I have found in my small travels that many people of other countries believe that everyone in USA is rich. Just as our views of people in other countries is masked with untruths, people in other countries have a false view of USA. It is important to share stories that will enlighten us about the "other".
I attend class at Probigua school in Antigua. Each student in the school has his or her own teacher. Part of my studies includes reading aloud in Spanish. My teacher, Janet, and I found a book about communities that looked interesting. Many of the stories in the book are American history. Janet found these stories interesting, so we made our selection from this book. Janet noted the picture of the Statue of Liberty, which she had never seen before, and we found ourselves reading about immigrants coming to America. We viewed the extreme poverty of that time for the immigrants in the pictures and in the stories. Janet was very surprised at this. We compared it to the current Guatemala where many are just beginning to make a start after years of civil war. We talked about what makes persons rich and poor. Basically we had a great conversation and established a deeper understanding of one another as persons.
In the short visit to the kindergarten in Purcila in September 2012, Ismael and I were talking with the teachers in Spanish. I was asking questions about their school day, and they were asking questions about the school day in America. I was trying to direct the conversation to the idea that what is best for each school in each country may differ in various countries....in other words, it is not necessary to do what the Americans do. We talked about the importance of feeding the children of Purusila during the school day. I told a true story of my experience that surprised them. One day in June 2011, I was coming out of the house to go to the Provincial Center to work. I noticed a boy of about 8 years standing at the bus stop across the street. What struck me was that he seemed to be very well dressed on this particular day. It dawned on me that this might be his last day of school. I struck up a conversation with him. As it was difficult to hear him from across the street with all the traffic, I moved over to his side of the street. When I asked him if this was his last day of school, I found out that it was. I was acting out how exciting this was...the last day of school! He, however, was not excited at all. In fact, he was downright sad. When I asked about this, he summed it up in one question: Who is going to make me breakfast tomorrow? Everyone in America is not rich. Everyone in Guatemala is not poor. There is no everyone. This little one did not share "everyone's" understanding of the last day of school.
To even begin to understand another, I need to set myself aside. I need to let go of everything that I think I know. I need to set aside my feelings, my experiences, my way of thinking. I need to abandon my need to be in control even of the slightest things. I need to move out of the center of the picture. It was only recently that I realized in a new way that I was the center of my picture. It is so natural. I would dare to say that each and every one of us, unconsciously, is the center of our picture. I recommend this exercise, which I sometimes practice while walking in Antigua: I deliberately place the center of the universe somewhere else (other than with me) even just a block or two away. By doing this, I become other than the center and part of the wide world that is not at the center. I become "other". I imagine that the center is in that other place or person, and I tune in to how different the experience is.
I believe that this is also true of my relationship with God, Jesus, Spirit and the call to live the gospel message. If I am going to follow the call of Jesus, I need to set myself aside and deliberately move the center to God and note the experience.
I am once again reading Reflections on Simplicity by Elaine M. Prevallet. This is an extremely simple 28 page pamphlet that I continue to read over and over again. It is a book packed with spiritual wisdom. Yesterday, I was reading the beginning pages and noted words that confirmed what I just described: "I feel a need to be in control of my life and all the factors, situations, and people...to subject them to my agenda....But there's something wrong in the picture. When I imagine--or when I experience--the simple way, everything moves in a rhythm. There is AN AGENDA, and I'm in tune with it, but it's not my creation. I don't need to worry about controlling; I don't need to be anxious that it won't all work out. I'm not in command and don't need to be; I'm not in the foreground and not in the center. I'm only part of a large, moving scene."
Who is "other" in your life experience? Experiment with the exercise and share your experience.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012