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Central America Internship, Spring 2012


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I wrote this yak in the airport when I flew out of Guatemala...I think its about time I post it.

Last night I found myself huddled bunch with five amazing women (and Guicho the puppy) in a small hotel room in Guatemala. The sadness began to set in as the students started to lead the final ceremony I will ever have with them. Each person received a heart shaped pendent, picked out especially for that individual. The purpose of the ceremony was to share how we have impacted one another, and (in my opinion anyway) the ways in which we have all been teachers and students throughout our time together. As the process got under way the sadness I felt faded away, and was replaced with gratitude and inspiration.

I came back into this group after my other course was unexpectedly and abruptly ended. I remember the different options the office gave me for further work; knowing deep in my heart that reuniting with this group was what I wanted, because knew it would be like going back to family. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to see each and every one of these special students again, not only because I missed them, but also because they ground me and help me be a better person.

Derek Jenson, a newfound hero of mine, writes in his book Walking on Water about education, and social change. Working as an educator for the past 6 years has made me question just about everything I thought I knew, and lead me to really think about what learning actually means. Jenson claims that traditional education is simply a system designed to uphold the status quo by moving students away from who they really are. He claims that students are pumped out of schools like an assembly line pumps products out of a factory with very little regard for anything besides their destiny as a productive member of the capitalist society. What is missing, says Jenson, is the fostering of a student’s ability to know themselves and pursue their passions, which ultimately leads to engaged citizens who make decisions based on personal integrity rather than following what they are supposed to do (even if it doesn’t align with what they believe at their core).

The truth is-as I have shown elsewhere, exhaustively and exhaustingly- that it is only through the most outrageous violations of our hearts and minds and bodies that we are inculcated in a system where it can be made to make sense to some part of our twisted and torn psyches to perpetuate a way of being based on exploitation, immiseration, and elimination of everyone and everything we can get our hands on.

Within this context, the question the whole world asks at every moment cannot help but be the most dangerous: Who are you? Who are you really? Beneath the trappings and traumas that clutter and characterize our lives, who are you and what do you want to do with the so-short life you’ve been given? We could not live the way we do unless we avoided that question, forced others to avoid placing that question in front of us, and in fact attempted to destroy those who do.

-Derek Jenson

This may sound a bit extreme to some, but I do believe the essence of what Jenson says carries a lot of weight. I have worked in both contexts; both normal classrooms and experiential education in the field. In the traditional classroom students are expected to memorize vocabulary words, asked to regurgitate them on the weekly test, and not expected to put much thought into them, much less the culture, power structure or reality behind the language they are learning every again. Oftentimes they view their teachers as just that, teachers who are grading them. I have also sat in a room with 4 students and talked about the intricacies of life, and how our experiences in Central America and relationships with one another have brought us closer to who we really are, and how we want to proceed. Learning based on real human interactions, based on asking students to put themselves in vulnerable or challenging places to gain a better understanding of themselves, is in my mind much more valuable than memorizing information.

I think one of the biggest lessons that I have taken away from my last few years with Dragons is that I don’t really have that much to teach (in the traditional sense of the word) the students. In reality I have just as much to learn from them as they do from me, and the only way we can do that is by coming together as real people, and pushing one another to delve deeper into the realities of life, the world around us, and how we as individuals choose to react to those realities. I may be older, have more experiences and been exposed to more diverse perspectives, but that doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. That is the coolest thing about life, there is never a shortage of new things to take in, reflect upon, and help you relate better to the world around you. Students inspire this in me; they give me insight into things I may have missed, and they hold me accountable to keep growing as a person. It takes a very special kind of educator/student relationship for this dynamic to fall into place, but I felt it with each and every girl this past month.

I was talking with my mom recently and told her that sometimes I feel as though my students understand and know me better than many of my friends back home do these days. I am starting to understand that to an extent this is true, the reason being that my students see, and are a part of me living my life passionately and doing what I truly believe in, just like Jenson talks about. My students and co-instructors witness and bring out the best in me. Together we experience life in its raw form, outside of our bubbles of “normalness”, and together we support each other through the process of growing into ourselves.

My sadness was whisked away by gratitude and inspiration because I realized that we learn from people we love and respect, not necessarily from those who “teach” us. I am so grateful to have these relationships with my students, because stemming from such experiences and connections, I believe, comes real learning.

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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Gratitude

Ariel Storch,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

I wrote this yak in the airport when I flew out of Guatemala…I think its about time I post it. Last night I found myself huddled bunch with five amazing women (and Guicho the puppy) in a small hotel room in Guatemala. The sadness began to set in as the students started to lead the […]

Posted On

05/15/12

Author

Ariel Storch

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After a three month long writer's block, I have finally found myself able to
put pen to paper and describe my time here on the Central America Spring
Extension program. It wasn't that I couldn't think of a topic to write on -- it was
that I couldn't choose one. My trip has been so full of adventures, experiences,
and emotions, I hardly know where to begin. Now that my time here is drawing to
a close, I have been able to look back upon it with a little more clarity. How ironic
it is that only at the very end do I realize that the best place to start is, of course,
at the beginning.
After a season of college applications that will probably cause me
premature greying, I was done. Done with doing my homework. Done with going
to my classes. Done with having fun with my friends. Done with everything. The
years of SAT and ACT tutoring, constant hounding from my parents to become
an elite wiffleball playing xylophonist who spends her weekends campaigning to
cure all forms of the deadly hangnail, and my own personal anxiety about getting
at least a 98.2% in every class, I was done. Getting out of bed was a struggle,
paying attention in class was a battle, and doing my homework was a lost cause.
I was dismayed, not by my dropping grades, but by my own apathy. I used to like
school -- I used to like learning things. I used to be interested in how glucose is
metabolized into ATP, I used to be curious about World War II propaganda. I used
to care. Even Spanish, my favorite subject, became just another part of the
unbearable monotony that was my daily life.
In short, the college application process had all but sucked the life out of
me. All the packaging, boxing, trimming, and tying myself up with a neat little bow
left me dry and hollow. I got the desired result when I was accepted by Duke, but
by then the thought of four more years of adding impressive activities to an all powerfulrésumé sickened me. People offered me their congratulations and I
couldn't even bring myself to smile in response. "Yeah well," I would mumble
feebly, "I got in off the waiting list and my mom is an alumna." Instead of pride I
felt disgust, instead of relief I felt dread.
As the summer heat intensified and August drew nearer, my apprehension
and dread threatened to consume me. All I could do was expel thoughts of
college from my mind. I went through all the motions -- messaging with my future
roommate, signing up for a meal plan, choosing classes, but each step I took,
each decision I made was a little less exciting than choosing a good laundry
detergent.
Finally I got up the courage to change my path. I did the research,
contacted the references, and after more than a few PowerPoint presentations
meant to convince my parents, I deferred my enrollment to Duke and signed up
for Where There Be Dragons's Central America: Roots of Rebellion fall semester
program. My parents were less than pleased -- after all, who would be pleased
with a daughter who "just wasn't ready for college" as they put it. And it wasn't
easy listening to my friends as they buzzed with excitement about their new
schools. In the face of my parents' disappointment and my friends' eager
anticipation of the year ahead of them, I knew that in a lot of ways, I was going to
have a very lonely year.
But that soon faded to the back of my mind as me and the other students
started to bond in Guatemala (admittedly, it was after a lengthy awkward phase).
As we planted trees in Pachaj and learned about sustainable farming in San
Lucas Tolimán, I began to feel curious again. And by the time we got to Cotzal, I
was downright passionate. In one of the most war-ravaged regions of
Guatemala, we heard atrocious tales of infants being used for target practice,
family members disappearing never to be seen again, and widespread torture,
violence, and terror. My passion turned to outrage when I learned that the current
president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, ordered many massacres of the
indigenous people. My outrage turned to shame when I realized who funded the
Guatemalan civil war, who had armed the military that raped, tortured, and killed
tens of thousands: my own country, the United States of America.
We heard much the same story in El Salvador and Nicaragua: poor,
exploited land workers fighting for their rights against massive US financed
armies. Of course there were variations on the story; in Nicaragua upper class
business owners joined in the fight because they had been estranged by the
dictator of the time, Anastasio Somoza, who owned almost all the property and
businesses in the country. We learned of liberation theology and literacy
crusades, young priests and regular teenagers marching out into the countryside
to teach poor farmers, adults and children alike, how to read and write. With the
death of ignorance comes the birth of pride, and people demanded and fought for
their freedom against oppressive, exploitative governments.
As hard as I tried, I could not dispel the shame I felt due to my nationality.
No, I had not yet been born when those atrocities took place. But my parents
had. My neighbors had. It's even probable that you had, anonymous reader of my
Yak. I thought of every adult that I know and raged at them in my head. How
could you let this happen? How could you let your government pay millions of
dollars each day so that a sixteen-year-old Salvadoran girl would be raped and
left to die after having had her nose, ears, and breasts cut off, her eyes gouged
out, and acid poured on what was left of her body? How can you still glorify
Reagan when he financed a myriad of genocides and massacres?
The answer dawned upon me and filled me with a cold understanding. You
didn't know. Or if you did, you thought it was justified in the glorious battle against
communism. Is it really any different from what's going on in the Middle East right
now? We glorify those brave rebels, finance them and provide them with
weapons, all the while applauding ourselves for spreading democracy and
freedom. Thirty years ago we were supporting the regimes and demonizing the
rebels, but what's the difference?
Whether we're fighting communists or terrorists, financing regimes or
rebellions, we only care about ourselves. And why wouldn't we? Superpowers
are superpowers for a reason; they seek to achieve their own ends, especially
when dealing with foreign countries. The US finances whatever side will be
friendly to their interests later down the road and the media depicts a splendid
image of justice and righteousness so we can all go to bed and dream of a
beautiful future made possible by the United States. America probably has better
access to oil now, a secure monopoly over foreign agriculture then, and we all
get to buy cheap bananas and drive our enormous SUV's.
Meanwhile, Nicaragua drowned in its own poverty as forty-thousand
orphans roamed the streets sniffing glue to calm the hunger that gnawed at their
stomachs every waking moment. The glue allowed them to not have as many
waking moments; it renders the user unconscious for up to twenty-four hours,
passed out in the street and completely vulnerable. Guatemala drowns in its
drink and El Salvador is ripped to shreds by drug violence.
Oops, we spent billions of dollars planting terror and spreading
destruction. Oh well, these tiny agricultural countries haven't been able to
recover. At least we thwarted communism.
I came home from my fall semester incensed and impatient. No, I did not
want to hear about my friends' experiences rushing sororities and their anxiety
about having to recite all of their sorority sisters' names. No, I didn't want to hear
about how Mandy could take fifteen shots and still not black out, how Katy felt
trapped by her relationship and just wanted to have fun. Everything seemed
terribly mundane and insignificant. I just wanted to scream at everyone to wake
up! To look at the world! But every time I opened my mouth, I had no idea what to
say. The anger would ebb from my body and I would think of the eight students
and three instructors whom I had come to love so much. I would think of the
natural beauty of Guatemala and how its rivers are slowly being poisoned, as
people continue to use it as a dumping ground for toxic waste and human waste
alike. I would think of the widows of Cotzal and how hard they worked to feed
their children and send them to school. And words would fail me.
How could I expect my friends to understand the beauty of the people I
had met and the places I had seen? How could I explain to them the harsh
realities of US foreign policy? Even my parents dismissed my ideas as those of a
misguided leftist lunatic. As I had predicted in the summer, I felt alone and
estranged. I pretended to laugh when Vivian told me about her escapades after
having smoked two blunts all by herself. Everything felt wrong, irresponsible
even. I felt the urge to scold my friends and I hated myself for it. Just three
months before, I had been equally ignorant of the political situations in Central
America. How could I fault anyone else when I myself had been the same way?
I wrestled with these questions as I set out for the Spring Extension
program, also in Central America with three of my fellow students and one of my
former instructors. We started out in a small town close to Managua, the capital
of Nicaragua. In San Marcos, we worked with an NGO we had visited in
November, called Los Quinchos. There we spent time with children who had lived
on the streets, children who had been abandoned, abused, or otherwise
mistreated. Some of them came from La Chureca, the largest garbage dump in
Central America, where hundreds of people make their living rooting through the
trash in search of sellable objects. The living conditions are unfit for anything
other than rats, yet there are people who are so poor that they have no choice
but to live and work in the trash.
In San Marcos we worked with these kids and absolutely fell in love. Every
afternoon we played with them, helped them with their homework, and generally
had fun. Two days each week we traveled to Managua to work in the Filter
House, a home for kids who have just been taken off the streets or removed from
families who were unable to care for them. The children literally welcomed us
with open arms; they were so affectionate and loving. We learned more from
those kids than we ever could have possibly hoped to teach them. But we were
also forced to see what they had been through and what they could become.
Sometimes we walked through Mercado Oriental, the largest outdoor market in
Central America, scouting for homeless children with some of the Los Quinchos
workers who had grown up in the program.
We ran into several teenagers and adults who had been in the program as
children but for some reason or another had run away, returned to their families,
or dropped out. These "Vidas Quemadas" were filthy, barefoot, missing teeth,
and covered head to toe with bruises and cuts. In the sleeves of their jackets
they had tucked away plastic bottles that contained "Pega," a form of shoe paste
that produces toxic fumes. These kids had clearly been sniffing pega for years; it
was obvious from the way they stumbled around and slurred their speech. But at
one point they had been taught to accept and expect love, so like the current
Quinchos of ten years old, they moved to hug us. I knew, that someway or
another, the world had failed these kids. Maybe their fathers drank to banish
memories from the war. Maybe they had been repeatedly raped by their uncles.
Or maybe it was that no one cared, no one at all, so all they could do was eat
garbage, sniff pega, and struggle to survive. So when they leaned in to hug me, I
leaned in too and squeezed as hard as I could.
Gone was the bitterness towards my country, my disgust at my friends. All
that remained were those kids, some of whom could no longer be helped by Los
Quinchos, some who were receiving psychological and medical care every day.
These kids played and danced better than I could ever hope to. They read to us
and we read to them, helping the younger kids sound out each letter. We gave
them piggy-back rides, cuddled with them, and sometimes broke up the
squabbles they had between themselves. All in all, we opened our hearts wide
and held nothing back.
Now, we had been informed that there was a definite possibility of
catching lice from the kids. Not necessarily because they were dirty -- they
weren't. But whenever there are a lot of kids sharing a space, it's easy to catch
and spread lice. So by the end of our time in San Marcos, nobody was surprised
in the least when our scalps began to itch. We had known all along that there
was a risk, still we were intimate and affectionate with them, so at the end there
were consequences. Not one of us would have taken back our time with Los
Quinchos, nor would we have changed the way in which we interacted with them,
even if it meant that we would have lice for the rest of the trip.
As it turned out, we did. We poured some lice-killing goo on our heads and
combed out all the eggs before moving to El Lagartillo. We were so embarrassed
to be moving into people's homes with a very possible lice infestation, but the
itching soon subsided and we continued to comb, never finding any new eggs.
We soon forgot all about it as we became closer with the community of only
thirty-four families. We started to learn people's names and to greet them in the
street. We spent more time with our host families than we did with each other,
preferring to watch the newborn calf drink it's mother's milk for the first time with
our host mothers or chop firewood with our host brothers.
El Lagartillo had been attacked in the 80's, simply for being part of a
farming cooperative. Cooperatives were often targeted because of the possibility
that they were connected to the Sandinista rebellion. Six members of the
community died defending their land and their families. El Lagartillo is a proud
revolutionary community where any visitor can easily sense the love and trust
that permeates everyone and everything. I feel so fortunate that the people who
live there were willing to host us and, even though our government financed the
violence that almost destroyed their country, to love us. In the company of the
strongest human beings I know, I vowed to myself to always take responsibility
for the actions of my government and to seek to change those that I do not like. I
left El Lagartillo with tears streaming down my face and a sense of foreboding
regarding my impending entry into Guatemala.
Now Nicaragua has suffered and is still suffering. But there is an
unmistakeable sense of pride emanating from the Nicaraguan people, for they
are currently in a period of great social change. In Guatemala, however, you can
feel the desperation. The misery there is palpable as many drown themselves in
liquor to drown out memories of the war. In Guatemala the illiteracy rate is
astronomical. The infant mortality rate is appalling. And the amount of people that
lives on less than a dollar a day is downright disgusting. Faced with that kind of
pain, I found it difficult to keep the desolation from infecting me and even more
difficult not to be overwhelmed by a wave of hopelessness. What could we
possibly hope to do to change the fates of the impoverished, who are tossed
around, displaced, and dehumanized in the US's never ending quest for power
and wealth? If my own family won't even listen to me, how can I hope to convince
other people to care? How can I tear my friends away from their beers and their
bongs long enough to feel something for the Guatemalans who traverse miles
with a huge load of firewood on their backs for less than a few dollars a day?
I didn't have any of the answers when I moved back into the house I had
lived in in October. Things had changed, the sixteen-year-old host brother
Eleazar had moved to the city of Xela to study in a better school. The father was
much the same, as was the host sister, but my host mother Margarita was beside
herself with grief almost, she missed Eleazar that much. They simply didn't have
the resources to travel the four hours it takes to get from San Lucas Tolimán to
Xela. So Margarita cried a little each day and I did my best to comfort her. At first
I didn't understand her sadness. I've been away for three months and I doubt that
my mother has shed a single tear for me. Nor do I expect her to -- and I do know
that she loves me. Then I thought about families here in Guatemala. People don't
move away from their parents here. It's not like my family, where my grandmother
lives in Virginia, me in Philadelphia, and my aunt's family in Los Angeles, so on
and so forth. Here families stick together, eat together, and love each other so
fiercely that it makes them physically ill to be apart.
No longer was I saddened by the people of Guatemala; I was jealous of
them. Even in the midst of so much hardship, I have a growing suspicion that
Margarita is a much happier person than I am. Me, the privileged American white
girl who wasn't ready for college. Me, who broke under my parents' heavy
expectations and my own sense of inadequacy. Me, the weakling. But as I sit
here petting the sleeping puppy I found in San Lucas Tolimán, I no longer
recognize those thoughts as logical.
A few days ago we discovered that one of us had a raging lice infestation;
somehow or another, the treatment didn't work. It was only a matter of time
before the rest of us caught it. So now I'm writing with my right hand and
scratching my head with my left hand. I am waiting the two days until I get home
to do another treatment because the ones here damage my scalp and sure as
hell don't kill the lice.
So I'm going home with lice on my head and a badly behaved puppy that
my parents will surely hate under my arm. In August I'll go to Duke and do my
homework and get good grades. I'll take classes like political science and
economics. I'll take them not so I can be a lawyer like my dad or a Wells Fargo
executive like my mom. I'll take them to understand what's going on in my own
country and abroad. I'll pull those all-nighters, but not because I want to be a
ruthless businesswoman. I will not run for class president because it looks good
on my transcript. I will not join a sorority so that my parents think I'm one of the
cool kids. I will not be getting belligerently drunk or belligerently high so that the
other kids like me.
I am not going to do things because they are a means to an end. I'm not
going to do things so that my parents can be proud of how popular, successful,
and rich I am. I may not be popular, successful, and rich. No, I am not weak. Far
from it. I'm going to show you what I have seen. And I'm going to see more. I'm
going to make sure you know the faces of the people I know. You could care
about them too, I know it. We can all care about other people and each other. We
can raise our awareness and find out what's going on. We can change things.
We have to change things. I'm going home in two days with lice on my head and
love in my heart. And I'll be back.
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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Of Love and Lice

Maggie Marks,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

After a three month long writer’s block, I have finally found myself able to put pen to paper and describe my time here on the Central America Spring Extension program. It wasn’t that I couldn’t think of a topic to write on — it was that I couldn’t choose one. My trip has been so […]

Posted On

05/7/12

Author

Maggie Marks

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Dear Parents,

First and foremost, and above all else…your daughters are on their way home. Come tomorrow, I will be too. But before I even think about that, there’s much I’ve left unfinished, beginning with my written response to our last Transference activity. During last September’s orientation, back when this same group of students had only just arrived to Central America, we instructors asked them to write a letter to their ‘future self’. Nine months later, what students requested from me and from one another was that our last activity together be a letter written to our past selves.

We promised we’d share parts, if not the whole letter. But as always, there was so little time. The students already know this about me—that I am not short-winded—so now that I’ve assured you they’ll soon be home safely, the rest of this is for them. And if you can believe it, this is me being brief.

Growing up the way I did, I've often wondered why I’m not more aggressive than I am. Maybe I was afraid of the reciprocal harm that could be done, or that the damage I caused would keep me trapped forever, concentrating on defending myself and not at my computer writing, play­ing street games with kids, or arriving to new lands and knowing myself for the first time. I never con­sciously chose not to be loud and outgoing. Rather I developed a strategy of resistance only when necessary and in my own way, and with appropriate force, and being willing to accept the consequences of my actions if this strategy failed. Who knows? One more person answering fear with fight, and I might’ve stayed stuck for good.

In any case, I do remember that girl in the making. She’s the past me to whom I wrote my letter, “the girl child without dreams; the girl child who ate rock to fill the emptiness inside her, and now cannot speak for fear that the stone will rise in her throat, weigh down, into speechlessness, her tongue”. Back then, she didn’t even know if anyone would ever deem it important enough to put words to “the traits that matter most—having a sense of the contours of reality, being aware of how things flow, having the ability to read situations the way a master seaman reads the rhythm of the ocean”. She remembers that words to talk about the few strange qualities she did have didn’t yet exist for her. And she remembers the person who first recognized them.

Here’s the excerpts from my Letter To My Past Self which you requested (sorry, I just can’t do the whole thing):

“It was already behind me because I was already in motion. That single recognition caused a breaking inside me that set me free. I never even heard all of his words, but I grabbed on to them as if they were the truest to ever come my way, or else because of how much I needed them. Still very young, I was startled by the suddenness and the certainty of this leap. It was getting dark, the traffic was picking up. It was the end of summer again and there was an early Fall chill in the air. I was almost thirteen and cold with hot tears on my cheeks. I knew what this conversation meant; he would be gone soon. Shortly thereafter, I would leave too. There we were at this interlude, after taking a bullet to the head he had lived, had made it through infinite sets of curious circumstances to arrive at the life of a girl, to stand in front of her just when she needed him. Just then I understood life to be ultimately like that, faced by each of us alone with only the brief reprieve of our crossing paths.”

So there she is, the past self I’m writing to (my life’s been longer than yours so I’m going a little further back than you all did). Later in my letter, I tell her not to worry, that he wouldn’t be the last person to listen (even you would do that some day). But I chose that moment because it was the first that taught me that everything changes in a person both when we truly listen, and when we are truly listened to.

What I’m trying to say is, You’ve changed me.

Confession: I did not love you when you stepped off the plane in Guatemala to meet us for the first time. I’m too cautious for that (and I’ve probably told you this before, so no heartbreaks now). There were generational gaps, class differences, social circles, and personal histories to widen the chasm there already was between us. Here’s another secret you might not know: when I wrote that initial letter to my future self at orientation, I told myself to be wary of you.

But then you went and listened, and at some point I knew I’d met my match. Oh I was done for then. Month by month at first, and then week by week I was falling for you. One white flag went up and those taut ropes I had, holding fast that useless but coveted poise, they were cut. Gone was the sharp edge, the protective wall, my guarded hesitation. To my utter disbelief, I found the four of you to be a lot like me; you didn’t try to topple my resistance to you in one breath, you did it with care, you listened gently, like blowing dust from something familiar but only just discovered. You listened, to all those testimonials, including my own. There were all those you could relate yourselves to, and all those you almost couldn’t, but would anyway. I think because you already understood something of what this could mean.

As Nicaragua’s own Ruben Dario said about the America which you all didn’t know much of before, but now you do, “our America, that has had poets since the ancient times of Netzahualcoyotl, that has walked in the footprints of great Bacchus who learned Pan’s alphabet at once; that consulted the stars, that knew Atlantis whose resounding name comes to us from Plato, that since the remote times of its life has lived on light, on fire, on perfume, on love, America of the great Montezuma, of the Inca…the America in which noble Cuahtemoc said: ‘I’m not in a bed of roses’; that America that trembles in hurricanes and lives on love, it lives”.

Now you’ve left and from this day forward I won’t be the one to be talking now about just how it lives, about just how alive. That’ll be you.

Okay I’m done. You’ve heard me go on durante dos semesters seguidos, which is enough. That’s all I’ve got…no wait, one more thing—though this is not to you, it’s for parents again.

Parents: I’ve fallen for your children in spite of myself. They have been my truest teachers. Finding your daughters, to me, was like finding truths inside all the lies I’ve come to know already in my lifetime. Their magic exists whether or not we believe they can and will create change. So if they come home changed themselves, and you find it hard to listen to what that girl you dressed in diapers just-the-other-day is yelling for you to pay attention to, remember that we thank our mothers and fathers for all they were able to do for us; but maybe most of all for what they could not—leaving that space open for whatever might happen, and for whomever might happen into it.

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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On Their Way

Dhyana Kuhl,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

Dear Parents, First and foremost, and above all else…your daughters are on their way home. Come tomorrow, I will be too. But before I even think about that, there’s much I’ve left unfinished, beginning with my written response to our last Transference activity. During last September’s orientation, back when this same group of students had […]

Posted On

05/7/12

Author

Dhyana Kuhl

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    [post_content] => “Now I even forget whose sadness it was to begin with.”

A little over a week ago we moved into a house located on a permaculture farm in Guatemala. After a weekend, the instructors moved out so I was lucky enough to inherit the ‘princess bed’, a bed nuzzled into the wall and closed off by deep blue curtains. I quickly made it personalized, just like my room at home. I wrote down some of my favorite quotes from some of the poems I’ve read here and taped them to the ceiling of the alcove. Every night I read them and then fall asleep, worn out from our long days of farm work. The above line has stood out to me in the past couple of nights for a few reasons.

Last trip I remember being utterly appalled by the condition of the dogs here in Guatemala. The majority look like strays, whether or not they have an owner. In the United States, I’m used to pampered dogs, possibly more pampered than their owners. Of course that’s a little bit disgusting to me, to pour so much money into an animal when better uses could be found for it. Here, in a country with a very little amount of money to be tossed around, dogs are usually last priority even though many people love them as a part of the family. The other day, while shoveling dirt to make a grassy look out spot, a small puppy found his way into our dirt hole. Being a group of four dog lovers, we instantly had him in our arms. We found a colony of ticks in his ears and noticed that he had fleas. That along with the fact that he was wandering around a pretty secluded area forced us to believe that he had no owners and no careful mother. We took him home, gave him a bath, fed him, extracted an unbelievable amount of ticks from his tiny body, and fashioned a nice basket full of blankets for him to sleep. Guicho (full name Luis Jake Quincho Dragone), named after our third wonderful instructor who is currently in Peru, Molly’s golden retriever who recently passed away, the program we worked with in San Marcos, and our own beautiful program (in Spanish), is now a real member of this group. On Monday he’s going to the vet to have a shot to remove all parasites, internal and external and possibly a rabies vaccine. He gets excited to see us, bites our feet, knows how to ask for food and to go outside, can pee and poop on his own, basically he’s brilliant.

And now, after that long rant about my new baby, I’ll get to the point. Guicho allowed me to adopt and fix the pain of a puppy, thus allowing me to take in all of the pain of the dogs in Guatemala. I’m not saying I can understand and help all of them because I have one, but I do think that because I have felt one I have the ability to feel them all. His sadness is mine, too. When he falls down, so do I, and when I look back on the day we found him, wandering around in dirt alone, sometimes I forget that it wasn’t me wandering around there with him. Maybe I had been with him all along.

At times I also wonder if I’ve been here in Guatemala longer than I have been physically. The minute we drove into the country, I felt something really strong and familiar. Maybe it was because the weather was closer to Vermont and farther from hell. Maybe it was because I knew I was in the same country as one of my best friends, Claudia. Or maybe I was welcoming back in some part of myself that had always been here or had been left behind from the fall. When we first got here, Maggie talked a lot about how she could feel the weight of the oppression here. She said that the people here seem more depressed, that she can tell that they have been through many traumas. I can’t deny that; we commonly hear a local talking about the sufferings of his or her family and friends. And it’s true, at that time the war here ravaged people’s lives, took away everything they had and all of the safety and hope they could muster. The beauty in it lies in the strength and happiness of the people now. I remember my grandmother in Cotzal from last semester, while wearing her traditional clothing and giving us a talk in the local language Ixil, telling us that she is happy now, if not overjoyed, because she has a loving family. I adopted those words. I took them and pretended that they were mine for long enough that they became mine. I embraced her utter desperation when her husband and children were killed in the war. I broke myself down to look at my bareness in the face of such loss and then I pieced myself back together by looking at everything I do have. I will never fully understand anyone else’s experiences, and that is a really scary thought, but maybe it’s worth trying; listening helps, and so does thinking and imagining. Sometimes when I think back to Catarina, my grandmother from Cotzal, I can picture me holding her hand as her house burned down or as she learned that her husband never returned from the fields. I can feel pain, maybe it’s mine or maybe it’s hers, and I like that confusion. It’s dangerous when we stop feeling the confusion. If one can’t feel the weight of sadness surrounding news broadcasts or personal testimonies then we lose all hope and power to change anything. It’s dangerous to forget why we love others, and although it’s hard to be in a country that has a horrible background and a frighteningly dangerous present, Guatemala gives me more things to love. I have hope that we can all wake up one day loving a stray dog, a country far from our homes, foreigners who speak strange languages, even just our best friends who can sometimes feel even more foreign. Because in the end, one person’s sadness is all of ours, too.


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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Guicho Quincho

Donnasaur,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

“Now I even forget whose sadness it was to begin with.” A little over a week ago we moved into a house located on a permaculture farm in Guatemala. After a weekend, the instructors moved out so I was lucky enough to inherit the ‘princess bed’, a bed nuzzled into the wall and closed off […]

Posted On

04/21/12

Author

Donnasaur

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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more photos

groupsie,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

Posted On

04/3/12

Author

groupsie

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    [post_date] => 2012-03-31 00:00:00
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    [post_content] => 

After spending the past ten summers at a sleepaway camp in West Virgina, I know a lot of songs. And when I say songs let me be more specific. Some songs are purely for fun and could even be considered slightly ridiculous by outsiders. These songs are about crazy beavers, camels named Alice, and even bazooka bubble gum. But, the beauty of camp is that there are also sweet, meaningful songs that are sung during campfires and vespers. Right now, sitting in my rocking chair in El Largatillo, I am quietly humming, “ A Thank You Song.” One of my favorites.

Today is our last day in El Largatillo, after spending three weeks here, in this tiny, special community. And I think, “A thank you song,” reflects my mood. I’m feeling a little sad, but happy and thankful. Today, there is someone I need to thank. So, like the song says...“to my friends a thank you song for being kind to me..”

The past two weeks I have had Spanish class with a woman named, Ermelinda. Spanish class has been special for me. Different than other classes. Each day we had class isolated from town, near a small pond. Ermelinda set up two desks. We were surrounded by trees, roosters and baby chickens. A few times, we witnessed wandering cows play and bathe in the pond. I learned a lot from Ermelinda sitting in that desk in the midst of nature. It was calming. And over the two weeks, we became friends.

During our classes, we talked a lot about the Nicaraguan Revolution. One day last week, Ermelinda explained to me the importance of our outdoor class room. During the Revolution, her family did not have sufficient food or water. The small pond is where members of the community washed dishes and clothing. One morning, Ermelinda washed her family’s dishes from breakfast with her baby sister. As she was scrubbing, she heard her siblings yell for her to return home because the Contras were nearby. Ermelinda left the dishes, picked up her baby sister and ran to her house. This happened a few days before New Year's.

On New Year's Eve, the town came together to celebrate. The members of the community cooked a special dinner. The small library was filled with tables, chairs, food, and drinks. Before the celebration started, the Contras invaded the library. They ate their food, and destroyed everything that remained in the building. The next morning, Ermelinda went back to the small pond and found the dirty dishes, unharmed. Those plates and cups were some of the only belongings her family had left. And this is the same spot where I had class with Ermelinda.

I learned Spanish through conversing with Ermelinda. She shared personal stories with me about her childhood and about her country. There was honesty and sincerity when we talked. She is a strong woman.

Thank you, Ermelinda for sharing your stories and being honest with me. Thank you for teaching me about your country. So, to my friend and teacher Ermelinda…“A thank you song for being kind to me..”

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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Ermelinda

Susannah Berry,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

After spending the past ten summers at a sleepaway camp in West Virgina, I know a lot of songs. And when I say songs let me be more specific. Some songs are purely for fun and could even be considered slightly ridiculous by outsiders. These songs are about crazy beavers, camels named Alice, and even […]

Posted On

03/31/12

Author

Susannah Berry

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Hi All!

We just wanted to update everyone with photos from our time in Nicaragua!

Enjoy! Molly, Donna, Maggie and Susannah

P.S. Monday morning we are making our way to San Lucas, Guatemala. We will be working with IMAP, a premaculture farm for the last five weeks.

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Photos!

Susannah, Donna, Maggie, and Molly,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

Hi All! We just wanted to update everyone with photos from our time in Nicaragua! Enjoy! Molly, Donna, Maggie and Susannah P.S. Monday morning we are making our way to San Lucas, Guatemala. We will be working with IMAP, a premaculture farm for the last five weeks.

Posted On

03/31/12

Author

Susannah, Donna, Maggie, and Molly

WP_Post Object
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    [post_date] => 2012-03-11 00:00:00
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"A month has come and gone, and now it is time to move on." -M.Hick

Yesterday we all packed our things for the first time in a month and headed to Managua to start the hardest transition we have had sofar. A week ago, we made the decision to stay in San Marcos instead of driving up toEl Salvador for many reasons, including love, budget, academic interests, and little boys. Today finds us in the captial, packing yet again to take a bus to Esteli, a town a couple of hours away from our destination, El Lagartillo. If you have been keeping up, you will remember that town from our past adventures, a tiny village well known for their tight knit atmosphere and open arms towards students. For two weeks, we will be living in homestays while working with a gardening project with local kids, as well as restarting our reading circle from last semester (shout out to Luis and Ariel), taking walks to the waterfall and look out, and having lessons on various topics from the one and only D. Kuhl. Due to the rural location, internet and phone service will be minimal. On March 24th, we will make our way to Zamorano, a university in Honduras, where we will live for three weeks. We'll be sure to keep y'all updated!

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Sup?

Donnasaur, M.Hick, Judith, Strawberry and D.Kuhl,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

"A month has come and gone, and now it is time to move on." -M.Hick Yesterday we all packed our things for the first time in a month and headed to Managua to start the hardest transition we have had sofar. A week ago, we made the decision to stay in San Marcos instead of […]

Posted On

03/11/12

Author

Donnasaur, M.Hick, Judith, Strawberry and D.Kuhl

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Marbles are special...maybe even magical. There is meaning behind a

glass marble. There is even a story behind my new marble.

My story begins with my new friend, Jeffrey. He is six years old. And 
every afternoon he excitedly waits for us as we march up the front
steps of the Finca. When he sees us approaching, he runs towards us 
and we take turns embracing Jeffreywith long hugs. Sometimes there is a
 little tickling involved.

Most afternoons, I find myself reading to Jeffrey in a quiet corner in 
the small library. That is my favorite part of my day.

One afternoon, Jeffrey and I were playing catch as the older boys
 played soccer. Jeffrey liked throwing that yellow tennis ball really,
 really high in the air. I think he liked testing my catching ability. 
Or sometimes, he would do the opposite--throw the ball really low.
 There were laughs each time I missed. Yet, every time I did miss, 
Jeffrey happily ran after the ball as fast as he could.

After a while of playing, Jeffrey told me to sit down by a nearby tree.
 I did as my little friend instructed. Then he told me to close my eyes 
and hold out my hands. He placed two small glass marbles in my hands. 
Rolling the marbles in thegrass was a bit of a challenge, but we had 
fun nonetheless. Jeffrey eagerly ran after the tiny marbles each time 
they escapedfrommy grasp.

When it was time for me to leave for the day, Jeffrey found his older
 brother, Eziquil, and double checked that the marbles belonged to him.
 His brother told him that they were indeed his. I overheard their 
conversation. With his brother's assurance, my little friend ran overto me and placed one of the little blue glass marbles in my hand. He 
told me he wanted me to have it.

I think there is something magical about a sweet, little boy giving me
 one of his marbles. My friend, Jeffrey.. he makes me smile.

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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Jeffrey

Susannah Berry,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

Marbles are special…maybe even magical. There is meaning behind a glass marble. There is even a story behind my new marble. My story begins with my new friend, Jeffrey. He is six years old. And 
every afternoon he excitedly waits for us as we march up the front
steps of the Finca. When he sees us […]

Posted On

03/6/12

Author

Susannah Berry

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    [post_content] =>                  

You can really feel your heartbeat when a boy’s head is resting on your chest, he’s pulling it out of you with a lasso tight around your ribs, pulling you to a place that you’ve been searching for, never expecting to find it in a kid’s hand.

I suspect that they live there, behind their curtains and through their fire. You’re safe on the other side with them because they just want company and you are another body to hold.

It’s never been more obvious that language is the farthest thing from the easiest form of communication. I just want to touch you because only then can I know what you are feeling.

It’s scary to think about what the boy is feeling

Or has felt.

I want to thank you for not leaving me because then I would feel too hard

But sometimes I wish you had pushed me down, ripped me in half and walked on the pieces, because then maybe I could understand you, her, him, them. The streets.

Too many feelings and a single head, I must be trying to translate in more than one sense of the word.

My feelings don’t translate into Spanish, and it has been a hard lesson to learn. We are just trying to process. Process. Doesn’t translate the right way. Then I guess I’m just sad and I’m going to sit here being sad.

Here is what I process:

How the wind doesn’t blow your shirt around you evenly, it always ripples like waves, never smoothly.

I guess you could call me a creature of travel but I don’t really know what I’m doing here and I don’t know what I want to be doing.

I always thought that I was a reflection off of everyone around me, until I came here and realized that, like everyone else, I’m a deep hole.

I like shouting down into the hole everyday just to hear when the echo comes back at me.

Maybe today I’m deeper, wouldn’t that be special?

And if one day I jump into the hole and come up laughing, don’t be surprised; it’s just that I thought I was thinking too much, turns out I wasn’t thinking at all, and that felt nice.

I’d invite her into the well, I’d invite everyone until it’s filled and then there’s no more space and I have everything figured out.

Looking down, I’d ask her, ‘if I matter to someone, does that mean that I matter?’

But all she does is look further into herself, hiding her eyes, and says, ‘you can’t tell me?’

That’s all we ever do, really. Ask questions to see if the other has ever had the same one, or hopefully, still has it.

Making channels from well to well until you feel connected, and you can share the gravity of it all.

I hope to one day connect to a hole that reaches all the way to the center. I’ve never told anyone that, probably because I know how idiotic it may be.

I think these boys have something deep in their wells that has been kept there because there is nowhere to put it, here with their bodies.

All I want is to see it and understand it, hold it in front of me, but I’m stopped because I can’t yet understand the meaning of hiding, why anyone would want that.

But I can easily hold them against my heart, making it obvious that I’m alive, making it even more obvious that the hole I carry will never be the same.

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Central America Internship, Spring 2012

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The Process

Donnasaur,Central America Internship, Spring 2012

Description

You can really feel your heartbeat when a boy’s head is resting on your chest, he’s pulling it out of you with a lasso tight around your ribs, pulling you to a place that you’ve been searching for, never expecting to find it in a kid’s hand. I suspect that they live there, behind their […]

Posted On

03/6/12

Author

Donnasaur

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