Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dear Billy

Everything will be alright.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dear Emily Elizabeth

Dear Emily Elizabeth,


I wake up and am surprised at how cool the morning is. I open the door to my little room and am greeted by a pair of large, brown eyes. They belong to a little girl, maybe five years old. She's barefoot. Her long mane of hair matches her eyes, a deep brown. I smile at her, not to reassure her, but because she seems unspoiled by the toughness of her world. She seems perfect. She smiles back, and then brings forward a little boy from behind her back. He's her equal, her little brother. We look at each other. Minutes pass. And then they're given the loaf of bread they came for, smile their goodbyes, and leave, the brother walking at a practiced stumble behind his trusted guardian.
Eggs. Beans. Tortillas. Coffee.
The bus ride into the city is pleasant. More people, their stories worn on their backs and faces; more countryside, covered in the early morning sun; more siblings, dozing on shoulders, fighting over snacks, altogether right.
And then I'm struck by the view. For a year and a half, I've been riding through the coffee plantations of the distant volcano, marveling at the beauty and content with the study of what once was the horizon, and is now my home.
We turn a corner. And for the second time, i witness the devastation of the recent tropical storm. A landslide rolled over a small village, sweeping what was left into the river.
We arrive. The market. I get off the bus and am shoved and pushed by the crowd. I sturdy my shoulders and push back, and am immediately given al the space i need. There's no anger in the exchange. Life here is an experiment of human discomfort. The limits, generally, are the relation of necessity to comfort. I push because there are too many of us with too many things to do to stand around waiting for the next person. But I am not excessive. In this way, we all get where we're going, a little uncomfortable, but no worse for the wear.
Outdoors. Tomatoes, onions, exotic fruits i still don't know the names to. Bartering, brightening sun, the press of a thousand smells.
And then i enter the mouth of the beast, the covered tunnels of the unending market. Plastic, paper, meat, fish, spices, people everywhere.
And then im outside again.
Deep breaths.
In front of me, a toddler stumbles with similar bewilderment, her hands held on one side by her mother and on the other by her older brother. The brother lingers too long in front of a pair of sneakers. The mother, enraged, thrashes her son on the head. He hardly reacts, but his sister bursts into tears.
Hours pass.
I'm back in my town. It's mid afternoon and unforgivably hot. Isabel asks if I would accompany her to a funeral. We walk to the church, and she tell me about the man that died. He was "bien amigo"-"very friendly." Seventy years old. Loved to work. He was in the fields, cutting sugar cane. His son was next to him. A heart attack, severe. He died within minutes. His son carried him home over his shoulder, sobbing. They mourned him with friends and family, sitting in the house drinking coffee and telling stories all night. Today, the funeral. We walk inside. It's full. We find two plastic chairs and put ourselves near a side door. I can see the family of the deceased sitting up front. They are all fighting tears. All but one, and she is inconsolable. I ask, Is that his wife? And Isabel tells me no, that's his sister.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Unexpected Change.

There is a church nearby, sounding it's bells. It's beautiful. And calming.

I am back in the City of San Vicente, working here in the training center and living in a nearby town. I am staying with an older couple, the same couple that hosted me almost two years ago as I completed my own training to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. What amazes me about this city is how different it appears to someone already adapted to living in this poor, amazing country. Instead of seeing trash in the street, I notice the beauty of the Church and her architecture. The traffic no longer terrorizes me, allowing me to greet the street vendors and actually become part of the town. It's soothing. Girls giggle as I walk by, whispering their requests that i "give" them my blue eyes just as I drift out of hearing distance. Old men walk with their hands behind their backs, their heads held high, envying and cursing youthful men in the same instant and without opening their mouths.

As a volunteer, I lived in a different part of the country. It, too, was beautiful. Because of a few security incidents, I will no longer be living there.

Leaving the town was difficult. I had to say many goodbyes, with little time. My neighbor, Luis, my favorite person in that pueblo, was the hardest to say goodbye to. I walked up to his door and, having been gone a week without saying anything, looked forward to the expected teasing. i knocked. He opened the door with that guarded look of his, and immediately smiled and laughed when he saw it was me. "Ah. And where has my Gringo Monkey been?" He calls me a monkey because I'm a hairy man. It sounds like an awful thing to say to someone, i know, but he says it with such affection and as he says it, he reaches out and pats my chest. All i could do was cry. He opened the door and brought me inside and hugged me until i calmed down. I told him the news, and it was his turn- he understood he would not have me to share his news and gossip and little nothings. We both lived alone, and found in each other an unusual friendship between unlikely parties. I miss him dearly, already.

And then the trip out of town. My last glance at the park, the volcano, the unending green tide of coffee plantations.

After two hours, we arrived with all of my things to the open arms of my old host family. I thanked and said goodbye to my Peace Corps escort, and collapsed into a familiar rocking chair to talk to Don Jesus (Don means Mr) and the woman that works at his house, Isabel. Don Jesus' wife Alisa, the owner of the house, is away visiting family in the States, so the three of us sat down and talked about a living agreement, and then I told them my story.

And now I've told you as well. I'm glad we all know.

Peace Corps has graciously offered to allow me to stay and complete my four months of service. I will live near San Vicente and work out of the Training Center. My program-Municipal Development- is being restructured and redeveloped. I will be assisting with this process, and preparing for the arrival of the new training group in February. Their training will last two months, and I will help with talks on the culture and the best ways of adapting to life in this beautiful country. I don't know all the details, but I am excited. A new chapter begins.

Monday, November 2, 2009

There are very few days in El Salvador that are really embraced and celebrated, compared to in a country like the states that has a celebration two days out of seven. Many casual conversations between Americans often involve the weekend, somehow. It’s either: “How was your weekend?” or “Hey, half way to the weekend” or “what will you do this weekend?” Here, I NEVER hear people talk about the weekend. Students don’t wait impatiently for Friday, nor workers or anyone else, at least not where I live.
But today, today is a big deal. It’s the “Day of the deceased.” I know that it sounds dark or sad. It’s not. I woke up this morning and, exiting my house to buy an egg for my egg sandwich breakfast (YUM), I immediately felt a pleasant energy in the neighborhood. Though it was early, there were already people headed past my house to the cemetery. All smiling, many carrying plastic bouquets or other things to decorate the graves. Wearing bright colors, they said hello as they past my house. I stood in the street and watched for 5 minutes. There aren’t many days like this. It warms me so.
I ate, washed, and put on a bright blue shirt. I walked down to the southern edge of town, not quite to the cemetery, and entered an area where families from my neighborhood and others had set up crude booths to sell food and hot chocolate and coffee. Normally a fast walker, I strolled deliberately among the bustle, stopping to shake hands or make a funny face.
And then the emotion, that terribly sad and yet warming sensation of seeing a family crying and embracing and laughing at the graves of family members. Children running around. Siblings holding each other. Last year at this same event, I was still an outsider, and I longed to be among my own family. This year, it was different. I could openly approach any group of people, and was well received and told stories of fathers long dead and husbands still missed. Hearing my name called by different voices, seeing warmth in people’s eyes. It makes it all worth it.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

gloomy. beautiful.

i wake up and know that it's raining, though i can't hear it. it's too quiet outside. and i can smell it. the rain.
it's the month of salvadoran independence. i walk up to the park to help set up for the acto civico. we put up balloons and ribbons and are light on our feet. the cool weather is liberating. the children arrive. "gringo! dance like michael jackson!"
We stand and listen to the national anthem. a boy recites a poem. little girls dance in traditional dresses. i watch from a shaded bench. it's a beautiful morning. i can't stop smiling.

later in the afternoon. im walking on a road, surrounded by jungle. it's hot and wet and tropical. the rain is coming again soon. it always does.

Monday, August 24, 2009

corn festival

i went to a corn festival yesterday. it was great. i went with a few good friends. narda and her brother, and someone i just met, edgardo. the festival took place about 45 minutes away from where i live, or this particular corn festival. they take place all over the country this time of year, harvest time. i had never seen salvadorans honor their most important crop like this before. i was impressed. we watched a parade of different trucks and floats honoring this staple food, and the culture it creats. we ate a dozen different dishes made from corn, and even had some fermented corn booze. this all took place in a pleasant town. i did a lot of people watching, where i make myself less visible and take it all in. children laughing and playing. young lovers holding hands. there's something very calming about the plain humanity surrounding this place. i will certainly miss it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I wake up, accompanied by the one constant in this world. The heat lingers like some vulgar joke. The temperature rises two degrees every minute.
I smoke a cigarette with my head in the freezer. I almost fall asleep. But my feet are still sweating, slipping over the tile floor with faint resolve.
I make coffee. Its all I can do to forget about the heat: spite the motherfucker.
There. That’s better.

An hour later I find solace. On the back of a decrepit bus, I sit behind an open window. The driver operates under constant fury. Fleeing an invisible foe. We’re going very fast. And im grinning, the sweat parting my forehead. Like I’m Moses.
Divine intervention.
A little boy stares at me. I wink at him. He doesn’t panic. His humanity won’t permit it. He laughs.
We’re going faster now. The whole bus blazing through jungle and concrete like a tormented creature. It starts raining. I feel manic. I want it all. Speed, safety, wind, rain. This bus ride is my greatest fear, but my only hope.
I ask God to look after me. After us. All of us. Protect us. DiĆ³s nos protege.