Beyond My Horizons
We were staring into a mirror, but we just didn’t realize it yet. I had been traveling throughout the country of El Salvador for the past nine days with 17 classmates being filled with knowledge and awareness about the culture and the social injustice that plagues the country. We had spent three days living in the countryside in the village of Santa Cruz II with host families who were literally dirt poor. The house I stayed in was made of mud and sticks and was no bigger than my room at home. When it was full, it housed our host mother, Margarita, her cousin and her three children Josue, Carlos and Karla. There was no grass anywhere, and Margarita was often sweeping loose dirt off the dirt floor to make the house more presentable. These families became burned in our hearts and minds forever. We were fired up. We felt like advocates of justice, and we wanted to make good things happen in the world. Then, this all came crashing down around us in brutal realization.
Suddenly, our faces grew somber as that thought washed over us, slowly bringing us to the realization that it was our lives that we were staring at. Up to that moment, we chose to ignore that because we had fallen in love with the country and its people, and we were passionate about the unjust social system. The easy thing to do was to get angry with these rich Salvadorans, or to scold them for being so selfish with their wealth and fortune. But now, we realized, to do such things would be hypocritical, as all of us were in the same boat as that wealthy side of town. In the US, I fit in with the middle class so I don’t consider myself to be overly wealthy, as that community seemed to be. But the truth is that I am one of the rich people who live in comfort and convenience, all the while turning a blind eye to the sufferings of the poor in the world as well as in my own country. The only difference between the Salvadorans and me is that I can’t see the other side. I have the option to wake up every morning, look outside my window and tell myself that everything is going right in the world, just because I can’t see how everybody else lives. El Salvador showed me otherwise.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go on this trip was to be put out of my comfort zone and El Salvador did just that. What I wasn’t expecting though, was that upon returning to the US, I would once again be thrust out of my comfort zone in my own home. I no longer have that option to convince myself that the world is fine because I know, first-hand that it most certainly is not. This is no longer just an issue in the news for me, but a little family that I came to love living their lives in a little mud hut. There are so many things that I have been struggling with ever since we got back. How can I go on living like I do when friends who I consider my second family live with hardly a cent to their names? How can I live with myself? Am I to blame for the situation they’re stuck in? Is there anything at all I can do to fix it? If so, what? How?
No, I do not have answers to many of these questions. But I do know that I can change the way I think. El Salvador has deepened and strengthened my values, especially those of life and dignity for all people; and with these, I now look at my life in a whole new light, and I can see the great responsibility that comes with wealth. I have a responsibility to live my life in a way that honors my brothers and sister, Josue, Carlos and Karla and my host mother, Margarita. For, not only did they invite me into their home, but they also invited me to become consciously aware of my place as a global citizen, my wealth, and this newfound responsibility that goes along with it. That, for me, is what living a life of integrity means.