Monday, September 23, 2013

“Oh, Para Estar Joven”

This fall marks the first time in over 17 years that I have not returned to school for another year.  It’s strange to say the least.  I think about where I went to college and what is going on there right now.  Freshmen are getting used to the routine.  The freedom.  The self-dependency.  Upperclassmen are coming back for more studies.  More friends.  More experiences.  In the Music Department at Stevens Point, rehearsals have begun again.  Parts are being learned.  Practice rooms are being occupied.  And music is being made.  I was recently clicking through songs on my iTunes when I came across Joseph Wilcox’s “American Overture”.  It was the first concert piece I ever played in college and it made me think of that time.

College was a great time.  In many ways, I had the time of my life there.  I made friends, learned more than I ever thought I would, performed music like never before, and loved every minute of it.  But there’s something that college does to you in a very subtle way.  Something that makes graduating very difficult.  Each year there are new requirements, new hoops to jump through.  Different classes to pass, accomplishments to achieve.  It’s a very linear way of life.  Do this.  Now do this.  Next do this.  Mess up?  Go back one square.  But this is not how life works.

In life there are unlimited options.  What to do.  Where to go.  How to do it.  People like me don’t like this.  In some weird and paradoxical way, the freedom is paralyzing.  We like better knowing what’s coming, what to expect next.  So much so that sometimes instead of become an adult, we choose to escape that by, say, volunteering to serve in a foreign country for a year.

In the U.S.  we are taught that from the time we’re 18, we are adults.  Or at least once we graduate.  Or at the very least when we are financially independent and employed full-time.  Or at the very very least when we start a family.  Our country puts so much emphasis on being independent that we put these artificial markers up to delineate when adulthood has been reached.  In Mexico, things are different.  In fact often the word ‘joventud’ – ‘youth’ is used to refer to someone even into their 30’s.

Being young is scary.  Because there’s something that “adults” know that we don’t know.  Life works out.  It’s the very reason grandparents don’t stress about whether their grandson Billy figured out how to use the potty when he was two or too old.  Eventually it always works out.  The same is true about life no matter what stage it is at.  Deciding where to work, what house to buy, and what to do when your significant other and you have a huge fight seem like insurmountable decisions to people my age.  But to our parents and older generations, those aren’t huge items.  They’ve made those decisions before and have realized that really, they’re not going to make or break life one way or the other. 

So.  To everyone my age or near.  There are no right answers.  But this doesn’t mean that you have to go through 99 wrong options until you find the one right one.  It means that there are lots of right answers.  So go try one.  Life will work out.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A veces hacer nada es hacer algo

“A veces hacer nada es hacer algo.”  This phrase is on several glasses at the host home I live at.  Translated, it means “sometimes doing nothing is doing something.”  I think back to when I was student teaching – the first bell rang at 7:30 and I was often at school before that.  There was class 1st hour and then lessons back to back.  More classes and more lessons until almost 3:00.  I would go home to my apartment, make dinner, and then do nothing.  It always felt weird – like I was supposed to be doing something but never quite knew what it was. 

Today marks the completion of my first week at AMEXTRA.  A lot has happened since I started working Monday morning.  I have helped kids with homework, taught several English classes, helped build a concrete stove, visited a school with another AMEXTRA team member to plant vegetable seeds, and gone to the dump to hand out flyers for English class.   

But I have also done a lot of nothing.  Or what we would call nothing in the United States.  Sitting.  Thinking.  Waiting.  As this week comes to a close, it is good to remember that sometimes doing nothing is doing the most.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Road to the Dump is a One-Way Street (Almost)

Today, we went to visit the site I will be working at for the next 11 months.  It’s name is AMEXTRA – the Associacion Mexicana para la Transformacion Rural y Urbana.  After a 30-minute Metro ride, a 20-minute light rail ride, and a 40-minute microbus ride that transitioned to dirt roads as we got close, we were there.  It wasn’t the first dump I’ve visited.  Twice this summer, I had the privilege of visiting the Waushara County dump where the camp I worked at takes its cardboard, plastic bottles, and scrap material.  There’s a neat place off to one side where things like water heaters, lawn mowers, and old motors go.  In the middle are two giant dumpsters for cardboard and plastic.  Two compactors receive the garbage.  Everything is clean and organized.

The dump we saw today is not.  Muddy roads meander around.  Diesel-belching trucks lumber through, downshifting to make the climb with a full load of garbage in tow.  Dogs, chickens, and pigs roam around.  And there are people who live at the dump too.  Many of them make their living doing this – either because they’re actually employed to sort the garbage or because they do it to pick out things to sell later.  Either way, it’s certainly not a pretty sight. 

But this is not the biggest difference between these two dumps.  The biggest difference between the dump in Wisconsin and the dump in Mexico is the road.  Not even because of the material that it’s made of, but because of what it means.  You see, I can walk into the dump.  But I can also walk out of the dump.  I can get on a train and go home.  For the people who survive in the dump, there is no real road out.  They don’t have the money to leave and even if they did, they wouldn’t have anywhere to go.  They have no education, no papers, no future outside of the dump.  The richest team of U.S. volunteers could chopper them out, hand them each a stack of $100 bills and they would still be no better off than they are now.  What needs to happen first is transformation.

Understand this: the people of La Puebla Perdida (The Lost Village) do indeed have something.  They have a life.  They have stories.  They have each other.  This is not nothing.  Only when we begin to understand that through working with others rather than for others will real change take place. 

What one-way roads do you walk down?