After a restful and reenergizing visit with family and friends over the Christmas holiday, I am back in San Salvador and continue to marvel at the views (sunset over the city as seen from my laundry room window). Very different from the frost and snow covered landscapes I left in Washington, I have found temperatures in the 80s and 90s surprisingly easy to uhh, warm up to. That said, I definitely count the portable 12-inch fan I purchased upon my return among my favorite things. As quickly as I am settling back into the Salvadoran climate I hope that I can settle back into a more Salvadoran diet and reestablish non-holiday eating patterns in order to bid farewell to the extra five pounds that returned with me to El Salvador.
It is a strange thing to live in two worlds; exciting and rare at times, confusing and trying at others. My experience of traveling home for Christmas seemed to accentuate both extremes. I was thrilled, of course, to be spending the holidays surrounded by loved ones, although feelings of guilt tugged at my heart as I wished a Merry Christmas to my friends, the Honduran refugee family whose holidays would be spent very differently than mine. While only being in town for only a couple of weeks sure helps friends to carve a space, even out of busy holiday schedules, for coffee with you, but the days fly by and the good-byes are just as bittersweet as ever. I really struggled with this: was I coming home or leaving home for the holidays? So different from one another, these two worlds are filled with different people, almost completely unknown to one another with little connection at all…or so I thought.
I had the opportunity to visit Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington shortly before returning to El Salvador. It was my first time at this church and I was very warmly received by the Pastors, Session members and the congregation. They invited me to share a bit about Joining Hands and our work in El Salvador as the congregation follows its passion for mission by exploring the possibility of an international partnership. Their attention and questions showed their deep love and concern for Salvadoran sisters and brothers whom they had never met, and I was overwhelmed, as a relative stranger, by the hospitality and care I was shown.
In an essay entitled “Childhood and Poetry,” Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda recalls when another young boy, whom he does not know, passes him a toy through a hole in the fence. The toy had clearly been well-loved and Neruda decides to place one of his own treasures through the fence hole in return. He writes, “To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.”
It is a strange thing to live in two worlds, filled with different people, most completely unknown to one another, but definitely connected. By building and strengthening community in El Salvador and creating and fostering community in the United States – and by making the communities known to one another – I can feel these two worlds begin to merge into one. It is possible to leave home AND come home, as it turns out.