Monday, January 19, 2009

The Inevitability of Leaving

As I sit here, in the presence of only myself, my thoughts, and my memories, my mind drifts back. Back to only a month ago, when I was in a foreign country and unsure of myself. A month ago, I was preparing for the inevitable- our leaving El Salvador. We made Villa Serena our home, our jumping off point. Villa Serena’s fa├žade both welcomed us in to the country and ushered us out. I was unsure because I did not know what to expect. Just as when I entered the country, I was trying to imagine what was next. And I was prepared neither for entering nor for leaving. Our first days in El Salvador were filled with novelty and hope, and no expectations. We did not know what Altos would be like, or how the youth would receive us. And what we found, was that they had open minds, and open hearts. But upon our return to the United States, I found the opposite. My friends and my family did not receive me with open minds or open hearts.

People asked me what it was like, in El Salvador. But how does one explain something so unique, something so intense and can you quantify that? How can you explain to people who will never understand? I have found that people latch onto one thing when you tell them what you have lived. My father asked about the weather and the food. My mother complimented my photos, but she barely glanced over them. And yet a complete stranger cried when I told her stories of the beautiful, hopeful youth that we met…but we did not just meet them, we embraced and came to know the youth. Our lives were intertwined, if only for a month. And while our lives only briefly overlapped, the crossing of our paths will change us both forever, both the youth and our humble nine.

I think the moment where it set in that we were leaving was when I exchanged friendship bracelets with two of the youth, Eduar and Johanna. It was a sort of capstone to the month. We had spent four weeks forging relationships that will last a lifetime- perhaps not concretely in letters or emails but through memories, feelings, and the changed perspective I have gained. And what? We were expected to just go, and then leave? We all left a part of us behind, both tangibly and intangibly. And it is in the intangible that it truly matters. The things we left behind- pictures, food, small gifts- they will all degrade and pass out of existence. But the emotions that we shared, and the memories that we will always be a part of…those are what we have left behind. It is in the intangible that we have left our legacy.

I think the moment where it set in that it was over was when I walked into work for the first time since landing on U.S. soil. And I was immediately bombarded by the world of retail, just in time for Christmas. The things people care about seem so trivial, so mundane…so worthless. Why does it matter how many gifts are under the tree? Isn’t the spirit of the holiday season to celebrate with those you love? How can an occasion for celebration cause so much stress that people almost find it pointless? Spending a month of your life dedicated to service and learning in another country, it opens your eyes, in a harsh and unforgiving way. You learn what is important and what is not. It devalues the things that you had previously, and falsely, valued. I think that is where the disconnect occurs. My thoughts over the holiday were on family and friends, and not on the routine of trying to find the “perfect gift.”

After the disconnect comes the disillusionment. We realize that our previous construction of the world around us was false. We have now seen the reality. Pictures do not do it justice. Pictures do not show you the little girl who must wear the same dress every day for a week because she has only the one. Pictures do not show you the struggle to access electricity or clean water. Pictures do not convey the happiness in the face of adversity. We saw it firsthand- the smiles and laughter among the youth who were struggling to both support their family and pursue an education. We saw the thankfulness for even the smallest gift. These things that we saw cannot and will not be quantified. They remain in the intangible, in the changed perspective we all have. They remain and are expressed in the impact they have on our lives- possibly shaping our career paths and at the very least, the way we view the world.

Leaving was inevitable. We always knew we would have to leave. The first day we were there was one day less that we had left. And so it was confusing to leave, knowing both what we were leaving behind, but also what we were going home to. It should have been a relief to return to normalcy, but how can one return to things that have remained the same when the person has been so deeply changed? We arrived in El Salvador as our past selves, and we left entirely new and dynamic. But the world around us remained static and unchanged.

When we left El Salvador, our journey did not end. It had barely begun. Where do we go from here? Our journey continues in our struggle to define what we saw and experienced, not for others but ourselves. How will we allow our experience to shape our choices and our actions? How will we integrate our memories into our daily lives? In my classes, in my daily life, I am reminded of El Salvador. Of the youth. Of their smiles and their laughter. I cannot help but to make comparisons between examples in class and what I have physically seen and touched. It will take time to sift through our memories, our photos, our journal entries. I hope my journey never ends.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Photos..... Finally!

After repeated attempts to post my photos on Picasa, many of my photos are up!  Nearly 3000 photos are taking quite some time, and won't fit on the "Project El Salvador 2008" Picasa, so they can be found on my own "BeckieTachick".  Enjoy! (And remember, if we're using each other's photos for anything more than FaceBook, we should be giving our fellow photographers credit whenever possible)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's crazy to think that we've been back in the States for over a week!

As I sift through pictures and have conversations with people who hadn't thought much about El Salvador until I went there, I can't help but drift into memories of the last month. Doesn't it all feel like a dream, now?

My parting lesson from El Salvador is a reaffirmation that the world, simply put, is so cool.

Traveling, always, is such an eye opening experience for me, and Project El Salvador was no different. Just one year ago, I returned from my first experience abroad -- studying in Cork, Ireland. Since that time, I have had such a thirst for worldly adventures, and El Salvador did well to quench that thirst. For both experiences, I have strong attachments, affections, and perspectives; but, the depth of those attachments and my feelings in leaving.

When I left Cork, I was ready; I was the last of my friends still in the city when I left, and the feeling of being alone really made me want to come home. Leaving San Salvador was a completely different experience -- mainly because I was not alone, and I wasn't leaving a place that felt empty. As a group, we were leaving a lot behind. Stepping on that plane was physically easy, but how easy was it in other ways?

Between my time in Ireland and El Salvador, and all of the places I've been inbetween, I have met some remarkable people. Still, the people of ES and the Project have my heart. I can't think of a singular telling experience or momentous anecdote, but I now that the intensity of everything in Central American in just four short weeks has a stronger hold on me in this moment than most anything else. The experience has made such an indelible impression on my heart that I cannot leave it behind as easily as stepping on that plane made it seem.

Alyssa and I met for coffee on Christmas Eve to share in our re-entry experiences, a process which has caught us somewhat off-guard. I think I'm finally on track again, but there were a few days of struggle to reconcile my experience abroad and my life at home. Sitting down in a safe setting with a fellow traveler was refreshing and supportive; and the conversations I have had with others since returning have also been of great help.

I'm very eager to welcome the new year -- to reunite with the entire group and look forward to new adventures. Leaving ES was certainly not my last trip to Central America, and will not be the end of my travels abroad.

The world is so cool because of the possibility for more adventures and the way it can bring together so many people. ES reaffirmed one other thing for me, in that regard: I love seeing the world because the travel forces me into profound corners, where my identities are questioned, my privileges challenged, my emotions are made vulnerable and my friendships put to greater tests. What's more is that all of this combines to increase my knowlegde and remind me that there is so much more to learn.

Thanks for reading yet another of my long blog posts. I hope it was worth it. If not -- I do hope you enjoy two videos of our fantastic dance performances to Douglas' favorite song.

The complete collection of my photos, too, are posted here (and you will get CDs in January!)...

~eMe Jota

PS The videos are on a group YouTube account. Our username is: projectelsalvador08 with the same password as our group Picasa account;-)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


The Bloggers:










Tess (Picture by Johanna)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Life Goes On...

What goes up and down, can be fast and slow, turns unexpectedly and brakes suddenly? No one knows what’s after the next curve. No one knows what to expect before entering the wagon. It is a rollercoaster, or the emotions I have felt during Project El Salvador 2008.

My emotions changed from happy to sad, tired to energized, and feelings of being overwhelmed with the group to enjoying their company. Every one of these emotions played a role in my experience during this trip. Despite these emotions, I viewed every challenge optimistically. In the end, I believe that everything worked out perfectly. Everything that has happened on this trip, good or bad, has happened for a reason.

This winter break has been an incredible experience, from when we first arrived at the airport in San Salvador to the goodbyes in Altos De Jardines. Our activities varied from traveling across the country and seeing beautiful landscape, seeing different people in towns in El Salvador, working with the community, understanding new ideas and feeling the energy from the youth, acting as if I could understand Spanish while Salvadorans were pretending to understand my Spanish, tasting and smelling the delicious cuisine, breathing the unhealthy smog, listening to hours of “girl talk” in a van and trying to add my unheard masculine insight, going to the U.S. Embassy and trying to obtain a new passport, and spending hours at El Salvador’s Immigration Office while others were taking a nap or having a cup of coffee (I love naps, and love coffee). Words and pictures aren’t powerful enough to communicate what we have all been through in the past month. I don’t have my journal, camera, IPod, and other material items anymore because they were stolen during last Wednesday’s incident. But, in the end, do these things really matter? No one can steal my memories and feelings; no one will take away what I have learned during this experience.

The rollercoaster hits the brakes suddenly. Everyone is startled and shaken. As everyone on the roller coaster fills with adrenaline and the ride ends, each and every person wants to hop back on and start all over again. That was Project El Salvador 2008.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

-A women marching for Women's rights

-A mom and her daughter enjoying a beautiful day in El Salvador!

- Friendship...

-"Boca Junior' a girls football (okay, soccer...) team from Altos De Jardines (Including MiTchelle!)

One of our favorite topics...COFFEE

Unfortunately, we were not able to pick coffee with the community this week, but I will still discuss with you the coffee industry in El Salvador. El Salvador has had a long history with cash crops, like indigo and cotton. Now, coffee is the most important cash crop here in El Salvador.

A little about the process: first the coffee 'cherries' are picked from coffee bushes (not trees). They are red and round. Then, they are either dried in the sun or smashed through a water press. The latter is more efficient if the equipment is available. This removes the fruit from the outside of the cherry, exposing the coffee beans (which are actually seeds). They are greenish-tan at this point. They will then travel to a roaster. Taste and darkness are dependent on the roasting process, although coffee beans from different regions have different flavor profiles.

This work is labor intensive, and the reward is unpredictable since the price of coffee is at the mercy of the global coffee commodities trade. Even though this area is fertile because of volcanic soil, coffee farmers in El Salvador are now struggling with the threat of desertification of the soil. Organic farm certification does a great deal to preserve the health of the environment in which coffee is grown; this also makes the work of the coffee farmers and coffee pickers more healthy because they are exposed to less dangerous chemicals. Seeing this has made me realize it is important to know where your coffee products are coming from. Truly, we vote with our dollar as well as our voice. Su vota es su voz. Su dolar es su vota.