So much has happened in the past 2 weeks its hard to know where to begin. Ill try to piece together these events and reflections little by little over the next few weeks. But let it suffice to say that this has been a birthday to always remember.
Two of my best friends came from Austin to visit me here in El Salvador for a week, and I took them around to Guajoyo as well as to some other historical and touristic sites around the country. It was fun for me to get to hear their reflections and impressions as first time visitors to the country, seeing with fresh eyes things that over the past 3 months I’ve been here I have learned to get used to.
One of the things you cant help but be impressed by is the outrageous hospitality we encountered everywhere we went. In Guajoyo, we stayed with a different family who has an extra house (which belongs to family members in the US for when they come back), and spent our time with my host family, at the school, in the river with friends, and hanging out with the incredible folks of Guajoyo. People were constantly saying Thanks to my friends and talking about what an honor it was for them to visit Guajoyo, something that was surprising to Natasha and Jesse. How can they be thanking us when they are the ones who open their homes to us, cook for us, put on shows for us, take off work and school to give us a special experience, and all the other things they did for the 3 of us during our visit and in general for me in my stay here. And while that is still a great and humbling mystery for me as well, I explained to them what I am beginning to understand about it. For someone to come visit Austin is totally understandable — we have great restaurants, live music, good jobs, and overall its just a great place to live. People visit and care about Austin because its got great stuff going on. Guajoyo is a tiny community made up of around 200 families, tucked in off a dusty road at the foot of volcanoes where one might easily forget people inhabit. Their homes are humble, their lives simple, and in the grand scheme of all the places in the world, people in Guajoyo feel like its not much to talk about. So the fact that people from far away find Guajoyo worth visiting and worth caring about is a huge honor, and I believe it is truly with great pleasure that they receive and care about us.
Everybody, kids and grown ups alike, were extremely excited to show off their community to us this week. My host family picked the biggest, ripest papaya to give us, we roasted cashews from their stock of cashew seeds, my host dad caught an iguana for us to eat, they took us to the Rio Lempa to swim, fish, paddle in handcarved canoes, etc…. And each of these things we did was a pleasure and an honor for those who served us.
I can maybe understand a little bit as a volunteer, because I certainly feel that it is a huge honor to be given the opportunity to serve this community. I am extremely humbled by the fact that they think I have anything to offer and always wish there was more I could do to serve the community.
The thing is I think we are made to want to serve, and it is as important to know how to be served as knowing how to serve. I am learning how to be served by the people here, living a life where independence is a myth and everything from my food to getting around and having a place to sleep is dependent on other people. El Salvador is a country that has received lots of support from around the world, especially since the war ended in 1992. People send money for projects, fund scholarships, build houses, etc., and the communities are incredibly grateful for such support. But what a beautiful thing to also give the opportunity to serve.
As always, it comes back to the core of Sister Cities and the solidarity model. We dont just give to Guajoyo, but we are served by the community as well. They serve us with hospitality when we come as delegations as volunteers, and they teach us about the strength of community, about our place in the global picture, and about the hope to rebuild and to dream of a better future.