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A Time to Care: Delivering food in the context of extreme hunger

I sat down on the bench of a local park here in Antigua, Guatemala. It was the first week of quarantine. As I enjoyed the silence of this previously crowded space, a little boy came up to me and said in Spanish, “Excuse me sir, do you have some change you can spare?”

I checked my pockets for change. Nothing. Then I checked my wallet while the kid tried to peek inside of it. All I had were bills of 100 Quetzales (equal to $12). “Sorry bud,” I said, “All I have are large bills.” The kid didn’t stop there. He boldly demanded one of the bills. I smiled and barked back, “What? Who are you? Come here you little …” I tried to grab him but he jumped back and giggled. “How about I buy you atole (cornmeal drink) from the lady right there,” I said, pointing to the vendor near us. He nodded.

The boy followed me up to the lady and as I began to make the order, he asked for two more cups: one for his mom and one for his uncle. The lady vendor just shook her head, and when the boy walked away with the cups, she yelled out, “Boy, can you say thank you?” The kid obeyed and said to me, “Gracias!” Then the lady began to explain how she knew the boy: His father was out of the picture and his mom was physically disabled. The boy’s mom sends him out to dig in the trash cans everyday because she can’t work.

My heart was pierced! I thought the kid was just pestering me for money because it was obvious that I was from the U.S., a place of wealth. But no, the kid was in real need and instead of helping him, I chose to go the easy route and buy him a snack. I felt terrible, not only because I was being stingy but also because I contradicted one of my own beliefs, that is, that God often uses our surroundings to pull us into a redemptive story. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to be drawn in. The good thing is second opportunities always surround us.

A Second Pull

Flag Waiver

A few weeks ago, I posted a video on Facebook about the Guatemalans who are using white flags to indicate their extreme need for food. These folks either stand on the street corner waving their flag or set it outside of their homes, hoping that someone will respond and bring them some type of sustenance. I found this video inspiring because it demonstrated the power of community: neighbors caring for neighbors during a time when competition seems to characterize most communities around the world. I looked forward to running into a flag waiver, maybe even giving that person money for food. But as far as making it a cause or anything of that nature, no thanks. I didn’t come to Guatemala to get involved in community work. I came to rest and recover from a mental health breakdown that happened about a year ago. 

Then I received two text messages. 

My friend Chris and my mentor Dina both offered to send me money so I can help a few people. It was like a sack of money fell on my lap, but I wasn’t excited. Nevertheless, as I thought more about the way God often uses our context to draw us in, I began to challenge my excuses. Was I still mentally unstable? No. Was I fully rested? Yes. Then why was I being so hesitant? I don’t know. Only a few weeks ago, I was dreading the possibility of contracting the coronavirus, but somehow I moved beyond that. So then why was I wavering? I was not sure. The only thing I could come up with was that sometimes we become complacent in the space and routine of our daily lives, and anything that would pull us away from that can feel threatening.

It’s always scary to be pulled into the unknown. Organizing and community work for me isn’t unknown, but the fact that I was in a foreign country and in a foreign culture made me feel like I was not suited to serve here. But the next day, after the texts, I walked past a neighbor’s doorway and saw him holding a handful of beans. He was counting them one by one and my heart broke! Then I knew that the remedy to my stressful resistance could only be found in opting into the story that surrounded me. So I matched the amount of money with my own, and I allowed myself to get pulled in.

The Organizing Begins

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My team

I started with the fundamental building block of community organizing: Knocking on doors. I looked for those who could help me deliver food, as well as those who were in need of food. I made a list.

My first contact was an elderly Kaqchikel woman named Francisca. I was taking a break from my jog on the first tier of the town’s hill. Francisca walked up the stairs, wearing her traditional dress and carrying a basket of food on her head. When I saw her, I ran up to her and startled her, probably because of my tattoos. In Guatemala, tattoos are usually associated with gangs. So I pulled back a bit and said, “Mam, I just want to know if you need food. I will be delivering food tomorrow and I am looking for people in need.”

“Hallelujah!” She shouted. “I do need food, and so does my friend who I’m visiting.” Amazing, my first connection! I shared with her details about how I would deliver the food the following day and when I finished, she asked me, “Young man, why are you doing this?”

I thought for a second, then I said, “I’m doing this because I care and I need to obey God.”

Francisca took a step toward me and said, “You are an angel,” but I immediately shot back, “No, mam. I’m a gargoyle.” She squinted as she looked at me in the eyes and began to share about God’s unconditional love. Then she put her hands forward and began to pray over me in her native language. When she finished, she gave me her phone number and we parted ways.

I could feel her blessing in my heart.

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Francisca and her friend blessing us.

On Saturday morning, I assembled my team of neighbors, four total, and we went to the grocery store to purchase the food. We packed 20 bags with about a month’s worth of food for one or two people. Our first stop was Francisca’s friend’s home. She was already waiting for us outside with her friend. When we gave her the food, she gave me a list of scriptures and offered to pray for me. I knelt on one knee and she prayed a blessing over me.

Then we drove to Santa Maria de Jesus, a predominantly Kaqchekel town. This was the tribal community of one of our team members, Brenda. We dropped off several bags of food there, and the people were utterly grateful. My highlight was watching our other team member, Aaron, pray over an elderly man who was sick. We walked into the house and there we saw the man laying on his bed. His wife was so happy. Aaron asked if he could pray for the man, and the man didn’t hesitate to say yes. He sat up and Aaron pulled out of his pocket a vial with oil. He poured it over the man’s head and prayed for healing. The elderly couple then blessed us and we began our way back home.

Conclusion

Something happened to me that day. I’m not sure what it was, but I feel different. I don’t know if it was the displacing effect of being in a foreign country, or the beauty of the indigenous elderly blessing us, or witnessing a new level of poverty I’ve personally never seen before. But it has changed me, and I don’t think I really had a choice.

Our environment will always be more powerful than our individuality. It will always be something that connects us to each other. Our social environment is an intricate compilation of many selves, interacting directly and indirectly, forming what we call “community.” And communities always have a story, stories that often pull us in even though we often resist. I resisted and I became miserable … until I allowed the hands of God to pull me into the arms of my neighbors. Now, I am committed to continue the work of providing the elderly with food until the lockdown is over because in providing, I receive a blessing; and the blessing to me is the confirmation of my small role in God’s story among the people of Antigua. 

I took a walk the other day and I saw the little boy again. I walked up to him very excited and I asked him if he remembered me. He said, “No.” Bummer! Nevertheless, I gave him a bill of 100 Quetzales and said to him, “Thank you.” He looked at me confused but I didn’t feel the need to explain. Then I learned the boy had a name: His name was Moises, which in Hebrew ironically means “to draw out,” just like I was drawn out from my complacency and into a new story that has changed me forever.

 

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Video of us in action.

 

 

 

 

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Una Confesión: Mi viaje con mi enfermedad mental

Enfermedad mental.

Nunca pensé que me afectaría esto, ni que escribiría sobre esto. Además, soy un hombre educado y exitoso … una persona aparentemente estable. Sin embargo, aquí estoy, compartiendo vulnerabilidades mientras recojo piezas de mí mismo que nunca pensé que tendría que recoger. Me he mantenido relativamente en silencio sobre esta lucha, pero ha pasado más de un año. Ahora estoy dispuesto a compartir más públicamente y, en cierta medida, ayudar a desestigmatizar las enfermedades mentales. Entonces déjenme comenzar, diciendo: “Hola. Mi nombre es Ivan y soy bipolar.

¿Qué es el trastorno bipolar? _DSC0759.-01 (1)

El trastorno bipolar es una condición de salud mental que afecta casi 1 por ciento de la población (EE.UU.). Es una condición genética que generalmente permanece latente durante una parte de la vida de una persona hasta que “despierta”. Este “despertar” generalmente ocurre en la adolescencia tardía, en los 20s o, a veces, en los 30s, como fue en mi caso. Cuando se despierta esta condición, la persona afectada experimentará un cambio de humor acelerado que puede durar un período de tiempo prolongado. Este estado de ánimo elevado se caracteriza por la emoción y la productividad, un estado conocido como “hipomanía”. Mas elevado de la hipomanía se encuentra una aceleración mucho más extremo que puede ser tóxica y peligrosa. Esta aceleración extrema se conoce como “manía”. Este estado, para mí, se siente como una intoxicación de metanfetamina o algún tipo de droga energética. Cuando termina la aceleración, el estado de ánimo de la persona caerá en depresión a niveles extremadamente bajos.

Esto es Depresión. No es tristeza … ¡es depresión paralizante! Hay una diferencia.

Para ser claro, ser bipolar no significa que una persona oscilará entre dos estados de ánimo todo el tiempo, aunque esto podría suceder. Y no significa que la persona pierde la conciencia y comience a alucinar, volviéndose violento. Ser bipolar es más complejo que eso. Es importante que la persona afectada tome conciencia de su condición para que pueda aprender a navegar regularmente a través de una intensa oscilación.

Estos estados de energía son relativamente incontrolables; no puedes simplemente detenerlos. No hay palabras suaves ni trucos mentales que puedan eliminar las síntomas del trastorno bipolar. No es necesariamente un juego de la mente. De hecho, la historia de investigación se caracteriza por la controversia sobre si la afección es un trastorno psicológico o biológico. Para muchos, son los dos, por eso es considerado un trastorno cerebral neurobiológico. Es neurológico porque los químicos biológicos que libera esta condición afectan el cerebro; es biológico porque la raíz del problema no se encuentra en el cerebro, sino en la forma en que el cuerpo libera estos químicos que llegan al cerebro. En resumen, el trastorno bipolar comienza en el cuerpo y termina en el cerebro, manipulando los patrones de energía y estado de ánimo.

Entonces, ¿qué pasó conmigo?

Después de mi proyecto Mission Tattoo en el verano de 2018, cuando fui a El Salvador a cubrir unos tatuajes que tenian a uno en peligro, regresé con sensaciones extrañas en el estómago. Me convencí de que había atrapado algún tipo de gusano en centroamérica, ya que la tenia es muy común, especialmente en áreas rurales como las que había atravesado. Gasté miles de dólares en pruebas de mi estómago y sangre.

Todos los días mi estómago se revolvía, y cada vez que esto pasaba, me sentía extremadamente hambriento, como si mi insulina estaba baja. Pero yo me la pasaba comiendo. Lo extraño fue mi pérdida de peso. De julio a septiembre, perdí alrededor de 25 libras. Pasé de casi 165 libras a 138 libras. Tenía miedo por mi vida porque nunca había estado tan flaco.

Además de las extrañas sensaciones en mi cuerpo y la pérdida de peso, comencé a experimentar explosiones de ansiedad, o lo que considero “descargas extremas de adrenalina”. Todos los días, aproximadamente a las 11 de la mañana, después de que mi estómago empezaba a revólver, comencé a sentir ansiedad y esta ansiedad se aceleraba durante todo el día hasta las 10 o las 11 de la noche. Comparo esta sensación con la imagen de beber unas 15 tazas de pre-entrenamiento o 20 Redbulls. ¡Mucha energía! Al principio se sentia genial. Mucha motivación. Puedes hacer muchas cosas cuando tienes mucha adrenalina. Pero después de varios días de experimentar estos apuros, comienza a convertirse en irritabilidad y frustración … el peor de los casos, impulsividad, agresión y trastorno mental.

Así fueron mis días: iba a trabajar y a la hora del almuerzo comenzaba a moverme súper rápido, aveces sintiéndome aterrorizado e irritado. Luego, después del trabajo, iría a mi clase de Jiu Jitsu brasileño, donde utilizaría toda mi energía. Cuando llegaba a mi casa, alrededor de las 8 de la noche, comía y me recostaba en el piso de mi sala tratando de respirar y sobrevivir. Por lo general, me calmaba alrededor de las 11 de la noche y luego me iba a dormir.

¡Esto se repetiría todos los días, y literalmente me volví loco! Y aunque toda la sensación corporal me abrumaba, el verdadero desafío era difundir las fijaciones mentales que llenaba mi mente: no podía confiar en nadie; mi esposa, Beth, no se preocupaba por mí; la gente me miraba mal; Quería vengarme de las personas que me hicieron algo mal; y me convencí de que esta parte agresiva en mi era mi identidad.

Estas fijaciones me perseguían todos los días. Llenaban mi mente bien acelerada. Lamentablemente, creí en estas fijaciones y comencé a comportarme de manera ofensiva y agresiva. Abusé emocionalmente de Beth y le lancé insultos hasta que se fue de mi casa. Decidí lastimar a alguien que me había ofendido. Traté de quemar mi casa conmigo en ella. Renuncié a mi trabajo y me entregué al hospital psiquiátrico. Nunca me imaginé volviéndome loco, no así. ¡Ni siquiera sabía que era bipolar!

Mi ingreso al hospital psiquiátrico facilitó ver a un psiquiatra y obtener un diagnóstico claro. Había comenzado a ver a un terapeuta unos meses antes de mi admisión, pero él se centró en la terapia de trauma para el TEPT. Sin embargo, mi psiquiatra que comenzó a tratarme después de mi ingreso al hospital insistió en que era bipolar, pero se quedó con el diagnóstico de TEPT complejo. Tanto el trastorno bipolar como el TEPT comparten síntomas similares. La diferencia principal es que las síntomas del TEPT generalmente se desencadenan por ciertas experiencias, mientras que las síntomas bipolares no necesitan ser desencadenados. Así que seguí adelante con la medicación que me recetó mi psiquiatra y, finalmente, mis síntomas se calmaron. Por lo general, todavía estaba irritado, pero no al nivel que me hizo perder la razón.

Con este nivel de control, decidí que era un buen momento para dejar Fresno por un tiempo e intentar de estabilizarme. Entonces llegué a Antigua, Guatemala, un hermoso pueblito con calles empedradas y arquitectura colonial. El ritmo de vida aquí es más lento y el costo para vivir es muy asequible. Pensé que viviendo aquí podría ayudarme a separarme de los factores estresantes y desencadenantes que me estaban molestando en Fresno. ¡Y funcionó! No solo porque me alejé de los estresores, sino porque también encontré un buen grupo de médicos que me diagnosticaron adecuadamente el trastorno bipolar y me recetaron el medicamento correcto. Asi me establecieron en una trayectoria suave hacia la estabilidad.

En diciembre, mi psiquiatra guatemalteco me declaró estable y me retiró de dos medicamentos. Mientras que en meses anteriores, yo estaba centrado en sobrevivir y tratar de estabilizarme (lo cual, por la gracia de Dios, lo logré), ahora me enfoco en el desarrollo de capacidades. Quiero restablecer y fortalecer las habilidades y destrezas que perdí, como leer, escribir y trabajar.

Vivir con trastorno bipolar (o cualquier enfermedad mental) no es fácil. Hará que pienses demasiado en tus fracasos, creyendo que el éxito nunca volverá a suceder. Te confrontará con la realidad de que la gente no entenderá lo que sucede en tu cuerpo y mente, ni cómo esto afecta tu comportamiento. Resultará en experimentar un nivel de rechazo y abandono: las personas se mantendrán alejadas de usted, perderán la confianza en usted o no lo tomarán en serio. Muchas veces te verán solamente como una persona “mentalmente enferma”. Esto puede incluir a las personas más cercanas a usted, causando que te preguntes si eres de algún valor para las demás. Me encuentro constantemente preguntandome: “¿Soy digno de ser amado? ¿Tiene miedo la gente cuando me acerco a ellos? Y lamentablemente estas preguntas vienen de una profunda soledad que uno tiene que caminar. ¡Algo doloroso! Considerando todo esto, es comprensible por qué el aislamiento es mayormente una tendencia predeterminada para muchos con trastorno bipolar. Es difícil confiar o sentirse aceptado y amado, por eso muchos se mantienen alejados. Sin embargo, cuando uno se mantiene alejado, la mente muchas veces se obsesiona con pensamientos negativos y otras tentaciones, como el abuso de sustancias y el suicidio.

Entonces, ¿sera que el aislamiento es una solución? ¿Hay otra opción? Todavía estoy tratando de resolver esto. Sin embargo, debo de compartir que estoy agradecido por la abundante comunidad de personas que me han acompañado en esta temporada. No me han dejado vagar en un aislamiento extremo.

En esta próxima temporada, me enfocaré en desarrollar mis habilidades de nuevo, recuperar a mi esposa y disculparme con aquellos a quienes lastimé cuando me volví loco. Una de las cosas que continuamente juega a mi mente es la forma en que lastime a otras personas. Tengo una conciencia tierna y está muy magullado estos días. Ahora estoy dispuesto a disculparme o reparar el daño que he creado, y estoy dispuesto a hacerlo sin esperar que la gente me entienda.

Una cosa que he aprendido acerca de ser bipolar es que cuando una persona bipolar toma decisiones que lastiman a otros, no es aconsejable usar su condición de salud como excusa. Estoy aprendiendo que a medida que sigo disculpándome con los demás, debo asumir la responsabilidad de mis acciones. Puedo citar mi condición de salud mental para mí mismo como una forma de mostrarme ternura y compasión. Pero para otras personas, esto no funcionará. Para ellos, es mejor aceptar la responsabilidad. Sí, existe tensión entre conocer su excusa y asumir responsabilidad. Pero la tensión es para nosotros, amigos bipolares. Otras personas simplemente no lo entenderán. Y esta bien. Esta absolutamente bien.

 

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En Cuarentena: Un profeta y un mensaje de esperanza para un pueblo encerrado

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Mi amiga Kaqchikel, llamada Brenda, en Antigua (2020)

A medida que el coronavirus se extiende por todo el planeta, infectando a miles, quitando vidas y destruyendo economías, me encuentro atrapado en Antigua, Guatemala, mientras que mi esposa está atrapada en Albania. Inicialmente, vine aquí para recuperarme de un colapso de salud mental. Mi esposa, por otro lado, fue a Albania para un proyecto de investigación, patrocinado por el Seminario Teológico Fuller. Habíamos planeado reunirnos con amigos en el Reino Unido en abril, pero en marzo, los aeropuertos comenzaron a cerrarse en todo el mundo y muchas naciones fueron puestas en cuarentena, incluidos el Reino Unido, Albania y Guatemala. Tuvimos que cancelar.

No hay nada más aterrador que estar separado de los que amas durante una crisis global. Gracias a Dios, mi esposa está segura y lejos de la ciudad. Sin embargo, estoy mas en riesgo que ella y mi imaginación se concentra en las peores posibilidades: ¿Esta crisis durará más de lo esperado? ¿Me infectaré o, a pesar de las estadísticas, posiblemente moriré solo en una instalación llena de tropas militares y médicos? ¿Volveré a ver a mi esposa otravez? Y lo más importante: ¿Podré escuchar a mi esposa decir “Te amo” antes de decir “adiós”? Por supuesto, no hay respuestas; solo preguntas que no se pueden resolver. Sin embargo, estoy aprendiendo que hay una cosa que podemos hacer frente a este tipo de miedo e incertidumbre … y es tener esperanza en Dios de la misma manera que Jeremías el profeta llamó al pueblo de Jerusalén a hacer lo mismo cuando estaban en cuarentena.

CIERRE DE EMERGENCIA

El Señor es mi porción, dice mi alma, por eso tengo esperanza en él. El Señor es bueno con los que lo esperan, con el que lo busca. Es bueno que [esperemos] en silencio la salvación del Señor (Lamentaciones 3:24 – 26).

Jeremías, a quien la tradición atribuye este texto, pronunció estas palabras después de estar atrapado en un pueblo durante una crisis catastrófica. Más específicamente, estuvo en Jerusalén, encarcelado durante unos dos años en una cárcel que estaba dentro del palacio del rey (Jeremías 32: 2-3). A los políticos no les gustó la crítica al poder del profeta, por lo que lo encerraron. Durante esos dos años, Jerusalén también estuvo confinada. Estaba bajo asedio por las fuerzas del rey de Babilonia, Nebudchanezzer (39: 1 – 2). Nadie pudo entrar o salir de Jerusalén. Algunas personas lograron huir a Egipto para refugiarse antes del asedio, pero muchos permanecieron en Jerusalén, atrapados, sin los ritmos ordinarios de la vida pública. En cambio, la gente experimentó una escalada de enfermedades, hambruna y violencia (21: 7). De hecho, la hambruna se volvió tan cruel en Jerusalén que afectó a otros lugares fuera de la ciudad (52: 6). Impacto si transcende! Y lo único que Jeremiah pudo hacer fue ver su mundo derrumbarse ante él.

Aquí encuentro muchas similitudes con las cuarentenas que estamos experimentando en ciudades por todo el mundo. Claro, el coronavirus no es una entidad militar que busca saquear nuestras ciudades, pero al igual que las fuerzas de Babilonia, es una fuerza mortal que busca destruir la vida humana. Además, al igual que las fuerzas de Babilonia, la intrusión del coronavirus en la comunidad humana ha obligado a las autoridades de todo el mundo a poner sus ciudades bajo llave. En ambos escenarios, el público en general está atrapado dentro de los límites de su ciudad mientras está rodeado por una amenaza mortal desde el exterior. Llámalo como quieras: asedio, bloqueo o cuarentena, pero en ambos casos, tienes bloqueos. Y los bloqueos tienen consecuencias sociales, económicas y relacionadas con la salud.

CRISIS ECONÓMICA

Antigua es una ciudad artística, conocida por sus calles y arquitectura coloniales, sus hermosas gente indígenas y los volcanes gigantes que rodean el área. Hace solo unas semanas, la ciudad estaba llena de turistas, tráfico y vida nocturna. Ahora en cuarentena, con un toque de queda de 4 pm a 4 am, la ciudad se ha vuelto silenciosa y vacía. No más turistas o tráfico, solo lugareños y una escena desconocida de calles solitarias. A mis vecinos les preocupa que el coronavirus se propague rápidamente por toda la ciudad, aunque las estadísticas de este país de 18 millones de personas no son impactantes en este momento: 70 casos de infección, 14 recuperaciones y 3 muertes (aún en aumento). Pero mis vecinos saben que en cualquier momento, este virus puede escalar y abrumar a la ciudad, especialmente económicamente. Ya lo es.

Antigua depende en gran medida del turismo para sus ingresos, especialmente los ingresos que llegan durante la Semana Santa. Cientos de miles de turistas de todo el país y el mundo visitan Antigua durante esta semana para los festivales. Los locales lo esperan porque es el momento en que pueden recuperarse de la deuda o el déficit. Otros ven esto como un momento para acumular dinero para el resto del año. En términos bíblicos, esta semana es un tipo de Jubileo económico: las personas se liberan de las dificultades económicas del año. Pero este Jubileo no sucederá este año. La Semana Santa ha sido cancelada. La gente ahora no solo está preocupada por una posible infección o muerte, sino también por el colapso económico.

Los oficiales se publican en cualquier otra cuadra, mientras que algunos patrullan las calles. Las personas atrapadas fuera de sus hogares son multadas, encarceladas o forzadas a correr vueltas mientras cantan: “No violaré las reglas”. Sin embargo, las personas que siguen las reglas no se preocupan por los oficiales, pero sí se preocupan por sus familias, el empleo y la comida. Uno de mis vecinos está preocupado por los perros de la calle. Dice que se están volviendo más delgados porque ya no hay tanta gente que les de comer, tampoco hay mucha basura en las calles para ellos. El trata de darles un poco de comida en las mañanitas. Ahora, si los perros callejeros se mueren de hambre, ¿te imaginas a las personas sin hogar y a los pobres que viven día a día? La lucha es seria.

EL MIEDO Y CAOS SOCIAL

Según las Escrituras, el pueblo de Jerusalén se había vuelto insensible hacia el mal, incluso antes del asedio. Uno pensaría que la invasión babilónica y la contención de Jerusalén habrían provocado que el pueblo y los líderes de Jerusalén abandonaran sus formas de opresión y corrupción, pero no lo hicieron. En cambio, la crisis exacerbó su comportamiento negativo. Jeremías dice que deseaba vivir en el desierto para poder estar lejos de su pueblo porque tendían a ser traicioneros y malvados el uno con el otro (9: 2-8). Seguramente, no todas las personas se comportaron de manera corrupta, al igual que muchas personas están haciendo todo lo posible para ayudar a los demás. Sin embargo, es razonable decir que las condiciones generadas por el asedio (miedo, escasez y enfermedad) intensificaron, a gran escala, el comportamiento antisocial, como el pánico, la codicia y el caos.

¿Pero no es así como la gente común responde a la crisis social, especialmente cuando los líderes les fallan? Jeremías sabía esto, y por esta razón, continuamente aconsejaba al rey durante la contención que “administrara justicia todas las mañanas” (21:12) y que no maltratara “al [inmigrante], el huérfano o la viuda”, ni “arrojara inocente sangre ”(22: 3). Pero el rey no escuchó. En una ocasión, el rey obedeció a Jeremías y ordenó a los dueños de esclavos que liberaran a sus esclavos. Los esclavos fueron liberados pero fueron rápidamente devueltos (34: 8-11). Una vez más, no podemos esperar que las personas se traten entre sí de manera justa en tiempos de crisis cuando los propios líderes no son confiables para la justicia. Cuando los líderes fallan en esta tarea, las personas harán lo que es correcto a sus propios ojos, incluso si está mal. ¡Sin justicia, no hay paz! Sí, los líderes religiosos y los profetas podrían haber sido útiles aquí, pero desgraciadamente, en lugar de guiar a la gente, apoyaron a los líderes políticos mientras calmaban las conciencias de la gente con ilusiones de seguridad (23: 16-17).

Cuando el coronavirus llegó a la escena mundial, muchos de nosotros no estábamos seguros de cómo iba a afectar nuestras vidas o nuestro comportamiento. Luego, nuestras ciudades cerraron y, como el pueblo de Jerusalén, comenzamos a cambiar. Dentro de la primera semana de cierre, fuimos bombardeados por una cobertura infinita de medios en televisión y memes divertidos que llenaron nuestros redes sociales. Otros entraron en pánico e inundaron los supermercados para comprar alimentos, suministros y especialmente papel higiénico. Los compradores no siempre fueron agradables. Muchas tiendas irrumpieron como si fuera una carrera, agarrando con avidez artículos y compitiendo agresivamente con otros compradores. La semana siguiente, fuimos testigos de cómo los hospitales se abrumaban con casos, el público en general usaba máscaras quirúrgicas a gran escala y las autoridades establecían toques de queda estrictos. A medida que las semanas continuaron, las empresas comenzaron a cerrar y las tasas de desempleo comenzaron a dispararse. Las tensiones públicas aumentaron a medida que los líderes lucharon para detener una escalada completa del virus en sus ciudades y evitar que sus economías se colapsen. Algunos líderes, sin embargo, permanecieron estancados en sus caminos. En los Estados Unidos, vemos muchas entidades (humanas y estructurales) a las que se les debe dinero que no muestran misericordia a sus deudores indigentes; el presidente se obsesionó con luchar contra los periodistas para defender su imagen, alegando “autoridad total”; y líderes religiosos que se niegan a cerrar iglesias, poniendo en riesgo a las congregaciones, unos prometiendo inmunidad “en el nombre de Jesús”. ¡Caos absoluto y liderazgo inestable! Entonces, ¿qué hace la gente? Temen y entran en pánico. Con razon hay un aumento en las ventas de armas en estos días. “Tenemos que proteger a nuestras familias de aquellos que podrían robarnos”, me envió un mensaje de texto un amigo, con una foto de su nueva arma.

El miedo es real porque la amenaza y el bloqueo son reales. Y con este tipo de experiencia, es absolutamente apropiado luchar con las preguntas que enfrentamos a la mayoría de nosotros: ¿este virus nos afectará a mí y a mi familia? ¿Perderé mi trabajo y me hundiré en la pobreza? ¿Terminará esta crisis o empeorará? Si bien es posible que no estemos al nivel de la catástrofe en que se encontraba Jerusalén durante su asedio, las emociones con las que estamos luchando son graves. Está bien sentirse impotente, y está bien llorar con el profeta: “El pánico y la trampa nos han sobrevenido, la devastación y la destrucción. Mis ojos caen con chorros de agua … Mis ojos se derraman sin cesar, sin detenerse ” (Lam. 3:47 – 48).

¿CÓMO DEBEMOS RESPONDER?

Hay mucho más que decir sobre el asedio de Jerusalén y la pandemia que nos mantiene como rehenes. Pero quiero limitar nuestro enfoque en el mensaje de Jeremías a los atrapados en la ciudad. Si bien la mayoría de las páginas del libro de Jeremías están dedicadas a criticar a naciones y reyes, muchas páginas contienen palabras con una dirección positiva para el pueblo de Dios, palabras que pueden beneficiarnos hoy.

He reunido estas palabras y las resumí en cinco puntos. Primero, el profeta llama a una reflexión profunda: ¿Qué está pasando? ¿Qué ídolos necesitan ser abandonados que de otro modo nos distraerían de descubrir la verdad? ¿Qué significa para el pueblo de Dios esta crisis y el nuevo mundo que invade? Reflexiónando nos ayuda a descubrirnos a nosotros mismos y nuestras partes en medio de la crisis. En segundo lugar, Jeremiah pide lamento honesto por el dolor y la pérdida. Digo “honesto” porque las personas generalmente vacilan en expresar sus sentimientos reales a Dios y no les gusta admitir su impotencia. Pero Jeremías, que es un profesional en lamentarse, nos asegura que Dios desea escuchar nuestros gritos y no se ofende ante las fuertes emociones (ej: el enojo). Tercero, Jeremías llama al arrepentimiento, es decir, a sentir remordimiento por los errores cometidos contra Dios y a los demás, y a corregir las cosas intencionalmente. Estos errores incluyen delitos interpersonales, y tambien la participación en las injusticias incrustadas en las estructuras de la sociedad. Cuarto, el profeta pide misericordia. En tiempos como estos, todos están bajo presión. Lo que la gente más necesita es aliento y ayuda. Es bueno para nosotros dar y alentar a nuestras familias, pero el profeta nos llama a ser especialmente atentos con los vecinos, extraños y rivales. Finalmente, quinto, Jeremías llama al pueblo de Jerusalén a tener esperanza en Dios.

Creo que estos puntos son muy útiles. Pueden guiarnos en nuestro crecimiento personal, sentido de humanidad y vivir como familia con los demás. Pero cuando uno se enfrenta al miedo y a la muerte, ¡ninguno de estos puntos puede recargar sus baterías de valor como esperar a Dios! ¿Por qué? Porque solo Dios tiene el poder de resucitar cuerpos de nuestros cementerios. ¡Este poder se demostró cuando Dios levantó a Jesús de Nazaret de la muerte! Cuando tu esperanza está puesta en este tipo de Dios, encontrarás el valor para enfrentar al ángel de la muerte y decir: “Oh muerte, ¿dónde está tu victoria” (Oseas 13:14)? El valor es bueno, pero el valor generado por este tipo de esperanza es mucho más poderoso. Esto es importante porque, mientras somos llamados a la esperanza, Dios no siempre rescata. No se porque. De hecho, muchos en Jerusalén esperaban el rescate de Dios, pero nunca llegó. Murieron bajo encierro. Otros esperaban de manera similar, pero murieron cuando se derribaron los muros y se arrasó la ciudad. Sorprendentemente, Jeremías sobrevivió y aunque la ciudad fue aniquilada, continuó esperando en Dios. Y de esta esperanza, se armó de valor, armando contra el miedo, diciendo:

Esto lo recuerdo en mi mente, por lo tanto tengo esperanza. Las misericordias del Señor nunca cesan, porque sus compasiones nunca fallan. Son nuevos cada mañana. Grande es tu fidelidad. El Señor es mi porción “, dice mi alma,” Por eso tengo esperanza en él “. El Señor es bueno con los que lo esperan, con la persona que lo busca. Es bueno que él espere en silencio la salvación del Señor (Lamentaciones 3:24 – 26).

Tal vez me caí el virus, o tal vez no me cai. Pero si sucede, sé que tengo que enfrentar la posibilidad de que no vuelva a ver a mi esposa. El pensamiento me deprime. Sin embargo, recuerdo el hecho de que Dios me ama sin cesar, aunque no soy perfecto; que Dios es compasivo conmigo y con los demás todos los días, a pesar de que no todo el tiempo lo vemos.

CONCLUSIÓN

No sé por qué está ocurriendo esta pandemia. No sé si Dios lo desató o si Dios nos está castigando con eso. Dudo mucho los doz. Pero sí sé esto: la presencia Divina está ansiosa por escuchar nuestros gritos, estar con nosotros en nuestro dolor y unido con nosotros en nuestro sufrimiento de la misma manera que el Creador sufrió con Jesús en la cruz. Personalmente, trato de recordar los muchos peligros de los que Dios me libró. Esto me ayuda a esperar que el Creador me entregue nuevamente. Pero incluso si no sucede y tengo que morir, al menos sé que Dios estará conmigo en mi lecho de muerte, y encuentro esto reconfortante. No sufriré solo. No moriré solo. Por lo tanto, esperaré en silencio la salvación del Señor y abrazaré la presencia Divina porque sé que si el Señor está dispuesto a unirse a nosotros en nuestro sufrimiento y muerte, Dios también estará dispuesto a resucitarnos en el último día. El Señor no nos olvidará, porque el amor de Dios, de hecho, es para siempre.

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Theology & Practice

Quarantined: A Prophet’s Message of Hope to a People on Lockdown

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My Kaqchikel neighbor, Brenda, in Antigua (2020)

As the coronavirus sweeps across the planet, infecting thousands, taking lives and wrecking economies, I find myself stuck in Antigua, Guatemala, while my wife is stuck in Albania. Initially, I came here to recover from a mental health breakdown. My wife, on the other hand, went to Albania for a research project, sponsored by Fuller Theological Seminary. We had planned to reunite with friends in the UK in April, but in March, airports began shutting down around the world and many nations were put on quarantine, including the UK, Albania, and Guatemala. We had to cancel.

There is nothing more frightening than to be separated from the ones you love during a global crisis. Thank God my wife is safe and far from the city. I am, however, at risk and my imagination fixates on the worst possibilities: Will this crisis go longer than expected? Will I get infected or, despite the statistics, possibly die alone in a facility full of military troops and medical staff? Will I ever see my wife again? And most importantly: Will I get to hear my wife say “I love you” before having to say “goodbye”? Of course, there are no answers; only questions that can’t be resolved. I am learning, however, that there is one thing we can do in the face of this kind of fear and uncertainty … and that is to hope in God in the same way that Jeremiah the prophet called the people of Jerusalem to do while they were on lockdown.

THE LOCKDOWN

The Lord is my portion, says my soul, Therefore I have hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the one who seeks him. It is good that [we wait] silently for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:24 – 26).

Jeremiah, to whom tradition credits this text, spoke these words after being trapped in a town during a catastrophic crisis. More specifically, he was in Jerusalem, incarcerated for about two years in a jail that was inside the king’s palace (Jeremiah 32:2-3). The politicians didn’t like the prophet’s criticism of power, so they locked him up. During those two years, Jerusalem was also confined. It was under siege by the forces of the Babylonian king, Nebudchanezzer (39:1 – 2). Nobody was able to enter or exit Jerusalem. Some folks managed to flee to Egypt for refuge before the siege, but many remained in Jerusalem, stuck, without the ordinary rhythms of public life. Instead, the people experienced an escalation of disease, famine, and violence (21:7). In fact, the famine became so cruel in Jerusalem, it affected other places outside the city (52:6). Impact ripples! And the only thing Jeremiah could do was watch his world crumble before him.

I find a lot of similarities here with the quarantines we are experiencing in cities across the world. Sure, coronavirus is not a military entity seeking to pillage our towns, but like the Babylonian forces, it is a deadly force that seeks to destroy human life. Moreover, like the forces of Babylon, the coronavirus’ intrusion into the human community has compelled authorities around the world to put their cities on lockdown. In both scenarios, the general public is stuck within the bounds of its city while surrounded by a deadly threat from the outside. Call it what you want — besiegement, blockade, or quarantine — but in both cases, you have lockdowns happening. And lockdowns come with dier social, economic, and health related consequences.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Antigua is an artsy town, known for its colonial streets and architecture, its beautiful indigenous people, and the gigantic volcanoes that surround the area. Only a few weeks ago, the town was full of tourists, traffic, and nightlife. Now on quarantine, with a curfew from 4 pm to 4 am, the town has become quiet and empty. No more tourists or traffic, only locals and an unfamiliar scene of lonely streets. My neighbors worry about the coronavirus spreading rapidly throughout the town, even though the statistics for this country of 18 million people aren’t shocking at this point: 70 cases of infection, 14 recoveries, and 3 deaths (still increasing). But my neighbors know that at any time, this virus can escalate and overwhelm the town, especially economically. It already is.

Antigua highly depends on tourism for its revenue, especially the revenue that comes in during Holy Week. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from around the country and the world visit Antigua during this week for the festivals. Locals look forward to it because it is the time when they can recuperate from debt or deficit. Others see this as a time to rack up money for the rest of the year. In biblical terms, this week is a type of economic Jubilee — people are freed from economic hardship for the year. But this Jubilee will not be happening this year. Holy Week has been cancelled. The people are now not only worried about possible infection or death, but also about economic collapse.

Officers are posted on every other block, while some patrol the streets. People caught outside of their homes are fined, put in jail, or made to run laps while chanting, “I will not violate the rules.” Folks who follow the rules, however, don’t worry about the officers, but they do worry about their families, employment, and food. One of my neighbors is concerned about the street dogs. They are growing skinnier by the day because there is no trash to eat. He puts out a little bit of dog food outside for them every morning. Now, if the street dogs are starving, can you imagine the homeless and the poor who live day by day? The struggle is real.

FEAR & SOCIAL CHAOS

According to scripture, the people of Jerusalem had grown calloused toward evil, even before the siege. You would think that the Babylonian invasion and Jerusalem’s containment would have provoked Jerusalem’s people and leaders to abandon their ways of oppression and corruption, but they didn’t. Instead, the crisis exacerbated their negative behavior. Jeremiah says he wished he lived in the desert so he could be far away from his people because they tended to be treacherous and evil toward each other (9:2-8). Surely, not every person behaved corruptly, just like many today are doing their best to help others. It is, however, reasonable to say that the conditions spawned by the besiegement — fear, scarcity, and disease — intensified, on a mass scale, antisocial behavior, like panic, greed, and chaos.

But isn’t this the way common people respond to social crisis, especially when leaders fail them? Jeremiah knew this, and for this reason, he continually advised the king during the containment to “administer justice every morning” (21:12) and not mistreat “the [immigrant], the orphan, or the widow”, nor “shed innocent blood” (22:3). But the king didn’t listen. On one occasion, the king obeyed Jeremiah and commanded slave owners to free their slaves. Slaves were liberated but were quickly taken back (34:8-11). Again, we cannot expect people to treat each other fairly in times of crisis when the leaders themselves are unreliable for justice. When leaders fail this task, people will do what is right in their own eyes, even if it’s wrong. No justice, no peace! Yes, the religious leaders and prophets could’ve been helpful here, but alas, instead of guiding the people, they supported the political leaders while calming the people’s consciences with illusions of safety (23:16-17).

When the coronavirus came on the global stage, many of us weren’t sure how this was going to impact our lives or our behavior. Then our cities shutdown and like the people of Jerusalem, we began to change. Within that first week of shutdown, we were bombarded by endless media coverage on television and hilarious memes that filled our social media outlets. Others panicked and flooded super markets to stalk up on food, supplies, and especially toilet paper. The shoppers weren’t always nice. Many stormed stores like it was Black Friday, greedily grabbing items and aggressively competing with other shoppers. The following week, we witnessed hospitals get overwhelmed with cases, the general public wearing surgical masks on a large scale, and authorities setting strict curfews. As the weeks continued, businesses began shutting down and unemployment rates began skyrocketing. Public tensions grew as leaders scrambled to halt a complete escalation of the virus in their cities and prevent their economies from crashing. Some leaders, however, remained stuck in their ways. In the U.S., we see many entities (human and structural) that are owed money not showing mercy to their indigent debtors; the president fixated on battling journalists in order to defend his image, claiming “total authority”; and religious leaders refusing to close churches, putting congregants at risk, some promising immunity “in Jesus name.” Outright chaos and unstable leadership! So what do the people do? They fear and panic. No wonder there’s a surge in gun sales these days. “We got to protect our families from those who might rob us,” a friend texted me, with a photo of his new gun.

The fear is real because the threat and lock down are real. And with this kind of experience, it’s absolutely appropriate to wrestle with the questions that confront most of us: Will this virus get me and my family? Will I lose my job and sink in poverty? Will will this crisis end, or will it get worse? While we may not be at the level of catastrophe that Jerusalem was in during its siege, the emotions we are wrestling with are serious. It’s okay to feel powerless, and it’s okay to cry with the prophet, “Panic and pitfall have befallen us, devastation and destruction. My eyes run down with streams of water … My eyes pour down unceasingly, without stopping” (Lam. 3:47 – 48).

HOW SHOULD WE RESPOND?

There is so much more to say about Jerusalem’s besiegement and the pandemic that holds us hostage. But I want to narrow our focus on Jeremiah’s message to those stuck in the city. While most of the pages in the book of Jeremiah are devoted to critiquing nations and kings, many pages contain words with positive direction for the people of God, words that can benefit us today.

I have gathered these words and summed them up into five points. First, the prophet calls for deep reflection: What is happening? What idols need to be forsaken that would otherwise distract us from discovering truth? What does this crisis and the encroaching new world mean for the people of God? Good reflection helps us discover ourselves and our roles in the midst of crisis. Second, Jeremiah calls for honest lamentation for pain and loss. I say “honest” because people often hesitate to express their real feelings to God and don’t like to admit their powerlessness. But Jeremiah, who’s a pro at lamenting, assures us that God desires to hear our cries and isn’t offended at strong emotion (ex: anger). Third, Jeremiah calls for repentance, that is, to feel remorse for wrongs committed against God and others, and to intentionally make matters right. These wrongs include interpersonal offenses, as well as participation in the injustices embedded in the structures of society. Fourth, the prophet calls for grace. In times like these, everyone is under pressure. What people need the most is encouragement and help. It’s good for us to be giving and encouraging to our families, but the prophet calls us to be especially gracious to neighbors, strangers, and rivals. Lastly, fifth, Jeremiah calls the people of Jerusalem to hope in God.

I think these points are very helpful. They can help guide us in our personal growth, sense of humanness, and living out kinship with others. But when one is confronted with fear and death, none of these points can recharge your courage-batteries like hoping in God! Why? Because only God has the power to resurrect bodies from our cemeteries. This power was demonstrated when God raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead! When your hope is set on this kind of God, you’ll find the courage to face the angel of death and say, “Oh death, where is your victory” (Hosea 13:14)? Courage is good, but courage spawned by this kind of hope is much more powerful. This is important because, while we are called to hope, God doesn’t always rescue. I don’t know why. In fact, many in Jerusalem hoped for God’s rescue, but it never came. They died under lockdown. Others similarly hoped but died when the walls were torn down and the city leveled. Remarkably, Jeremiah survived and although the city was annihilated, he continued to hope in God. And from this hope, he drew courage, weaponizing it against fear, saying:

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him , to the person who seeks him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord (Lamentations 3:24 – 26).

I may or may not get infected, nor see death. But if I it happens, I know I have to come to grips with the possibility that I may not see my wife again. The thought depresses me. Nevertheless, I am reminded of the fact that God loves me endlessly, even if I’m not perfect; that God is compassionate to me and others everyday, even though we often fail to see it or show it to others.

CONCLUSION

I don’t know why this pandemic is happening. I don’t know if God unleashed it or if God is punishing us with it. I highly doubt both. But I do know this: The Divine presence is eager to hear our cries, to be with us in our pain, and to join us in our suffering in the same way that the Creator suffered with Jesus on the cross. Personally, I try to remember the many dangers God delivered me from. This helps me wait for the Creator to deliver me again. But even if it doesn’t happen and I have to die, at least I know that God will be with me in my deathbed, and I find this comforting. I will not suffer alone. I will not die alone. I will , therefore, wait silently for the salvation of the Lord and embrace the Divine presence because I know that if the Lord is willing to join us in our suffering and death, God will also be willing to resurrect us on the last day. The Lord will not forget us, for God’s love, indeed, is forever.

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Society/Culture

13 Ways Guatemala Exposed My U.S. American Privilege … And I’m Latino

For years, I’ve helped White folks recognize and understand the social and economic advantage they have over people of color in the U.S. This task isn’t always successful. This type of advantage, or what many call “White privilege”, often distorts one’s perspective on the world. It tends to set the White person’s values, standards, and experiences as the central point of reference to which he or she assesses other peoples’ realities. More importantly, this privilege often blinds a person from seeing how their privilege contributes to social inequity and how their own liberation from shame and guilt can be found in re-purposing their privilege.

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I am Latino. I grew up in poverty.  But I am educated, especially in critical theories to analyze class and race differences. If you would have asked me months ago if I considered myself privileged, I would have said, “No. I’m not White.” But after living in Guatemala for a few months, I have come to understand that privilege is not just something that comes with a lighter skin tone or a history of political and economic advantage. Privilege also comes in other forms. For me, it comes in the form of U.S. citizenship, the currency I am accustomed to, and the sense of entitlement that comes with both. I, nevertheless, could not see these things until I chose to live in Antigua, Guatemala. Here are 13 ways that Guatemala exposed my privilege and helped me take my blinders off. Please keep in mind that this is a reflection, not a scholarly take on the matter.

1. Salary. When I first started working as a tutor here, I was discouraged that I was started at $10.65 an hour. I had grown used to working jobs in the U.S. that paid me over $20 an hour. One day, in a discussion with a neighbor, I discovered many locals would do anything for a $10 per hour income. My neighbor shared that he made about $2 an hour, and he was happy because the minimum wage in Guatemala is about $1 an hour. Boom! Just like that, my American Privilege was exposed! Immediately after that, I stopped complaining about my pay rate. 

2. Cost of Living. Initially, I was paying about $500 a month for an Airbnb, which I thought was pretty cheap, compared to cheap housing in the U.S., which ranges from $800 to $1,500 p/month, depending on the city. I then found another apartment that cost me $235 per month. Yes, $235 per month! This seemed pretty cheap to me, until I was reminded of how much the average person makes. Many of the locals here in Antigua live in shacks near the foot of the hills and not in apartments like the ones I’ve lived in. I was excited, but then I realized that even my excitement was rooted in privilege.

3. Customer Service. There’s nothing that pleases the American ego more than good customer service. In the States, we say, “The customer is always right.” Businesses go above and beyond to calibrate their customer service in order to make customers happy. It’s big business. No so in Guatemala. The restaurant ran out of that item on the menu that you wanted so you ask for a deal on another item. Nope, not happening. You paid the shop to get your headphones fixed but they still don’t work, so you demand a refund. Sorry, we tried. The service was 25 minutes late, so you ask for a discount. Nothing. You can argue, push, and quote the great customer service law, but in Guatemala, you get what you get. Privilege does not like this at all.

4. Napkins and Toilet Paper. In the U.S., you will usually have a stack of napkins on the table at whatever restaurant you choose to eat. Need to go to the restroom? No worries. There’s plenty of toilet paper there for all of your needs. Not so in Guatemala! Here you get one napkin with your order of food, and if you need to use the restroom, there’s a lady right outside of it who you have to pay to use it. She will give you a few squares of toilet paper. Now, this contrast may make it seem like we’re better off in the U.S. But for me, it reveals that abundance (a U.S. tendency) often predicates wastefulness, whereas scarcity, which is sometimes looked at with pity, often results in responsible stewardship. This clearly taught me that my privilege, and its proclivity toward convenience, is wasteful.

5. Phone Use. I used to critique the dominant phone companies in Guatemala (Tigo and Claro) for the way their system is arranged. Basically, if you want phone service, you have to buy minutes/bytes for your phone, which come in a limited amount that you have to use within a period of time. If you use up your bytes/minutes before the period of time, there’s nothing you can do but buy more. And if your period of time arrives before you finish your bytes/minutes, again, there’s nothing you can do. I thought this was all a scam to make money. So I stuck to my U.S. service (T-Mobile). Then my phone got stolen. I soon realized I had no choice but to purchase a local phone. What I quickly discovered was that I was spending way more on my U.S. phone (c. $80 p/month) than on my Guatemalan phone (c. $16 p/mo). I then began to see how much the Guatemalan system discourages folks from becoming “phone heads” while the U.S system, with its abundance of unlimited services, encourages folks to constantly be on their phones. While the Guatemalan system has reduced my phone use and saved me lots of money, my neighbors have a hard time buying a phone or having service at all. This is something I’ve never had to experience. Now, when I pull up my phone, all I see is privilege.

6. Communal Living. My apartment complex has a shared kitchen, so I bought my own pan and knife. None of the knives in the kitchen were sharp and all of the pans were worn out. Everything gets stuck on them. If I tried cutting a tomato, the knives would just smash them. If I tried cooking eggs on the pan, they would just get stuck to the bottom of the pan. So I was very happy to have my own knife and pan … that is, until I realized my neighbors did also. Everyday, neighbors would pull my pan or knife out of my kitchen cubby without permission, and they didn’t always put them back. More frustratingly, when I would see them using my supplies, they’d greet me without any ounce of guilt. This annoyed me. One night, my neighbors, having used my supplies, treated each other with meals. My reaction was, “First my supplies. Then, they will want my food.” So I avoided participating, until one day, in an effort to be polite, I gave in. I ate the food, we laughed, and shared stories. What I learned was that sharing my cooking supplies was more than just about the supplies … It was about living together, knowing each other, and helping one another. I came to discover that I was the only one with my own pan and knife. Others didn’t have the financial capacity to buy their own. And to hoard these supplies for myself and hide myself from my neighbors was to rob myself of an enriching experience in communal culture. Without words, my neighbors who wanted to borrow my things taught me that my things, and the privilege that makes it possible to possess these things, can isolate me from the things that ultimately matter, like human connection and reciprocity.

7. Drinking Water. “Don’t drink the water,” they told me, “it will give you diarrhea for days.” But this didn’t scare me at all. I saw it as an opportunity to share in the struggle of locals, buying water daily to stay hydrated. This cost me a dollar-fifty a day for a gallon of water. But after one week, two weeks, a month and so forth, water started becoming expensive. Before I knew it, it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. I realized that what I had considered a fun challenge was a burdensome reality for locals, and that even this attitude of mine — “an opportunity” — was born out of privilege. Only a privileged person can take other people’s struggle and turn it into a fun activity. Privilege deceived me. Time corrected me. So I decided to stop looking at this as a fun thing to experience. I also wanted to put an end to my water expenditure, so I bought a water filter. Then I realized that this too was an option for a privileged person like me. 

8. Personal Space. Whether it’s walking down the sidewalk, lining up to make an order at a restaurant, or riding the bus, there seems to be no sense of personal space here. The sidewalks are narrow, so if you find yourself crossing another person’s path, you might bump into each other and locals don’t take offense. If you line up at a restaurant, you might feel the other person’s shoulder rub against you, if not, you may encounter them yelling out the order before you get to make your order, and it’s perfectly fine. The bus is epic — two seats doesn’t mean two seats. It means “fit as many as the seats can hold.” Initially, this frustrated me. I wondered if people even had manners. Then I realized that was my privilege reacting and that in this context, my need for personal space is selfish.

9. Right of Way. In Guatemala, cars have the right of way. It’s not like in the U.S. where people have the right of way. It doesn’t matter how many times a car or vehicle almost hits me, the truth is if I don’t move fast but take my precious time to walk my privileged self across the street, I can become Guatemalan roadkill. And the only thing the cops will say, if I was hit by a car, is, “Well, he should have moved faster.” My privilege tempts me to take my time to cross; the cars compel me relinquish my privileged attitude and run.

10. Laundry. Washer and dryers are generally for the elite in Guatemala. Most of the common folk either wash clothes by hand in a traditional stone washer called a “pila”, or they turn in their laundry to a hired washer who doesn’t always return all your clothes. I decided to wash my own clothes by hand because I didn’t want to lose them, but my privilege caused me to complain because this method wasn’t convenient, like a washer and dryer would be. Here, there is no easy solution: either I have someone wash my clothes, risking some of it being lost, or I wash my own clothes which is a task I don’t want to engage in. My privilege was stuck between two options I do not like, and in both cases, my privilege doesn’t allow me to be in peace. I have yet to find peace with this issue, but what this issue has taught me is that my privilege pushes me toward a lifestyle of convenience.

11. Crossing Borders. Foreigners are allowed to stay in Guatemala for 90 days. Then they have to either renew their permit at the immigration office in the capitol or exit the country and return. When my permit expired, I chose the second option. So I went for a journey to El Salvador, and what do you know? The renewal policy didn’t apply to this exit. If I wanted to renew my stay in Guatemala, I had to exit and return through Mexico. So after several hundred dollars in fees to exit and re-enter Guatemala at the Salvadoran border, I headed the opposite way to the Mexican border. In both trips, I was surrounded by Central Americans who were crossing the border both legally and illegally. And while I may have complained about the fees, my Central American neighbors, who couldn’t afford paying the fees, were being deterred, detained, or sent back to their country. Many of them couldn’t afford paying fees or didn’t pass the scrutiny the Mexican border patrol applies to Central Americans. I, on the other hand, had the privilege of possessing the right amount of money and because I am a U.S. citizen, they didn’t feel the need to scrutinize me for details. So I renewed my stay and as I returned to my Guatemalan home, I kept thinking: if I wanted to travel back to the U.S., which is where most of these migrants were heading, I could have easily arranged that. But not my migrant friends could never make these kinds of arrangements. They don’t have the kind of privilege that can more easily pass them through borders. They don’t have U.S. citizenship.

12. Coronavirus. With the spread of the Coronovirus, many nations have gone on lockdown, shutting their doors to foreign visitors. In that process, I had to cancel my trip to the UK because Ireland went on lock down. I was so upset! Then, in a conversation with my Guatemalan neighbor, I realized that while I was panicked about a trip, many of my neighbors were worried about food and the possible collapse of their livelihood. Only privilege can make you cry about a trip rather than cry over the collapse of the world that others are experiencing. I’m still getting over the loss of this trip.

13. Police Stops. During this week of coronavirus lockdown, I have been pulled over twice by officers, not having a passport with me (It’s illegal to not carry an ID). I believe the problem was my tattoos — I have two sleeves and a large chest tattoo. I was wearing a tank top. This may seem out of line, but in Guatemala, tattoos are generally associated with criminal street gangs. While the officers may have felt like they scored by catching what seemed to be a gang member, my citizenship crashed their party. In both cases, they approached me with an authoritarian complex, and in both cases, they left me alone and treated me with respect, once they verified my identity. Locals, like my friend Negro who was thrown into jail for not having his ID, aren’t usually as privileged. U.S. citizenship goes a long way. Officers do tend to treat Americans differently. It’s a privilege.

Conclusion. I am thankful for Guatemala and my Guatemalan neighbors. They taught me things I would have never learned on my own. This may be an off topic way to finish but I think it’s important to state: Diversity is important; it helps us see things that we would otherwise not be capable of seeing.

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