24 July 2009

Let's try that again...

Unfortunately, I forgot to activate the new blog before yesterday's post, so if you tried to look it at, you would have been unsuccessful. I just took care of that, however; go have a look at threetwofour.wordpress.com. I'm just now putting the finishing touches on that new post I mentioned, so keep an eye out.

23 July 2009

New blog address

As I write this, I am sitting in the airport in San Salvador about to board the plane for Atlanta, and then to Syracuse. Last Monday I ceased being a Peace Corps volunteer, and tonight at 11:30 I will be back home. With the scenery of my life about to change drastically, I felt it was perhaps time to change the scenery of this blog as well. This is the last entry that will appear at this address; from now on, all new entries will appear at threetwofour.wordpress.com, so please update your bookmarks. If you are subscribed via email or RSS feed, you will continue to receive updates as usual. Look for a new post later this week.

22 June 2009

With less than three weeks left in Torola, my heart and mind are wheeling in circles.

The days that I spend at city hall are now split in three parts... First, a couple of hours in the morning working on my projects here; preparing English and computer classes, showing a friend how to upload information to Torola's website, getting supplies ready to paint a world map. Then another few hours working on my Document of Service, my final report in English, and my final report in Spanish; all the stuff that the Peace Corps requires me to do before leaving. And then I spend the afternoon looking for jobs in New York City. Staring these three things down in the course of a single day is gut-wrenching and confusing; am I a busy Peace Corps volunteer in the midst of it, interacting and working with the community I have come to call my home? Am I on the brink of finishing my service, trying to justify the money the government spent on me over the past two years? Or am I an ambitious engineer, looking forward to taking the first “real” job of my life in the city where my fiancĂ©e will be living?

In high school chemistry we did an experiment to test the hardness of different substances—we took a tiny pinch of whatever it was, and rubbed it against a piece of glass, then looked at the glass under a microscope to see if it left a scratch. Anything that did was harder than the glass, anything that didn't was softer. Sometimes I feel like somebody has been trying that experiment on me. I'm the test subject, El Salvador is the glass—but I haven't left a single mark. I've been picked up, pinched in a pair of pliers, and smashed against the glass over and over again. Parts of me rub off and stick to the glass, and then get burned under the light magnified by the microscope, which only reveals that I haven't left a single scratch.

But I am different. And though I feel like I'm a better person for it, many days it does feel like being squeezed and smashed and torn up and burned. It feels like for all the good intentions I had, for all my dreams of changing people's lives, for all those great project ideas, it's all just come back like so many boomerangs whanging into my head.

There is so much more I could have done... helped more kids apply for scholarships, started sooner on that water project, repainted the community center, met more people, learned more names... all things that I planned on doing at some point, but never did—and now there's no more time. Now, when I finally feel like the mayor will listen to me, that the teenagers on the street corner aren't too shy to say hello, that my Spanish is good enough to tell jokes, that parents will listen to me when I tell them what their kids need... Now is when I'm leaving. I've just figured out which direction I've got to face when the chemist smears me on the glass in order to leave my mark, but he just gave up and left the lab.

During training they told us to spend time coming up with a development philosophy which we would modify according to our experiences in our sites. At the time, I knew exactly what development was. Even last month, I knew all about development, and it was so much more than that bit of silliness I'd thought up during training. But now I'm on the brink of leaving, and I realize: I haven't the faintest idea what development is. And that doesn't bother me.

What's got me down is the fact that for all the amazing things I've learned in El Salvador, for all the life-changing experiences, the challenges overcome, the paradigms shifted; all of those great lessons that all Peace Corps volunteers learn and that none can put in to words, none of the benefit of that will stay in El Salvador. Yes, I did cause lasting, positive changes here. But Torola made of me someone who will continue making lasting, positive changes in the world—greater by far than what I've done while here. Torola made me the person that I will be, but I'm taking all of that with me and going home. I owe so much of who I am to this country, this community, and the people I've met here—but just at the point where I feel I'd be ready to pay them back, I have to leave.

And coping with that is proving to be the most difficult part of this transition.

25 March 2009

You are wrong

We must always be willing to accept that we are wrong. When Jesus came, he went all over the place telling people they were wrong. And who were the ones that listened to him? Not those who devoted their life to studying the law (the lawyers and scribes) or even those who devoted their lives to applying the law (the Pharisees). It was a rag-tag group of fishermen, militants, and tax-collectors. It isn't that they didn't know anything about the law, or that they didn't spend any time trying to apply it. On the contrary, they did both—even confronting Jesus several times.

But they were willing to accept that they were wrong.

If Jesus came today, and went throughout the religious establishments of the world, he would probably have to spend at least as much time telling people they were wrong.

And here I start to get haughty: “Jesus would tell the fundamentalists they are wrong to interpret things so literally.” “Jesus would tell the evangelicals they are wrong to spend money on tracts and Bibles instead of food and water for the poor.” “Jesus would tell the Catholics they are wrong to emphasize tradition over scripture.” And on and on I could go, offending so many, justifying myself in the thought that they would be just as offended if it were Jesus saying those things.

But what would Jesus tell me that I had wrong? And would I listen? Or would I just tell him to go tell all of those other people what they were wrong about?

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" --Jesus, in Matthew 7:3

Perhaps the even harder question: Who among the people that I see as foolish, ignorant, self-deceived, and misdirected, would Jesus devote his most intimate time to?

"God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong." --Saint Paul, in I Corinthians 1:27