Saturday, March 27, 2010

...And So It Ends (Part One)

27th of March, 2010 - Townsville, Australia.

I remember sitting on a plane, flying over the Pacific between LAX and Sydney Intl Airport. Flying west (with the sun), I was leaving my known world behind in El Salvador in order to pursue a higher education in Australia. A fresh start, a fresh page and a new beginning. The plane landed in Sydney at around 10pm local time. It was Friday, 3th of February 2006. And so it started.

Four years in Australia. Four years. It feels like nothing, but it feels like a long time as well. I came to pursue a degree in Pharmacology, which I officially obtained today, by the grace of God. Today, sitting there inside that auditorium, wearing a full academic gown, having received my testamur and listening to the motivational speeches of those who are ahead of us, I finally felt that sense of completion. I came to Australia to study, and my goal was accomplished today. 4 years of hard work, of long hours of study, of lots of coffee, of Maccas runs, of study sessions, of nights in the JCU Library, of going into the lab at crazy hours of the night to continue my experiments. 4 years of exciting learning, of subjects that pushed me to take that step further, to think outside the box and to have fun while learning. 4 years of an amazing academic journey that teased my mind and made me explore questions I never thought of, and to taste the pleasure and the excitement of the scientific endeavour.

I came to Australia for that, and today, I can say that I finished it. I've reached that goal that was so distant at the start, but that has been completed now. Above all, I thank my awesome God, whose grace sustained me through these four years, and gave me the strength, intelligence and courage to continue. And I thank those friends around me, those who suffered with me, who laughed with me, those with whom I shared my University experience at JCU, with its ups and downs. And of course, I thank my family, who would always encourage, love and support me, even from across the Pacific. I couldn't have done it without you.

And yet, I leave Australia with more than an academic accomplishment. I came here expecting just that, but no - God had bigger plans for me. During my 4 years in Australia I have been able to get to know so many people, from so different backgrounds and nationalities. It has been amazing to make so many new friendships, and to experience the "mateship" so typical of Australian culture. This was specially true whilst living at the residential colleges at JCU - I will always remember the laughs, the craziness, the shared life we had, and the gathering of good friends around the college dinner table. I will never forget those treasured moments!

But not only that. I had powerfully experienced the love, care, encouragement and fellowship of those whom I call my brothers and sisters in Christ. God has moved in my life in so many powerful ways through Christian Union and my church in Townsville. It has been an amazing spiritual journey, to grow in my understanding of God, and to embrace a deeper relationship not only with Christ, but also with my fellow brothers and sisters who also call Jesus their Lord. It humbles and excites me to realise that God continues to transform, not only me, but the whole church, into the likeness of Jesus Christ. And what a joy we can have in the hope that stems and flows out of this powerful Gospel!

Australia means so much to me, and I will be always be thankful for the opportunity to come to this country. I have become part of this culture, part of the furniture and part of this nation. I will still remain a Salvadoran Chocolate Bear, but with an Australian filling.

And so it ends, today, as well. With that farewell party, I officially say Goodbye to Australia, to my second home, to my extended family that I leave behind. The actual final Goodbye will be on my last day, and I hope to report on that day as well (i.e. there is Part Two coming xD).

Sadness, excitement, melancholy, happiness: a mixture of all of them. As the chapter entitled "Australia" draws to an end, I leave to new adventures, to new excitements, to new frontiers and to new blank pages. So many opportunities lying in front of me! But one thing is for sure: I will never forget this Great Southern Land and its people, a nation that opened its doors for me and adopted me for life, if not legally, at least in their hearts.

Thanks to all the people with whom I shared my life in Australia. You will be missed enormously, and in spite of the distance, I will not forget you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

30 Years Ago, in San Salvador

San Salvador, El Salvador, Monday the 24th of March, 1980. Just after 18:00, local time.

The Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, is offering Mass at the "La Divina Providencia" hospital chapel, in the suburb of Miramonte, in San Salvador. The occasion: the first anniversary of the death of Mrs Sara Meardi de Pinto, the mother of Jorge Pinto Jr, the owner of an independent Salvadoran newspaper that advocated for social justice. In spite of such occasion, the chapel is nearly empty - barely fifty people, among friends and family of Mrs Pinto, are present in the small building. Archbishop Romero continues with his sermon, standing behind the altar, remembering the life and works of Mrs Pinto:

"... I believe that tonight, brothers, we should not only pray for the eternal rest of our beloved sister, but above all, gather this message, a message that every Christian should live out intensely..."

San Salvador is amidst a political and social chaos. The 70's ended with a coup d'etat, followed by a provisional Government that fails to provide the answers to the many questions. Both the Left-Wing guerrillas and Right-Wing death squads are gaining strength, causing the spiral of violence to increase by the minute. The Army tries to halt the violence by increasing the oppression on the insurgents and those who cry for reform: the poor. The Government, hopeless, is unable to control the situation. Archbishop Romero, then, became one of the leading voices that call for reconciliation and the cease of violence. He becomes concerned for those who are poor, the oppressed and the needy who are being crushed by a Government that will not respond adequately.

Just the day before, on Sunday the 23rd of March, he concluded his Sunday sermon with the following:

"...I would like to make a special appeal to those in the Army, and specifically to the National Guard and the Police... Brothers, you belong to our same nation, and yet you kill your peasant brothers. Above the command from your superiors to kill, the Law of God should prevail, that Law that says: You shall not murder... No soldier is in the obligation to carry out an order against the Law of God. An immoral command nobody is in the obligation to follow... The Church, defender of the rights given by God, of the dignity of Humanity, cannot remain silent about these atrocities and abominations... In the name of God and in the name of those who suffer, whose cries rise up frantically to heaven, I supplicate you, I appeal to you, I command you in the name of God: Stop the repression!.."

But today, Archbishop Romero continues with his sermon on this early Monday evening, encouraging the audience to fight the fight that Mrs Pinto herself fought: the fight of justice, of peace, of love, the fight of one who used her own newspaper to denounce the social injustice in El Salvador. He is about to finish his sermon now, which will be followed by Holy Communion. For that reason, he starts to raise the chalice as he utters the last words:

"...Let this crushed body and this sacrificed blood, the body and blood of Christ, be also the encouragement to give our own body and blood to suffering and pain, and just like Christ, not for himself, but to show the concepts of justice and peace to our people. Let us be intimately united, then, in faith and hope, as we pray for Mrs Sarita and for us..."

The cup is now fully above his head.

Suddenly, a powerful sound is heard. A sound originated from the outside, maybe from the person that is now running away from the main entrance of the chapel. A sound so overwhelming that sounds almost like a bomb, like some dreadful explosion. And within fractions of a second, the bullet hits Archbishop Romero, who stands behind the altar, his hands holding the cup above his head. He stumbles backwards, losing the grip of the cup, spilling wine all over the altar, exactly where Romero's blood had also spilled a few seconds ago.

"...If I am killed, I shall rise in the Salvadoran people..."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The 80's - Inherited Nostalgia?

I was indeed born in the 80's. It was in the year 1986, just a couple of weeks after a powerful earthquake shattered my city to pieces. However, to be honest, I have barely any memories from the historic decade of the 80's. The only long-lasting memory I have is a vague memory of the Civil War in my country. On the 11th of November 1989, the Salvadoran Guerrillas entered the city of San Salvador in order to provoke a massive middle-class insurrection against the right-wing government. My first memory, then, is of my family frightened, hiding us in some obscure corner of the house as we heard the shootings and bombings just around the corner from us. That is as much as I remember, being 3 years old when the 1990's officially started.

I was born in the 80's - but most of my conscious awareness and memories are only found in the 90's onwards. I embraced the 90's, the end of the Salvadoran Civil War and the hope for a better future, growing up in what came to be the "Y" or "MTV" generation, shaped by all the cultural elements we adopted from our American/European counterparts. However, I inherited copious amounts of cultural expressions from an era I just missed. Through the musical influence of my parents and my older brother, I grew up in the 90's listening to the music of the 60's, 70's and 80's, both in Spanish and English. It was just part of the every day life, to play my dad's LP's and listen to by-gone eras, at times imagining myself being a teenager or young-adult during the 70's or 80's. My parents' nostalgia for their "good ol' times" made me experience, if only in my imagination, a snapshot of life back then. For a brief duration of a song, I was there, with them, in my imaginary reconstruction of an era I wished I experienced.

I was amused: being nostalgic of an era I did not even experience, wanting to live out memories that weren't mine! And that made it better, making my imagination fly freely.

I still love the music from the previous generations - and sometimes I consider it better than the music that surrounded me by the late 90's and early 00's. But at times I can't work out whether the nostalgia I still feel now is for those eras I did not experience, or rather a nostalgia for my nostalgic childhood? In the end, it doesn't matter - I can still admire the inherent power in music, a power that distorts time and geography: a real time machine.