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Happiness in a taxi ride

Many of you remember my video from my first day in El Salvador. The video was of my taxi ride from the airport. My good friend Irene sent her taxi driver of many years, to come pick me up.

Perhaps it’s his name, Arquimedes, that makes him special, that gives him insight that many of us lack. In the video, he is the one in the passenger seat. His cousin Roberto Carlos is driving because Arquimedes’ car was in the shop, something that occurs often for Arquimedes. But he doesn’t mind.

http://www.youtube.com/user/katesheehy?feature=guide#p/u/5/P_N59CfdzqQ

Since this day Arquimedes has taken my friends and me to many places. I have come to look forward to my rides with him. You see, he is always smiling, always has a joke to tell. Whenever I ask him how he is doing he says “Muy bien, aqui con mucho trabajo gracias a dios.”

I consider myself to be a happy person, more or less. I sometimes have trouble moving past bumps in the road. I too often focus on what is wrong, instead of what is right, what I have to be thankful for. This is something I work on everyday.

I have asked Arquimedes a few times why he is always so happy. I do this often. I like to ask people who appear to be, generally really happy people, why they are this way. I mean, perhaps I missing something, perhaps they can impart some words of wisdom. Usually I am and usually they do.

Arquimedes tells me he is a happy person. He likes his job. His happiness, he says, is in putting a smile on others’ faces. This morning he told me there are so many sad and poor people in El Salvador that he wants to make people happy. What a beautiful sentiment: to measure our own happiness by the joy we bring to others. As my father would say in “being of service to others.”

Now I understand that we are each responsible for our own happiness. Only ‘I’ can make ‘me’ happy, relaxed, grateful, peaceful, etc. But as a person who is affected by the energy of other people, I realize the importance of treating people with kindness. I’ll give you another example. I went to the post office here in San Salvador on Monday. I was having a bit of a rough day. After I left that post office I felt great. I wanted to smile at everyone. I just sent a package. But the employees were so kind. We talked about Christmas, family, love, education…and I could feel their positive energy, and the genuine nature of our exchange. This always amazes me, how a small interaction with someone can change your day. I love it.

I am going to truly miss Arquimedes when I leave. I need to tell him that. The only interaction we have is in the car, going from one place to another, but he has a major impact on my day. This morning I told him I would like to ride with him one day for a few hours. I like the idea of seeing all the different types of people he picks up and all the areas of the city and countryside he travels. I hope to take some pictures and do an interview with him. I’ll be sure to share when I do. I am sure each of you has someone like this in your life. Take some time to ask them what makes them tick. At the very least, you won’t miss the opportunity to let them know, they make you want to be a better person.

We are enough

I am writing this for myself but also for all the women who are special to me. Our worth is not measured by social fallacies that are meant to act as milestones in our lives.

I am 28-years-old and I am not married and I do not have children. That’s ok. In fact, that’s great. I’ve had many, many incredible experiences, gained confidence, learned to love myself and take care of myself. I’ve spent time figuring out what I want without having to compare it to what someone else wants. I know that I will be fine if I am alone. I am not afraid of that.

One of my good friends here in El Salvador told me a male family member of hers recently gave her, what I am sure he thought to be, good advice. “You need to get married,” he told her. “You are almost 30 and a man is not going to want you after you turn 30.” She is 27-years-old.

He told my friend that by 30 or so, once a man is set in a career, he looks for a woman who is around 25. Now, I am not simply going to dismiss this confused soul’s backwards idea of the role of men and women to the fact that he is older, and that he comes from a very traditional Latino background. These stereotypes exist in the United States as well. Yes, they definitely do.

How about the fact that there are men out there who want a partner? How about men who want a woman who has a successful career and has had life experience? How about women who want a man that looks at her as an equal? I know I want to be with a man who appreciates my strength and my individuality.

News flash: it takes time to develop a solid sense of who you are. God, I have changed so much throughout my 20’s. I am so much more confident in who I am and what I want now, than when I was 22 or 23. Right now I am in a much better place to share my life with someone than I was even three years ago. Frankly, the thought of marriage still scares me. Maybe I’ll be ready someday and maybe I won’t.

My friend and I discussed that it is now very common in the United States for women to get married and have children in their thirties. However, I have also met young women in their late 20’s and early 30’s here in El Salvador who are in no hurry to get married and get pregnant. Recently a very intelligent 15-year-old, wise beyond her years, told me she does not want to get married until she is at least 30. Get it girl. Live YOUR life.

I am not going to pretend like my, forgive me I hate this term too, ‘biological clock’ has not started ticking. Yes, I have fallen prey to this fabricated timeline that is supposed to determine when I am ready to give over my body to carry children. I am also not saying that I don’t want this. I do. But I also would not give up the journey my life has taken for one second. I would not trade in the time, that I made the choice to take, for myself. I also do not want my friends who have done the same to feel like they now need to hurry to make up for lost time. As if their beauty and spirit is going to go out like a light at a certain age. Women have fought throughout history for their rights, for their voices to be given validity. These women would be proud of us. Embrace your choices ladies. They are yours.

Just listen to this little one 😉

Finding a reason to carry on

I spent the night in La Isla with Maudiel and his family. If you remember from my last post, Maudiel is very, very ill with Chronic Kidney Disease. He is 19-years-old and has lost numerous family members to this disease.

He looks and acts like one of those people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. He wouldn’t. We arrive for the interview and he comes out of his house with a smile that betrays the exhaustion he is feeling and tries to hide as he carries over chairs for us to sit on.

Can you imagine what it must feel like to know you could die any day when you are only 19? Maybe some of you can. I can’t. I was thinking about what it must feel like to fight back this fear everyday. The anxiety shows in his eyes. However his worries are more focused on his family. Everyday he tells me he feels anxious because he has to stay home and wait. He is too sick to weak to work and help his family. His eyes fill with tears and he looks away when he tells me, “[I am here today, you see me right now, but tomorrow I could be gone.]”

Yet my time spent with this family was full of welcome and affection. Maudiel’s mother Tina, hugged me so tight. They all went out of their way to make sure I was comfortable and had enough to eat when they live day to day with barely enough to get by.

Their photo albums are notebooks with pictures stuck between the pages. So many of the photos show funerals, caskets holding loved ones who have died.

Just to explain a little bit: when someone has CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease) their kidneys can no longer filter waste from their bodies. This creates an insufficiency of creatine in the body. Creatine is produced in the kidneys and gives the body energy. That is why when people are ill with the disease they fell extremely weak.

We woke up this morning to a tremendous downpour. There is a hurricane in the pacific and it brought down heavy rains all day in Nicaragua. Small rivers formed in the yard, at times the rain was coming down so hard you could barely hear. Tina, Maudiel’s mother didn’t have to work this morning because of the storm. But she worked all day. She made us breakfast, a typical Nicaraguan dish called Pinto de Gallo (rice and beans blended together), she washed the ropa by hand outside under a tin roof, her daughter Tanya helped her rinse the maiz to make tortillas. Her sons carried big buckets of dirt into the outdoor kitchen to fill the puddles in the dirt floor made by the rain. Chickens and starving dogs ran in and out of the outdoor kitchen and the house. In between all of the tasks that had to be done the kids played games, showed me photo albums, asked me for words in English and joked with one another. Maudiel stayed inside most of the time, swinging in the hammock, talking with his siblings. He told me he was happy today because no one had to go to work. He wasn’t alone in the house and the whole family could be together.

Maudiel is sick. His father and grandfather died of this disease, his uncles. Three of his brothers are sick and probably one of his sisters. Two of the four girls work cutting sugarcane as well. Tina tells me, this is work for men but they have no choice. Both of their husbands are too sick to work. One of Tina’s daughters committed suicide when she was 15. I visited a family a few houses down who had just lost their father a few days before to the disease.

I had to remind myself that I should not allow myself to be sad when Maudiel is smiling even though death is all around him and inside of him. So I drank my coffee and ate my Gallo Pinto with Tina and I talked with Maudiel about what it was like to fly in planes. I listened as his younger sister described family memories as she pulled out album after album, pointing to another family member telling me “Y tambien se murio por la Creatina.” (And he also died of the Creatine).