute" or "that pupusa smells amazing"), Noah sees history... extrapolating far beyond the present into the past and future of what created a situation and where it will likely end up. How someone holds so much knowledge in his brain is beyond me, but I can't wait to begin work on Monday and see how well I can keep up.

Speaking of meanings, I have one last thing to share with you. When I moved into the house, my room was empty except for a bed and some linens left over. And a small picture hanging just outside the door. It is a small wooden box, painted dark blue, with a small white crescent moon watching over a sparsely drawn woman, traveling the seas with another moon for her sail. Call it coincidence, but when I moved to a completely foreign place, I drew incredible comfort from believing this room was made for "Lua."

Olivia and the lasagna

Los tambores del grupo "Las Musas" en nuestra sala

Practicing capoeira in my new abode

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