Compassion is something other than pity. Pity suggests distance, even a certain condescendence. I often act with pity. I give some money to a beggar on the streets of Toronto or New York City, but I do not look him in the eyes, sit down with him, or talk with him. I am too busy to really pay attention to the man who reaches out to me. My money replaces my personal attention and gives me an excuse to walk on.
Compassion means to become close to the one who suffers. But we can come close to another person only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves. A compassionate person says: " I am your brother, I am your sister, I am human, fragile, and mortal, just like you. I am not scandalized by your tears, nor afraid of your pain. I too have wept. I too have felt pain." We can be with the other person only when the other ceases to be other and becomes like us.
This, perhaps, is the main reason that we sometimes find it easier to show pity than compassion. The suffering person calls us to become aware of your own suffering. How can I respond to someone´s loneliness unless I am in touch with my own experience of loneliness? How can I be close to handicapped people when I refuse to acknowledge my own handicaps? How can I be with the poor when I am unwilling to confess my own poverty?
This is the beautiful quote that Katy chose for our Spirituality Night reflection this past week. It speaks so well to the experience I am having here in Monte Sinaí, where we are all learning to live with more compassion. Getting to know the hearts of the people and connect with them instead of looking at their homes and noting the differences in what they have and how they live. Although I come from a very different reality, I look at the people here- my students, my friends- and see my brothers and sisters, whom I have grown to love so very much.
Here in Ecuador, Kids´ Day is celebrated on June 1st. At San Felipe, we had a HUGE fiesta! Moms from each grade level dressed up and danced or put on skits to make their kiddos laugh. There were contests, an exciting appearance by Barney (we sang the I Love You song in Spanish AND English), Snow White and Prince Charming, food and presents for all. The kids got to come in their street clothes and left super felices. What a fun day! I dressed up as a clown and danced with the 5th grade moms. My students got a kick out of seeing me like that :)
St. Joe´s University visited Mount Sinaí! What a fantastic group of individuals. I have no doubt they will do great things and touch many lives with their big hearts. They definitely inspired me.
Some memorable moments from the week:
-Experiencing pure joy during playtime at San Felipe, Refuerzo, and Bastión
-Cheering for the woman killing chickens on the side of the road
-Turning every car ride into an "hora loca" ipod shuffle jukebox experience
-Dancing the "gallinita" with the 4th graders at San Felipe and shaking some tail feathers
-Playing Signs and Mau and Spoons with marker consequences
-Hanging out with Youth Group and playing soccer
-Singing Bohemian Rhapsody to the niños at Bastión
-Having the power go out EVERY DAY
-Being welcomed into the homes of neighbors and sharing conversation
-Searching for the Watcho
Some things the group learned:
-The blessing of hospitality as neighbors opened their homes and hearts time and time again
-Smiling (true smiling) can bring hope to people
-Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer
-Being vulnerable and open in relationships can create beautiful connections
-We are part of the privileged few who get a college education and have a great responsibility because of that to create change in this world
-God is in everything
-"Don´t forget us": honor your experience by remembering the people and their stories
Shout outs! A favorite memory or two that will stick in my mind about each member of Team Watcho:
-Dr. Tom: getting called an alien for sharing that "ropa sucia" is your favorite food, busting out "Roxanne"
-Micaela: laughing and conversing with Elisa and Fernanda, carrying around Bianca at Refuerzo
-Brian: the San Felipe students saying "wow" the first time you spoke :), playing with little Leila at the final dinner and making her laugh
-Megan: telling Katarina that she will always be beautiful, sharing your deep love with everyone you met
-Amy: running around with little kids on your shoulders at Refuerzo, bonding with Katherine about Will Smith!
-Vinny: rocking Bohemian Rhapsody, the look of inspiration on your face while listening to Luis
-Lisa: schooling the boys on the soccer field, dancing it up to Teenage Dream
-Taylor: out-running all the kids at Sta Teresa Mass, connecting with Karen at Refuerzo
-Ryan: making Tamia smile at San Felipe, always asking great questions at neighbor visits
-Karla: singing Eminem in the car, your patience while helping students with homework
-Dom: reading to San Felipe kids during recess, connecting with Monica
-Katie: rapping in the car :), using your awesome Spanish!
-Scott: knowing alllllllll the lyrics to every song, being very present everywhere we went
-Nate: playing with kids!!!, letting go and having some serious fun
I hope you all cary this experience in your heart and never forget that we belong to each other! :)
Hello! Happy Mother´s Day to all of the wonderful mothers, especially my own :) I love you, Mom!
Here in Ecuador, el Día de la Madre is in full swing. This morning I was awoken at barely 6am to Mother´s Day music (yes, they have that here) blasting at 1,000,000% volume :) Oh Ecuador. At Mass, the Colombian Sisters brought out cake and soda for all the moms present and did a special raffle with heart-shaped pillow and stuffed animal and shampoo prizes. And oh, the schools do it up big. At mine, San Felipe, there was a big Mass and celebration with students from each grade reading poems or singing songs. There was a "Madre Símbolo" presentation, where they crowned one special mom with a sash and gift and the works. The kids gave out the gifts they had made in class and everyone ate sandwiches and soda. Ecuadorians proove yet again that they know how to party :) But the sentiment is of course the same as in the USA or any country- taking the time to show our moms how much we love them and appreciate everything they have done and continue to do for us. Thanks, Mom.
In other updates, wow, a lot has happened. Vacations have come and gone. I helped run a six week long vacation courses through the parish in the afternoons, teaching English, Art, Math, and Language. It was such a blessing to meet a whole new group of fantastic and goofy kids from the neighborhood! I also taught a month-long English catch-up course at my school for the students who especially struggled last year and for new students coming from other schools that weren´t quite at grade level. Did you know that playing UNO is a great way to review simple numbers and colors in English? :) The kids sure loved it. In my free time, I did some private English lessons for a couple neighbors to help them keep up their skills before starting high school. It´s so easy to forget a language when you don´t use it for three months! And of course I did lots of visiting! Hanging with neighbors, playing card games or coloring with kids, giving sugar cookie and banana bread baking lessons :) It was a beautiful time! Also, I found a free Zumba class in a nearby school that I went to whenever possible. SO MUCH FUN!
Oh and HOLY WEEK! It was crazy busy and fantastic. We had evening Mass on Thursday, a 3 hour procession and acting out of the Signs of the Cross through our neighborhood on Friday (followed by Mass), Easter Vigil on Saturday night (the electricity was out, so it was candlelit the whole Mass...beautiful!), and Easter Sunday Mass. Wow! Talk about a lot of praying haha But in all seriousness, it was a wonderful time to be with our community and experience the true meaning of Easter (there´s no bunny here). I did, however, find plastic eggs and have some fun egg hunts with a couple of families and the youth group kids.
The school year was set to start on April 2nd, but the govenment pushed back the first day until the 16th due to the severity of the rainy season and flooding. Many schools were unfit to open. Since then, we have begun. I´m teaching twice as many English classes, which means more planned classroom time...so that´s good! I can´t even explain in words how much love and hugs I get each day. Especially from the 1st graders, who rush out of their seats yelling "Elisa!!" to hug me whenever I enter the classroom and then
start chanting "Cuento! Cuento!" until I pull a storybook out of my bag to read to them. It´s adorable. I also have Fridays off! I was working too many hours, plus the school day is a half hour longer this year (starting at 7am now...meaning I wake up at 5:40am...yikes!), so I talked with my boss and with Madre Lucely at the school and have the go ahead to spend a day in the community! I also started teaching an adult computer class one evening a week for some neighbors and friends of the school. It´s really difficult for a 40 year old mom who´s never touched a computer to use a mouse! That is my first task for them to master :)
So in short, life is beautiful. Full of blessings. Moving way too fast. :) I´ll blog again soon with some of the lessons I´m learning. There are many!
Recently I wandered over to our backdoor neighbor’s house to fulfill a promise to play UNO with the kiddies. No kiddies were to be found! But I did find their mom, Carla*, alone in the house. She invited me in, hollered for the kids (who were across the canal playing), and asked me to sit down to wait. Naturally, the childrens took their sweet time, so we had a long moment to chat. Prompted by some questions, Carla began relating her many worries. Her husband is currently out of work, so money is very scarce. Putting food on the table is a daily concern. Her mom is sick, but she doesn’t have the money to go visit, and she can’t leave the kids alone. In addition, she’s been trying to find space in some of the local schools to enroll her three kids, but there are no spots available. The new school year starts in early April, so she’s starting to worry that her kids will have to travel far (which means paying bus fare) or be stuck in a poor quality school (or both). She’s not the only mother I know who is scrambling to visit schools right now.
Carla also shared some difficult things about her marriage. Her husband is very machista (dominating) and also a womanizer. When she was 7 months pregnant with her youngest, he left her for another woman, abandoning her with two kids and one on the way. He didn’t come back for four years. And now that he is back, he frequently goes out drinking and cheating with his friends and cousins. He hits up strip joints and cabarets, comes home with hickeys on his neck. Carla is scared that he’ll catch some disease and end up giving it to her. They fight every day. She feels helpless to do anything to change her circumstances. She told me, “Elisa, no te cases” (Don’t get married). That way I can actually enjoy my life. Carla spends most of her days in the house. She only works when they’re in debt and her husband tells her to find a job. She doesn’t have much freedom, always having to tell her husband where she’s going, waiting on him when he’s home, taking care of the kids. What could I say to her? I listened. It was all I could do. The saddest part is that Carla’s story is not unique. Many women live this way, without a voice. My housemate Belén works with groups of women that get together to fight the machista culture and discover their self-worth. These groups give women support, a chance to get out of the house, an opportunity to share and grow and become leaders. It is a beautiful mission.
Last week was CARNAVAL! In Ecuador, the people celebrate the four days leading up to Lent/ Ash Wednesday. Lots of families head to the beach to play or to the mountains to visit relatives. Monday and Tuesday were days off work. Tons of the stores on our street were closed. What do people do on these party days? Have water fights and attack each other with paint! Ah! In Monte Sinaí, it became a common sight to see kids and adults walking down the street soaked from head to toe or with different color paint staining their faces and clothes. Kids staked out the sidewalks with water guns or water balloons to throw at cars with open windows. People in the back of pick-up trucks drove around dumping buckets of water on innocent passers-by. Lots of little blow up pools were inflated and filled with kiddos and parents. The public pool was PACKED and patroled by plenty of police. The more hardcore people played with the dirty puddle water or with eggs or mud. (I am NOT hardcore, mind you). But I did play! We had 11 high school boys in town from St. John´s Prep, so we joined in on a huge battle and lunch with youth group after Mass on Sunday. We all ended up looking like zombies, our faces caked with green and black paint. What a riot! And on Tuesday, the most loco day of all, we played in the street with Mónica´s family and some other neighborhood kids, soaking each other with little buckets of water and rainbow color paint. Maybe not the best way to conserve water, but it was wonderful to participate in such a fun cultural experience! Hopefully I´ll be able to put some pictures up soon! :) Happy Lent to you all!