Saturday, December 14, 2013

Recent Thoughts on Privilege

She lifts up her shirt to reveal to me the infected looking scab the size of a quarter on her stomach. She tells me its an infection but only hurts when she touches it. I ask how she got it, she doesn't know. She says her cousin, another young girl who is a regular at Manos Abiertas, has them too but on her head. They are big and they hurt so much that she cries all the time. She says her cousin hasn't been to school in a few days.

I take in the information that this innocent 8-year-old mouth is telling me and think to myself that there is nothing I can do about this. Throughout the afternoon I continue to think about her cousin. This young girls' cousin happens to be a little girl of 6 or 7 years old who is probably the only child in the world that could have me so wrapped around her little finger. This is the girl who tells me I'm her ñaña (sister). The girl who spends almost the entirety of recreo in my arms, bossing me around and telling me where to take her to next. I think back to the week before when she allowed me to experience some of the most pure, unriddled joy I have known, watching her laugh for a solid 10 minutes while tossing a little ball around with me and M.E. She has this giggle that makes a smile cross your lips and a hug that makes you melt. She's the type of kid who makes you want to love more everyday and who brings joy into your days. The thought of this precious child, crying all through the night with pain makes my stomach churn.

I ask her cousin if the girl's dad will take her to the doctor. She looks at me and simply says, "No, no hay plata." I have heard this saying too many times now. What do you mean there's no money to bring this girl to the doctor? She has an infection on her scalp and is in pain, what do you mean she won't see a doctor? This little girl hasn't been to program in a while now and all efforts to stop by her house to check in on her have been unsuccessful. Her cousin tells me that she still isn't going to school. Last week I ask her cousin how she was, she tells me it still hurts and she still cries. I ask if she's been able to go to the doctor, the answer is still no. However, in an attempt to treat her, they have cut her hair. I don't know how much they cut and I honestly don't know much about this infection, but I have my doubts that this at-home hair cut will cure her wounds and will likely mean that she's still not going to school.

The weekend after I found out about her at-home remedy, I was sick. I had a bacterial infection which caused me body aches and resulted in me spending the entirety of a Saturday in bed with a fever. But Monday morning rolled around and the first thing that I did was drive to the doctors office. I didn't have to pay and even if I did, this wouldn't have been an issue. I went to the pharmacy and spent a few dollars on medicine and returned home knowing that I would take these pills and be fine. And if God forbid I became sick again, I wouldn't even blink an eye and the process would repeat itself.

And so this has got me to thinking about privilege. Sure, I've known my privilege for a while now. I was blessed with an incredible Catholic liberal arts education which challenged me to identify and recognize my privilege. But here it stares me in the face every single day.Because of the simple facts of my socio-economic status and where I was born, I never have and likely never will have to understand the phrase "no hay plata" which is an all too frequent refrain here. Because of these things, I have been spared physical suffering, humiliating medical home remedies, corrupt government and impossible university structures, and the pain of an empty stomach. And I will never be able to really, truly "get it."

I know my privilege is not something that will just go away. But, as Henri Nouwen reminds me:
"We are to be precisely where people are vulnerable, not to fix it or to change it. That is an unintended fruit of it, but that is not why we are there ... Ministry is witness. Its nothing else but saying, "I've seen something, I've experienced something, and I'm not afraid to share it with you if you ask me to.""
So for all of the things my privilege has kept me from, it has also given me this: my privilege has provided me the incredible blessing of being here, of being with, of being witness. And so I can tell you now: I've seen something, I've experienced something, and I'm not afraid to share it with you if you ask me to.

Photo Updates: October/November

So many things to share since my last photo update. Highlights of the past month or so include cooking lessons from neighbors, turning our retreat house into a haunted house for an after school program field trip, community trip to the Cascadas (waterfalls), celebrating a quinceñera, going on our first volunteer retreat and celebrating Thanksgiving!

 M.E. and I learning to cook from Señora Elcia and Don Jose.
 Mi hermanita Ecuatoriana
Halloween crafts on our first paseo (field trip)
Meg at the face painting station
 My communitymates and I nervous to enter the Haunted House!
 With my co-workers and some of our kids from Manos Abiertas after the haunted house
 Arbolito girls ready to start the hike at the cascadas
 Meggo and I taking a little rest along the way
Arbolito makes it to the 7th and last cascada!
 Gavin, Meg and I with our friends Ricardo and Daniel
Celebrating Jocelyn's quinceñera!
 Rostro volunteers & Darcy in Olon for our first retreat
 Handprint turkeys at Manos for Thanksgiving
Arbolito community at Nuevo Mundo Thanksgiving

Just some incredibly brief snapshots but photo evidence that I am still alive and well and living fully every day the blessing that is my life here in Arbolito. Sending todo el amor de mi corazon back home! xo.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Photo Updates: Manos Edition

Three weeks ago marked the start of two weeks of vacation for pretty much all of the kids in our neighborhood. Manos Abiertas was a little more lively than usual with more kids coming to program (between 30 and 40 each day). This photo update is courtesy of a wonderful Friday afternoon during vacation week so I could share with you all the beautiful faces of the awesome kids I work with!
The Alan Lynch School (no longer operating) where Manos Abiertas is held. 
Minute to Win It Word Scramble Activity
More Minute to Win it activities
Minute to Win It Math Race
Playing cards at recess
My beautiful co-workers with some of our kids
Pig pile on M.E.
Arts and Crafts in chiquitos with M.E.

Paved Roads = Progress?

In the three short months that I've been living in Arbolito, I have already seen physical changes taking place in our neighborhood. The most notable of all, roads are getting paved. Probably about a month ago now, some heavy machinery began to make it's way into Arbolito. In no tim, we saw many streets begin to get torn up and leveled out and slowly but surely, pavement was laid. And this wasn't just happening in Arbolito, on my way to Manos the streets were being re-done and in 28 de agosto we have seen the main street which Manos is on get paved which was still so shocking to see even weeks after it happened. Why all of the road works you ask? Two words: election season.

When the trucks first showed up there was plenty of chisme (gossip) floating around about where they were going to pave, how long it would take, etc. When we would ask neighbors about it they would all say the same thing: mayoral elections are coming up in February and the mayor wants to be re-elected. The funniest part of this for me is driving down the road and seeing huge amounts of propaganda painted on the sides of buildings: "Que buen alcalde," "What a good mayor," "repaving this street/this neighborhood, etc." Don't get me wrong, I know this same kind of pre-election road works happen in the U.S. but the blatant "I did that" publicity still strikes me as funny.

Anyways, the paving of the roads is something that has had me thinking a lot and that we have discussed a bit amongst our community. Some would consider paved roads a sign of progress and to some extent, I would agree. In that context, it raises a lot of questions as to how Arbolito will grow and change from here and even what this means for the presence of organizations like Rostro in this community. Certainly I think that the road work is positive in some respects - big things like less dust to be breathing in resulting in improved health situations to the smaller things like getting to see kids riding their bikes down a smoothly paved street on a Friday afternoon reminded me of the smaller joys a paved road can bring.

On the other hand, I sometimes fear that the paved streets will allow people to overlook the other needs of this community. One day while talking about the road work with a neighbor she mentioned the fact that there have been pipes laid for running water for a couple of years but that the water has never been connected leaving Arbolito without running water. Thinking about this, the logical thing to do while they've already ripped up the streets would be to connect the water before paving. Instead, they've ripped up the roads, paved, and maybe in a few years if/when they decide to connect the water, they will rip up the nicely paved roads and have to do it all over again. So, in this respect, I struggle to see the paved roads as a surefire sign of progress.

For all of the positive things it does bring along, I also fear that the problems are simply being paved over, as though they are trying to placate the community with a minor work instead of addressing major issues. Will the paved roads make an outsider think that Arbolito is developed, overshadowing the other less visible struggles of this community? And if so, what repercussions will that have? Furthermore, is this really progress? And if it is, in what way and who for? These are the questions I am left pondering.

This is the view from the end of our street, how most of the roads here looked before paving.
Where the pavement ends. Just after our street, the pavement has ended although it looks like they may continue to pave beyond that.
Newly paved road in front of the church (just at the end of our street). Please also take the time to admire our newly painted church! 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Close both eyes, See with the other one.

I apologize again for the months-long blog silence, here is my attempt to play catch up and hopefully get back into the swing of blogging.

A lot has happened here in Arbolito in the past two months since we've been here and I still can't believe how fast the time is going by although it is something that I try not to get too bogged down by. Now that we've been here for a substantial period of time, I find myself slipping into a routine - Tuesday and Thursday mornings I work in the office of Pastoral Social-Cáritas with Padre Mauro and on my mornings off I try to make it to visit some of my neighbors and spend time with them. Every afternoon I take two buses to Manos Abiertas and work with the kids there. While I appreciate and find comfort in this routine, I also fear how much it has normalized life here for me. Not only normalizing what I do but the things I see or the experiences I have that I don't give a second thought to because its just the way it is, for me, it's "normal."

Mid-August through mid-September brought with it many visitors to Arbolito which not only allowed me to truly understand the meaning of hospitality and the role that it plays in our lives here as volunteers but also to re-evaluate my "normalcy." First, in August came a medical mission group to provide a clinic here in Arbolito and a neighboring community. Not only did this experience allow me to use my skills to translate, but it gave me the opportunity to acknowledge a major need that exists in my community for medical care. But furthermore, receiving visitors so early on in our year gave me the opportunity to think about my decision to be here for a year and about the connection I have to this community.

At the beginning of September I had the priviledge of leading our first retreat group here in Arbolito from Santa Clara University. For me this came at a good time just after our one month mark here. This group was full of inquisitive students who were genuinely interested in all they were to see and experience here and their questions and observations challenged me to reevaluate the things that I live on a daily basis. Their presence brought me back so quickly to how I felt when we first got here - it reminded me of the things that shocked and surprised me, the things that bothered and frustrated me, the things that brought me joy and hope. This group gave me a great gift; to make me question things in a new light but also to break down the normalcy that I had come to feel. Yet still, less than a month after their visit,  I find myself slipping back into a normalcy - some days not thinking twice about the lack of running water or being unphased by the homes of the kids at Manos. Don't get my wrong, it`s not that these things don't frustrate me, it absolutely does, I just find myself questioning less why these things are the way they are and just accepting what they are.

"Close both eyes, see with the other one," says the poet Rumi. As I am here trying to break out of my normalcy, I understand the importance of what Rumi says. I want to stop seeing things with my eyes and start seeing things with my heart. I want things to fill my heart with genuine joy but I also want things to hurt and to challenge me - to process the injustices and difficulties I see in a way that is raw, in a way that makes me think and makes me feel. This, I believe, will allow me to move beyond this normalcy. Thich Nhat Khan writes that, "Our true home is the present moment, the miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment." That is where I want to be; fully in the present moment in order to be instead of do, and in order to feel with my heart instead of see with my eyes.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Photo Updates

So if keeping a blog has taught me anything it's that I'm not good at keeping a blog. While there is a draft in the works, I just wanted to upload a few pictures as a way to update on what I've been doing for the past two months. Keep your eyes peeled for a post coming soon!

 After in-country orientation, the new vols spent a day at Malecon 2000 in Guayaquil!

The next day we moved into our new home! Here I am with my communitymates, Brian, Meg, Brittany, Gavin, M.E. and Jerry and one of our pups, Wookie!

 A few weeks later, Brittany and I celebrated our 22nd birthdays in Arbolito! Here were are with the Mount Sinai volunteers and some of our friends at our birthday dinner.

And one random Monday morning, it was time to clean out our cistern which quickly escalated into less cleaning and more of a water fight...

At the beginning of September I had the pleasure of hosting our first retreat group here in Arbolito from Santa Clara University. Here we are at Manos Abiertas, the after school program where I work.

With my friend Aide at Manos Abiertas!

The day we were clean. Aka, the day we finally got new t-shirts to wear to after school programs.

Some casual Saturday morning hair cutting on our patio...

This past weekend we had a bingo to raise money for our church. Here's a little snapshot of the festivities.

And of our supermodelo communitymate, Gavin raffling off a chicken at the bingo..

And lastly, some more hair cutting... The first time in 22 years that my hair hasn't been cut by my aunt Chantal (sorry! haha)

 So all in all, things here in Arbolito have been going wonderfully. Loving life and happy to share it with you! Sending lots of love to you all!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Altered Reality

I have spent the past 5 or so months preparing myself for Ecuador and yet, no matter how much more time I spent, I don't think I could have ever sufficiently imagined this new reality in which I am living.

One of my biggest concerns starting this year is that I wouldn't be able to adequately explain or describe this place or this experience to people who weren't physically sharing this experience with me. Now that I have been here for two weeks, I know that there will be times where words will fail to adequately portray my life here. However, I hope to use this blog not simply to recount my day-to-day (although surely there will be glimpses of that) but instead, as a forum to relay where I am and to process all that I see and experience.

That being said, these first two weeks have been a whirlwind. The first day we were here I was overwhelmed by all there was to take in - the dusty dirt roads, emaciated stray dogs running around everywhere in the streets, the sight and smell of burning trash, the eager faces of kids and neighbors in windows and doorways shouting hello to us; it was all so new and different. After my first day here, I wrote in my journal: "I am realizing that I have no idea what I have gotten myself into in the best, most positive way, and I have no doubts that these next 12 months are going to change me." As the days have worn on, I continue to see the truth in this statement.

Our first week and a half here was spent with the old volunteers really seeing what life as a volunteer here is like. We visited neighbors with them and learned where to shop for dinner and visited work sites. Visiting work sites and deciding where to work was equally exciting and challenging. As anyone who was around during my post-grad discernment process can recount, the one thing everyone knew I didn't want to do was teach. Although at times I doubted myself for being closed-minded in this regard, I also knew that this was not exactly where my gifts were best suited. So, when I got to Arbolito and found out that of the three morning placements, two were schools and that most of us would be working in an after school program in the afternoons, I was definitely a little anxious and knew that I would be challenged in a new way. In the end, after visiting all of the morning placements, I struggled in realizing that everyone seemed really excited about certain placements while I hadn't felt like I had had that "ah-ha" moment. After bringing this concern to my in-country director, she told me about an opportunity to work with the three Italian missionary priests who are here in our neighborhood. The priests are hoping to start the Caritas program which is a program that looks to strengthen and develop social action in Christian communities. The programs can all look different but it focuses on serving the poor and empowering people to address the needs of their communities. So, to date, I still don't quite exactly know what I'll be doing in the mornings and it will certainly change over the year as the project becomes more established but I am really looking forward to this new opportunity and the chance to better understand the struggles of the communities of Duran.

Also, remember that after school program that I was worried about? After week one, I have found myself feeling more comfortable about it and enjoying it. Rostro runs two after school programs, Semillas de Mostaza (Mustard Seeds) here in Arbolito, and Manos Abiertas (Open Hands) in a neighborhood of Duran called 28 de agosto. I have decided to work at Manos Abiertas which simultaneously brings me joy and breaks my heart. 28 de agosto, like Arbolito, is an invasion community which is a community that is founded by groups of families that will move in and stay on a large area of vacant land and are often not recognized by the government which results in poor communities lacking basic resources. The first thing that struck me when I visited 28 de agosto was the trash. More so than here in Arbolito, there is just lots of trash everywhere on the sides of these dusty, hole-filled dirt roads and the majority of the houses are cane houses. But the most heartbreaking thing for me has been seeing these kids come in everyday, small, and thin with holes in their clothes and their shoes and some with visible lice in their hair. And while this reality has been hard to stomach and has broken my heart, Manos has also brought me joy. Sure, these kids sometimes hit each other, and throw rocks, and say bad words, but the glimpses I see of eagerness and love in their eyes, the hugs they give me, and seeing them running around, laughing, and smiling, and simply being kids, not having to worry about anything beyond those walls - this brings me joy. One week into Manos, it has reminded me why I'm here: to share my love and God's love with the people I meet and, more than anything, those kids make me want to love.

Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. writes in his book Tattoos on the Heart: "I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea." In these two or so weeks I've been here, while I have experienced both blessings and challenges, I understand this anchored belief that this was a good idea, and that I am where I am meant to be.