Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To Be of Use (in Chacala)

Lately I have been thinking about how people who visit Chacala experience the poverty and social inequities they see here. Living here, I get to observe the different reactions visitors have when they came face-to-face with everyday life in Chacala, as compared to what they expected or whatever it is they are accustomed to at home.

Some visitors seem to believe that the access to jobs, education, medical care, and financial security they have enjoyed in their lives is the result of their natural, personal superiority (some kind of birth right, I suppose), as opposed to the good luck to have been born into a wealthy nation. They seem to feel that the entitlements they have enjoyed makes them smarter and wiser than local people.

In any case, people with that perspective are generally very willing to share their instant solutions to Chacala problems. Their comments generally start with “if only they would….”, and are generally offered within a few days of arriving here.

Other people fall in love with the town, the natural setting, and (sometimes) the people, and want to find a way to live here. Sometimes their idea is that someone should pay them (preferable at high wages) to do something here (teach something, offer massage or medical care or something) that will allow them to stay here. It’s not clear who would be paying them, or why local people would prefer to hire a non-local person to do work a local person does. Or they want to start of business that will provide them income, without much concern about the impact of their business will have on the local infrastructure, economy, environment, etc.

Some people, or sometimes the same people, say things like “I want to help the people here”. Sometimes I ask, help them what? Make more money? Have a nicer family life? Improve the local school system, the water system, the waste water treatment system? Electrical service? Practice birth control? Deal with substance and alcohol abuse? Have better marriages? Be better parents? Save enough money to live in some other wonderful place? Change the political system? Deal with the everyday corruption?

I am very curious how these people think they can “help” people here, considering what a terrible mess the US is. In all the above areas. I wonder how it is that people think they have solutions to problems here when they apparently aren’t part of the solution to the same problems at home. Or maybe they are part of the solution and didn’t like how it turned out. Like voting for Bush and then seeing what they got for their trouble.

Of course there are people who came here, saw a need, and jumped in and dealt with that need. Dale Reinhardt, Susana Escobido, Jose Enrique De Valle, all did just that. And in a big way, with very little in the way of personal resources. It appears to me that each of them saw a need: a physical location for education and community (Dale), a structured community-based program for using that building (Susana), and the funding for those buildings and programs (Susana and Rotarians and other individuals), and housing with a source of income for some of the poorest families (Jose Enrique).

Pretty amazing what some people can do. And how wonderful they are able to draw other volunteers into their dreams, and to allow them to be part of their solutions to Chacala’s problems.

I think I am in some other category that’s hard for me to see. I try to step back and observe myself and what I am doing in Chacala. It’s very hard for me to figure out what I am doing. I tithe with my money always. But it’s kind of random. Every month that little pile of cash gets doled out in response to whatever needs present themselves to me. Sometimes the need is so obvious I don’t even think about it. If I think a little cash will help, I just hand some over. I have a few small projects I share my cash with regularly, but mostly it’s just whatever need I notice, or tugs at my heart strings, or whatever. And I have a couple of small, regular contributions I make to families with kids in Kinder.

I don’t think my small efforts are going to make any difference in whatever happens in Chacala. But they make me feel good and part of things. I am kind of proud of helping some Techo owners get a few more renters, and maybe I will be able to help some of the small tourist-based businesses grow a little. But really both those efforts are basically for my own pleasure, my attempts to find a way to be part of things here and be of use.

I get so much pleasure being here, living my life here. So many people have been kind and friendly to me. People are very observant of each other around here. They just step right up and help out. Carry your package, give you a hand, a ride, whatever. A smile, a friendly welcome, a quick lesson in Spanish pronunciation, a joke, and invitation to a party.

There is a lot of non-verbal communication here. It’s been very good for me to become more aware (but not very aware yet) of how other people are reacting to me. I am getting a little better at noticing when I am rude, and sometimes I can see that I hurt someone, and I have a chance to apologize. I think, like in all small towns, people here know they have to keep living together even if they don’t like each other very much, so they find ways to “get over it” and go on interacting.

There is lots of eye contact here and lots of little expressions and hand gestures and so on that go on all the time. Some of it is directed at me, and I loved feeling included and connected here. Lots and lots of jokes and laughing. I can even make jokes in Spanish that get a laugh, at least sometimes. Or maybe they are just laughing at me, not with me.

I know I am getting more than I could ever give to people in Chacala. My little efforts are nothing compared to the warmth and welcome I feel here. People talk to each other so much more here than do the people I lived around in the US. Families and friends spend hours just talking and eating together. Here lunch is at about 2pm and goes for a couple of hours, often with a nap thrown in.

Enough rambling. You’d think I actually like my life here or something.

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