Thursday, May 30, 2013

Love hurts
Something I hadn't anticipated happening quite so quickly in this new international life was feeling passionate about Honduras. 
   Oh, it sounds like a good thing. Doesn't the world need more people who arrive in a strange land and really connect?
   But what it actually means is that I now feel invested in the future of the country. I'm not just thinking warm thoughts about Hondurans and hoping things work out. I'm worrying about the place.
  Again, that probably sounds OK on the surface. Honduras certainly needs more people to worry about its future. The trouble is, I feel like I'm worrying more than Hondurans are. And THAT is a bad thing.
    When I was working with sex workers in Victoria, I learned through hard experience that this is called "wanting more for someone than they want for themselves." It tended to happen as I got to know some of the clients a little better and became attached. I would see such potential in them, and would end up trying to solve their problems for them or spending too much time coming up with strategies that might improve their situation. 
   And if someone's right there with you, ready for all the things you want them to be ready for - hey, it's pretty great to have somebody on your side. But it's not healthy for either party when one person wants more than the other person is ready for. 
   In the case of Honduras, this state manifests for me as near-unbearable frustration.
   Now when I pass a line of people all selling exactly the same things, I'm no longer reaching for my camera to capture the charming scene. I'm stifling an urge to regale them with marketing ideas that might help them distinguish themselves and their products, or lecture them about the futility of trying to make a decent living  when the only thing you've got for sale is the same thing that everyone else has. 
    I observe my co-workers reporting out on their projects and find myself wanting to shriek, "No! No! We have to do more than just count the number of gardens we planted, the number of people who took a course on holding government accountable! This country needs real change!"  
    I continue to listen with interest and sympathy to people's sad stories about villages without water, without road access, where the forests are being lost and the animals are getting sick - villages where children are doomed to spend their lives on the brink of severe malnutrition and in the same poverty that their parents and grandparents struggle with. But more and more I have to swallow hard to avoid crying out, "Run, you people! Can't you see there's no future here?"
   I'm sure there have been many books written on this phenonmenon, where the gringos show up and set about trying to change everything in ways that conform to their own view of a "good life." From such world views have come truly horrible things: Residential schools; colonization; forced assimilation; broken cultures.
    So until Hondurans are demanding these kinds of change, it's really none of my business. If Hondurans are happy enough living hard, short lives existing on beans, tortillas and shockingly small incomes, who am I to want more for them? If people want to leave it to God to sort things out rather than start a revolution, why should that matter to me? If generations of Honduran children never reach their full potential because they're underfed, under-educated, deprived of opportunity and trapped in tiny, isolated villages, is that my problem?
   But what I'm saying is that once you feel passion for a country, it starts to feel like your problem. It gets harder to contrast life in your country with theirs and just shrug it all off as cultural differences. I look at the children of my co-workers and feel enormous sadness that they are being short-changed in every way, and that their families most likely don't even know it because that has been their life, too. 
   In my time with the sex workers, I learned to have patience. I learned to just shut up and wait, to align myself with the ones who were ready and leave the other ones be.
 But it never got any easier. I got better at hiding my feelings, but I never got past them. Honduras, I'm ready when you are. 


Danneau said...

I remember some of the Victoria stuff being in the media and what looked like a reporter morphing into an activist. If people's expectations for themselves are lower than yours for them, I suspect that part of the problem is that many in most walks of life and different geographies have never seen how good life can be, and it's hard to imagine something entirely beyond the scope of one's experience, rather like most of us trying to visualize quantum physics in a meaningful way. It's still the same here on Vancouver Island where people are afraid to retrench from consumerism because they can't trust themselves to rebuild emotional, social and spiritual connections so that the goodness in life doesn't stem from the abundance of WalMart trash (or Rolexes and BMWs) but from mutual aid and consideration in all our dealings with the life around us. Thanks for your perspective and much encouragement in pushing the stone in the right direction.

Erastus said...

Truth. The teacher must always be ready to impart knowledge and wisdom when the learner is ready and until that time, the teacher must learn from the "learner". Recognize that the learner will be ready someday, sometime - remain vigilant and do not allow yourself to become aloof or distant. Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jody. Working to support abused women taught me the same lesson. One time I was trying to help a woman who had been couch surfing for a few days. I made her some soup, and got slightly irritated when she didn't show up to eat it. So I followed her into the bathroom to find that what she needed was to clean up - one paper towel at a time.