Confession and Compassion

Hopefully not too much navel-gazing.

Maybe it’s the election, or the extraordinary ordination or talking with folks struggling to find or afford housing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege lately. With the exception of the fact that I’m a woman, I am a member of every privileged majority group I can think of: white, straight, protestant, middle class, citizen of the United States.

I confess that although I like to consider myself an ally of folks who are disenfranchised, I have constantly run up against my own privilege and preconceptions. From really reflecting, years ago, about why I hit the power-lock on my car door (was it because the man outside the car was unfamiliar, or because his skin was black?), to realizing, weeks ago, the words that come out of my mouth (did I really invite the person in a wheelchair to “stand up and speak to the congregation”?), I’m on a constant journey of learning, and I can only hope that others are patient with me as I continue to stick my feet in my mouth and receive lessons in humility.

I think I have most significantly struggled to make sure that my advocacy for others does not become patronizing or paternalistic. It’s very easy to do for others in a way that appropriates them as a cause rather than respects them as persons. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in my desire to minister with folks who live in poverty here in the States and abroad. In Seminary, I met a wonderful man, Matthew, who was a phenomenal artist and a decent prophet and lived on the streets of Boston. My initial response was to try to save Matthew somehow or fix his problem, and he was the one who told me that what he needed more than anything else was for me to listen to his story and treat him with dignity. Matthew’s patience with me, especially when my overzealous attempts to ‘help’ were borderline offensive to him, taught me a great deal, and half a dozen years later his words shape a large part of how I interact with people in general, most particularly folks who might not be in the same position I am in one way or another.

This is why the Adopta Una Familia program I have participated in is so powerful. The program focuses on building community and relationship as primary, and houses as a secondary thing. Here are folks living in conditions that I had previously not been able to imagine, and yet after sharing a home, meals, laughter and tears for a week, I could not pity them or appropriate them as a cause. I could only love and respect them. From that place, when we worked side by side, we built not just houses but homes together, not because I could save or fix them, but because we care about each other and the community.

In some comments, Morgan, another wonderful man I’ve met recently, has been talking with me about the housing problem in Montpelier, and what he said really struck a chord with me, really tied together my past learning about not being paternalistic or appropriative and my experience in Ecuador with my current hopes about housing in Montpelier.

Morgan wrote:

I also may be able to help […] with possibly helping to get interested citizens and fellow travelers on board maybe; as long as there will be both equal and mutual standing for all involved, with no one individual or group being a greater expert on these matters than anyone else, just fellow citizens coming together to raise a barn so-to-speak, each with their own expertize to help build a community project: i.e., community itself. The housing will end up being secondary, although crucial as it is in its own right. […]

As far as the planning segment goes, actually my faith was not in the planning so much as what can sometimes happen when people come and then seriously pull together to problem solve and then end up building and creating community and from that help find ways to meet unmet needs of members of that community for the common good and betterment of everyone concerned.

That’s it exactly! Exactly what is needed wherever we seek to ‘help other people.’ Those who would want to help have to instead listen and learn and build community around the subject, getting to know the people involved as real people, not numbers or case studies or projects or causes. Listening to the folks involved will not only empower them (rather than making the ‘helpers’ feel good, which may be part of what we’re after when we’re honest), but, as Morgan points out, will have the added benefit of being more effective because listening allows for learning from another’s expertise. Suddenly, I imagine an approach to the crisis of housing in Montpelier not as a committee of church people and politicians and agencies, but as a series of gatherings with those who live without housing or on the brink of houselessness. Much more like the Ecuador program, what if we build respect and relationships and community first, and let the housing flow from that? Tough for this goal-oriented impatient person!

Even tougher: don’t let me go appropriating Morgan’s good idea.

See? Still learning.

Sermon: Broken Into Love (2)

“Broken Into Love”

( September 28, 2008 ) Drawing on my two years’ experience with the Adopta Una Familia volunteer trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador, I ask, what does it mean to live out a Gospel that teaches blessing for the poor and woe for the rich? (Luke 6:20-31)

[this is my first attempt at recording in my new location– I made three recordings at two churches and this is the only one that I can even hear– I think the sermon was better at the second church as well. sorry about the quality– I’m buying a different mp3 recorder this week if I can find a better one, and then I have to figure out a better way to import and edit the audio files. It’s a work in progress.]

Airplane over the eastern United States (8/11, 8:07 p.m.)

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11, 8:07 p.m. )

Our flight out of Miami was delayed an hour and a half, so my hopes of driving home tonight and surprising Benji are pretty much dashed.

I do want to say that this trip has been helpful in terms of perspective. First of all, I haven’t thought about or worried about my impending move to Montpelier for a week– I haven;t been preoccupied with concern about how to address their financial problems. I have a little distance (and a little reminder of what financial problems can *really* look like), and I think it might actually help me deal with it in a more non-anxious way.

Additionally, my concerns about the relative squalor of our apartment have all but evaporated [transcriber’s note: ha!]. It has running water and a bathroom–two in fact!– so the rest is icing on the cake.

And saying goodbye to my dear friends and family a hemisphere away for an unknown number of years, that has helped with the idea of saying goodbye to my friends and church family in the Albany area. At least we’ll all still be on the same continent, and with the technology and transportation to communicate and visit.

Still, I don’t want to think of this as my last trip to Guasmo. It may be my last trip for a while– a few years, perhaps, but I really want to go back now and then with members of my family and/or people from the churches I serve. In addition to seeing the people I care about here, there’s so much to be learned as well. Perhaps we could also sponsor the education of one or more kids in my family in the interim.

Thoughts for sermon fodder from this trip:

The power of a small group, a grassroots dream–meshes with the subversive mustard seeds passage/sermon from a few weeks ago. What Adopta Una Familia has done in a few years with relatively little resources.

The power of a dream, a vision, both in terms of getting it done, and in terms of César’s quote about the dreams of the poor.

The preferential option for the poor, and their lack of opportunities, especially Andres and his options–or lack thereof–for jobs in his future.

The interconnectedness of our lives, the people we meet, how one positive change in a community can spiral outward in ripples of change (i.e. roads and water).

Right now, there’s a beautiful sunset out my plane window. Below me, through the patchy clouds, small clusters of light reveal communities with stories to share, relationships to build, people to cherish. What staggering beauty!  What love there is in the world. Sometimes, the squalor of the barrio and the persistence of love in it is the most hopeful thing I know.

Plane on route, Guayaquil to Miami (8/11, 10:53 a.m.)

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11/08, 10:53 a.m. )

I’m doing okay on the plane– a few tears at take off, and I blew some kisses toward Guasmo Sur behind us. I’m even okay with the idea of not coming back for a couple of years. I think communication will be much improved between my family and I in the interim, especially with the new computers in Mi Cometa and the possibility of video conferencing, which seems to have made it to the barrio. But I definitely want to go back someday in the not-too-distant-future, maybe with my husband or with people from my churches. The great thing about coming with so many people from the reunion groups is hearing from them that even after 5 or 7 or 10 years they are welcomed back as if they never left.

President Rafael Correa (right) accepts a ceremonial staff, as Pres Hugo Chavez looks on, one day before Correa's 2007 inauguration.
President Rafael Correa (rt) accepts a ceremonial staff, as Chavez looks on, one day before Correa's 2007 inauguration.

On the plane, Paula (another participant) and I met a man named Fransisco, who is from Guayaquil, but has lived in the U.S. on a visa for about 8 years between college and working in Florida. His family is from the “good” part of Guayaquil, and is relatively wealthy–or was. His father owned a company that President Correa is shutting down.

Fransisco has a very different view of Correa his proposed new constitution. He says the constitution will legalize abortion and homosexuality, which he opposes (but sounds important to me, though). Additionally, he says it’s a communist power-grab, like Chavez in Venezuela, and that it will take money and power from the wealthy and kick out foreign businesses under the guise of helping the poor, but the money will never get to them and the promises for services will never be met. I suppose that remains to be seen, but at the very least it has sown a seed of doubt in my mind, especially given that Correa recently shut down a lot of the news going out of Ecuador. That is often a precursor to someone solidifying his (or I suppose her) own power and/or declaring himself President for life. Fransisco thinks the poor are being brainwashed and duped into voting yes on the constitution, which promises to help them but won’t. He praised our project and our efforts, but encouraged us to use our relationships with the folks in Guasmo to tell them another side of the story. It’s enough for me to at least ask Erica (program leader/founder) what she thinks, if only because Ecuador’s having essentially a communist or anti-capitalist president in the spirit of his friend and ally, Chavez, allied with Venezuela against Columbia and by extension the U.S., might effect the relative ease with which volunteers such as ourselves enter and exit the country.

[edited to add: is it bad that looking at that photo again, I want to add a new caption? Chavez: “Wow, dude, when *I* was inagurated, the staff they gave me was only *this* big.”]

Plane on tarmac, Guayaquil International Airport, Ecuador (8/11, 9:15 a.m.)

[the housing crisis nearing resolution, we return to the Ecuador journal posts]

( transcribed journal entry from 8/11/08, 9:15 a.m. )

Last night’s program was pretty good. The drama the kids put on was much improved over last year (we could even hear them most of the time!)– a cute story similar to Solomon’s, where a couple of girls are fighting over a doll and one is willing to let it go so as not to hurt it. Then, two traditional dance numbers for two different age groups.

Following the dance performances, we had the presentation of the backpacks/school supplies for the kids in the tutoring program. José, the six year old in my house, was asking when he could get his backpack. Unfortunately, there are only fifty or so kids in the tutoring program each year, and so far my family’s kids haven’t received scholarships for it. I know there’s no way to help everybody, but it always seems more unfair when it’s your kids who don’t get the backpacks.

The other thing that is breaking my heart is Andres [see sermon transcript from 8/17]. He’s sweeter than ever and such a gentle, artistic soul. He tried his hand at working this past year at the port, but it didn’t work out for him. The thought of that gentle spirit broken by such hard labor just kills me; it eats me up inside. I wish I could fix it for him, and for his family, too. I hate not being able to make everything ok.

Laughter and hugs with the elusive Cris

Anyway, after the program, we had a brief goodbye on the soccer field– not at all like last year’s despedida. A few tears, but not bad (for me in fact that’s really good!). We all went back to the house and the little ones went to bed. I stayed up late again with Andres, Carlos, Diego, Liz, Eddy and the other Carlos (Eddy’s cousin) for una ronda de los gatchos (well, that’s what it sounds like, anyway), another round of jokes. About halfway through our joke-telling, Cristian walked by on his way home and we convinced him to stay and tell jokes with us. And so I got to hang out with my best buddy from last year, if only for a little while. And boy did we get one another laughing, and once again, I was quite proud of all those Spanish classes as I translated line-for-line for Liz.

Eventually, the crowd thinned down, but I stayed up a little longer with my bros, Andres and Cris, who switched from jokes to their ‘real life’ experience with ghosts, something for which I’m glad my language barrier left me a little out of the loop!

I finally dragged myself off to bed. I did most of my crying a couple of nights ago, so I went to sleep pretty well. Fortunately, I had packed my bags yesterday afternoon, because I slept right through my watch-alarm.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.
Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

A quick breakfast and some goodbyes to the sleeping ones, whom I kissed on the cheeks. Little dear José woke up and hugged me tightly, not letting go until I had to pry him off so I could leave for the bus at Mi Cometa. Andres, Carols (my ever-faithful bodyguard), Eddy and Mami Isabel accompanied me to the bus, where we all put our arms around each other and shed no small amount of tears. Andres was saying over and over, “mi hermana, mi hermana, mi sister,” in both languages.

All too soon, I was on the bus (with a bloody toe because someone stepped on me!), and we were blowing kisses to one another, waving furiously as the bus pulled away, until we turned a corner and they were gone–again–from my sight.

Can you see them waving to me through the stupid window reflection?
Can you see them waving to me through the stupid window reflection?

Upon arrival at the airport, we discovered that my traveling buddy, D, was indeed not on the bus; his family got the time wrong! He arrived at the airport about a half hour behind us, having been driven by his family– they pushed the car out of the living room, where they park it so it doesn’t get stolen, and had to push it down the road a bit to get it to start, but they managed to drive him to the airport. I felt a bit bad because I hadn’t seen him all morning and I didn’t think he’d responded to roll call, but I was so busy waving at my family, I didn’t speak up. Like me, D has a little girl to get home to, otherwise, I’d have envied him the extra time in the barrio.

Sermon (transcript): Perchance to Dream

Yet again bummed that my sermon today wasn’t recorded. This time I just flat-out forgot to put in a CD and so did my sound guy. For the record I also flat-out forgot to put on makeup (and, in case you were wondering, so did my sound guy).

So I’ll do my best from-memory reconstruction.

“Perchance to Dream”

I began with an overview of the history of Mi Cometa and Adopta Una Familia, which I will do in list form.

– began as a twofold vision from people on two continents. what would become the Mi Cometa community center started as a program nearly two decades ago to attempt to provide services to Guasmo Sur, the 400,000-person barrio.

– most of the residents are squatters; they came from the country and found a square of land and built what passes for a home on that land.

– what would become Adopta Una Familia began ten years ago, when a young woman did a little stint in the peace corps in Guasmo. The people on the plane with her bet she wouldn’t last a week in the roughest part of the city. Ten years have passed and she’s been back every year.

Mi Cometa (my kite), the community center
Mi Cometa ('my kite'), the community center

At the dedication of Mi Cometa, the community center, César Cardenas, the president of Mi Cometa (and the only man on staff, since the program seeks to empower young women by providing examples of women in leadership positions), said: “The dreams of the poor are the most powerful dreams, because we have the world to gain and nothing to lose.”

The dreams of the poor. That’s what these programs are about. The dream of providing education and medicine to a community. The dream of building bathrooms and houses, of helping people live with privacy, dignity, hope, and peace. They are dreams that have been years– decades– in the making, but this year, on the tenth anniversary of Adopta Una Familia, the community center was completed. We fit about three hundred people in the large community room for the dedication. Downstairs, there’s a computer lab, a kitchen, a library, dormitories for volunteers, space used by a tutoring program, a music program, what we hope will be a health clinic and a local radio station.The fulfillment of a dream a decade old.

After ten years of involvement in the community as well, the local residents and the North American volunteers had been putting pressure on InterAgua, the water company (here I shared about the building of the sewers and the paving of the streets, described in an earlier post). Along with large scale changes like the community center, advocating for paved streets, and witnessing (as I did last week) the first garbage pick up rather than burning trash in the streets, the project is about the little things, or at least big things in little places, making the world of difference in the life of one person or family. I told the story of Luis, also mentioned in that previous entry, and the house that allows him to live and die in dignity.

But, I said, the true story of Adopta Una Familia is the people. I want you to meet Andres. He’s my brother, or the brother in my host family. Andres met me off my bus when we pulled into the barrio, and greeted me with all the love and affection of a brother as if I’d been gone a couple of days rather than a year. Andres insists on calling me “sister” in English, and in Spanish, “hermanita” a diminutive, affectionate form akin to “little sis,” although I’ve got at least a decade on him. In this photo, Andres is flashing his muscles for a young North American woman who attended last year, in the hopes that she might come back next year. He was sad not to see her. He carries a torch for her, you might say. In the way that, for example, Berlin is burning a torch just now.

Last year, I think I shared with you how my heart broke for the little girls in my family, Raysa and Alba, now eleven and ten. Every woman in their family has been a mother by the age of fifteen– it’s just what happens there– and last year I was overcome with the desire to take them home with me, to somehow rectify the disparity between the opportunities and education and nutrition and choice about when and how they become mothers that will face these girls, compared to the opportunities my own daughter will have. What broke my heart into a million pieces was the realization that I was not there to save them, that we are not meant to ride in on our valiant chargers and deliver people from their circumstances as if we were the saviors of the world when that position has already been filled.

I’d forgotten that. The deep helplessness. The true heartbreak of being utterly unable to do anything about it. A bit of emotional amnesia on my part. I wasn’t quite prepared.

I expected to still be broken-hearted about my girls, but the one who broke my heart this year is Andres.

Andres is nineteen, and, as his father died five years or so ago, he’s the man of the house. When he’s not acting macho to impress a North American chica, he’s actually incredibly shy, very sensitive, sweet, devoted to his family, and I know because he considers me part of it. He’s a tender soul, an artist. He makes jewelry. He draws. He expresses himself in words that seem beautiful and carefully chosen and that I might recognize, if my Spanish were better, as poetry.

Men in Guasmo Sur do two things. They work in construction, and they work at the shipping port. Noble professions, but purely physical ones, and the only dreams, the only opportunities available. At nineteen, Andres tried his hand at construction and at the work of the ship yard.

It didn’t take.

He’s not a wimp; he’s a strong young man as you can see. But he’s not a carpenter. He’s a different sort of craftsman. If he could just get in to the city, perhaps, he could sell jewelry or cook or study some more, but then he’d be using part of what he earned to buy bus fare and that would sort of defeat the purpose. So he doesn’t work right now.

But the part that breaks my heart is that this is not a long term solution. Sooner or later, the man of the house with six other children still living at home, Andres will have to face the music. He will have to work. He will have to work in construction or at the port. And it will break him. That beautiful boy. That gentle soul. My dear brother.

Now, I’ve been showing this picture to every single girl I know, hoping one of them would want to bring Andres to the states with them– just marry the kid and get him to a better place and a better set of opportunities. I know INS tends to frown on that, but look at him! What a sweetheart! I’d do it myself, but Benji already told me no (husband, from the audience, amid the laughter of the congregation: “no. no. no.”).

But the thing is, that’s not necessarily his dream. He loves his family, and I bet it’d break him just as surely to be ripped from them as it would to devote himself to hard physical labor. It’s not for me to fix Andres or his life or his dreams. The dreams of the poor are the most powerful dreams in the world– not ours– because they– not us, they– have the world to gain and nothing to lose.

I’m always convicted by the Beatitudes as they appear in Luke. You know that they’re in the Gospels more than once, right? They’re in Matthew, too, but they read differently. In Matthew, Jesus is recorded as saying “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice…” Luke is far more blunt. In Luke, Jesus says “blessed are the Poor. Blessed are the Hungry. Blessed are those who Mourn.” None of these lofty theological ideas. Jesus in Luke gives the kingdom to the poor. To Andres, to Raysa, to Luis, not to you and I.

Now of course there’s a great theological and biblical debate about which one Jesus actually said, whether Matthew tones it down or Luke ratchets it up, whether Matthew decided that Jesus’ preference for the poor would mean the Gospel would never translate to the wealthy, or Luke decided that the movement should address physical hunger before spiritual hunger, or whether Jesus in fact said both on two separate days. The fact remains that if we take Luke’s Gospel seriously, then it becomes clear that the Gospel is not for us. It is not for us in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. It is not for us in our middle class privilege– we who don’t see ourselves as wealthy, and yet we certainly are, in body and often in spirit. The Gospel, the kingdom, belongs to the poor, not the poor in spirit, to those who hunger not for righteousness, but for good solid food, to those who thirst not for justice but for potable water, to those who mourn not with the large and small suffering that we all must face, but with the deep despair of helplessness and broken or un-dreamed dreams.

And our question becomes, what is the Gospel for us then? What is our role, our place in a kingdom that is for the poor and the hungry, when we are neither? Andres knows poverty in a way I have never and will never know it. He knows hunger like I never will– I bought him and his family lunch one day, and watched as he finished everything on his plate, and mine, and his sisters’ plates, and his brothers’ plates. He is hungry. And he mourns– at least here, I feel like I can stand in solidarity with him, since I am a pretty big crier! But my grief, even for his experience, is not as far-reaching as his, I bet.

Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.
Andres and his hermanita say goodbye.

How do I participate in God’s blessing for Andres and his community? How do I dream his dream? How do we, from our place of privilege, truly bear witness to the dreams of the poor? What is the role of the church, steeped as it is in American middle class privilege, when it comes to God blessing the poor and the hungry and the thirsty?

I confess that I don’t know. That’s the power of this experience, the humility of being broken and powerless to do anything and not even knowing how to think about who we are and what God is calling us to do. All I know is that I love Andres and Raysa and Luis and their families and the community. I grieve with them and try to hear their dreams. I may never be able to find a young woman to marry Andres, and even if I could, I don’t know that I would, since that might not be his dream, and might not be the way to let God bless him. Instead, we bear witness, we mourn together, we hunger and thirst as best we can together. We pray that we can be somehow part of the dream coming true, somehow part of God’s blessing for the poor and the hungry and the broken, unfolding in the world.

Outside the Casa de Mera, Guayaquil, Ecuador (8/10, 6:25 p.m.)

( transcribed entry from 8/10/08, 6:25 p.m. )

After a pancake breakfast (which I cooked!) this morning, we had church service on the soccer field, the highlight of which was a beautiful solo of Amazing Grace, sung by North American teen K. I was also honored to be able to serve communion to about half of the participants and Ecuadorians.

We proceeded to the Mi Cometa community center for a ribbon cutting and dedication, which was very moving. With a few brief speeches, the Ecuadorian leadership of Mi Cometa, with Erica, the North American pastor/founder of the project, cut the red ribbon on the metal gate and ushered us inside. We went in up to the brand new– today!– finished community room.

looking into the Mi Cometa community room a day earlier.
Looking into the Mi Cometa community room a day earlier.
What a difference a day makes!
What a difference a day makes!

There were several speeches, including a great one from César, one of the heads of Mi Cometa, who spoke of the power of dreams, of what has been accomplished, and what is still to be dreamed. “The dreams of the poor,” César said, “are the most powerful dreams, because we have the world to gain, and nothing to lose.”

We were also addressed by the economic minister and political adviser under Ecuadorian President Correa. Between plugs for the proposed new constitution (which sounds pretty good if they can actually do it– lower the voting age from 18 to 16, free public education through high school, and a universal understanding of citizenship “because no person should ever be considered illegal”) the minister praised Mi Cometa, and its commitment to justice, the poor, and the equitable use of natural and human resources.

Following the cake and coffee reception, we came back to the house for a great honor. I baptized Angela’s new, 18-day-old son, Kenyon Ezekiel. Bonnie was the godmother and Andres the godfather. That took up most of the afternoon, and not we are waiting on the evening program and official farewell, and maybe a few more rounds of jokes before bed. I can’t believe this is the last night already.

Kenyon Ezekiel with his godparents, grandmother, and parents.

Casa de Mera, Guayaquil, Ecuador (8/9, 11:15 p.m.)

( transcribed entry from 08/09/08, 11:15 p.m. )

Becca C, Bonnie B and the Mera family at the beach.
Becca C, Bonnie B and the Mera family at the beach.

Beach day was pretty fun– the best day we’ve had. There was even some sun, a big improvement over last year. I waded a lot but didn’t swim (it was still pretty cold). Treated my family to ice cream and boat rides and lunch, where once again I was amazed at how much the members of my family could eat when the food before them was limitless. I finished half my lunch. Andres ate enough for about five people.

As with last year, lunch was our only meal of the day– only snacks for breakfast and dinner, so I’m quite hungry.

This evening, we talked late into the night, Andres, Eddy, Carlos (not my host brother, but Eddy’s cousin by the same name), Diego and I, telling jokes in Spanish. Now that takes a pretty good command of a language, to tell and understand jokes. Admittedly, it was like telling jokes to a child, because they often had to explain the punch line four or five times for me or define a couple of words before I’d laugh, but we did it. And I held my own. I actually did ‘Who’s on First?’ in Spanish; Quíen on first, Qué on second, and Yo No Sé on third… And their jokes were hilarious, told with great expression or perfect deadpan, when appropriate. I feel like I’ve truly arrived, both as a member of the family and as a person who can communicate in Spanish.

Casa de Mera, Guayaquil, Ecuador (8/8, 11:44 p.m.)

( transcribed entry from 08/08/08, 11:44 p.m. )

Erica worked it out with my family so that they– well really just Andres– could go to the banquet last night. The women stayed home with the children, and others were too young to go. The food was great, and Andres gave his characteristic ‘ooh’ when he saw it.

Who *wouldn't* want to hang out with these sweeties?
Who *wouldn't* want to hang out with these sweeties?

We spent most of the day today out of the barrio touring Guayaquil and shopping as a group of North Americans. I did have a nice talk with D, my traveling buddy and fellow Taurus of 1979 and parent of a 3-year-old-daughter. We had lunch together (he treated– big spender!– all of three dollars) and talked religion. That was the highlight of the day pre-dinner.

During the tour, there was a moment that summed it all up for me: we drove past the gardens on the Malécon, where last year the four buddies, Abby, Andres, Cristian and I, had strolled, posed, picked flowers, and chatted an evening away. This year I saw it as a tourist: over a fence, through the glass window of a bus, sitting by myself. No friends, no host family, no leisurely strolling. I was glad to return to the barrio to spend time with my family.

This evening we had the dance, which was also very different from last year, but also more contained (no beer kegs, which, given the age of some of the North American volunteers, is a very good thing indeed).  Bonnie and I went with Andres and Eddy from next door. Isabel (host mother) and Martha (her second daughter) showed up later. I danced with Eddy and a few times with Andres, who is quite a bit approved over last year (but that doesn’t say much, as anyone who’s met my dear bro-at-heart would know– *no* rhythm!).

Feeling pretty melancholy this evening; missing my friends from last year and my family back home, and still disappointed that my family’s house is unfinished. A rough night.

Casa de Mera, Guayaquil, Ecuador (8/7, 4:35 p.m.)

( transcribed journal entry from 08/07/08, 4:35 p.m. )

Street outside of my host family's home.
Paved street around the corner.

We went on a tour of some houses this morning to see some of what Adopta Una Familia and Mi Cometa have done over ten years. It is impressive, Just around the corner from here, there are roads with sidewalks, with proper sewage removal underneath. That’s in large part due to the ongoing protests and actions of the North American volunteers.

House finished by the project this year for Luis.

InterAgua (the local water corporation) is owned by a company based in the United States, the former president of which is a man by the name of Cheney, for what that’s worth. For every dollar InterAgua (or any water company) charges for metered water, 10 cents pays for bringing the water in, 70 cents pays for the removal of the waste water/sewer, and the rest is profit. If there is no sewer, however, no way to remove the water, then the company keeps the full 90 cents on the dollar as profit. So what exactly is the incentive for a corporation to help build sewers?

Luis in August 2007 (he's now bedridden).

Anyway, many of the houses were beautiful, and almost all came with a sad/inspiring story. But why not my family? They are larger and have less than most others we saw, and they are still waiting for their house to be finished.

A particularly moving story is that of Luis, who volunteered with the building program for several years before the North Americans discovered where he lived: in a lean-to, made from a banana tree and some sheet metal wrapped around kind of like a teepee. Louis, in his eighties, fell and broke his hip, and has continued to go downhill since last year, but AUF built him a house, and finished it this year. He is not expected to live much longer, but for these last few months, he is living, and dying, with dignity.

Banana tree under which Luis used to live. The wood you see was his bed.

That’s what about $12,000 can do.

I finally saw my friend Crisitan after lunch. He really does understand me better than the others. When speaking with him and Andres, I hardly need my dictionary at all. So glad I took those Spanish classes!

The other North Americans have gone on a bus tour of the city, but I begged out, claiming sickness, so I could actually spend some more time with my family and friends. So glad I did! We’re now getting ready for a banquet tonight. There’s a little confusion about who will be going and whether or not my family has paid in full, so we’ll see what tonight holds.