Wednesday, September 24, 2008

12 year old Theresa Reflects on her SHARE Delegation

Looking out at the dim city lights announcing that we were close to landing in San Salvador, I felt a surge of excitement. This would be my first trip out of the country: my first time in a nation where the language was different from my own, where I was told we would encounter shocking poverty, the kindest of people, and extreme weather, where the population had been scarred by the brutality of war and violence. Was I afraid? Uncertain? Some of each, truthfully, but primarily thrilled to have the chance to immerse myself in a different lifestyle; so much looking forward to meeting the people, practicing my Spanish, and just having an adventure. And what a wonderful adventure it was!
Our time in Nueva Trinidad was, in my opinion, the best half of the trip by far. From the moment the stuffy van pulled into the village center, greeted by a crowd of smiling people, I could feel that these people were special. The second day in the village we took a hike up to see an area that was threatened by mining. Though armed only with the meager vocabulary I had acquired in my elementary and middle school Spanish classes, my sister and I were able to strike up a small conversation with some of the girls. Mostly it was us just asking them what their favorite color or animal was, or if they played soccer, or telling them about our pets at home, but it we found that the unpretentiousness of our exchange didn’t matter. It didn’t matter what we were saying (we could have been talking gibberish for all we knew) or that we were Americans or for that matter that we just seemed so different. We were just talking, and listening. And from that simple interaction we became friends.
Also in the village we participated in visits with the elderly. It was interesting yet so heartwrenching to hear their stories: of their families, of the violence they had witnessed, of their struggle to resettle in Chalatenango after the war and the present hardships that they faced every day. On Sunday during the procession of Corpus Christi in Arcatao, I found myself another friend― a fearless young 8-year-old, Cecilia, who had attached herself to our group like a barnacle and followed us throughout the day. Again, I was in a situation where I knew barely a phrase or two in the native tongue, yet communicated so much with this girl that I found tears in my eyes when she finally had to leave.
If I have learned about or witnessed one important thing during this trip it is the power and strength and beauty of the human spirit, discovered within ourselves there and in the Salvadoran people. On our delegation I felt so content in such an entirely different place because the people made it so; with their bright smiles and deep understanding, their overly generous accommodations and hospitality, their kindness to total strangers. Just talking, even if neither side could understand the other, bridged the cultural barrier immediately. What amazed me too was just their unimpaired joy. These people, who had experienced so many horrors, had so much hope for the future, were so organized and strong! Their joy and optimistic outlook on life inspired me. Even my just smiling at a frowning toddler in the church caused him to shriek with laughter and begin chortling. One smile lead to another among the children― within five seconds of my breaking a grin they would all be beaming back at me.
While talking with some people upon our return, I encountered the query of, “Did you do any mission work, like build houses or anything?” Besides a small water testing procedure, I realized, no, we hadn’t done much physical labor. One important thing about this delegation, I had recognized, that made it as great as any mission trip, was that the purpose of our trip was not to do, but to be. In our venture we had not built a school or worked in a clinic, offered our solutions to their problems or acted as the helpers. We had met people, and listened to their stories, just to be fellow humans alongside each other. And I think that is what created a bond just as powerful as if we had provided physical assistance.
Definitely this interaction was the most dynamic element of our time in El Salvador. From Cecilia’s curious questioning about what everything, from a butterfly to the month of November, was in English, to the tearful goodbyes at 4 am to our bus driver Santos at the airport, I feel like we connected and shared with these people so much. My memories of the time in and the people of Nueva Trinidad will always be in my heart, until the next time I visit El Salvador when our friendships will be renewed in joy!

1 comment:

Susan Dewitt, CSJP said...

What a beautiful reflection,Theresa - you were there with your whole being and your words show clearly how much this time meant to you. - Susan Dewitt