November 25, 2010

It`s a Choice

Lets dig right into it. Thanksgiving. Turkey, football, family, friends, food, and home. What a warm holiday to bring us all together at the table to share a meal. We celebrate being together. No wonder why so many people love Thanksgiving, they feel at home. What a great feeling of togetherness! This Thanksgiving lets share in abundance and unity.

I will be missing my second consecuative Thanksgiving. It is always sad to miss one one of my favorite holidays. To be away from family and friends. To be away from home. But this Thanksgiving, I am reminded that thanks giving is a choice.

This is not an origional thought, this notion came up in a conversation with Eduardo, one of our security guards in Ecuador. It was one of those late nights, sitting on a branch of our mango tree, outside the guard shack. We would just exchange stories. But mainly, he would talk and I would listen. Eduardo told me of his story, from struggling as a youth, to becoming a man. From selling clothes on the street, to getting a new job, to building a house and starting a family. He had a golden rule through the good times and the bad. His Golden Rule was gratitude at the end of the day. To count your blessings, give thanks to God, and share everything with those near to you.

Everyday he worked his hardest and whether he sold 2 shirts or 10, he ended the day with a choice. ¿Gratitude or Greed?

Evernight when we lie our heads down after a days work, we are faced with the same choice. Gratitude or Greed? Are we happy with what we have? Or once we get, what we want, do we want more?

It`s a choice. And I have witnessed that it does not matter how much you have. I have seen overwhelming gratitude from people living in cane houses that are half the size of my garage. And I have witnessed overwhelming greed from those living in mansions. Yes, it goes both ways as well! It comes down to not what you have in your house, but who you are in your house. Thats the choice.

I want to leave you my personal reflection from parable of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish that I believe tells the miracle of Thanksgiving... There was a large crowd. Hungry. Tired. Then there were 5 loaves of bread and 3 fish- Apparently insufficient food for everyone. But then there was a revolutionary amongst the crowd. He instructed the crown to unite, sit down, and be together. First, he gave thanks for the little food there was. Next, he distributed all he had, displaying the miracle of sharing.

Now I don`t believe Jesus had a wand and transformed 5 loaves of bread and 3 fish into a giant feast. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. It can only be transformed. So had did so little transform into so much? By sharing. This parable is the miracle of sharing. Everyone at that gathering must have had something. No matter how little individually, if the whole group gave up everything and shared it with the community, there would be an abundant feast.

Is this not the world`s situation right today? When 40,000 chlidren die of starvation everyday, we are tempted to say we live in scarcity. But what if we could come together, unite, and share as equals? Bob Marley had an insight that I like... Unity must have to start now, because I mean, how long would we have to suffer, to learn these things, that we must be united?

Thanks giving is a choice. Every day we decide. We can be greedy and hoard, we can be grateful and share. Its a choice.

This Thanksgiving, lets celebrate abundance, sharing, and unity.

November 19, 2010

Cholera, Sledgehammers, and Hope?

Cholera- Yes, its thriving in Haiti. Yes, Hurricane Tomas made it worse. Yes, completely preventable. What if you do get it? Yes, completely treatable. So why are so many dying? Lack of clean water. So many still live in Haiti, and all around the world, without clean water. This is a human right. The cure to cholera is CLEAN water, salt and sugar.

Sledgehammering concrete and rebar. Hmmmm. Not what I planned I would be doing with my college degree. But after a quick reflection, there is nothing else I would rather be doing with my Jesuit education. We work along side Haitian volunteers. Yes, there is a language barrier. But there is something about teamwork that unites people that we would be tempted to say are from different worlds. So as Wizmey and I work together going shot for shot at this rebar with our sledgehammers, we are united. Together. In the same place. In the same earth. For this moment, I recognize that we are brothers. So after we finish, we haul out the 15ft piece of steel that used to support a roof. Together we re-establish a foundation under all the rubble. Together we make eye contact and fist pound. Together we realize our inter-connectedness. No words, just a smile and a handshake.

Hope. More than a word? An idea? A dream? One sweet lady who has been living in Haiti for 26 years told me that she has hope because she cannot bear the other side. So we have to hope things can only get better. We have to hope that these refugee camps with transform. Thats what we hope for, transformation. From sickness to health. From darkness to light. From loneliness to community. There is so much negative energy in Haiti. The trauma- we cannot begin to imagine. When we get into a car accident, observe a disaster, we experience trauma. Haitians live in a culture of trauma. The poorest country in the western hemispere collectively witnessed the traumatic effect of the earthquake. Death, in every aspect. Everyone who I spoke to in Haiti was affected. So amidst all the trauma and suffering, we ask for hope. Hope to transform all the negative energy to positivity. I am new to this country and admit to being a bit naive in my observations. However, I do belive that out of darkness must come light.

Lets hope the upcoming elections bring the Haitian people freedom to be people. Because living in those refugee camps, with no opportunity, dying of preventable diseases, and living at the mercy of international aid is not a life for our Haitian brothers and sisters. But this is not where the Haitian people have hope. In government. Hah! They do not understand anything other than corruption. So where do we dare to hope?

Where do we have the power to not just have blind, idealistic optimistic, and unrealistic hope? We have the power to control ourselves, we simply need to have hope in our own lives, and have this be the way we look at the world. Yes, the individual transformation is where realistic hope takes root. And just one person can transform their life, then spread that positivity and hope to their family, then to a community, then to all of society. A person 2000 years ago walked this earth. A bit crazy. Not too popular. But he lived in relationship with all of humanity preaching hope amidst suffering. Not against the corrupt polition, with him. Yes, the sinner can be transformed. Yes, the prostitute can be forgiven. He understood the suffering in the world. He did not flea from it. He suffered with the people. He did not destroy hatred, classism, pride, and greed. He transcended them by his perfect example. And he shared stories that invited us to transcend. We have the invitation to believe in hope. Waiting. Waiting. So what do we do with our invitation?

Who will be the next MLK, Ghandi, Desmund Tutu? Yes, there will be more. But we do not need to be heros. We need to be ourselves. Compassionate, forgiving, and free. Willing to suffer with in order to heal. We do not need to go to Haiti. Haha, that is the bigest illusion that we belive is true. That we need to go out and heal the world. NO. It starts within. We all suffer, feel lonely, and hurt. But that feeling goes away, right? How? A sign of love from another, who shows that you are not alone. That is the power of transformation. Its only nature. The day will transform into night. Right? So lets open the doors to suffering and joy. Lets have hope that suffering will transform into joy. Lets understand that we all feel these emotions. Lets share the experience called life. Lets understand the power of a kind word and the value of a smile. Right here, right now, with who ever you are with. And let that positive vibration radiate to all those we encounter. We have the power to be happy now. Smile. And share it! But share it today.

So when we have hope, we live in hope. Its not an ideal, its a way we live our lives. Upful and bright. So when we look at a world in all her suffering, lets be good to each other. There is hope in that. We are all invited :)

November 10, 2010

the next step

So I know its been a while.

Couch surfing in DC, LA, Boston, and NH. Thank you all for the hospitality.

But as I am currently in this "transition" period, I decided to take a step back out of the country. I had my eyes set on a couple jobs, through the Cristo Rey High Schools, and the Boys and Girls Club of America. But everyone knows the situation we are in right now. No Jobs. They say where one door closes, three more open behind you. So instead of staring at that closed door, waiting and waiting, I moved my eyes to where there is work. Haiti.

I first thought about this possibility because a dear friend, Melissa, got involved in a public sanitation project, building toilettes. She said I should come and check it out. And when a good friend tells you to jump off a bridge, you take a leap of faith.

So I took my next step to Haiti. And its nice to know that it is just the next step. And I got involved with Ryan and Carissa as well. We flew into the Dominican Republic and bused our way over to Haiti. Crossing the border was oppressive. Guns, baggages, vans, buses, papers, smog and noise. We walked, 4 white kids, with our backpacks through the confusion. And 3 buses later, made it to Cange, Haiti.

There we met up with David, a friend working at the Partners in Health facility. He was in the highlands, so we could wait out Hurricane Tomas with a certain degree of safety. There we hiked, yoga'd, journaled, listened to reggae music and relaxed in front of the beautiful mountains of Haiti. Our comfort level was high and it was good to meet some hopeful people involved in the inspiring story that was popularized by Tracy Kidders book, Mountains Beyond Mountains.

Then we bused to through Port au Prince to see the other side of the country. The buses are loud and claustrophobic. The city is packed with endless rubble, water, congestion, heat, and tents. Tent camps are vast. Tents pack street dividers. It is tough to imagine. The whole ride, I shook my head in sadness. With all of the disasters; cholera, earthquake, hurricane, flooding, and cluster of NGO's claiming to solve the problems- I am asking myself, is this country a disaster?

We are currently working with "All Hands Volunteers." The NGO's base is filled with about 60 volunteers. Anyone can volunteer, you just need to show up and work. No age, no religion, no race, no country, no school, no profession. I have met some very interesting cats who all seem to be in this transition period. And everyone has a story to tell...

We are located in Leogane, the epicenter of the January earthquake, and victim of flooding from Hurricane Tomas. Right when we got off the bus, we stared shoveling mud out of neighboring houses. Areas of the town were flooded leaving 6 inches to a 1ft in some houses. The mud was a product of the flood, and with the recent cholera outbreak, it poses a huge sanitation threat. Just imagine. So we use words like, toxic and decontaminate a lot.

Aside from mud, is rubble. Yes, despite the fact that it was about a year ago, there is still rubble. Everywhere. Not just in the poor sections of town. Even their main government buildings are down. As we passed, Melissa commented, "a reflection of the government here."
The second day, we rubbled. Sledge hammering, shoveling, barreling, and pick axing rubble. Little by little.

And today, I spent the morning taking care of infants at a local orphanage. This might be the greatest need and challenge in Haiti. Caring for the youth.

So this organization is completely opposite of Rostro de Cristo. The latter boasts "being and not doing" while the former is "all hands." There needs to be a balance. And I enjoy working for what seems to be a polar opposite organization. Why not experiment with the other side? And since we work so much, its time to get back to it...

July 1, 2010

so this is it...

Dear family and friends,

I have been really bad keeping up this blog lately. Its because I have been completely overwhelmed with the idea of going home, that I have been taking advantage of the short time I have left here in Ecuador.

So for now, Im taking a break from writing online. I hope to keep up my journal and, sometime when I am in New Hampshire, translating it back online, sharing more of my pictures, stories, lessons learned, and emotions felt.

I have really enjoyed sharing this emperience with all. Thank you for reading and staying interested throughout the year. Just by writing on this template, I have felt a healthy connection to home throughout my year in this strange, loving, and unique place.

Keep on dancing and Ill see you back home in August,


June 8, 2010

God Works Both Ways

This past week I had a chance to work at Guayaquil´s Children´s Hospital. A medical team, gathered from all over the US, came dont through a foundation named Project Perfect World. They came for a week to perform life-changings surgeries for children who cannot afford them.

I saw spinal X rays that looked like this ¿ and thats not an exageration.

While the doctors efficiently executed their operations, I had the opportunity to see it all. To translate for the children and their parents through the whole process. To answer questions about the suregery. To tell them ¨Its time to go in now.¨ To rub a crying mother´s back in the waiting room and make small talk. And then to see the surgery. See femurs being shortened and screws and rods straitening spines. And then to hold tiny legs as they wrapped a cast around the entire lower body. And then to wait with the children after they came off anathesia. To see them squeezing their eyes in pain. To see them shaking in the cold. To rub their forheads and tell them to rest. To grab a blamket. Then to see them smile. To give them stuffed animals and teach them to say ¨Excuse me, You are beautiful.¨ Then to call for their mothers in the waiting room and tell them that their daughter came out of the operation speaking english. Then hearing in that broken english a little girl say to her mother¨Excuzamay your bootiful.¨ Then we brought balloons and coloring books to all the children waiting in recovery. I was in scrubs and a lab coat, handing out X rays to parents, explaining that the surgery went well. Then I explained the list of 7 medications to the parents.

I saw tears of fathers letting their little girls go into surgery.
I saw tears of joy, and gratitude for the miracle operations.

It was a very emotional week. Seeing all the suffering that children live in. But I also felt immense Joy, in spending quality time with the children and families, seeing their smiles, and their parents gratitude. I couldnt count how many times I was blessed by strangers passing by in the hospital last week. I couldnt count how many times I felt like crying with joy.

The more and more I spend time down here, with every intention to serve, I am amazed of how the reverse is the reality. I have come to serve the children with illness, the struggling families waiting for the water trucks, the isolated men and women with leprosy- Now, I know it to be true that when you set your life on serving, the reverse happens too. Annie made to the motto of Damien House ¨The hand that gives, receives.¨ And its TRUE. Its the blind leap of faith that she takes everyday. Its the transformative power of God that is an everyday struggle to keep faith in. The people I have come to give myself to here, are all calling me to change my life. They are the ones healing my judgments of a divided and hopeless world. They are the ones calling me to BELIEVE.

This week, I came to serve. And again, I was the one who was blown away with amazement of how the children have transformed me. Amazed and inspired by this medical team. Inspired to do something great and to do it for someone or something greater than myself.

May 21, 2010

Snow Day?

Today we cancelled our program in the afternoon. My first day off. While we dont have snow days here, we did however cancel because of the the weather. Volcanic ash is raining down today in Guayaquil. Please don´t worry, there is no threat. No one has been hurt near the volcano, for from the ash. The volcano is errupting in the Andes, and the ash is coming through trade winds and raining on all of us in the coast. A spare T shirt to cover your mouth, and its all good.

The wind that is bringing the volcanic ash here to the coast, is the same wind that has been cooling us down during the season change. For the last several mornings, the rainy season has seemed to transition out, and we have experienced some cool weather. I am so happy that rainy season is over, and for the next 2 months, we can all live a bit more comfortably.

  • Coming up this week we have a medical team coming into the hospital so I look forward helping them out for a week at Guayaquil´s Childrens Hospital.

I read something the other that caught my eye. It was from a book on Toaism and the author was writing about sharing your life experience, and sharing the truth. He wrote not to focus so much on finding the truth, but about making it real in your life. Making it real in our lifes, that takes commitment and dedication.
  • Do good, and good will follow you.
  • Lose your self, through serving others, and your will find your self.
  • Change is the only constant.
True right? And there are so many other simple truths. We hear them. But do we live by them? Making it real in our lifes, that takes commitment and dedication. I think what the author was trying to say is that we hear, see, and know truth. But we can only find truth in our personal experiences. Everyone has a different journey, a different environment. But everyone shares the same truth that comes from within.

Join me in a moment of silence at the computer. Though this may seem rediculous, I want to share this excersize that has been helpful to me (even just now as a write this in an internet cafe with slow service and little kids looking over my shoulder asking me what I am writing)

Close your eyes. Breathe in. Breathe out. And focus on your breath as you try a Thich Nhat Hanh meditation that brings us present to the moment. We cannot be truly happy living in the memories, no matter how pleasant, of the past. Nor can we appreciate life now, if our focus is in the future, no matter how bright the future will be. Hapiness is in the here and now (say each verse as you focus on breathing).

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Breating in the present moment
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment

Connecting our body and mind with mindful breathing, we let go of everything and enter fully into the present moment. Enjoy the present moment, wherever you are, and whoever you are with. Only when we appreciate each day as a Gift , can we find true hapiness.

May 17, 2010

New Glasses

The other day I was walking home from work. Some of my neighbors were shovelling in some fill- rocks and dirt- into their house. I decided to stop and help out, and get back into my days of at Obriens Landscaping.

We were shovelling the rocks into 5 gallon buckets and then running the buckets behind their house. As I passed by the house, I ducked to avoid splitting my forehead open by the low and rusty tin roof. As I passed to the back of the house, I saw the reason for the rocks. The rainy season has caused this family to live with a pond right outside their cane house, inside their wooden fence. And thats why we were shovelling, to fill in the pond so the water could drain into the street.

As they descibed how bad the bugs were and how smelly the stagnent water was, I was disallusioned by my previous blog entries. All that writing of the water, romantically describing how the streets are alive with fish, frogs, and noise. How different do my neighbors view the water! The reality for them is much different than the illusion of a one year volunteer. A sore back. Heat. Water. Constant building. Constant fear of flooding. So as I spent the evening shovelling and running buckets of rock, I realized Ghandi´s statement ¨ I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say, one hour in the day we should all do the labor the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them, with all mankind.¨

Day by day, I am learning to take off my glasses. The glasses of perceptions and judgments I view the world with. The glasses of division of race, class, country, sex, and education need to come off.

And this is a daily practice that proves to be very challenging. The other morning, on the crowded bus, I caught myself passing judgments. I caught myself with my judgmental glasses on. As I judged the street vendor aggressively selling candy. Or the women who I judged based on their appearence. Or the highschoolers I judged based on their uniforms and friends. It is so easy to fall into the trap of categorizing people from far away. It is so easy to falsely perceive people, especially strangers, when you are wearing your glasses of judgement.

What a sad busride that was! How disconnected I was from everyone who got on my bus. But what I came come to learn, as the Truth, is that we need to practice finding the best out of strangers. Not hating the street vendor who shoves candy in your face everyday, but to Love. Respect, and be compassionate towards him. So after being ashamed about how judgmental I was in the beginning of the bus ride, I received Grace, and looked to every stranger as a member of my family. This is the Grace of God, that brings unity to everyone. It is inclusive, as God is in us all. Every stranger was binded to me. The stranger next to me transformed into my aunt. Still a stranger, but now, part of my family. The next three girls that passed by were my sisters carrying my nephew. My uncle looked at me, ready to go to work. What a hardworking uncle I have! The street vendor turned into my brother. He had some unfortunate circumstances, but Im glad to see him working every day on this bus. To concretize this practice, I gave everyone a name. Everyone has a name, and we easily forget this simple truth! It sounds crazy, but that busride was transformative. I felt connected- more so than I ever have been to a group of stangers. With my new insight, I saw the best of everyone- I recieved Grace, to view stangers as brethren, and to see that we are in the same human family.