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November 22, 2010

El Salvador

Information Saturation

I’m reading a book about a boy whose Dad died in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. I remember parts of that day still today. I remember seeing the planes crash into the buildings on T.V. before going to school. I remember not fully understanding the extent of what was happening, but knowing that it was bad. I remember sitting in shop class and talking to my teacher about what was happening while kids around me played with scrap metal.

I still remember the look in his eyes. It wasn’t compassion, but it wasn’t indifference. Back then I couldn’t really place the look, but now I think it was tired. Tired of years of hearing about bad things happening everywhere else, tired of having to protect the people around him and hope that the bad things stayed on T.V. and in the newspapers far from home. Tired of trying to care for people whose faces he had never seen and voices he had never heard.

Sometimes I get tired and sometimes I don’t know for whom or what I care for anymore. And there are days when I feel all cared out, like I have no more caring left inside of me. Sometimes I get frustrated that it feels like I do all this caring for other people by myself. On days like this I wish that I could be an accountant or a statistician and care about numbers instead of people…because numbers can’t let you down or disappoint you, numbers can’t carry out genocides, numbers can’t hurt other people, numbers can’t have corrupt governments that prevent aid from getting to them and things from getting better. Numbers can’t be greedy, numbers can’t look someone in the face and hurt them and their families because they have different beliefs, numbers can’t be abused by their parents and then take that anger and pain out on other people.

But I don’t like numbers. I like people. And (most days) when I am not feeling so tired and exhausted I care about people (a great deal), and I want people (not numbers) to be happy and to succeed. Sometimes I wish I could be okay with taking care of the people surrounding just me—my little circle of family, friends, and maybe an acquaintance. But I don’t know if I could be. I don’t know that I could stop thinking about the faces I have never seen, and the voices I have never heard, with the hungry tummies and the cracked lips, with big dreams and tied hands. I might be able to for a while—if I kept really busy, but I think eventually I would begin to think and then I would not be happy within my little circle of security in my cozy house with my child(ren) and my partner. I guess I’ll never know if I don’t try—but I’d like to think I know myself pretty well by now, and I’m not sure I have time to stop caring while I figure out that not caring isn’t for me.

For that matter, I’m not sure the world (or certain places in the world at least—and the rest of the world indirectly) has time to stop thinking and stop caring. In five to ten years the forests of Honduras may be damaged beyond repair if things continue the way they are and do not change dramatically. Honduras will not be alone in their crisis. Will not be the only country facing the reality of exploitation and mismanagement of natural resources. With damage beyond repair and the loss of a million dollar industry the damage to the soils and water will intensify, and the people—of Honduras, of Central America, of the North America, of the European Union—will suffer, directly or indirectly. There is a timer tick tick ticking away and every moment we let go by without confronting these issues is another moment that we can never get back to help protect the places we live in as well as our way of life. Things are going to happen a lot faster than we’d like to think, and just like a week swimmer falling of an edge in the ocean, by the time we realize we are in over our heads it will be too late to call for help.

I think good intentions have unfortunately helped fuel people’s indifference. People are overwhelmed by the barrage of ‘issues’ they are asked to care about, to donate money towards, and to volunteer their time to. Put forth by ‘passionate’ people and spread by mass media we are introduced to exponentially increasing numbers of causes, campaigns, issues, and problems affecting every aspect of our societies. So many issues that peoples heads spin around causing them to get overwhelmed and choose not to focus on any of the issues at all, and rather on what to cook for dinner and what to do on the weekend.

Aids, cancer, poverty, clean water, conflict diamonds, floods in faraway lands, poor countries torn apart by earthquakes, dying children without mosquito nets, urban violence, police brutality, low voter turnout, municipal elections. What to care about? Where to spend (valuable) time? Who to give my money to? Saturated by causes, by information, by disasters, and sad news, people opt to block it out, to not think about it, and to do nothing rather than take advantage of the age of information, with everything at their fingertips…kind of reminds me of the bystander effect in psychology. With an increase of information, technology our interconnected world is causing people to withdraw into their secure, safe little circles of comfort and try to block out the bad news and bad thoughts.

We have time. Right? I don’t mean to be a downer, but I’m not so sure. ‘Bad’ and unavoidable things will start happening in our neighbourhoods in our backyards sooner than we would like to think. When these ‘things’ begin to happen we will not be able to ignore them. And by then it will be too late. The damage will be done, and there will be little to repair and we will have to suffer the consequences of denial, ignorance and indifference…but we also like to react to things we can’t ignore rather than acting proactively which is another rant just waiting to be unleashed.

Thinking about the Future (trying not to be entirely cynical),
Delaney C.

Never Forget

Before heading out to Santa Caterina we visited UNA (one of the main Universities in San Salvador). Coincidentally it was twenty first anniversary of the murders of the Jesuit Priests that took place on campus and there was a special exhibit. Its a pretty powerful and moving experience being in the same room(s) where the priests and female students were not murdered, violated, tortured and brutalized. For me it’s an uncomfortable feeling, but one that I cant end prematurely. Its an uncomfortable feeling I force myself to endure until my chest gets tight, I begin to feel claustrophobic and someone says its time to leave or move onto another section. I need to feel uncomfortable, I surround myself in heavy all encompassing feeling of the room in an attempt to make myself realize, truly realize, that people are horrible vicious monsters and just what they are capable of.

Part of the exhibit that is available to the public is photo albums with graphic pictures taken of the people who were murdered. Some people cannot look at them, the images are too graphic, too raw, and make the viewer feel something they can’t handle—too uncomfortable. I can’t take my eyes off of them. I remember the first time I saw them and not being able to look away, while at the same time being confused as to how I, as a compassionate human being could look at these images without becoming physically sick instantly (possibly some combination of desensitization and a biological protection mechanism), not to say that I wasn’t effected, I was, but I couldn’t help but thinking the images I was faced with were so disturbing I should be physically crippled and unable to go on with my day.

This time I looked at them, again unable to look away, wanting the understand how and why people [are able to] do such horrible things to each other; never wanting to forget what humans are capable of. It saddens and perplexes me how humans are able to do unimaginably atrocious things to each other, and how we continue to allow these tragedies to repeat themselves again, and again.

As individuals we may be able to learn from our mistakes, but as whole societies it seems that we are designed to continuously repeat the same tragedies time and time again not learning from past atrocities but rather introducing new techniques to inflict pain and suffering on others.

Like an Elephant,
Delaney C.

El Escalon

This school has a piece of my heart however I’m not sure even on my most articulate days I can express (with justice) how much this school, its teachers, and its students mean to me, but I hope that those of you who have been able to see me at the school have been able to see a glimmer of how important it is to me. The road to the bottom of the hill where El Escalon primary school is nestled is haphazard at best and becomes completely washed out in the rainy season making the walk (that the teachers and many of the students are subject to) illustrate their dedication and motivation to education. Kids play soccer in the dirt path in front of the chain link fence surrounding the entrance to the school that is pressed with curious and excited faces shouting both ‘Hello’, and ‘Hola’, and I feel like I have been welcomed home.

Being able to visit this school three times in the last three years makes me one of the luckiest people in the world. Being able to see these kids grow as our relationship grows has been a phenomenal experience that I won’t even try to explain. Admiration, respect, compassion, love and a plethora of other incredible feelings surge simultaneously through my body when I am around these teachers and children and every ounce of my being is elated and filled with an energy I have never experienced outside of El Escalon.

Due to the massive rains the schools kitchen, left vulnerable in the absence of a retention wall, was destroyed by a mudslide. Presently only two-thirds of the school is protected by a retention wall, and although the school itself remains intact thus far there is a chance that as the rainy seasons worsen one of the classrooms will follow the fate of the kitchen.

Regardless of my views on development, on the criticisms of the Alternative Spring Break Program, of all the nay-sayers, I would do anything for this school, its teachers, and its students, and without a doubt they deserve every good thing that comes there way (and a whole lot more). I hope that this was not my last time to visit El Escalon, and I know if I want to go back I will find a way (just like I have done). My pockets are full of cards written for ‘Trini’ and ‘Celini’ because Delaney is too tough for the Spanish tongues to pronounce, my camera is full of pictures of dancing butterflies and smiling faces of old friends, my cheeks are full of lingering kisses and my heart is full of new memories and lots and lots of love. That’s enough to make be feel (even if just for a moment) that the world is in fact a beautiful wonderful place and there is a little bit of hope left after all.

Full of Love,
Delaney C.

November 4, 2010

02 Noviembre 2010
Día de Muerte

I have always had a sort of morbid obsession with cemeteries and death. I’m not sure when it started but it was intensified when I took Death and Concepts of the Future in my first year—a course discussing how different cultures react to death and ‘afterlife’—and today I had the opportunity to participate in the Día de Muerte with my family. The Día de Muerte is a two day festival that celebrates those who have died and left this world. On November 1st is the Día de Muerte for children and on November 2nd is the Día de Muerte for adults. Central park is filled with merchants selling beautiful rich colored flowers, and plastic ornamental disks. Silvia bought an assortment of flowers and then we arranged them at the house.

When we got to the cemetery there were people selling food and children running around laughing and screaming. Not the typical somber and heavy atmosphere one would expect at a cemetery plagued by grey and black granite in a grid like pattern with dark eerie tombstones marking the place of loved ones decaying under the ground…but that’s not what was waiting for us inside the cemetery. Marvelous tombas covered in bright coloured tiles, pastel coloured coffins, upright artistically designed wrought iron crosses, vibrant flowers and ornamental discs displayed on ever grave and tomb. Children were running over and around graves laughing and playing, families sitting with loved ones (from the past and the present) talking, smiling and laughing. With no grid like order to the graves they seemed to fit together intricately, like a puzzle I did not know the rules to yet in a haphazard but beautifully elaborate way. This was not a day to be sad and mourn the dead, but rather a day to celebrate life and a part of life being—death. How revolutionary and uplifting, not to mention a much healthier way to deal with death. Instead of mourning and wallowing, crying about the loss of a life, the selfish grieving, the focus being on the one who has been left behind on this cruel life...the focus is on the loved one who is no longer here, on their life, and their great journey; of remembrance and of hope.

I have already decided that I don’t care if I am buried in a cemetery or cremated. Those are just details to me and that will be left up to whoever I leave behind as long as a tree is planted, near where I lay (figuratively, or literally); a big hulking, strong monster of a tree (not a sissy fern or shrub) that can bring me back to the earth and reach up towards the sky. But if I do find my ‘final resting place’ in a cemetery, I hope it is in one similar to the one I visited in Honduras; a cemetery that offers hope and love to the people who I leave behind, helping them rise up instead of bringing them down, honoring my life with celebration not with a dark cloak of mourning and too many tears.
Breath Deep, The World is Beautiful
Delaney C.

31 Octobre de 2010
Salt and Lime; Funerals and Divorce; Living for the weekend

I have never been one of those ‘I live for the weekend’ kind of people. I credit that to the fact that I have always loved what I was doing—whether it be work or school—so the weekend never seemed like that big of a deal to me—more of the same old stuff, mixed up a little bit. Here, in Honduras, I find myself becoming one of those people—waiting for the weekend, ticking down the work days mentally in my head, until Friday afternoon when I feel a sense of relief in that for the next two days I am on my own time—or rather my weekend routine. Why have I become this person seemingly overnight? Is it the warmer temperature…perhaps the Latin vibe?

I think it largely has to do with the fact that I lack direction at work. It’s not that I don’t love what I’m doing, it’s more that I rarely know what I’m doing. I show up because I have to but often occupy my day by looking for things to fill my time with.  Some that I don’t mind doing, like helping out with office stuff, reading documents, doing research for my report, practicing Spanish…and other things that I do just to kill time that make me feel useless like playing minesweeper and Sudoku (both of which I have gotten rather good at). I like the weekends, because I like not feeling the obligation of using up my time in the office. I like being able to walk around town or read a book in the sun. And I love going to Jutiquila on the weekends with the family going on walks with the kids and ‘trying’ to teach them English. I think (fingers crossed) it will get better in December (or once I get back from El Salvador), and I will be able to speak more and be able to talk to Jose Luis about starting to get into the communities to interview people. One of the problems with being the first intern for this NGO is that neither of us wants to speak up too loudly as to what their needs are so we both end up saying nothing. From my position, I’m really flexible either way, I just want to be doing something that won’t be a complete waste of time and that someone will benefit from on some level. Patience Delaney Patience.

The other day my stomach was feeling upset and Silvia told me to have some salt and lime. Interesting. This is the cure-all solution offered by Hondurans (like Windex in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Take half a lime, squeeze the juice into a shot glass, add a repulsive amount of salt, mix it up, and slam it back and Tada! no more stomach ache, ear infection, broken leg, or lung cancer…well that last one might be pushing it. It was not nearly as bad as I had anticipated (although I wasn’t about to grab a second glass just for the taste). My stomach stopped aching, although it might have been because my body was so confused with what I had done to it that it just gave up. Interesting medicinal practices Honduras has going for them.

If I ever decide to live in this glorious country for an extended period of time I have locked down the two most profitable sectors to invest in…those involving Funerals and/or Divorce.There is at least a funeral a day here (although the city is rather ‘large’), but usually once every day I see a coffin in the back of a pickup truck covered in flowers and people weaving slowly through the streets followed by a mass of people toting umbrellas and children. Sometimes they sing and chant, and sometimes they are silent. I once had a professor tell me that the ‘death industry’ is recession proof—people are always going to be dying. However there does seem to be a funaria on every second street corner so maybe I’m not the first to recognize what a booming business this industry is...at least in Honduras.

Another area sure to leave you living quite comfortably in Honduras is divorce. O infidelity.  I have come to realize that everyone in Honduras has had at least three husbands/wives by the time they reach 35, sometimes starting as early as 16. I would also love to get my hands on someone’s family tree to figure out the tangled web of children, (ex) spouses, who belongs to who, who went where, who’s related and how ect.I left Thursday for the conference in Rio Plantón and everything was fine and dandy, however when I returned Sunday Claudia’s husband had (in the month they have been in Juticalpa) decided that he had found someone else and that he was leaving her…adios, see you later. Horrible. Although she didn’t seem as upset as I would have expected …more like her ego was a little bruised, as if someone picked her last for a team or her best friend blew off plans with her for someone else. I asked about their kids, only to find out they are not his. It was like opening Pandora’s box.

Claudia is 28, has two kids (not sure if they are from the same father) and will be going onto her 4th husband (soon I am sure…she had a date last night). Keyla (21) has two boyfriends at the moment, and one of them is married. And like I mentioned earlier Silvia’s husband left her (and the two kids) for his mistress but not before drinking and gambling away their money and properties. Not shocking enough—all of this is typical Honduran behavior…Mind equals blown.
I felt frustrated because I couldn’t comfort my friend the way I would like to, other than repeating over and over again, ‘todos los hombres es tontos’ which she seems to agree with (for the time being), and then I felt frustrated with normalcy of this situation.

I don’t understand how if all of these children grow up seeing their father(s) leave their mothers, essentially abandoning them time after time how i) the girls don’t grow up to be fiercely strong refusing to tolerate that kind of behavior, as well as refusing to add to the cycle and be the ‘mistress’ and ii) how the boys don’t grow up to be compassionate to their mothers/sisters situation(s) and vow to not cause that kind of hardship on their own families. In fact the opposite seems to be true and it is a social (and expected) norm. Sheesh. I am going to be alone forever.
Con Esperanza y Amor
Delaney C.