From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Morning Quotes from Day Laborers

Flashback. It's 6:40 a.m. and my alarm sounds. Anyone who's ever woken up with an alarm knows that's the ickiest part of the day, deciding whether it's worth it to claw off those fleece blankets and dunk your face in freezing water. But this morning was especially difficult. I had resolved to catch a 7:37 bus down the street to volunteer at Portland Voz Worker Center, where day laborers participate in a work raffle, leadership training, English lessons and advocacy. I went last week to help with general office tasks, and despite constant kindness and respect from the men, felt consistently aloof. So on the bus this morning, nerves churned my stomach, as if I were doing something ridiculous like moving to Nicaragua (haha, get it, cuz that's gonna happen). But the second I stepped off the bus I was appeased.
There was Deinor, a 20-something half-Guatemalan homeless man on his bike, hanging on the street outside the center. "Uh-oh," he said. "You're going to ask me if I remember your name. I don't."

Here are some other tidbits of conversation from a great morning.

Rafa, 27-yr-old Guanajuato native: "It's just so poor and violent down there (his hometown)."
Me: "But it's hard up here too, no?"
Rafa: "Yes, here there is discrimination, and very little work, and no family. But the difference is here it is usually hard, and there it is always hard."

Carlos, 30-something from Mexico DF, who wears braces (bracketes): "You had braces too, no?"
Me: "Yes, but how did you know?"
Carlos: "Because no one has a perfect smile like you without braces."

Jose, whose name had just been called for a work ticket: "Gringa! I nida hi-fi!"
Me: "You need a what?"
Jose: "Mano arriba!" (high-five)

There were, of course, aloof moments. There was less to "do" this morning than last week, so a lot of the time I found myself having the option of standing around or starting a conversation with anyone in order to do what I came for (talking and learning).

But that doesn't matter. What matters is that I'm already committed (having pinkie-sworn a few times) to coming next week, and that the morning alarm was totally worth it.

I'll just have to be careful. I'm turning into a total sucker for jornaleros.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

One Hella Beautiful BIG-O

I am an officially commissioned Jesuit Volunteer. What what.
(First pic: me with other future Nicaragua volunteers. what what.)

It all went down Saturday, July 31 (which "happened to be" St. Ignatius' feast day! how perfect), at St. Joseph Chapel on the campus of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA.

Down the row from me were volunteers headed to Ecuador, Belize, Peru, Tanzania, Micronesia and Chile. We had all gathered at BC for the 2010 "BIG-O": JVC-speak for Orientation, two weeks of intense bonding and training for future volunteers, which closed in a commissioning mass on St. Iggy Day and a departing for the airport the following morning. I woke up at 5 after going to bed at 2 (o yes i did) to bon-voyage the groups headed to Belize, Micronesia and Ecuador, who left immediately following Big-O. It was a heroic, hopeful send off...and they are constantly in my thoughts and prayers.

Enough about the good-byes. These were the best hellos I can remember. Granted, meeting the LMU students with whom I would spend the best four years of my life wasn't bad. Nor was meeting the crazy Erasmus (European exhange students) in San Sebastian during my semester abroad.

But what set meeting JVs at Big-O apart was our vision, our commitment, our simultaneous fear and enthusiasm, doubt and faith. For the first time I can remember, I was surrounded by forty people who knew why the heck I'd want to leave everything I knew for two years, and who understood what it meant to be ecstatic for and terrified of that. It's like I had jumped in medias res into a dream where we all knew each other small talk. All questions like, "What's your take on liberation theology," or, "Where did you study abroad?" or, "What scares you most about going to work in a village of 5,000 people?" All hugs, all tears, all LAUGHS.

We went a little loopy, sharing rooms and meals 24-7 with people we'd never met before. But oh, how lovely is loopiness. (Second pic: Jeff, Jeremy, and Jenn demonstrating a newly-acquired and disgusting talent)

And with the sort of issues we were discussing, a little loopiness was necessary. Here's a random sample of the almost 30 workshops we attended in a two-week period:

  • Teaching workshop
  • Ignatian spirituality
  • Mental health
  • Mission, values, and the JVC covenant
  • Realities of developing countries
  • Safety and security
  • Intimacy and Sexuality
  • Culture Shock
  • Catholic Social Teaching
  • HTH Health Insurance
I am happy to delve into any of these topics, if you're interested in what I learned. But here's my best shot at boiling down the two weeks of learning into a few sentences:

  • Be open and honest about how you feel, and tell someone about it.
  • Don't go out alone and avoid alcohol.
  • Exclusivity in relationships can damage community.
  • Crime, suffering, and poverty are realities in the developing world.
  • Culture is "thick" and ingrained.
  • You're going to get sick, and then you're going to get better.
  • You've got so many reasons to be grateful.
I'd say, though, that the two most important things I learned were these:
1. As much as we tell you here, about what to do when your neighbors ask you for money, or how to deal with a depressed community mate, or how intense the poverty can be, these are all just words until you reach your host country, where it will be much harder. Know that you face the unknown and accept it.
2. When you reach rock bottom--when the suffering around you is unbearable, when you're sick of being sick to your stomach, when you're missing home and friends and family and wondering why the heck you signed up for such a crazy adventure--remember your reasons for going, and remember you're never alone. No one is ever alone.

At the mass, we each received a cross necklace, hung around our necks by a beaming staff member (AJ and Dan are fantastic!). Then we attacked each other in teary, bear-hug goodbyes, ate (veggie) burgers and cookies, and went out for one last night together. We toasted to each country and danced to a juke box (Waka Waka, Camisa Negra, Starlight and Footloose were my choices)--which reminds me, I got to dance again! I know I've found happiness when that happens. And it had been a while...

Then, waltzing home together at two in the morning (no one got drunk, thank you very much), we set our alarms for 5am. It was an exhausting moment of bonding, waving goodbye to the Belize bus that Sunday morning, and and doing the same for Micronesia/Ecuador...but I've rarely ever felt so on fire. (Third pic: JVC International class of 2010. what what.)

Then came the hard part. Jess and I, my fellow LMU-grad who's going to Peru, bid goodbye to the other L-Ds (late-departures: volunteers who don't leave until Nov/Dec) and took a 30-minute walk to the Boston T, the metro which brought us to the airport. It's a weird thing, making fast friends with such incredible people, and then saying goodbye to the majority of them forever. No, not weird. Tragic. But beautiful.

And here I am, house-sitting in Portland, wondering if it actually happened, knowing it did. It will be a difficult four months (I leave in early December), living in a lovely limbo (I do love Portland), saying goodbyes while trying to remain on fire. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Dear JV and RdCs--you mean the world to me. Thank you. Que vayan con Dios.