Friday, December 20, 2013

Meet Memena/ Conoce a Memena

(Desplácese hacia abajo para español)

I have an extraordinary friend here in San Salvador named Memena. When I asked her what she wanted for Christmas, she just asked for a card. It's a bit unorthodox, I know, but a simple card really can't do this girl justice. So, for the first time ever (at least on this blog), we're doing a Merry Christmas to all and Memena at the same time. Because I'd like you all to have the privilege and delicious honor of meeting one of the most extraordinary human beings in the world, even if you have no plans to travel to El Salvador.

Memena lives a triple life: architect by day, an omnivorous musician by night (among her list of capable talents we have flute, mandolin, piano, cello, voice, drums, saxophone... I could keep going but then you'd think I was lying), and above all a loyal friend in that mysterious in-between space of free time we'd all swear doesn't exist. The first time I met her, I realized she has an extraordinary gift to "see" people. To recreate them exactly as they are, imperfections and gifts wrapped into one package, and with this gift she can make you feel like the guest of honor at a VIP dinner even though you're just running out for pupusas.

Living through this whirlwind the past three and a half months - readjusting to thinking, breathing, dreaming in Spanish, tackling human rights, acclimating to tropical Decembers - it's difficult to find experiences that are just nourishing. That don't require some form of rehabilitation afterwards in the form of terrible movies or reruns of Grey's Anatomy. But somehow my adventures with Memena always do the trick. Here's the formula: Hannah gets a crazy idea (let's see the volcano! let's meet the crazy nun who runs the community center in Suchitoto!), Memena doesn't hesitate to turn this crazy idea into reality, and usually throws in some excellent recommendation on where to eat.

But more than anything, Memena makes me think about generosity. I was on the plane today (going to visit with my parents in Tortola for Christmas!) and the stewardess came up to me in my comfy emergency aisle seat, asking if I wouldn't mind moving 20 aisles back due to a computer glitch. Turns out that that seat 20 aisles back had a crying baby behind it and an overzealous recliner in front of it so I immediately found my good-karma-earning butt in the middle of a discomfort sandwich. And boy was I bitter. No good deed goes unpunished and all that. But then I thought about Memena, about how she seems to be filled the more she gives away - more time, more love, more resources, more music, more smiles. And even though she'll never know how far those little contributions go, they have made all the difference to me. And as I thought more about this - these ripples of good deeds, a benevolent butterfly effect - the psycho baby stopped crying.

I realize a simple thank you Christmas card is what Memena wanted. But it seemed selfish to keep someone so inspiring and wonderful all to myself. My hope is that this post not only serves to convey my gratitude to one of my dearest friends, but maybe even got you thinking about that one person in your life who fills your days with effortless joy. And maybe it's already clear how much they mean to you, but just in case, it's always fun to make absolutely sure they know.

Happy Holidays,

(Traducción en español - con errores gratuitos)

Tengo una amiga extraordinaria aquí en San Salvador quien se llama Memena. Cuando le pregunté qué quería para Navidad, ella sólo pidió para una tarjeta. Es un poco heterodoxo, lo sé, pero sola una tarjeta no puede hacer justicia a esta chica. Así, por la primera vez (bueno, por lo menos en este blog), estoy escribiendo una carta de Navidad a todos y una persona específica al mismo tiempo. Porque a mi me gustaría que todos ustedes tienen el privilegio y el honor de conocer a uno de los seres humanos más extraordinarios en el mundo, aún cuando usted no tiene planes de viajar a El Salvador este año.

Memena vive una triple vida: arquitecto por día, un músico omnívoro por la noche (entre su lista de capacidades tenemos la flauta, mandolina, piano, cello, voz, batería, saxofón ... podría seguir pero se podría pensar que yo estaba tumbado), y sobre todo un amigo leal en ese espacioque intermedio de tiempo libre lo que todos jurarían que no existe. La primera vez que conoci a Memena, me di cuenta de que ella tiene una habilidad extraordinaria para "ver" a la gente. Como recrear exactamente como son, las imperfecciones y los regalos envueltos en un paquete, y con este talento puede hacerle sentir como el invitado de honor en una cena VIP a pesar de que sólo están saliendo para pupusas rápidas.

Vivir a través de este torbellino de los últimos tres meses y medio - readaptarme a pensar, respirar, soñar en español, aprender los derechos humanos, aclimatarme a diciembres tropicales - es difícil encontrar experiencias que son tan nutritivas. Que no requieren algún tipo de rehabilitación después en la forma de películas terribles o repeticiones de Grey's Anatomy. Pero de alguna manera mis aventuras con Memena siempre hacen el truco. Ésta es la fórmula: Hannah obtiene una idea loca (¡vamos a ver el volcán! !Vamoes para conocer la monja fantástica que dirige el centro comunitario en Suchitoto!), Memena no vacila en convertir esta idea loca a la realidad, mientras tanto sugiere una excelente recomendación para un lugar donde tenemos que comer .

Sobre todo, Memena me hace pensar en la generosidad. Yo estaba en un avión hoy (ir a visitar con mis padres en Tortola para la Navidad!) y la azafata se acercó a mí en mi cómodo asiento en el pasillo de emergencia, para preguntar si no me molestaría a mover 20 pasillos de atrás debido a un fallo informático. Resultó que ese asiento 20 pasillos de atrás había un bebé que lloró detrás del asiento y un reclinador entusiasto en frente, así que inmediatamente me encontré con buena karma pero al mismo tiempo en medio de un sándwich de malestar. Y bien amarga. Ninguna buena acción queda sin castigo y todo eso. Pero luego pensé en Memena, sobre cómo ella parece estar llena lo más que se regala - más tiempo, más amor, más recursos, más música, más sonrisas. Y aunque ella nunca lo sabrá hasta dónde llegan esas pequeñas aportaciones, los han hecho toda la diferencia para mí. Y mientras estaba pensando más en esto - estas ondas de buenas obras, un efecto mariposa benevolente - el bebé psico dejó de llorar.

Sé que una carta de agradecimiento simple fue lo que Memena quería. Pero parecía egoísta para mantener a alguien tan inspiradora y maravillosa solo para mi. Mi esperanza es que este blog no solamente sirve para transmitir mi agradecimiento a uno de mis amigos mas queridos, pero tal vez le hace usted a pensar en la persona de su vida que llena sus días de alegría sin esfuerzo. Y tal vez ya es claro como tanto le importa, pero por si acaso, siempre es divertido de estar absolutamente seguro que lo sepan.

Felices fiestas,

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The slow transitions

It's 3 months exactly since I first landed in San Salvador. And just like that first day, I spent this one traveling through airports. Every 90 days I have to renew my tourist visa, and as I drove back to my home in the Miralvalle (after visiting Costa Rica - many thanks to the San Jose Diocesan Office for hosting me!), I was struck by everything that felt familiar... a strange comfort so distinct from that first confusing, disorienting, open-ended ride from the humid coastline to see my new home.

We've just finished Thanksgiving, and now the trees on our street are covered in Christmas lights. I'm listening to the same cheesy holiday music, but for the first time Frank Sinatra's sultry voice is the backdrop to windy palm trees instead of frigid Boston winters. I could draw these parallels all day long, but what I want to share with you after these three months are the slow changes, the ones that are more easily felt than seen or illustrated through black and white parallels.

On my mini visa-renewal vacation, I tried to reflect on these little, but deep, changes. Empirically I knew I would gain more from El Salvador than I could ever give, but now I am starting to understand what that looks like. As I walked through the streets of tourist towns, for the first time I wasn't ashamed to be a white traveler. Not because I felt distinct from the tourists - I was as much a gringa as anyone else - but because it didn't matter. There was no one to impress, nothing to prove, just simply a beautiful country I had the incredible privilege to be in.

I've started to take greater risks in ways I never before considered risky. Being able to say no and truly take care of myself for the first time... starting to own all my gifts, not simply the ones that make me look good at work or with friends. Probably the best illustration I have of this is last week for the first time I published a spoken word piece (you can listen to it here). I know factually it's just a simple internet recording, but putting this up for the world to see (and criticize) was more terrifying than buying my first flight to San Salvador. But if not today, when? As the Genie in Aladdin says, "Beeeeeeee yourself." Now I'm realizing that's a full 360 degree exercise - both incredibly scary yet exhilarating all at the same time - to imagine I might be more than the identity I've come to cultivate and selectively share with others.

I'm beginning to see the inertia of my new lifestyle - the subtle impact of my presence here on the communities I'm a part of. While I was in Costa Rica, I met a wonderful friend who reminded me that the true consequences of our actions are often ones we never get to see. In any sort of community work, I'm constantly questioning whether I truly work for the greater good or just for that heroic feeling of playing the martyr. Working for long-lasting, sustainable change often means having the patience of a saint rather than a hyperactive 24-year old, trying to forcing a result as proof your work is paying off and not for nothing.

Every little moment is surrounded in faith - faith it will work out when it really feels like it won't, trusting my gut rather than experience that says to stick to the tried-and-true same old, same old. More than anything, I want to express my gratitude to all of you who have supported my work here, with no promise of results. To my family who had to imagine all the terrible things that could happen to their baby girl going to what the State Department portrays as the gangiest of the gang-ridden countries in Latin America. To the churches in Olympia and Massachusetts that opened their doors to a complete stranger; to the incredible community of YASC volunteers around the world who answered (and continue to answer) all my nagging questions; to my family here in El Salvador who allow me to make mistakes and then wait around in case I need help to get back up again.

Happy Holidays

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