Finding Beauty in El Salvador – Part 1

Re-entry, 3:30 A.M., mid- March Saturday morning. Frigid Boston air hitting sunburn. Exhausted, quietly elated, our tribe of Interact students and adult Rotarians journeyed 3,600 miles today, leaving sweat, tears, monumental efforts and lifelong friends on the village hillside of Talnique, El Salvador.  Many of us left our sneakers there too and were beginning to realize the layer of thin socks we added to our sandals was pointless. Just about as ludicrous was my attempt at flip-flop control, balancing upon a suitcase skating across the glassy ice fields of my driveway. Coming home is always comforting – sleeping in, snuggling with my Parson’s Russell Chotu, reconnecting with my familiar space, enjoying simple household chores.  Home is an emerging wakefulness, El Salvador a panoramic, colorful dream. Let me not forget…

5 days have passed since that bleary early morn. Snow still mounds in translucent piles, temperatures still dip, but the days are longer and the precious robins are hanging out, chirping noisily in the cherry tree outside my bedroom window.  In this moment I recognize the beauty of this winter transformation, and yet I can’t relinquish the thoughts of El Salvador.  The colors, the sky, the sounds, the smells, the people – how to connect the dots?  Those questions, which I chronically avoid in conversation, come into clear focus: “What was your favorite memory?” “What was most rewarding for you?” ” Was it hard to leave?” “Do you think you will go back?” These inquiries take decades to answer properly and yet they are founded in an honest desire to understand. On so many different levels concentric circles spread into meaning – our kids, their kids, our adults, their adults, our community their community, our rotary, their rotary, our country, their country, our hearts, their hearts, co-undulating like the watery waves of two simultaneously tossed pebbles. These experiences unite us and yet each of us possesses our own unique circles of meaning.

For me, I am stumbling back into my world of consumption, commercialism, self -promotion and excess. These are harsh nouns and yet they are part of the framework of aesthetics in our modern, developed society. No matter how sincerely or subtly we try to wholesale them, these concepts have so little to do with the essence of beauty in our world. The idea of observing loveliness in unexpected places, of seeing grace through the dirt and debris, of retraining the eye to frame simple snapshots – these are emerging perspectives that I now hope to carry forward.

My photographs, my sketches and my memories form an imaginary notebook describing beautiful images of nature, of humanity, of creativity. Bright, brown-eyed children, anxious to pose for our photos, proudly presenting their dressed-up little brothers and sisters in their arms. Working alongside us, strong bodies, bare nutmeg skin, shoeless, they tirelessly sprint up and down the dusty hills carrying buckets of sand, water, rock and mortar for the houses we are helping to build. It all seems like play as they happily navigate terraced worksites, sandpits, stacks of concrete panels and makeshift planks.  At lunchtime they are a smiling, snickering swarm, lining up for piggy back, chase, more soccer and our handouts of stickers and snacks. Our Interact students are perennial Pied Pipers inciting clamorous affection from the children. Their grins and giggles are as irresistible as are their pensive gracias‘, filling your heart in one joyous nanosecond. Half days, down the hill they walk to school, suddenly transformed into polished little soldiers clad in pristine navy shorts or skirts, spotless white blouses and socks, with shoes and backpacks that we may well recognize. The girls braid our hair, the boys vie for more tumbling. They appear on cue wherever we go. Their love and affection surround us like the sun…