Thursday, October 27, 2011

After the El Salvador Floods

So the sun the shining, the sky is back to the beautiful blue it usually is and the temperature is warm without being oppressive.  The place feels like paradise again --except, that the country of El Salvador needs 1.5 billion dollars to reconstruct from the damage caused by Tropical Depression 12E.

A while ago, my friend Hector (the incredibly wise human rights lawyer) and I had a conversation about  straight lines and waves.    As you may recall amongst Hector’s various skills,  he is a very knowledgeable anti-mining activist.   One of his volunteer projects is organizing and agricultural co-op in San Isidro in order to give local residents an economic alternative to the Pacific Rim gold mine.  Hector has worked hard to raise money for the production and people have invested huge amounts of time and energy.  You might remember when I wrote about that 2 people have to sleep on a hill overlooking the field every night in order to “care” for the field.  This means protecting it from animals, robbers and vandals.   With the rains, the corn, beans, cucumbers and zucchinis have all been destroyed.  Only a group of immature fruit trees survived.

In all our culture we work on the straight line theory…onward and upward.  Next year is supposed to be better than this year.  Our goals and targets for projects need to be higher and loftier than the year before.  Staying the same or moving backward is deemed a deep failure.   Such failure is generally a surprise and time for deep reflection on the causes and nature of our failure.

Here (and I am learning in some socialist theory), the metaphor for development is not a straight line but rather a wave.  It moves in and there is forward momentum and it moves back, sometimes farther back than where it started.   Eventually, it will move forward again.

I have to admit, I feel a bit depressed by all the destruction of the storm.  The statistics are overwhelming in terms of contaminated wells, destroyed and damaged roads, bridges, houses, health centres,  schools and destroyed crops.   I think people here feel that too.  However, they have a lot more experience than I do when it comes to riding the wave backwards.  As the sun comes out, the clean up and the reconstruction begins.  Hector told me that it is easier to be a leader when there is forward momentum.  The really great leaders are the ones who walk with the people when all the progress is backward. 

No one here is “happy” with what happened.  However, neither are they particularly surprised.  Life is life.  I have been told that “happiness” is a privilege that very few get to ponder and  fewer experience.  In general, the Salvadorians I have met don’t believe they have a “right” to be happy.  They would like to think that they have a “right” to life.  

I had a fascinating discussion with Vicenta, my Spanish instructor about suicide yesterday.  Suicide is very rare in El Salvador.  It happens, but not frequently.  I wonder how much the suicide rate and incidence of suicidal thoughts would drop in Canada if we did not have an expectation of our right to be happy.   She explained that one of the few times that there was a higher suicide rate was during the war.  If guerrillas thought they were going to be captured by the CIA, they often killed themselves first.  The thought was that the CIA used such effective torture techniques that if captured it would be almost impossible not to give up information.  As a result, it was better for everyone if you killed yourself rather than be taken alive.   This was really a response to keeping your community safe rather than an aversion to personal suffering. 

In my true Canadian form, because my basic needs continue to be well met, I am pondering the injustice of the nature disaster here.   The rains have been steadily increasing in strength since the 1960’s, mostly due to global warming.  El Salvador contributes negligibly to the greenhouse gases, but is highly vulnerable to their impact.  They have a very poor level of infrastructure and this is significantly impacted by the neo-liberal global capitalist system that needs to keep poor countries poor.   The World Bank whose policies significantly contribute to all of this, gave the country a reconstruction loan that must be repaid.   The President really had no other option.  He had to take it, on the World Bank’s terms.  All of this makes me feel overwhelmed and helpless.

So I take a page from the notebook of my Salvadorian friends.  I am doing what I can.  That’s means telling you about what is happening and continuing to ask for your financial assistance to provide immediate food relief for this area of El Salvador.  All the details on this are on my previous blog, or feel free to e-mail with any questions.  Thanks for those who have already contributed.  I am also off to meet with an amazing group of rural woman.  Another day I will share more with you about this group.  Suffice it to say that I really enjoy being able to participate in their group.  I haven’t seen them for 3 weeks, as the group has been cancelled for 2 weeks because of the floods and the week before that for another reason.   Instead of being “happy” in my life,  I will celebrate and enjoy the time I get to spend with this amazing group of women. 

My friends, enjoy the brief moments of happiness than may come your way today and in the week ahead.  For they truly are blessings that sometimes I have missed because I looking for the "happy life".

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