Since graduating from college in May 2011, I’ve lived my dream of taking some time to explore the places and issues I’ve read so much about in school. And to extract my concentration from its one-track focus on my grades, my future, and my problems in order to “help others” and “give back”. For a whole summer, I landed a job sleeping under the stars, backpacking, kayaking, rafting, and generally exploring some of the most amazing landscapes and protected areas in the U.S. (And trying to instill a love for these places in the kids I was in charge of, too…). Then I promptly re-packed my bags and headed to Nicaragua for six months. There I volunteered at a small sustainable development organization, doing, of all things, mainly herbal medicine. (How many people get a chance to be a curandera!?) Now, I am back in North Carolina and working as a health outreach worker with migrant farmworkers. I get to speak Spanish all day and meet and assist the hardworking but vastly under-appreciated people who harvest the food lining our supermarket shelves.
This past year has flown by, and sometimes, it seems like it’s all going too fast. Even though I journal and try to reflect on everything I’m doing, I still feel as if I’m missing part of the point. This past year, I’ve gathered the perfect ingredients for an enviable travel blog: breathtaking photos, exotic travels, cultural (mis)understandings, new acquaintances from all walks of life, and personal growth. Traveling the world and working on humanitarian, community-focused projects is exhilarating, eye-opening, and gratifying. But I think that in order for me to justify all the personal benefit I’ve received from “helping others”, I need to put in the extra work to ensure that I ultimately come home from my year or two of unique personal experiences with a truly deeper understanding of the Big Picture surrounding them.
It was my quest to understand the world’s Big Ideas and Unsolvable Problems and to make my own tiny contribution to their resolutions that put me on this path in the first place. And it’s what ultimately keeps me traveling along that path, even if on the ground, it can be emotionally draining to attempt to deeply dedicate oneself to a cause that you rationally know is really only a band-aid solution to a much larger, systemic problem. Honestly, I never feel more energized or connected to the world than when I’m sitting alone and lost in consideration of how it became what it is today and what we can do to make it better tomorrow.
What is more, I think that truly informing yourself about the places and issues that interest you is the best way to insure that you respect the people you set out to help and that you see them as agents in their own situations. In the face of poverty, hardship, and injustice, it’s easy to objectify others as the recipients of our aid, instead of remembering that they are also multifaceted people who are fighting, living, and somehow getting by each day. They are part of the same world system as we are. They have a past as well as a future. This is why I like the quote pictured in the header at the top of this blog. It’s a portion of one of the many poignant murals scattered across León, Nicaragua – a vibrant, if somewhat tattered, colonial university town that was a revolutionary stronghold in the 1970s. The mural proclaims of the city of León (and I like to think of it in reference to all of Nicaragua and Latin America), “A 457 años: tenemos historia, hacemos futuro!!!” At 475-years-old: we have a history, we will make the future.
So, this will be my blog devoted to exploring the Big Picture of my adventures with Latin American communities both in the U.S. and down South. While I try to think in this way already, I’m hoping that having a blog and readership will force me to do it in a more regular, deliberate, and focused manner. I hope those reading will learn some things, as well!
I’ll leave you with the quote that I contributed to the sea of thoughts inside the bus pictured above. The thinker in the picture is my good friend Liz, and this bus is at the Center for Development in Central America where I volunteered in Nicaragua. There I found a community of amazing people who not only dare to Think Big but to also then live out their ideals every day. My quote on the bus comes from a Nicaraguan poet, author and revolutionary, in one of her books that I highly recommend. She says:
History is a long process, and if one can muster the patience to understand it, one can derive satisfaction from the small battles that drive it forward. A cause isn’t hopeless just because its objectives aren’t reached in one’s lifetime.
– Gioconda Belli
“The Country Under My Skin”
So, here’s to small battles and Big Ideas. To understanding the past in order to fuel our fight for the future. To realizing that taking time to understand why our societies aren’t just is just as important as experiencing the injustices themselves. Here’s to living the difficult process, but dreaming about the far-off goal. Welcome to my blog! It should be a grand adventure.