Home.

My associations with home…Warmth. 400 thread count cotton sheets. My dog to lick my ear, nose, and mouth. Pie. Comfy couches. People. Water. Great bathrooms, with a shower and tub. My own room. A fridge with abundant and diverse food in it. Trinkets and photos that represent places I’ve been and people I’ve loved. My guitar. Easy access to transport. TV, movies, radio, music, internet. Easy and multiple means of communication. I’m very rarely left wanting for something, and that something is usually fairly easy to find. Yes, I’m thankful for my home, and I take it all too for granted.

—-

There seem to be two types of suffering: one that is abusive, and one that is redeeming. My thoughts this week are entrenched in how my country is set on being complicit in assuring that the primer be the experience of Syrian refugees, whether that be it’s involvement in the Syrian civil war or examining it’s responses to ISIS in a holistic way. ISIS wields fear wherever it goes, feeding on terror and psychological violence. The reality that refugees are escaping right now is one that I can’t imagine if I tried, and I won’t be naïve enough to try to write about it.

What is the most bothersome part about this week and these reflections though, are that my government and compatriots are trying to deny a home, an attempt at comfort, stability, and safety to those who are living in hell right now. It seems that the USA, home of manifest destiny, the American dream, built on different waves of migrants and refugees, is abandoning its ethics to the fear that ISIS has bred.

It’s heartbreaking. And it’s not surprising. It’s a repeated tale of xenophobia, bias, prejudice, racism, violence of privilege, and fear winning once again. This week I’m tired, my heart aches, and I’m left with little hope.

I’m begging that some act prove me wrong. I’m desperate that my politicians show up for complex conversations. And yet, I’m positive that my frustration and pleas does not match the anguish and realties of refugees.

Here is a great poem I stumbled on that does a great job of doing something I cannot do…talking about home when there is no place to call home.

 

“HOME,” by Somali poet Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one’s skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child’s body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here.

 

 

 

My prayer for citizens and politicians of the USA:

Let us be anchored in truth. Let us remember the comfort that the word home should elicit. Let us not walk this earth in a deep slumber that is ignorance and inhumanity. May we live valiantly without giving into fear. There are living, breathing examples that should appeal to our ethos and pathos. May our pride not be a bluff that prevents action, but may it be a motivating factor to delve into complex conversations and realities. When stomachs are bulging this week after gorging on a Thanksgiving meal, let us remember the popular origins of the holidays, when white Christians were religious refugees and needing a place to call home and food to fill their hungry bellies.

The disorienting Side of DisOrientation

The disorienting Side of DisOrientation

Dis-O…The side of the final annual JVC retreat, ReO/DisO, that I didn’t expect to find myself quite so soon.

Dis-Orientation. It makes so much sense…There was an Orientation, a Re-Orientation, and now a Dis-Orientation.

It’s logical. But goodness, was it disorienting. I have less than two months of work left, and about two months left before I leave Andahuaylillas, and less than three months before I end up back in the land of milk and honey, the Spo-hamptons.

I have many thoughts and feelings that fill the spectrum. Gratitude. Hope. Love. Nostalgia. Nerves. Joy. Readiness. An array of noises that imply despair and being overwhelmed. Wary. Alone. Restless. Dull. Powerless. Disillusioned. Incapable. Incredibly capable. Inquisitive. Rebellious. Fortunate. Gratitude.

I’m finding ways of getting ready to say goodbye to what has been my home in Peru, of saying hello to what has also been my home in the States, and of getting mighty creative in trying to integrate the two lives that feel distinct from one another. Phew. Gives me a headache all feels dis-orienting even writing that.

I will continue to post random thoughts, hopes, dreams, and acciones de gracias here. As for now, I leave you with a fun little song (that could be applied to JVC or drunken nights that leave you reeling the following day…) and a poem that I find myself repeating every day to understand the complex, messy, raw nature of it.

Reflection from a ¨Dis-Oing¨ JV
by Emmjolee Mendoza, Belize 2001

I am a part of things.
I am not the answer.
I am not the solution.
I am not the reason.
I am one small factor
in a series of thousands of factors.
I am one.
I am not the one.
I am one of many.

I will be forgotten.
People will not remember my name.
People will forget my face.
People will not know who did that
or who ran that?
Kids will ask who taught me that?
I will be forgotten.


I will be a memory in this town
and in this school.
Like all those before me.
We have come and gone.
And left a drifting piece of ourselves.

And there is an inclination in me.
To scream at the top of my lungs.
Remember me!
Remember I started that program.
Remember that I taught you how to read.
Remember that I hugged and kissed you.
Remember that I loved you.
Remember my name.
Remember my face.
Remember me please.

But I can’t ask that.
I can’t expect that.
My place here is and was temporary.
I was not meant here forever.
I was meant to live here for a short while.
I was meant to be a part of the life here,
not to change the life here.
I was meant to work with others,
not to create a work of my own.
I was meant to be a part of the solution,
not to be the answer.
I was meant to teach and to learn,
not to save.

With leaving comes many realizations.
How do I tell myself that these things are all true?
That maybe the work I have done will not be continued.
That maybe the children that I helped might not get help
anymore.
That maybe the kids that I love may not remember me.
How do I tell myself this?

Then I remembered something that I read:
A Letter to a Young Activist by Thomas Merton
“Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great dealhas to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”

I know that this whole experience was not about me but about you.
That the reason I was here was for you.
That my purpose was to share my life for two years
with you.
It was you.
You were the reason why I came.
And now it is you.
You are the reason why it hurts so much to leave.

Somewhere the lines between you and I diminished.
You became a part of my life.
And I a part of yours.
I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.
I also can’t think of anything more painful than that.
But that is love.
At least that is my understanding of love.

It doesn’t matter if my ‘work’ is not remembered
or continued.
Because I came here to live with the people.
I came here to fall in love with the people.
And I have.
That I will always remember.

What’s your Focus??

The following article originally appeared on June 22, 2015 in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network’ (link can be found here). Many thanks to Jenn Svetlik from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. for her support and efforts in the process. 

a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-word

If a picture is worth a thousand words, who decides what those words are?

I have played often with my camera during JVC, trying to capture the wonder of the Andean mountains surrounding Andahuaylillas or the vibrant colors of the textiles worn here. It’s a way of documenting my experience so I will be able to recall more easily the moments and people that have enriched my time as a JV.

I know many of the stories that are captured in my camera because I live and work with alongside the subjects of my photos—whether they be the street dogs or the cute kids I work with in the parish. These are people with whom I have hiked mountains, gone to mass, danced and eaten meals; people who have opened doors to this beautifully complex place.

Although Andahuaylillas is a small town of 3,000 people, it boasts the ‘Sistine Chapel of South America.’ Tens of thousands of tourists pass through annually to catch a glimpse of the famous Baroque church, looking for proof of the often-simplified story of Spanish colonization over ancient Incan peoples. They’re disappointed that they can’t capture the gold leafed altars on film because cameras are prohibited inside the chapel. Instead, they focus their lenses on the majestic mountains and women selling their goods in front of the church.

An older woman rests on the chapel steps every day. She sits with her puppy and knotted wooden cane, wearing a bowler hat, knit skirt, woolen knee socks, and multiple sweaters. I come in contact with her frequently because she is my co-worker’s aunt and eats lunch in the parish kitchen where I work. We have sat side by side and eaten in silence, since our language barrier between Quechua and English is vast and breached only by my elaborate attempts at speaking with my hands.

More than once while passing through the plaza, I have witnessed a tourist, often white, stand in front of the old woman to take photos of her. They cannot communicate with her, but they feel a freedom to shamelessly walk four feet in front of her and snap photos without permission. My stomach feels unsettled and my heart hurts seeing her as the model for how folks will remember Andahuaylillas, without her consent. They think they have caught her story by boxing her into what will be a 3×5 photo.

What must the woman, who has likely never left Peru, perhaps even the Andean mountains, think when she sees tourists with their fancy Canon Rebel 10x taking photos? But more important, what becomes the thousand words that is her narrative in the photo? Is she just another abuela, wrinkled and withered from harsh weather and even harsher poverty? What parts of her own story are revealed through that photo, and what parts remain untold?

The success and hope of human interaction depends upon mutual respect and relationship. Yet, it is an easy pass to let our presumptions fill a photo instead of actually bearing witness to the subject in front of the lens. I’m not sure even I could write a paragraph, let alone one thousand words about the woman, despite our numerous interactions. Her story is exposed slowly through our small encounters. I wonder if I will take her picture before I leave. If I do, the story it tells will be the one that she has shared with me.

R-Cubed: The Wisdom of Pete Seeger and Ecclesiastes

The following article originally appeared on March 12, 2015 in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network’ (link can be found here). Many thanks to Jenn Svetlik from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. for her support and efforts in the process. 

While many of Pete Seeger’s lyrics could have been written into a modern version of the gospel, he literally spoke to a biblical truth when he wrote the song “Turn! Turn! Turn!” in the late 1950s. Using the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the message calls for finding balance in the commotion of the daily grind. The song’s title alludes to the inevitability of time and its inability to be controlled, challenging people to reflect on how they will manage their time.

DSCN3415In December, I passed the point where I had spent more time in Peru as a Jesuit Volunteer than I have remaining in the country. It marks the transition between my first year and second year, a transition that I did not expect to be so challenging. After hosting friends and family for two consecutive months, receiving a new community (the new JVs came and the outgoing JV left in December), and changing my job placement, my emotions have been strong and scattered. The goodbyes that meant I would not see my loved ones for another year sent waves of gratitude and pangs of nostalgia through my body. The visceral feeling of all of this transition made my remaining commitment of another year feel long.

Between reading a recent article by the modern Jesuit genius Brendan Busse, SJ on rest, stating that it was necessary for personal growth and integration in our lives, and having The Byrds’ version of “Turn! Turn! Turn!” on my iPod, I took it as a sign to take a break and escape.

I received the blessing of my community to take a few days to myself. I decided to create an opportunity for R-cubed — rest, relaxation and reflection — a play on the idea of R&R (rest and relaxation). This meant only talking to the housekeeper of the retreat house every once in a while. The silence was holy and emphasized the loudness of being quiet.

DSCN3218-2At times, my ego and pride prohibits me from saying “no” or from admitting that I need time to myself. To surrender to too many demands or commit to too many opportunities can do more harm than good when not balanced with R-cubed. Justice-focused work can be chaotic, and being caught in the franticness of my volunteer commitment has probably neutralized the work I have done. I have learned throughout this time, though, that to have a bold voice and loud actions, time for regeneration is necessary.

The journey of a pilgrim is hardly defined by the number of miles traveled in a day. Rather, the journey is shaped by the attentive time spent dedicated to one’s surroundings and people.

To continue the camino in which I have embarked, I needed a break—a break to appreciate what the past fourteen months have provided: learning, being accompanied by the people of Andahuaylillas, opportunities to say yes to the next steps, and moments to check-in with myself in this confusing current state of transition and anticipation for what comes next. For every season, there is a time to work diligently, and a time to listen to the wise words of Pete Seeger and relax.

Buzzfeed: Jacqueline’s 12 months in Andahuaylillas

I have a secret….I’m obsessed with Buzzfeed. I love the diversity of articles, it’s open to everyone’s voice, it has lists and quizzes that tell me which Chinese takeout food I am (General Tso’s because of my ‘terrific energy’), it keeps me updated on what the kids talk about and it is a healthy mix of everything. Since we are at the end of the 12 days of Christmas and having been in Peru for over 12 months, I find it fitting to make a list of 12–12 things I learned, experienced or felt during this past year of becoming a JV in Andahuaylillas:

1. This year brought so much learning, joy, laughter, slow realizations, leaning into the present, knowledge, questions…etc. It was a tremendous year of growth. It was a year where the people around me and the JV experience required a deep look inward at myself, the good, the not so good, and my desires for the future. It was the year I physically and metaphorically bumped my head into a lot of doorways.

1779251_10152051992681475_99991759_n
SO MUCH GROWTH (I don’t fit into the door frames)

2. I learned about natural remedies and preventitives this year for just about every problem I faced!

10322784_10152084991319856_1834868480708171299_n
Learning a lot…Especially how to clean ears!

3. I quickly learned that I am not perfect, and any illusions or dreams I had some were quickly thrown out the window. Within that, I learned to not take myself so seriously. My secret desires of becoming the next ‘Freedom Writers’ teacher were blown out the window this year…. Example: I had my students study a bit about world religions. Yet, somehow they translated the Buddhist idea of finding Nirvana into Kurt Cobain and the Seattle band for religion class. Takeaway: I found good people that quite bluntly taught me humility, but with a barrel of laughs along the way.

Ironic, right?

4. This year, I learned that calzon does not ONLY translate to calzone, but also underwear. So, when people were asking me if I had tried cuy* before and I was responding that I had in a calzon, the weird looks they were giving me were valid. No, I have not tried cuy in underwear, but rather cuy in the roll-up pizza.

My original explanation of having tried Cuy..
My original explanation of having tried Cuy**..

5. I learned a lot about the physics of vapor…Specifically with how much force and speed they can leave pressure pots. I actually got a first hand glance of this as it exploded into my face!

6. We really got into Bachata music videos…

7. I saw some incredible mountains up close and personal. There are fewer more humbling things on this earth than standing at the base of a 21,000 foot mountain, listening to the creaks and groans of its glacier shifting.

snow animated GIF

8. That at the end of the day, nothing matters more than time spent together. Quality time, without distractions. But rather, time spent basking in the beauty and complexity of the person in front of me.

9. That selfie sticks are….something else. I get that there can be great things on sticks: marshmallows, corndogs, mailboxes, ice cream bars, golf clubs, etc. But cameras? Really?

2014, the year of the selfie stick. 

10. Potatoes and Corn have the potential to be really quite tasty

dog animated GIF

***

11. Frozen is the best Disney movie since Lion King.

frozen animated GIF

12. That compassion and forgiveness are essential, and far too uncommon. That justice is slow, but is contagious. That education is the thing that needs the most investment. That I have learned many of the ways that I hope to keep growing. That at the end of the day, all you can do is laugh at yourself and shake a leg.

*Guinea Pig

**Photo Cred (and if you’re into this sort of thing): http://furaddictionstore.com/products/piggy-panties

***Photo cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/joe3po/4280126262/?rb=1

Theology of Coffee

The following article originally appeared on January 2, 2015 in ‘God in All Things’ (link can be found here). It can be found at http://godinallthings.com/2015/01/02/theology-of-coffee/ . Many thanks to Andy Otto from ‘God in All Things’ for his support and efforts in the process. 

When I was still a youngster in high school, my gaggle of gal pals and I loved to bring each other Starbucks in the morning. Nothing was better than the sugary winter drink of a white chocolate mocha, under the guise as a coffee. Nothing made me feel better than my cup of ‘joe’ in hand, flaunting the red holiday cups and demonstrating my maturity as a coffee drinker. A few years passed, and I moved to Seattle to go to college. There, I soon became acquainted with real coffee. My flirting with real coffee quickly escalated into a full on relationship. I tried to learn more about the history, the roasting styles, the economics, and growing patterns—even going so far as to spend a summer in Costa Rica volunteering on a farm that grew coffee. Now, in my post-grad life, I am a Jesuit Volunteer outside of Cusco, Peru. Here my budget really only allots for Nescafé or other brands that do not offer the top tier coffee in regards to business practices and ethics. But this drop in quality does not necessarily suspend my relationship with coffee in the morning.

I have heard used the phrase, either giving or receiving the comment, “Looks like someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.” I’m usually too tired to fire back a snappy comment, but it would be something along the lines of, “My bed is fine! My coffee maker just isn’t working today!” Is it a bit of an addiction? Easily. But is coffee something more? Yes. Would I even say that it is a spiritual, sensory experience that creates a space for me to greet the morning, myself, others, and God? Yes.

drawing coffee mugIgnatian spirituality suggests invoking our senses and imagination to encounter God and ourselves. When I am holding a cup of coffee, the warmth radiates through my hands, forearms, and shoulders. The smell wafts through the air from the dark caramel color, almost black. The whole experience is sensual, and helps my sleepy self wake up to greet the day with gratitude and a tranquility that I feel from this warmth. It induces a peaceful demeanor, which invites me to meet God and my own thoughts. In these moments, I review the previous and forthcoming days, reflecting on both the harder and easier parts in order to create my hopes for the new day.

Coffee helps facilitate my conversation with God and myself in the morning, therefore making it quite literally a vessel in which I see, taste, feel, and talk to God. Dorothy Day was once quoted saying that “My strength returns to me with my cup of coffee and the reading of the psalms.” She identified this as a way to ready herself for the day and her work through simple practices. With the work that Day committed her life towards, the act of finding daily practices that facilitated conversations between herself and God was vital. What are our daily rituals that help us encounter ourselves in the morning? Is it the comfort of a mug, a morning stroll, the dog scratching at the door? By finding God in the daily habits and becoming mindful towards what could be mundane, I have found some of my most precious moments throughout the day. Here’s to a cup of steaming coffee and rich conversations: may the silence be rich in conversation.

Volunteer outside of Cusco, Peru learning how to play soccer and eat guinea pig.

Advent – Called to Something Simple

The following article originally appeared on November 29, 2014  in the ‘In The Voices for Justice’ blog by Ignatian Solidarity Network. It can be found at http://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/11/29/jesuit-volunteer-reflects-advent-called-to-something-simple/. Many thanks to Jenn Svetlik from JVC for her support and efforts in the process. 

Advent: the ambiguous liturgical season that calls us into hopeful waiting for the birth of Christ. As a volunteer who identifies as Catholic, I can easily admit that Advent is often spent waiting for things other than Christ appearing in a manger, such as the arrival and departure of Jesuit Volunteers, the town’s anniversary, the end of the school year, birthdays, loved ones visiting, and Christmas masses galore. For this reason, I often struggle in honoring that call to Advent while being attentive to the pandemonium of everything else.

I arrived last December to the intense orientation of becoming a JV in a drastically different culture. This baptism by fire demanded that I ground myself in the unfamiliar soil of the Andes. I found this challenging, considering that it coincided with the Christmas season, which I normally associate to Santa Claus and Coca Cola polar bear commercials with the spirit of the season. Without the blatant advertising of Christmas, it felt as if December was just another month. During this period, I was introduced to my new JVC family and the Andahuaylillan community. The time became an intensive orientation to not only my new life, but how to findthe “spirit of Christmas” outside of TBS’s marathon of The Christmas Story.

How we celebrated Christmas in the Mountain House last year!

An introductory moment of this was in a rural community mass. Located four hours away from Andahuaylillas by foot, Churubamba is a primarily Quechua speaking community. The other JV who had recently arrived and I were asked to accompany the pastoral team celebrate a Christmas mass in Quechua. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in the Quechua, leading me to doubt that I should be there. After mass finished, we helped pass out sweet breads and hot chocolate to those who had attended the service. An older woman approached me, making me nervous knowing that I did not speak Quechua and she most likely did not speak Spanish. She tried to hand me a bag of baked fava beans, a common snack here. Not understanding her intentions or what to say, I pushed them away. The woman continued to stand in front of me with her gentle presence, waiting for me to accept her offering of thankfulness. My friend laughed at me in my gawkiness, explaining that the woman was trying to gift them to me to express her gratitude for coming. I took the bag clumsily, gesturing my mutual gratefulness. I felt awkward, recognizing this was the Christmas spirit of generosity and not having any idea how to be present to it.

Last Christmas brought perspective, providing me with a crash course to my JV experience. It asked me to be present to it all—the awkwardness of something new, the season, the budding relationships. As I enter Advent with a year of JVC under my belt, I understand that Christmas and Advent calls me into something simple: time spent with those I love, those I call my community. It invites me into what simplicity has meant for me this year, an attentive presence. While I recognize the apparent chaos of it all, I ask for the grace to be present instead of pulled. I remember that while I wait for Christ, I still must arrive to meet him in the manger taking one step ata time with the person by my side. Only in this way will I arrive ready to celebrate the life of God that must recognized in each other.

A manger in one of the local communities!
Hiking
A hike that my compañera and I did shortly after Christmas