Thursday, August 30, 2007

What It's Like To Be Home

The other day a friend relayed a story to me that got me thinking about what my two weeks back in the United States has meant. He shared the story of a priest who went on a house building trip and after a weekend of silence his much anticipated comments at last came out as they neared the border. “You know what I like about the people here” he said. “They treat their dogs like dogs.”

Perhaps it was meant to be comical but it struck me the other day, with a twinge of deep sadness that I have indeed come across pet dogs that are treated better than so many of the people that live in poverty.

And so, this is what might be chalked up as my failed attempt to articulate what it feels like to return to the United States after a year of service abroad in a developing nation.

In many ways, it’s the dream two weeks. I’ve eaten a great steak or two. I went back to “my service roots” with a visit to the community it Tijuana I always went to never being able to say more than hello, and this time I could communicate. I can’t begin to express how amazing that was. I have been to three baseball games, two of the them Cubs games, one in which I got a tour of the organization from a friend who works with the org and another one of them came with the all too incredible opportunity to go hang out in the club house area and be surrounded by my favorite ballplayers while I pitifully attempted to play it cool. I discovered Pink Berry, which can only be described as the ultimate frozen yogurt experience.

Of course, there is another side to the story. While it has been a dream vacation it has been a rude awakening. People ask me if I am ready for Ecuador and I must confess I am so gripped with an uncontrollable (and irrational) of what I will do after Ecuador that I have barely thought about the next year I still have in South America.

Perhaps worst of all is the most common formality I undergo daily. People are fond of asking, ever so casually, “so how was it?” like the sum experience of your last year can be broken down and analyzed as easily as you might evaluate going to see a movie. And it’s like, I look in their eyes, and just know, through no fault of their own, they really don’t want the real answer I am somewhat dying to give. I can’t describe to them the inexplicable liberation that sought to thrive amongst a month or two of deep sadness. When people invite you out for a beer, it’s hard not to ask “how is it you can get a beer with me but you couldn’t send a two line email every once in a while when I was out there?” For all the blessings, there has been, as people said there would be, incredible culture shock, confusion, and just general, inexplicable anxiety.

And yet, all my reflections go back to a most pleasant surprise: love endures through all. The last few years I was so into building an adventure resume if you will. I somehow equated my happiness with my travel agenda. And while I will continue to travel and appreciate the many values it brings to my lifestyle, I feel like I kind of missed the point of the grand adventure. I was so afraid to come home. Questions flooded my senses: who are my real friends? How have they changed? Who am I and how have I changed? And you know, I felt at peace, I felt at home, in the midst of everything, I feel at peace among the people I love. And so getting back to missing the point, I’m coming to see it is not about saying I have lived here and there and done this and that but more about making decisions that enhance my ability to both give and receive love in a more open and vulnerable way.

Am I ready for Ecuador? Yeah, but I’m also, in ways I never imagined possible, ready for life after Ecuador. And how was Bolivia and Chile you ask? Serendipity. Look for an update on Ecuador soon as I fly there September 1st.

Again, in my final push for Ecuador- any amount of help helps me to help others. Thanks for your time and support!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Like A Blind Man Cutting Hair

It’s only a haircut and yet, it’s not. Really, a haircut is almost like an adventure sport when you are living in Latin America. Skydiving, forget about it. The real adventure begins when you sit in your local barber chair.

I mean, for one thing, it only takes a few glances at most of the “fashionable hairstyles” of the men my age down here to realize, with absolute finality: I do not want to ever let my hair look like that. I am talking about rat tails, mullets- just think 80’s retro... yeah, like New Kids on the Block and Vanilla Ice Ice Baby.

But OK, so what, the slant in all the barber shops these days seems to indicate a blind man is giving scissors and simply told to go to town in an attempt (and horrible failure I might add) to make something stylish. Sure, perhaps in the United States, a detail by detail break down might work in the United States... i.e. 2.5 inches off the top, no sideburns, and a number 2 razor for the sides with a square back. But herein presents one of the most common dilemmas of my life for the past year: try doing that in a foreign language. Even once you start to get the word for translation you still realize that some direct translations don’t mean the same thing. Uh oh.

So, in a roundabout way I am telling you not only that sitting in the barber chair’s is one of the most harrowing experiences I put myself through in South America, it is also, an experience I am keen on avoiding. The last time I tried it, I got a beautiful haircut, except for the long rat tail running down the middle of the back of my head. Thankfully, Emily, a housemate, did some damage control.

In the USA, I averaged a haircut every six weeks and even then, my hair was usually beyond a point where anonymous notes were being left on my door saying something subtle like “the prehistoric age called, they want their wooly mammoth back.”

I have to admit that I have gotten a haircut, over the past year, three times. Yes, that is one every four months.

So take your pick of which reason to buy, I find a bit of rationality in both.

1. It is cold as hell down here and every little strategy to defeat the cold must be capitalized upon.

2. Or imagine sitting in a chair and looking into the eyes of a man with scissors, who, mind you has a track record of, shall we say, less than desirable haircuts. And you look at him, he looks at you, The Outfield is blasting through the speakers ranting “I don’t want to lose your love, Toniiight”. You hesitate and then you tell the man, with sharp objects in his hand, to do something to your head. Ya see, you wouldn’t want it either.

Then again, I am not so sure this is a more preferable result...

OK, who am I kiddin. If that is not sexy, I don´t know what is!

And again... By clicking on the DONATE button bellow you will be able to help me buy needed supplies for my upcoming volunteer work in Ecuador USING ANY MAJOR CREDIT CARD. If you don´t have a paypal account, select the step that says "don´t have a paypal account?

Friday, August 03, 2007

Leaving My Program

I am leaving my volunteer program in the middle of August. I am thankful for my time with HCA. I have learned a new language, experienced Bolivian and Chilean culture, and met some incredible people that I won’t forget.

But I just know that to stay here another year would be to stay where I am not meant to be. I was working in jobs where I was charged with zero responsibility. There is so much more than could never be captured in this short amount of space but I guess you could say the following: The more I learned about who I am and thought about what it was that brought me to Latin America to serve in the first place, the more I realized my time in this program had ran its course.

And so, I am leaving my program, leaving Chile, and yet I won’t be coming home to the United States.

In September I begin new work as a volunteer (again) in Quito, Ecuador. There is an organization called The Working Boys Center (WBC). The basics are this: The WBC serves impoverished shoeshine boys and their families with a variety of programs, not the least of which is where I as a volunteer come in: an education. I will be working five days a week, 8 AM to 8 PM as a teacher, possibly teaching adults to read and write, teaching kids English, Theology, Sales and Marketing, and God knows what else- the program is extensive. Even my weekends can be spent volunteering- from field trips with my students to building houses in poor neighbourhoods to visiting people in their own homes- the opportunities are there for me to find my heart.

But there is always a catch in this life, and in my case, the catch is this: I am joining a program that can provide nothing more than room and board. No health insurance or airline ticket. Not even some of the school supplies I will need to be a good teacher. If I want to take my kids on field trips (which I am told most volunteers do on a regular basis)- again, that falls on my shoulders, or dare I say, our shoulders…

Yes you are getting dragged into this. Fingers are crossed for the dollar lottery ticket my mom buys in my name every week but I bet there is a greater chance of buying my classroom supplies and the like through donations from the people like you who, like me, really want to make this world a better place. $1 or more, anything helps, and it is now easier than ever: you can donate with any credit card, right here, and right now.

I feel torn asking for this help, it kinda lashes away at the image of self reliance and independence I once liked to paint myself in. But in all seriousness I think if anything, the last year in South America has taught me this: a life well lived is not one that can be done independently. Your help enables me to continue to try my best at helping people living in conditions of extreme poverty, and in a sincere sentiment that could never break through simple words such as these: it means a lot and I thank you. And yes, just to break the “priceless Visa” moment, I still feel that way whether or not you are able to financially help! (=

By clicking on the DONATE button bellow you will be able to help USING ANY MAJOR CREDIT CARD. If you don´t have a paypal account, select the step that says "don´t have a paypal account?

And if you like, click the blue link to read an article about the WBC- my new home!

¨Wherever you go, go with all your heart.¨ Confucius