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Trying to write in these times of uncertainty...

Back From El Salvador

I'm back early this morning from my Habitat Charlotte trip to El Salvador. This annual "attitude adjustment" trip is always so rewarding, such a pleasure, and lots of hard work. I spent many months preparing at the gym, knowing as I do, that being in the best shape possible always makes for a better trip. I was, if I do say so myself, quite studly this year and suffered no injuries, didn't fall down on the site, and with the help of a little Advil P.M., not even sore during the week of hard work. For mi compadres, I wrote this poem, which came to me as I was going to sleep on our last night in the country.

And Then

And then they started to leave.
At first just a couple
Who don't enjoy the beach.

And then we all pack up
Our fabulously dirty clothes
Crusted with the week's sweat and work

And then we have our last hugs
And disperse throughout the airport
To our respective gates and cities.

And then we fly away home to our loved ones
Dreaming of next year,
Leaving behind those we love, too. Read More 
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I'm Back!

Wonderful trip to El Salvador this year. We were in at the beginning of a project to build homes for 400 families who have been living in "temporary" shacks since an earthquake 12 years ago. That is not a typo -- 12 years of promises these people have endured. Their living conditions are unbelievably appalling, really, completely indescribable. So, it felt great to be a small part of something so incredibly useful and important.

I started calling our group a "cult" this trip -- many of us are repeat offenders, and we only see each other on this February work project in El Salvador. We are experienced at what we're about when we are there and we really get some serious building done. Many of us also use the time to "reconstitute" as I described in my recent post, and in this way it is really a kind of honor to all be together for these 10 days each year.

The people of El Salvador are really amazing. They are kind, happy, and hopeful -- and all of this in the face of some really crap circumstances. To say that they, and in particular the staff of Habitat El Salvador, are an inspiration is a pale description of the deep impression they make.

And, here's a small world story about this trip. Kathy is a dedicated Habitat El Salvador cult member who has been on this trip many times. She is also a fellow adventure traveler with Wilderness Travel, the company Henry and I went with snowshoeing in the Alps this past March. Kathy and her husband did the Tour de Mont Blanc this summer with Wilderness Travel. On that trip she met Gail and told her about the El Salvador Habitat cult. So, this trip Gail comes from San Francisco to join us, and brings her sister-in-law, Jane, from New York, too. They were a wonderful part of the crew.

Also on this trip was a woman who had been a nurse at the U.S. Embassy at the height of El Salvador's civil war (late 80s). Her husband was working on the new U.S. Embassy being built at the time; they lived in a hotel with two small children. Needless to say their stay was not long... but, how's that for karma?

We also had family members along this time, too. Mike brought his daughter Brittany this time around. Next year, I hope Henry will be with me, too.

Click on the photo essay tab above and check out some of the photos I took this year. And, if you're so inclined, drop me an email and I'll let you know how you can help -- or even come along on our trip next time.
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Reconstituted

It's that time again. For the last few days I have been laying out the small but mighty set of duds I'll need to fit in one carry-on bag for next week's trip to El Salvador. It's my 4th time traveling there with the good folks at Habitat Charlotte. We'll be in a new part of the country for me and it's supposed to be a LOT hotter than where I've been before. Last year we were up in the mountains and had to have a light sweater or jacket in the evenings. That ain't going to happen this time around. I have Usulutan on my weather.com app and the high today is 100 degrees. Yikes.

I'm pretty good at preparing for this trip. You could even say I'm an expert. I've been to the doctor, perused the sale stock on sierratradingpost.com, and put together my little magic travel moleskin notebook I use to keep things straight. I have my favorite washcloth, my sunscreen, my giant-sized-construction-worker-grade wipes, and I'll wear my oldest pair of hiking boots which will be recycled when I leave.

I am prepared to be hot, hungry, thirsty and just plain uncomfortable at times. At the end of each day I'll be tired, beat up (I generally fall down at least once...) and every day I will smell nasty on the bus on the way home. I will, once again, wonder about why the people there are so nice. I don't think I would be. I will laugh a lot. I will be in charge of NOTHING. I will also be "reconstituted."

I say that because this trip is always inspirational, affirming, and has a way of setting my head right for the coming year. It provides a context for thinking about life in general, and for formulating specific schemes for the coming months, too. It's more than just an attitude adjustment. The travel, the people, the work -- it just kind of makes the moving parts of my brain snap together in place.

Know what I mean? Read More 
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It's All Perspective

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to spend the day with an amazing young woman. Patty works for Habitat for Humanity in El Salvador. Back in 2007, on my first building trip there with Habitat Charlotte, Patty had just started working for the organization. She was our "minder" our "handler" for the week.

Even though she'd worked there a only handful of weeks, she did an incredible job with our group of gringos, taking perfect care of all the details, devoting reassuring attention to us, ensuring we had a productive and rewarding time in her country and that in addition to building, we got a chance to learn a little bit about the culture and the wonderful people. She briefed us on appropriate toilet etiquette, made sure we were safely ensconced in our hotel, and fed sufficiently each day. Everyone who has been to El Salvador for a work project, from all over the world, knows some of Patty's rules: 1. Walk around only in groups -- two is not a group! 2. Don't pet the dogs. 3. Don't eat food from street vendors. 4. Don't drink the water from the faucet, etc.

I also met Kendal Stewart that week, another new employee at Habitat El Salvador. Kendal is a North Carolina native and a Davidson College grad who stayed in the country after an internship there. Both Patty and Kendal are taking on ever more professional duties at Habitat El Salvador since back in 2007; it's no surprise. Habitat is lucky to have two such outstanding and inspiring people working with them.

This week, the dynamic duo are visiting North Carolina. It's Patty's first trip here. Having been in town a couple of whirlwind days, we had the chance to hang out, eat a long lunch, and do a little shopping. It was a small breather for Patty, just about the only one she's likely to get on this trip, which is jam-packed with meetings and tours all across the state.

Do you know what this incredible woman said to me? She said that after seeing how beautiful this place is she was more impressed than ever with us -- that we would come to El Salvador and give up all we have here for 10 days to work on houses there.

Whhaaat? I about drove off the road.

It made me think of what I told Henry when I got back from that first trip in 2007. I told him how incredibly nice the people were... how we here in the United States have everything, and we whine about it. Why are they so nice? -- I'm not sure I'd like me if I were them.

Right. And Patty lays on me how impressed she is with US. Makes you think, don't it?
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El Salvador!

Here's the crew with whom I dug a septic tank all last week.
Another great trip to El Salvador with my Habitat Charlotte buds. Once again I am amazed at the resilience of the Salvadoran people, their generosity of spirit, and good and open hearts. In short, we here in the U.S. have everything and they, by our standards, have little. It's 20 years since the end of a brutal civil war and memories of their personal losses are still fresh and yet they are a positive and hopeful people. It is a pleasure and gift to work together with them for a few short days, helping to make the world a better place if only for a small handful of folks. Showing up there, it feels to me, does matter. And that is reason enough to go. (Click on the Photo Essay tab above for more pictures.) Read More 
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Back from El Salvador

I made it back from the Habitat building trip to El Salvador very early on Monday morning, about 1:00 a.m. It was a great trip. Believe it or not, no whiners! Good folks all, including especially the masons and the homeowner families. No one got hurt. And, we accomplished quite a lot on the two homes we worked on.

I had a momentary panic attack when I found out that one of the team members was a Lutheran pastor. Shit. How was that going to work?  Read More 
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Habitat Charlotte Women Wishing All a Merry Christmas!

A bunch of us women who used to work together at Habitat for Humanity Charlotte got together for a Christmas lunch at Mary Nell's house. What fun! We got caught up on each other and our families, shared info on those who couldn't be with us, and made plans, too. First off, we're going to be sure and do a lunch at least once a year, AND, all of us who can are going to go with the Habitat Charlotte crew to El Salvador in February 2011. (Fair warning to Ana Maria, Kendal, Patty, etc. in El Salvador!) Several of us went in 2007 and it was a great trip we want to share with more great Habitat Charlotte women. (see Photo Essays tab on this site for pictures from that trip)  Read More 
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Bring on the Hot Weather

I'm off to El Salvador in the early a.m. I'm going with a group from Habitat Charlotte, where I used to work. It's the same gig as my 2007 trip to Santa Ana Department and I'm looking forward to seeing some familiar faces while building houses there.

The standout thing about my trip last time, and one I expect will be true again, is how very authentically nice the people are in El Salvador.  Read More 
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