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?”