sábado, 19 de junio de 2010

El Nino is Spanish for...the nino

The winter has brought all sorts of new friends to the area. First of all, my friend Mr. The Electricity Going Out who likes to stop by at least a few times a week usually in the evening when his presence is most appreciated. The other is Mr. Firefly who likes to fly around my room at night and communicates with me via his butt and the blinking light on my ipod. The last friend is actually an entire orchestra- The Tular Bullfrog Symphonic. They perform out in the hills and shoot lasers at each other all night. It’s quite melodious.
The coming of the rainy season has also coincided with several other events that collectively have made the past month or so pretty eventful. On the first night of a training last month, I sat outside with one of my best fellow volunteer friends wishing I could somehow store the cool mountain air in a nifty bottle to be used when I returned home. We talked about the usual (“So who do you like? No, I mean like like like?”) and amidst some discussion about our views on development and our role here, he informed me that he had come to the definitive decision to leave the country and go home to his family. In complete understanding of his reasons for departing, I was still deeply saddened to see him go. Its not at all the external factors that make this experience difficult. We all expected, and in my case have grown to really love, a change of pace, unreliable electricity, outdoor almost everything except your bed, goat poop in front of the door every morning, loneliness, frustration, etc. But when you really start to grapple with whether or not your work in your community is best for the people of that community and best for you, things get all tangled up in your brain and home seems really far away.

[We’re going to make this sort of a “Choose your Own Adventure” kind of blog post. If you would like to hear more of my rambling and ranting on this subject, scroll now to the post “Arrested Development” below. If not, please continue reading.]

Each place and each person is different and he made the right choice to do what his heart told him to do and I know it wasn’t easy. After a day or two of annoying myself with my moping and some reflecting on how I felt about everything, I actually got a little burst of energy and optimism that hasn’t fully exhausted yet. I might even go out on the skinny limb to say that I’ve been pretty busy with work. At least planning my day around World Cup games makes it seem that way. Don’t you wish you were watching in a country where the only thing they care about is soccer all the time, not just for 4 weeks every 4 years?
Life was proceeding well and work was picking up…and then old lady Agatha decided to pop in and brought 6 days of relentless rain with her. On the 5th day of that rain I hopped on a bus with soaking wet socks (in my top 5 worst feelings ever) and rode to the capital to pick up my… mom! After months of anticipation, seeing her walk through the terminal was surreal and amazing. We got some delicious food at a restaurant where we could gawk at salsa dancers, booked a room at a fancy hotel, I took a piping hot shower, and we took full advantage of the free cocktails that came with the reservation. Over the player piano I heard the news that the south was flooding. “Well this should be interesting.”
I woke up the next morning to my neighbors frantically calling to inform me that they were taking as much as they could carry out of my house because the river (1/2 mile away!) had left its banks and was starting to warm its toes by my 1 burner electric stove. They grabbed my computer, my guitar, a stack of books and hit the road. What friends! Geez, amidst the chaos of getting their own families to safe ground, they burdened themselves with my junk. Going back a few paragraphs… I can always think about the amazing friends I have in town, how incredibly lucky I am to call them as such, go drink some coffee with them, kick around the pelota, talk about the heat, and those vines in my brain come untangled a bit. I was pretty worried but the roads were closed and what could I do? Go back to the hotel bar and search for the best response to questions about what I’m going to do with my life.
My muddy, smelly, mosquito ridden house was not the most ideal place to welcome my mother to my life for the past year. We got to work and spent two days clearing out the remnants of the storm and getting rid of the stuff that got ruined (I needed new clothes anyway). What a mom eh?! Unfortunately that didn’t leave much time for meeting all the people that wanted to meet her and I will not stop hearing about it until the day I leave. I try to explain that my mom is the only person I know who can get sunburned while being indoors and therefore only had a few hours at dusk to meet everyone. They are still angry. We did have some nice dinners with great people and I think it was comforting for my mom to see the loving care with which the community treats me. I don’t think she loved the heat (see picture). But all in all I’d say it was a success- I got to see my mommy and she got to make sure that I haven’t withered away into skinny oblivion.
Other news:
-I have a camera now (expect more pictures!)
-I have my recording equipment now (expect recordings from The Shampoo Effect as well as my solo side project soon!)

Arrested Development

Last week, while I was waiting in the airport for my mom’s delayed flight to finally come in, I wanted to barf. This time it wasn’t the bus tacos that I just cannot resist but instead a bunch of matching tucked-in light blue t-shirts, cherubic smiles, and goatees galore. It could only mean one thing: it’s mission trip season. One Spring Break in college I went to a small village in Northern Mexico and helped for a week to rebuild a church and ate tortillas with old ladies and felt great about the fact that I was doing something “good” with my time rather than getting drunk on Lake Travis and mistakenly yelling out “I love you Mario Gomez” to Save by the Bell’s beloved AC Slater whose name is actually Mario Lopez (I had to wait another year for that one and it was actually Mr. Sean Greenberg responsible). Every Spring and Summer, hordes of groups like the one I was with make their way down here and, just like I did and am possibly still doing, royally screw things up.
Let me back up a few months to the first time I helped translate for a medical brigade that comes down here every year to hold walk-in clinics in rural villages. This particular group of very nice and very knowledgeable doctors, nurses, and translators would drive down a different dirt road every morning in big white vans packed to the gills with basic medications, vitamins, and medical supplies to give away in the town’s health center. Behind a blanket or flimsy door would be the makeshift OB/GYN room and the rest of the space would be filled with tables to be used for general consultation. Stretching down the street would be a line of people who had heard that it was American doctor day. One by one they would sit down and tell me their ailments which I would then relay to the doctor or nurse. All the kids had the flu, all the adults had pain everywhere in their body, and everyone complained that their pee was neon in the middle of the day. A month’s worth of vitamins and antihistamines for the kids, ibuprofen for the adults, and “don’t drink pepsi when you’re working in the blazing sun, drink water.” High blood pressure and symptoms of diabetes were common and those particular patients were given a week’s supply of medication and told to see the doctor in town. They almost always replied that they already knew they needed medicine but couldn’t afford it which is why they had come to us in the first place. The visits started to go like clockwork and I was seeing almost fifty people a day. Many of the kids would walk out the door and get back into line with different adults and do it all over again. Free medicine- why wouldn’t they?
I do not at all want to discredit what these fine doctors were doing. Many of the people we saw were greatly lacking in access to general health necessities and I have no doubt that when the doctor came out from behind the sheet, turned off her spelunking head lamp (eww), and called the next pregnant woman into the room, she was helping them in a vastly important way. But after a day or two I started to see the look on the faces as we pulled into town and I was not at all proud of what I was doing. I was ashamed. From their point of view, they were in need and the white people stepped in to fill it just like they always do every couple of months. How could they not see themselves as charity cases? We have stuff and they don’t and for one day we give it away because we can and they can’t. Some sort of infrastructural problem in the community? Well, just wait awhile and an American NGO or mission group or some other outside organization will come and fix it for us for free then leave. This isn’t helping someone to get their feet under them temporarily like after a natural disaster. This is the way in which foreign aid on the personal and governmental level continues to dig the dependency hole deeper and deeper.
What makes me barf about mission groups is that they do a little construction project, drive down the streets literally throwing toys and clothes at open arms, and then tie it into a message of accepting Jesus (not always) that subconsciously implies that maybe they too could have all this material luxury if they do so. Let me once again clarify that I do not think these are bad people with malicious intentions. In fact they have great intentions and I can personally attest to the spiritual value of working in communities in need. I also stress that I am not at all implying that the people welcoming these groups into their communities are lazy, selfish, or ungrateful for accepting the free gifts. I am surrounded by wonderful families that work harder than I could ever imagine. But its hard to take pride in your community and to want to fix the inherent problems yourself when someone else will eventually do it for you for free. And how does that make you view yourself if you are always in the position of receiving aid from elsewhere? Its no mystery why people always assume I’m rich and wonder what it is that I brought to give away no matter how meagerly I live amongst them. The color of my skin speaks louder.
I realize I am making huge generalizations and for that I apologize. There are a lot of organizations, medical brigades, and mission groups that distribute aid in a responsible way and the communities greatly benefit in the long term by becoming more self-sustained in their efforts. But a lot of money and work is wasted on short term benefits that become long term damage. I also realize that you may be saying to yourself, “Well this is a rather hypocritical rant. Aren’t you doing the exact same thing you’re complaining about? Aren’t you just giving stuff away? Two years may be longer than a week but it’s still temporary. You leave and they’ll wait for another like you.” Yes I know. That is what my friend who left was battling with and something that is always in the back of my mind. But there are ways to help others responsibly and I am searching for them all the time.
I’ll give you an example: there is a town here in the South that is infamous for being completely swept away by Hurricane Mitch in the early 90’s. As is often the case after large scale disasters, the international community was eager to act and all sorts of groups flooded (maybe not the best choice of words) in. Some of them had no plan at all upon arriving and turned into a huge burden like we saw in Haiti. But the German and American governments acted quickly to set up temporary housing (tent-city kind of thing) and set about rebuilding the town. German engineers drew up a blueprint for a basic cinderblock house that each family would receive if and only if they put in 80 hours of work. The new town is beautiful and, although it isn’t perfect, the people have a sense of pride in what they built themselves and work hard to maintain and improve it.
In my case, I want the only reminder of my presence here these two years to be knowledge, new skills, and good memories. I want to change the mindset in myself and others that the best solution to the problems abroad, many of which we have created (a point that cannot be overstated), is a blank check. That money is nothing but a shovel. If and when we can instead provide, or better yet allow others to create, their own wood, hammers, and nails, they will be used effectively from within to build a ladder that will stretch far beyond level ground.