Monday, July 19, 2010

a promised story

I promised two ladies in my parish back home I would share this story, so although it may appear to be a random entry, it is the story about the ‘beginning’ of my journey here.

I think that October of 2009 is a good place to start. I came back from Joa~o Pessoa, Brazil almost a year ago, July 2009. I left Brazil because I could not extend my visa any longer. I imagined God knew why. The first week of August I began an Earth Literacy program in Genesis Farm in Blairstown, New Jersey. My plan was to stay after the program as an intern for at least nine months. The program augmented and took my relationship with the Divine, and consequently the world, to an even more intimate level. By October, I saw that my time at Genesis Farm should come to an end for now and following my grandmother's death I headed back to Florida. The months that followed were intense. My plans to study in India were changed due to the lack of communication from the institution near Nepal. So there I was, living at home (something I hadn’t done since I was 17) for an indefinite time without a plan. In the meantime, I lived. Exploring the present, starting projects (finishing some and abandoning others), dancing, singing, accompanying my family and those around me in their journey, while being accompanied in mine. The months were rich, as all are.

In the beginning of November or the end of October, I started looking for opportunities that spoke to me. I looked into different Catholic Workers, applied to continue my master’s in California, and searched for other mission opportunities. I was open. Three days after I had explored CRS’s website checking what they had to offer, I received an email from a friend, telling me about a position at CRS that could be perfect for me, if I wanted it. I decided after a week that sending my resume and applying was a good idea. As I sent the application I told God, “If it is not for me, take it from me, give it to someone else.” By December 31st, 2009 I knew I received the job as Area Relationship Manager for the SE region office of CRS US Operations. The position and the people working with me were phenomenal. The position asked for a person with 10 years experience and there I was, an employee that 10 years ago was only 13. The respect and the dignity they treated me with showed that the way CRS treated their employees was true to what they preached about the Catholic Social Teachings.
In me, however, there was an air of inquietude, to say the least. I decided to push that aside, saying, “Luisely, it’s your first salary paying job; of course you may not feel thrilled at first.” Something I had already learned was dangerous.
I immediately started traveling. The second day on the job, I was already in a conference in Orlando, where I was soon to move. Apartment searching was in the agenda, among other simple errands to that effect. After the first day of the conference, after a delightful and genuine meal with a coworker and a friend, I went to my hotel room and received a call from a dear friend. His simple, “Happy new year! How’s the new job going?” was followed by silence. “Oh, you’re going to start bawling aren’t you?” He was right. The tears started strolling down. I didn’t expect the phone call to head this direction, or my night, or my life for that matter. “I don’t feel peace,” I began. Explanations and tears and questions and confusion followed. He listened and asked, “What do you want? What do you see yourself doing?” The first thing that came to my mind was Haiti and it shocked me. “Haiti,” I said, “I see myself in Haiti with the Colombian nuns.” And there it began.

After hanging up with him, I called my Papi; a combination of the time (it was around one in the morning), my stuffed nose, and lack of breath from the crying I’m sure he strained on the other line to understand my sobs. His advice was to take one day at a time, to give the job at least a week, and then to speak with someone in the job about my worries. Papi helped me calm down a bit and realize that at that time I wasn’t necessarily going to resolve much, especially since I had to work in the morning. I hung up and had a few words with our Genius Creator, “Look Diosito, from the very beginning I told you to take the job away from me if it wasn’t for me and now I feel this. This tremendous inquietude. Make it clear. You were the one who got me into this. Make it clear to me before I head to Atlanta what You want me to do.” I closed my swollen eyes, opened my mouth to breath, and went to sleep.

God decorated the following days with transparent signs that Haiti was where I was supposed to be. Three days later little doubt was left in me. CRS, as amazing, and as perfect as it seemed to be for me was to be left for Haiti. The day before flying to the SE office in Atlanta to speak with my boss and coworkers about my decision, I described to a friend on the phone the events of the past week and the clear signs provided for me. When I hung up the phone, I felt it. I felt what I imagine Elizabeth felt when her cousin walked in (I’ve never been pregnant so I know it’s a stretch, but that’s what I felt) I felt the a jump of joy in me. The certitude of the Holy Spirit. I felt peace.

The next day was a Tuesday. I arrived to the SE office, shared lunch with my coworkers and asked my boss for a talk. There I sat in front of her tender eyes explaining, my call to another place, leaving her with a position left open after months of searching for the right person and so much more. She listened and expressed her side. She respected me, admiring me for following the Holy Spirit in the way that I did, and saying, “the works of the Spirit are works of the Spirit.” I was ready for her to spit and curse at me, calling me an immature college graduate that did not know what she wanted. The conversation culminated with a prayer and out I went to explain the story to my new coworkers. They listened in shock with slight sadness and disappointment on their faces, while saying that they understood that where God leads, one must follow. My boss went to her office to call the headquarters in Baltimore to see what steps to take while I went to speak with another coworker. After a little time, my boss came out saying, “How’s your French?” Feeling guilty and wanting to help in any way I could, I answered, “I’ll translate anything you need.” “No, they’re offering you another job.” I laughed. “They are willing to transfer you to Haiti to be head of HIV/AIDS in Haiti." I didn’t understand. “What God! Make up Your mind. What shenanigans is this!”

I laughed a little more and she asked me if she should send the resume to them for the job opening in Haiti. I looked at the coworker I had been conversing with who reminded me, “Luisely, it still won’t be mission, it still is CRS. I would pray.” My boss looked at me and asked, “You want to go to the cathedral and pray?” Any getaway to spend a little time with this exciting God of ours was more than welcome. She called a friend that worked in the cathedral and walked me over to the side doors which were opened for me to go into the seemingly empty edifice. There I sat, laughed, danced, and spoke out loud. There I was, quitting an outstanding job because I felt a deep and sudden call to Haiti, and there they were, asking for my resume to transfer me instead of my letter of resignation. I decided to not worry and just let the one who got me into all of this to guide me. A coworker picked me up from the cathedral and drove me to her home where she welcomed me for the remainder of my time in Atlanta. As we sat by her chimney sipping tea recounting the direct signs and how clear Haiti was in my heart, I received a text from a friend saying, “Pray for Haiti.” I asked her if we could turn on the news, and to our dismay saw the catastrophe. The earthquake had shook Haiti on our drive home from the cathedral.

An array of emotions hard to describe ran through me as I heard the news anchors trying to make out headlines from the unknown. That night I slept little and prayed much. The next day, the CRS office hummed with commotion. The telephones rang incessantly, the news stations visited for interviews, each one of us with a task to inform the dioceses in all the South East US about how and where to direct aid and CRS’s role in all of that. Following lunch, I deciphered it an appropriate time if ever, to approach my angelic and overwhelmed boss. I walked into her office between phone calls and asked if I should write my letter of resignation. She looked at me and said, “Luisely, dear, we haven’t contacted all our employees in Haiti and we are no longer looking to fill that position. Now, we are looking for people with at least one year experience in disaster relief.” I held her hand, thanked her and left. By 6pm, I was back in Florida.
The welcome home was full of confusion. I left a week earlier with a steady, well-paying job, with benefits, that went perfectly with what I had studied, my experience, and my passions, and in less than a week was back at home, again, without a set plan and without knowing for how long. I dedicated myself to listen to God in everything and to live. Submersed in the present. I danced, took voice lessons, did cross fit, deepened relationships, practiced my French, went on retreats and searched to find where God wanted me in Haiti. All the while accompanying my family and those around me in their journey, while being accompanied in mine. The months were rich, as all are.

So that’s the story. That’s how I knew. That seems to be the way God is, at least with me. Guiding me in every step in creative and treacherously delightful ways.
With you,

Monday, July 12, 2010

in the eyes of the other

Theater began last week. Theater of the Gospel on Mondays and Wednesdays and Theater of the Oppressed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is my calling, my vocation.

Wednesday before heading out to Kolet, I sat in our little chapel for a little conversation with the most creative of creators and said I was open to whatever creations needed collaborations. The idea of Theater of the Gospel came to us after performing a little skit one Sunday in one of the services. Out of all the people who attended, maybe 5 knew how to read and in other posts where we go for Sunday services less. People thirst to know more about the man they know as their God, Jesus. With many not accustomed to sit in a classroom and listen attentively for an hour or two straight, services and mass consist more of singing and praying what rout memorization has taught them. Thus, theater of the Gospel began.

We read the stories of the gospel, the Good Samaratine, Martha and Mary, but to all who were gathered they were unknown. Seeing the stories slowly being understood and then coming to life in them with bliss and curiosity moves me. A liberation occurs and I witness it. They go from repeating and mimicing to making the story their own, and discussing what the parable means in their own reality. I think this is what was intended with the Gospel. For the parables to be shared and embraced with the reality of those listening, allowing it to be genuine "good news."

In each place before going into the reading I started off with an excercise where each one of us chooses a partner, introduces him/herself and locks eyes with the other. Words, gestures, nor movement are needed. This excercise challenges participants no matter what culture, but some face a greater challenge than others. Haiti is one of those cultures. The education system for numerous years taught students not to look into the teachers eyes, other systems in the country encouraged the same behavior. We rotated partners after approximately a minute. Within that minute though miracles and mysteries occur. While locking eyes with another without intention to convey anything love occurs. I'm not sure if it is because we enter into the depths of the other, or because we see ourselves in the other, perhaps we see the whole world in the other.

I start this excercise by paraphrasing Jesus, "what you do to the other, you do to me," the eyes you stare into are the eyes of God.

In Kolet two men and one woman held back tears while we fixed eyes, in Akadyn a man and a woman did the same, and a child could not hold back hers. Oh the depths of our eyes. Gazing into one man's eyes I was overwhelmed with beauty. Beauty was before me, looking straight at me and I at Beauty. I gazed and saw Pain, I gazed in another and saw Jesus, I gazed in a wrinkled man and saw a child, I gazed and saw the world, I gazed and saw all Divine.

With you,

Monday, July 5, 2010

the entangled pair

Where there is life there is death. This is an obvious concept which some choose to see as a paradox. Some societies try what they may to segregate the two, keeping death out of sight, smell, and touch. Other societies carry on not attempting to conceal the intricate connection between the two, either by choice or by lack of alternative.

Louise, one of the few literate members of the church community in Kolet, gave birth to her sixth, two days ago. The grandmothers chose the baby´s name.

Bethlev’s mother and father buried their 11 year old son a week and a half ago, and yesterday buried another. A month earlier they were the two Rose, feared suffered most of starvation from the family. Their teeth and jaw bones were the most protruding; their cheeks were the most meager. The first death occurred suddenly. The eleven-year-old’s temperature rose rapidly, by the time the mother found a way to reach the nearest nurse the advice was to get him to the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Upon arriving to the hospital, not a doctor could be found. The child died waiting. Since the boy died in the hospital the mother was not permitted to take her son’s body home to bury. The corpse needed to be left in the morgue, which meant paying money they did not have for a service they did not receive and another they did not want.

The father, prior to the boy’s illness, lacked health himself and thus the income of the family starved alongside the members. The payment of the morgue and the transportation to the hospital meant more money taken away from the little needed to feed the remaining family. A week and a half later, their eldest, a boy of 16, died in the same manner. This time there was no money for the transportation to the hospital. The extra expense failed to save the other, nor did it help those still alive.

The house the family, who used to be of seven, resides in is smaller than the room Jara and I use. They divided it in two. Yesterday, as neighbors, family, and friends gathered outside the house Rose walked into the first of the two rooms where she found her friend, the mother, holding a wooden post with both hands, swaying her body side to side, eyes blank, searching for nothing. In the neighboring room the body lay. Alongside the corpse sat his siblings, one of whom, Bethlev, the seven-year-old girl with a leg and foot impediment, with a rising fever.

The cycle continues.

On our way to visit the mourning family we passed by to visit two families, celebrating the three new lives received in Kolet. The mother of the newborn twins lay on her side with one of the babe’s suckling fervently on her breast while the mother trembled with her eyes rolling back, seemingly coming in and out of consciousness. The grandmother tended to the other infant while calmly explaining that her daughter’s fever had not descended in three days. The doctor prescribed medicine. “What medicine?” Jara questioned. No one knew. “What does she have? What did the doctor say?” No one knew, no one asked. Here a visit to the hospital consists of sitting in front of the doctor, allowing him or her to inspect you, taking some tests not knowing and not asking which ones, and receiving a prescription before receiving the results of the exams- of course, paying for all the procedures.

“The breast milk,” Jara cried, “she’s drugging them with whatever she’s taking.” “If they don’t drink that, then what Jara? What else are they going to survive off of?”

“Bethlev has a fever. The disease, if it is a disease, could be infecting all of the family. They all need to be checked. They need an autopsy.” “Jara autopsies don’t exist here. Using money on a corpse that could be feeding those alive? With what money are they going to be examined Jara?”

“We can pay for the exams.” “There are some who already believe that the family is being cursed because they have received so much attention from the white foreigners since Bethlev’s leg operation was covered by us. The family may see this as a punishment from God or a curse from jealous others.”

The cycles continue.

The boy was buried yesterday evening. A nurse visited the two younger siblings today do some testing.

The twins’ legs tucked in and out, both new lives apparently full of health.

Louise’s baby wore a pink bonnet held together by a pin.

With you through these cycles,