Thursday, December 07, 2006

On my mind:

It is no secret that I would love someone I care about to be able to come see my life here in Honduras—someone who knows me well to see me in this context. I have often thought that it would blow the mind of some people I know because it is seemingly a different world. I remember this so clearly my very first day in Cofradía. We walked to the pulpería around the corner—down the rocky, dirt road, dodging chickens and loose stones, the stunning view of the mountains in the distance. I could not believe how different my life could look after just a few hours. I have also told you (I think J) that as this year goes on and I’m once again faced with thoughts, ideas, and decisions for the future, it all comes back to the same thing. I don’t want this year to be a little blurp on the timeline of my life, but a paragraph in the narrative defending the thesis (eh, maybe narratives don't have thesis, but you know what I mean). Not just something cool you tell the grandkids.

I am currently engrossed in Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Paul Farmer—you may have heard of him, a doctor working with international health issues (namely TB, but I’m not done with the book yet J)—he is both inspiring and how do I put it—confronts you in love. This is an excerpt that made me think. To set it up for you, Paul Farmer and the author of the book are in the airport café in Paris.

He went right on writing his letter. I looked around. The airport, Charles de Gaulle, has an angular, steel-and-glass simplicity, which struck me just then as frighteningly complex, which made me feel projected into a future I didn’t understand. I thought of its duty-free shop, where one could buy first-class pâté, cofit d’oie, grand cru wines. “You started that letter on a hike in rural
Haiti,” I mused aloud, thinking now of those arid highlands, of medieval peasant huts, donkey ambulances. “It seems like another world.”
Farmer looked up, smiling, and in a chirpy-sounding voice he said, “But that feeling has the disadvantage of being…” He paused a beat. “Wrong.”

“Well,” I retorted, “it depends on how you look at it.”

“No it doesn’t,” he replied in a pleasant voice. “The polite thing to say would be, ‘You’re right. It’s a parallel universe. There really is no relation between the massive accumulation of wealth in one part of the world and abject misery in another.’” He looked at me.”

“…At that point I thought that what he wanted was to erase both time and geography, connecting all parts of his life and tying them instrumentally to a world in which he saw intimate, inescapable connections between the gleaming corporate offices of Paris and New York and a legless man lying on the mud floor of a hut in the remotest parts of Haiti. Of all the world’s errors, he seemed to feel, that the most fundamental was the “erasing” of people, the “hiding away” of suffering. “My big struggle is how people can not care, erase, not remember.”

Just this week I was having a conversation with one of my housemates about life. I was laying down, staring up at the ceiling, voicing my thoughts on how comfortable, routine, “normal” life seems these days. The little things that seemed so out of the ordinary in the beginning have integrated themselves into my daily activities. Filling the big green bucket in order to do my dishes. Flushing the toilet with a bucket of water. Warning the roommates of a no flush situation while jogging out of the house with a bucket to replenish the flushing power. Eyeing the cockroach or large spider in the shower while soaping up (I actually recently killed the shower cockroach. Caught him in a compromising position. Don’t tell Emily!) The person I was talking to said to me that there was no way she could ever get used to such changes in her life. What would the point be anyway? Life wasn’t like this before coming and won’t be once leaving. It is both amazing and shocking that an experience can be so different for people living and working so closely together.

My friend recently said to me, “Sarah, I talk about serving the poor. You are doing it.” I was immediately horrified and defensive all at once thinking that I somehow mistakenly portrayed myself as some kind of saint that I definitely am not. Yes, I work in an environment where poverty is prevalent. Some of my students, out of uniform and without their wet hair slicked into a perfect part, can be found playing outside barefoot and in their underwear. Or perhaps in clothes not their size, with broken zippers. Some of them play in the river, a.k.a. sewage. Their mosquito bites and cuts don’t always heal like those of the kids I know in the States. They often get infected and, because of missing nutrients, stay for the long-haul. Yes, I have been blessed to find a kindred spirit in Juan Carlos—my wonderful waist-high companion. To be continually humbled by the children that take a cookie or piece of cake, that they have received because of good behavior points (believe me, it takes a stinkin’ lot of good behavior points to warrant a cake!) home to their mom or little brother…without even taking a bite!

But it must be said that there is still a way to be here without really being here--for all of us. There is still a way to let even visible misery become part of the ordinary. To walk past naked children squatting to relieve themselves in front of their houses without blinking an eye. There is a way to lead a simple life without feeling convicted to be committed to simplicity. When it just becomes routine and is no longer intentional. It is far too easy to just live life inside the “gringa compound,” to speak the English, put granola bars on the Christmas list, and crowd around the computer to watch Desperate Housewives, totally blocking from our minds the desperation of cyclical poverty not even blocks from our house.

My colleague ended our conversation by saying, “It’s just a different world here.” But it isn’t, is it? This is the world we all share. This is a world where the gap between the rich and the poor is only growing. In fact, there are more billionaires in the world today than ever before. Paul Farmer says, “We are talking about wealth we’ve never seen before. And the only time I hear talk of shrinking resources among people like us, among academics, is when we talk about things that have to do with poor people.” Farmer commented, entering into Paris, about how much could be done for Haiti if only he could get his hands on the money that the first world spends on pet grooming. Hmm.

This is the same world. And sometimes it seems terribly disturbing. May it always.
And may action follow.


Blogger hooshotjr said...

Deep thoughts from down south. I tell you all the time, but I really love hearing your updates and about all the things that you're learning. Love from Michigan!

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your insights continue to inspire me! Thank you.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous dave said...

Wow. I read that book in 2 days straight in the hammock out back. Incredible.

Farmer has a good idea (not a new one): preferential option for the poor. Nowadays since returning to the states I'm realizing more that it's just not that "cool". It's not a very "hip" idea, and one that is often being shunned.

I'm glad you're there, reading these types of things, and you're not just reading and thinking about it, you're doing it. And that internalization makes a world of difference.

10:53 PM  

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