We’re just going to jump right in – I realize it’s been a bit long since I wrote, but when inspiration hits, well ya just gotta jump.
I was in Honduras last week for 10 days accompanying Chencho Alas, the Founder and Director of the Mesoamerican Peace Foundation, on several capacity trainings with the LIBRE party, recently defeated in the Presidential elections last year through some not-so-subtle fraud and corruption. (There will be a whole post about this to come… never fear.)
As we drove the 10 hours from San Salvador through the volcanic mountains at the border and down into the Santa Barbara valley, we stopped at a restaurant blasting old 80’s music and framed pixelated blow-ups of rock idols with too-big hair (think young Bon Jovi). And Chencho shared something with me… “I always ask the name of my waiter. Otherwise, we just default into old relationships, server and the servee, superior and inferior. A name is a very powerful thing.”
Whether consciously or no, I began to ask people’s names. Of my waiters, of folks at the store, but mostly people I passed on the street when walking to work. One woman in particular works every morning cleaning the grass near a specific stand of trees on the main street. She wears a neon vest, is older with weathered skin and has a pair of crutches by her side, usually propped next to an empty Styrofoam plate and cup with dregs of coffee still in it. I nod, I smile, maybe a “buenos días” and I go on my merry way. Yesterday, I lifted my sunglasses, gave her a big saludo, and she reached out her hand to take mine. And when I asked her her name – Maria Isabel Cruz – suddenly I was in a big hug. She was on her tip toes, reaching up to my generally averagely-distanced-from-the-ground shoulders, and for nearly a minute repeated what I understood to be some version of “God bless you.” I thanked her, still holding her leathery hand in mine, wished her a good day, and kept walking.
After Maria Isabel is the tinta shop where they sell computer ink, and there’s a guard outside who stands there every morning and afternoon. Since I pass him twice a day, we always say hi in some form, and yesterday he asked my name and I asked him his – Robert. We chatted a bit more, shook hands, and off I went. This morning, he wasn’t there, until I heard someone yelling, “Anna!” I turn around, and Robert comes out of the shop with a small box of pan dulce (sweet breads you eat with your morning coffee) and hands it to me. “For you,” he says. And that was it. I thanked him and here I am at work sharing the pan dulce with the office, and this story with you.
Yes, the first thought could be suspicious – it’s cause I’m a gringa, it’s cause they want something from me, you shouldn’t be so friendly on the streets of El Salvador – and these are all valid. I need to keep myself safe, I need to be wary and street smart. But I also need to be open, and the recognition of another with no pre-judgments nor agenda is, I think, the greatest gift we can give someone. It is the simple gift of dignity. These experiences, taken exactly as they are, were rare and beautiful (and the pan dulce is delicious).