1. This morning, I felt a strange sensation:  goosebumps.  I had almost forgotten what those felt like.  I even wanted to have a hot tea to wrap my hands around.  Once again, I can confirm that August is the best month of the year.  It has started raining, we have fiestas patronales, my sister and I have birthdays, and, well, what else do you want?  I realized that my blog has been lacking in content for a while; I’ve lost myself in poetry and feminism, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I haven’t taken any serious reflection and deconstruction time.  

    Peace Corps blogs are often purely descriptive and personal.  Every detail about our days is often a novelty, so it is a thrill to describe it to others whom we know will be impressed and amazed.  There are also many challenges—emotional, professional, climatic, creature-ish—that beg to be written (or typed) down.  I’d love to tell you all about how my neighbors brought me fishing and they changed the course of the creek to fish little minnows and crabs by hand; the tournament going on today; and the bread I got to eat fresh out of the oven yesterday, but I would never finish writing if I tried to fit all those little things in!  If you really want more of those details, write to me.  Those details tend to be revealed more in letters.

    I’ve been thinking lately about the balance between global systems and local realities.  In college, the reading we did often focused on global systems of oppression and the interconnectedness of the world’s problems and solutions.  We read stories about individuals and organizations working to divert those systems to create positive modes of living.  While I enjoyed having the whole world at my fingertips, just a book or an article away, I knew in my heart that I wanted to go out and live it.  Of course, I was living “it,” too, in the US, because all are affected in some way by the gross inequality of our world, but i wanted to live and work alongside and within a marginalized community.  

    A year out from my graduation, here I am in a rural community in Eastern El Salvador.  This country is home to subsistence farming communities lacking water systems as well as beautiful cathedrals and theaters built by the European elite of times past, and let’s not forget the luxurious malls in which precious few citizens can actually shop.  My community Santa Clara is part of the emigration/immigration dynamic, is experiencing the effects of climate change on its subsistence farming, rooted still in traditional roles of women and men, and, in its own way, is working through the social-psychological aftermath of the Civil War (this I suspect, though it is not latent).  The reverberations of the gang violence in the cities is felt a little bit more strongly as time passes.  Sant Clara also is beginning to confront the modern/industrialized challenges of pollution and waste management.  Its population has been displaced by a pending hydro-electric dam project.  Understandings of health and education are still developing.  Though there should not be one right answer to these, I don’t think they are seen that way, but rather the “definition” or “correct” way to view them is often the Western way.  

    In college, the struggle was to give global issues a face and a name, to understand them for how they affect individuals.  Now, my struggle is not to lose sight of the global systems or ways of thinking at work.  Knowing individuals is beautiful and heart-breaking.  I have gotten to know the most beautiful smiles, generous souls, and terrible stories of perseverance; however, I have also seen pettiness, impatience, destructively low self-esteem, and dishonesty.  In Paper Towns, John Green writes, “What a treacherous thing it is to believe that a person is more than a person.”  In knowing the very personal reality of a poor community, one can get lost in the people and forget the social structures that keep them there.  Here, a person is not serving as an example of domestic violence, a receiver of remittances, or the losing end of social disparities; a person is a life, with stories, virtues, faults, and family.  However, that same person is part of a community, a country and all its relations with the world, an entire place’s memory that evolves and morphs to give meaning to the past, shape the perception of the present, and provide the framework for the future.   When we see the person, we must see the entire person, but also not forget to ask, “Why?”  So many times while talking with people, they have finished with, “Pues, así es la cosa Anita/Well, that’s how it is, Anita,” but what they have given me is only the superficial description of the problem.  The deeper, structural explanation is lacking.  I feel that I often have pieces, but never the whole story.  That’s how it’s always going to be though, isn’t it?  I often find myself wishing for The Answer or The Way and am frustrated to find they don’t exist.  Usually, I am left just finding the answer to the question, “What should I do today?”

     

  2. "What does it feel like to be alive?
    Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, gangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly back up, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face? Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where maples grow straight and their leaves lean down. For a joke you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
    It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation’s short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.
    Who turned on the lights? You did, by waking up: you flipped the light switch, started up the wind machine, kicked on the flywheel that spins the years. Can you catch hold of a treetop, or will you fly off the diving planet as she rolls? Can you ride out the big blow on a coconut palm’s trunk until you fall asleep again, and the winds let up? You fall asleep again, and you slide in a dream to the palm tree’s base; the winds die off, the lights dim, the years slip away as you idle there till you die in your sleep, till death sets you cruising down the Tamiami Trail. Knowing you are alive is feeling the planet buck under you, rear, kick, and try to throw you; you hang on to the ring. It is riding the planet like a log downstream, whooping. Or, conversely, you step aside form the dreaming fast loud routine and feel time as a stillness about you, and hear the silent air asking in so thin a voice, Have you noticed yet that you will die? Do you remember, remember, remember? Then you feel your life as a weekend, a weekend you cannot extend, a weekend in the country.."
    — 

    Annie Dillard, An American Childhood 

    Thank you Mrs. Sinkler and IB English

     

  3. An excerpt from the notebook I carry around for writing down lists and thoughts (sometimes during prayer services):

    Walk many worlds.  Not too close to see the greater patterns nor too far to know the stories.  Each person is much more multidimensional than I or any other could possibly describe.  Even to myself, I am unknown because there are parts of me I only am to others.  And then little girls come and ask millions of questions.  And the women continue their chanting and singing.  And more girls come and play with my fan, and want one, and how much are they, and where do they sell them, and when am I going there, and I’ll bring them back one, right? 

     

  4. I’ve been here for over a year, and I’m fairly certain I can count on both hands (ok, maybe my toes too, but still, that’s not a lot!) the number of nights I’ve seen what the world looks like past 10:00.  ”Early to bed and early to rise” have taken on a whole new meaning.  The longer I’ve been here, the earlier my bed has started luring me in.  Also, I wake up before 6:00am everyday.   Naturally.  It happens, which means that almost the majority of my day happens before noon, not after.  All this strangely makes me miss the dark wintery months of the Midwest, especially the dark weekend mornings.  

    This picture has nothing to do with that, but it IS a beautiful, shady spot that my neighbors brought me to last weekend to fish. 

     
  5. good:

    "My country is the world, and my religion is to do good." -Thomas Paine

    I know there are ways to take issue with this, but it still resonates.  

    (via good)

     

  6. "be softer with you. you are a breathing thing. a memory to someone. a home to a life."
    — nayyirah waheed (via nayyirahwaheed)
     

  7. "Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could."
    — Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum LP  (via infinite-paradox)

    (Source: wineandyoga, via jojointransit)

     

  8. Así hablo ahora. 

     

  9. Year 1 (minus a week) and month 9

    Amazingly, I am just a week away from my one-year anniversary in El Salvador and nine months into my service.  Anonas, or chirimoyas as I knew them in South America, were in season when I arrived, and women are once again walking around with large huacales full of them (I used to love them, but as they would say here, me empaché when I ate the entire fruit in one sitting).  We are in the middle of “winter” in my site and I have almost completely learned the lesson to abandon hope for a 24 hour period in which I do not sweat (borrowed from another PCV’s status).  I miss the Minnesota summer but will soon have tickets to be home for Christmas.  I dream of big fluffy coats, scarves, fireplaces, and hot chocolate.  ”It’s only July, Anne,” a fellow volunteer reminded me.  

    This far into my service, I am comfortable and uncomfortable.  Daily tasks have ceased to torment me and I feel more or less confident of my integration as a member of the community.  

    I am still uncomfortable, though, in my work.  These months, my mode of work has largely been of accompaniment and participation, with very little formal facilitating and organizing.  I attend every meeting I possibly can, but usually make a conscious decision to listen and make space for others to speak.  I give my opinion when I feel it is very important and will back up what others contribute, but in terms of really leading or pushing something in particular I stand back.  This means I have participated in community clean-ups, but not organized them; I have gone to Gender and Entrepreneurship trainings, but not co-facilitated them; I have made connections with NGOs who have independently sought out my community, but I have not sought them out nor made connections with others who are not present in Santa Clara.  In part, much of this is by design.  I am counting on a lot of my impact being through relationships and informal means of educating others through conversation and example.  Also, in not jumping in constantly with my two cents, it has been confirmed to me time and again that those around me are much more skilled to make the arguments that I may have wanted to present, but would have communicated more clumsily perhaps.  I want my work to be guided by humility and the desire to work in solidarity with other community members because it is not about me “saving” them, but rather going together towards a better future.  As an activist and a feminist, that is what I want, even though those two identities are hard to express in my community without stepping on political toes. 

    (a side note: My presence at meetings is noticed, at least, which was made clear to me when my absence at one meeting at the alcaldía gave rise to gossip that I don’t go to ANY meetings there anymore)

    However, I also realize that in nine months I have very little to show for my time.  Taken to an extreme, humility can slide into low self-esteem and helplessness, a reluctance to knock on doors to figure things out.  I know there have been comments made, not by my community, about if I came here “just to dance with Puko” (a friend who long since has left for the US).  I am participating in as much of my community’s life as I can, but is it really enough?  I ask myself this question so much, and maybe it’s not even fair because I am one person and it is the entire community that needs to be involved for things to happen.  It actually might be a very conceited question because it would imply that I am somehow “more” than my community members and that anything good, any change, must be dependent on me, which is certainly not the case.  It is my responsibility to put my tools and skills at the disposal of my community’s needs.  I hope as my time here continues I will become more confident about these things.  In the mean time, letting myself be tormented by doubt is entirely counterproductive, so I will continue with the mantra: I am able. 

     

  10. I wrote this about a month ago, when I realized that this is the first summer I am passing away from my family (though here, it is considered to be winter). 

    image

    Bajo el mismo sol

    De algunas cosas, creemos estar seguros:

    Hay un sol, una luna, estrellas sin contar,

    Esos cuerpos celestiales que sonríen

    Y asombran igualmente en todas partes.

    Aquí, el sol arde

    Quema, seca, endura en suelo en el verano y

    Pelea con la lluvia en el invierno.

    Calienta la arena de la playa y las lomas de volcanes.

    Agresivamente arranca del suelo

    La vida vegetal que alimentará a la humana.

    El sol aquí exprime el sudor de todos los seres que respiran bajo ello.

    El sol acompaña todas las tareas,

    Invitada o no.

    ¿Es el mismo sol?

    El sol allá es coqueto,

    A veces se apega a la tierra

    Y sólo de mala gana lo deja en la noche.

    Ese sol enamora al día,

    Besa la piel suavemente

    Y alimenta el buen humor.

    Sin embargo, se ausenta,

    Se olvida de su romance

    Y se enfría.

    Se esconde detrás de las nubes

    Y sale por un ratito de día,

    Aunque sea sólo para saludar y darse la vuelta.

    Cede el paso a la oscuridad

    Y las largas noches

    Hasta que vuelva a acordarse de la tierra ansiosa por su regreso.

    El mismo sol

    Violento y enamorado

    Baila con la tierra

    Día y noche,

    Doce meses.

    En una parte, lo busco,

    Y en otra, me escondo.

    ¿Es el mismo sol con dos caras?

    ¿Soy el mismo yo

    o el sol caprichoso también

    me amasa a su gusto? 

    El sol rige el cómo de la luz, las flores,

    La ropa, la casa.

    ¿También me rige a mí?  

     

  11. Los vecinos

    My neighbors have become my host family, the only difference being that I don’t sleep there.  They live just on the other side of the quebrada from my house and I pass their house every time I go out.  They feed me fish, beans, eggs, and tortillas as well as plenty of sweet coffee.  Something about being with them feels natural and familiar.  Linda is the mom and is 34 years old I think.  She is always up for chatting and has been getting very involved in other activities (the women’s association and an adult literacy circle).  She loves to talk about recipes she’s seen on cooking shows or other things she’s learned from “non-fiction” TV shows.  She just had a baby two months ago (Yimi Neymar, named for a Brazilian soccer player), so she is at home a lot.  She hasn’t let that keep her from going out to do the diagnostic when it was necessary, though; she brought her daughter Sindy and little Yimi with her!  Sindy is 12, the same age as my actual sister.  She is another chatter and loves asking my opinion about things.  She is the one who has said she doesn’t want to continue school after this year, which breaks my heart.  I will do my best to convince her otherwise.  She is very smiley and friendly and seems to fit the “responsible older sister” archetype fairly well.  Lázaro, 10, is the mischievous younger brother.  He loves going to the river to catch minnows and hunting for other animals.  He also goes along with his dad to look for whatever fruit is in season, adventuring to parts of the caserío I am sure I haven’t been.  Keiri (I am still not sure if she is Keiri, Keirin, o Keili) is 4 (almost 5!) and is a sweetheart.  She always calls out “¡Anita!” when she sees me and gives me the kind of hug that only children know how give.  She is determined to learn how to jumprope and practices every time I come over.  She is learning how to read and write and loves making me cards like this one, which says “Anita, este regalo es suyo” (Anita, this gift is yours): 

    image

    Cheyo, the dad, is 31.  He goes fishing and fruit-gathering a lot, so every time I go to their house they have something different for me to try.  For me, it’s great, because I only cook what I know, which can get really boring.  He is progressive for men here because he knows how to make tortillas and likes to make fish dinners for the family, el chef.  Like everyone else, he is very warm and friendly.  They also have a dog named Oso who is really cute.  I have to fight my impulse to pet and cuddle him because he is probably full of fleas.  

    Because they often invite me to dinner, I try to contribute to the family meals too.  Sometimes, it’s just some vegetables for soup, but most of the time it’s with my sweet tooth.  We’ve made choco krispy treats and buckeyes so far.  It’s a challenge because they don’t have an oven or a stove and most of my desserts require an oven, but a friend recently told me a way to make an oven on a wood fire, so we will see.  Here are some pictures from the buckeyes, or, as I like to call them, chocolates of gold (because the ingredients are expensive and scarce; I broke my rule of making only things available close-by): 

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  12. Chicas update

    The Club de Chicas, for the time being, is alive and well!  Unfortunately one of our members started her journey to the US a couple of weeks ago, so we are down one.  Lately, every time I turn around, someone has just left or is leaving for the US.  Anyway, the Club de Chicas has passed from the phase of “is this going to work?” into a more secure one.  We’ve decided to alternate charlas with cooking or craft days which is fun for all of us.  So far, we’ve made pizza and molasses cookies:

     

  13. Wings and wax

    Lately I have been feeling like I don’t have enough time to write, which usually means that I need to make time because things are piling up in the back of my mind.  This month has been crazy and I will no longer question “dry spells” in work because inevitably everything will start up again at once, and with it, the roller coasters.  Doing the diagnostic with the women’s association was awesome.  They all showed up for the time they had committed to go and were determined to finish the houses to which they were assigned.  Sometimes, that meant leaving at 8:00 or 9:00 and not getting home until past 1:00, spending the time in between trekking from house to house in the hot sun (sometimes with children in tow).  They picked up the rhythm of the house visits quickly and once they saw how to fill out the survey, weren’t shy in conducting it themselves.  They were all business.  I think it was also a good thing that we combined the census with the sign-ups for free pap smears and a trip to Ciudad Mujer.  That way, the women we interviewed supplied us with information about themselves and their families and we were able to show immediately that the association is actively working for them already.  

    One of the questions we asked was:  ¿Qué hace para divertirse?  (What do you do for fun?)  Many women were surprised by the question because they usually don’t think of themselves as needing their own time.  The most common response was “watch TV,” followed by “listen to music.”  Also common were responses that referred to more reproductive work done in the home like taking care of their children, doing chores, working, or simply “nada.”  If we just look at watching TV as a pastime, it is a solitary, passive, sedentary activity.  You don’t have to leave the house or interact with anyone (other than maybe arguing about what show to watch).  It also transmits a mess of values and perceptions about how one is supposed to act (oh, the telenovelas) and what the “good life” looks like.  It tends to show all the ways we are not good enough.  Of course, we don’t think about that while watching TV because we feel entertained, but subconsciously that is the message that comes across, I think.  Channels like Discovery Channel and Animal Planet might be more benign, but when I am in people’s homes I see far more Disney Channel and telenovelas.  

    The responses to the question reflect the fact that there is no public, community place for people to meet.  We have two soccer fields which are dominated by the boys and men.  There is nothing stopping the girls and women from taking their rightful place there as well, but the truth is that they don’t have the same freedom to be out of the house nor do they have a neutral meeting place, which hurts their ability to create the relationships that substitute the social capital needed to organize.  With the association, they are doing an awesome job so far, but it is difficult.  

    Sometimes I feel like Icarus’s son.  I am going to change the myth a little bit to make the metaphor work better.  When I have a great string of activities like these, my hopes fly high on the wings of the actions we are taking.  I start romanticizing in my mind about how this means everything will change, that this is it, things are really going to change now.  I’ve read too many books about development superheroes and the people they work with to not do so, despite constant reminders that those stories are often just stories and that my own experience proves that this work is so much harder in real life.  My hopes flying high, it doesn’t matter if I get home completely spent, because that means I’ve made a sacrifice (even if it is of my body and soul) that will produce some good.  Again, faulty logic, but this is how my head works (and this is what happens when I don’t blog for a long time).  My hopes starting soaring and get closer and closer to the sun.  I prepare some awesome stuff for the follow-up meeting, ready to keep up with the same momentum.  At the meeting, we merely summed up what we had done and, in my eyes, failed to create a solid plan of what we were going to do before the next meeting, and how.  The women had gone back to being real human beings who have a ton of responsibilities (I, on the other hand, have been sent to this community purely to do this work) and, still green in community organizing, won’t keep the same momentum.  Their commitments, emotional ganas (willingness), and numerous other factors affect their enthusiasm and presence.  After a meeting like that, the wax that held my hopes together has melted off and I have to build my wings all over again.  Sometimes I wonder if I will become numb to these highs and lows or if I will always feel them this strongly.  

    Now, a health update!  Somehow I managed to get my left ear completely blocked, so I was half-deaf for a few days.  I got that taken care of but still cannot hear very well out of it; will my hearing be a casualty of Peace Corps service?  Time will tell.  In the same week, my neighbor’s cat bit me on my heel (I accidentally stepped on it, which also means I will never marry).  Rabies is a valid concern here, but I’m vaccinated and supposedly the cat is.  We have to keep an eye on the cat for a ten days and as long as it doesn’t go deranged on us, I’ll be fine.  How’s that for a way to end a blog?  (Mom, please don’t worry)

     
  14. This is what women getting things done looks like.  I am one happy, proud, thrilled volunteer to be working with these ladies. 

     

  15. An update

    I am in the place where there are a million reflections in my head that I want to write out, but haven’t had (and perhaps won’t have) the time to do.  Here’s why: 

    5 days. 

    110 houses visited.

    110 surveys filled out.

    84 women signed up for free pap smears.

    64 women signed up for a trip to Ciudad Mujer.

    The women’s association, Mujeres con Visión, is in session, everyone.  i just need keep my head in the now and remember to take things a day at a time, but they give me so much to get my hopes up about!