Day 9~June 20
Opinion and point of view should never be marble statues, unmovable, permanent, unchanging. I suggest they should be more like a snack cart (stick with me here), something fairly stable, set upon wheels and regularly immersed in new settings so as to see the world from a new perspective. You should push it around to other people and hand out tidbits to those who are hungry for them.
 
I believe that there are few absolutes, that good and evil both have substantial grey areas which mingle, overlap. I believe that in the end it is all about intention.
 
What is right and what is wrong when all sides believe themselves to be of pure intention? Political matters invite us to open our minds to hear and understand what each side is saying, to choose which side with which we will align ourselves--or to continue questioning, then push our little food cart forward and share the feast of our truth.
 
I am here to relay the truths of the people of El Salvador with whom we’ve had contact. Today I am also here to relay the truths of the diplomats at the U.S. Embassy. You must decide with which you will stock your cart. Perhaps you will take from both.
 
I don’t have it all figured out yet. I know in my mind, there are these truths: people deserve fresh, clean water to drink. People deserve the opportunity to improve their circumstance. People deserve to be able to question their government or support it, or both, without fear of torture or death. I can say with full confidence that the folks at the U.S. Embassy with whom we met have similar absolutes.
 
We met with an impressive group of people, leaders in several governmental organizations and projects- USAID, the Millennium Challenge, and experts in politics, economics and human development. When asked by a member of the audience, they canned the PowerPoint presentation in favor of discussion. They told us of the challenges El Salvador faces, challenges with which we have become well acquainted during our short time here. They they told us about the political realities: that the U.S. is sending a lot of money here to help squelch gang activity, to encourage economic growth, to ensure people have fresh water to drink, adequate roads on which to transport their goods, a fair and just court system and a dependable police force that works for all. The Millennium Challenge, in particular, is focused on accountability--ensuring that the money that comes here, your tax dollars, are used efficiently and properly. Officials at the Embassy promised to share their PowerPoint presentation with me so that I may share it with you. (Note: To date, the PowerPointe has not materialized in my e-mail box. When it arrives, I will post it as promised.) I will post the text as soon as I have it. I think you will find it very interesting as it offers a great deal of statistical information.
 
I also want to share with you several Web sites, which you may want to explore to learn more about what the U.S. is doing here to help the Salvadorans.
www.state.gov (check out Embassies & Consulates for info about the Embassy in San Salvador)
www.mcc.gov Millennium Challenge
 
There were some interesting moments of discussion, among them a brief exchange about the SOA. One diplomat in particular was dismissive of the SOA protesters, saying, ¨They have no idea what’s going on. I’m happy to meet with them once a week but I don’t think their agenda is to present accurate information.¨ I know this is a cause that is close to some of the readers of this blog, so I wanted to share that with you. This same individual also pointed out that human rights violations occurred on both sides of the war, and said, ¨If there is anyone without blame, I’d like to shake their hand.¨
 
What occurred to me during the discussion is that everyone in the room has a similar dream for El Salvador; they’re just all operating different push carts and are taking different paths toward actualization of their truths. The destination is the same--but everyone is getting there in their own way, and it’s a long, long journey.
 
You may be interested to know that my humble little blog has drawn the attention of our U.S. Embassy here in San Salvador! Several of the spokespeople at our meeting said they had read all or part of it, and promised to continue reading about our experience. Welcome to this journey!
 
Afterward, we went to UCA, the Jesuit University in San Salvador where six Jesuit priests and two women were killed. It’s a gorgeous university, but the wounds are still fresh. The campus chapel has an unconventional display of the Stations of the Cross. It is illustrated through artwork showing the torture and suffering of the Salvadoran people.
 
We then went to a famous handicrafts market in town for a brief shopping excursion. It was a lovely little market, and almost no one was there but us.
 
We ended our programming of the day with a trip to the Wall of Remembrance for the disappeared and murdered during the oppression and the civil war. It’s the same wall I wrote about earlier....the Co-Madres spearheaded the effort to have it constructed. Post-war, the Truth Commission had recommended that the Salvadoran government build the wall as a small way to make amends for the human rights violations of that time period. The government never came forward to carry out the plan, so NGOs stepped in to complete the job. It’s a somber, sacred, healing place. There are plans to add even more names as investigations continue.  
 
 
Dinner took place at a seafood restaurant about a block away. Just as we were paying our bill, a downpour hit! The ceiling began to leak, the streets filled with water, and the electricity went out! Staff brought out candles and we sat and enjoyed the performance put on by Mother Nature. Then, our waiter walked us home, carrying a table umbrella over our heads to shield us from the rain.

 
If you would like to send a comment, please send e-mail to GATE@fspa.org
 
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Day 10~June 21
Our last day. It’s bittersweet. My mind was in such a tangle of thoughts last night, it seemed I never really slept. This GATE experience has been enlightening, uplifting, devastating and overwhelming. I look forward to a couple of quiet days of re-entry into my culture, to digest the information gathered here.
 
Today we had my favorite breakfast: frijoles, scrambled eggs and some queso fresco for me. Absolutely delicious.
 
For the morning, we headed to the site where the four American church women were found tortured, raped and murdered on December 2, 1980: Sister Ita Ford of Maryknoll, Sister Maura Clarke of Maryknoll, Jean Donovan and Sister Dorothy Kazel, Ursuline. Ita Ford once said, ¨I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for--maybe even worth dying for. Something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be--that’s for you to find, to choose, to love, I can just encourage you to start looking and support you in the search.¨
 
We’ve met so many people here in El Salvador, and have had the honor of learning about their searches. Many of them are still searching for justice after years of suffering. The wounds here are still fresh, and the pain of the Salvadoran people hangs heavy in the air. I’ve never personally met anyone who has survived torture, until now. I’ve never known someone so afraid of the strength of gangs that they moved their entire family to escape the pressure, until now. I’ve never known people who didn’t have access to drinking water, until now. When Oscar Romero was shot and killed, I was eight years old. I never knew him, until now. Yet the weight of having this personal knowledge is, for now, almost more than I can carry.
 
There are a million vacations a person can choose to take in any given year--to places well-manicured, unscarred by recent wars, with a swim up bar and an all-you-can-eat buffet. I’ve taken those vacations, and I’ve adored them. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that a trip like this is very, very different. If your desire is to truly understand a culture, to hear the points of view that are often whispered rather than broadcast, to hear the cries of the poor and marginalized, and to understand what that means for your spirituality, a GATE experience might be what you’re seeking.
 
On our first day here in El Salvador, we read a quote from The Primal Vision by John V. Taylor: ¨Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes for the place is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still we may forget that God was there before our arrival.¨
 
This afternoon, we rode for 1.5 hours to the Pacific Ocean, took off our shoes, and tread lightly on the treasured beaches of El Salvador. The surf there is very strong. The water spins and crashes with such force that it’s difficult to stand still, to hold your place. That is what this GATE experience has been for me. It is like trying to hold your place as the undertow pulls at you, challenges you. The waves crash and throw you off balance, then soften, crawl upon the sand, and rest. What I’ve learned here must do the same: rest and recede. These are, I think, crucial steps in moving forward, in growing as a person.
 
On our final night here, we read another piece for our closing reflection. ¨This is a profound but simple truth, one we need to ponder. Jesus says to us that despite all of our planning, organizing and goal-setting, we cannot predict or guarantee the time, the yield or even the certainty of the harvest. We forget that all we do is plant the seed. This parable lifts from our shoulders a heavy and terrible burden. We are not expected to control or produce the harvest. We merely plant the seed...and trust. A Zen saying says: ´No seed ever sees the flower.´ The reign of God is already happening. You don’t believe it?
  Ask Dorothy Day: Now there are countless communities of caring resistance across this land.
  Ask Rosa Parks: One day she said, ´NO,´ and from this small resistance grew the mighty oak of the Civil Rights Movement.
  Ask Oscar Romero: ´You may kill me,´ he said, ´but from my blood shall come a new El Salvador.´ Today there is an unprecedented international network of ordinary citizens dedicated to the liberation of Central America.
  Let us continue, then, to sow the seeds of peace, and to depend upon God for the harvest.¨
(Pax Christi)
 
It feels as if I’ve been here a month. Perhaps that is nature’s way of helping someone process. When I get home, some people may not even notice that I’ve been gone. Yet, I return a changed person. I am more wary, and less afraid. I am saddened, and much, much more grateful. I am in awe of the people I’ve met, and unsure what it means for me. What a unique and remarkable experience this has been--I hope you have enjoyed this GATE trip to El Salvador as well.
 
Thank you for being my partners on this journey.
 
 
 
 
 
If you would like to send a comment, please send email to GATE@fspa.org
 
Comments:
 
"Wow, Charish! Your daily reflections on your GATE experience have been such a reflection and gift to me/us. Thank you!
Blessings now on your re-entry --"
--Mary Ann Gschwind, FSPA


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