Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Cinadr ’02 writes that her work as a volunteer is, “By far the most challenging, rewarding, enjoyable thing I’ve done in my life. And in some ways, one of the most random-beekeeping?”
Cinadr has been serving as a small business development volunteer in Cuerpo de Paz, Paraguay for 27 months. In addition to providing instruction on beekeeping, Cinadr trains individuals in advertising, marketing and financial management strategies. She also provides consultation services for a cooperative and two women’s groups.
While a student at William Smith, Cinadr designed her own Writing and Rhetoric major called Modes of Discourse. She was a Writing Colleague, worked with the Center for Global Education and also participated in the teacher training program. She was also involved in community service work, lacrosse and various intramural sports. She spent three consecutive spring semesters off-campus, in Boston, Ecuador/Peru, and Rome.
Cinadr wrote an essay, “Out From the Pews and Into Paraguay– The Ripening of a Green Faith” for the Amy Found Writing Awards Program, of which she writes, “The people in the community I live in have taught me about love, grace and a faith that keeps people smiling despite hard realities. The lessons learned bring to mind some of the teachings of the bible-that, in my youth, had little relevance. I wanted to give form to this powerful experience, as well as ask some broader questions, about how we might better treat each other and the earth we inhabit.”
In the photo above Cinadr works as a beekeeper in Paraguay.
Her complete essay follows.
Out From the Pews and Into Paraguay– The Ripening of a Green Faith
That dripping hour was spent raising hell, not escaping it.
We arrived with empty stomachs and sheet creases in our cheeks. We slept in an extra 15 minutes, my father’s after-church sourdough pancakes made following the rule of not eating an hour before communion a little easier.
My Dad did break one law- he barreled around the corners of our sleepy neighborhood in our ’84 Chevy wagon to get us there early before the priest parade to the altar. We’d dock the rusty vessel among shiny sedans and mini-vans and trudge up the walkway to St. Edwards’s The Confessor, a vast grey warehouse of a church with a Home Depot-sized parking lot.
When each hymn was announced, my brother and I raced to see who could get to the page first, and then we lip synced the lyrics. In our boredom, we entertained ourselves thumbing through the index of hymnals- titles like “Alone thou goest forth” and “Lord, thou hast searched me” would send us into fits of illegal church giggles.
As I hit adolescence, I became uncomfortable sticking out my tongue to receive communion. I opted for the more discreet opening of my hands. But, I was bold enough to ask questions and determined to find fault with the church- the place that held me captive every Sunday. I proposed to my parents that I would volunteer at a soup kitchen instead-“actions speak louder than words,” I argued. I wanted to know what happened with the money the parishioners put in that long-stemmed basket that glided across our laps each week with such amazing grace. I marched into the priest’s office and asked for detailed information on the distribution of donations. I looked for concrete examples of good Samaritans in action. Disappointed with my findings, I convinced myself that things didn’t make sense. Then, in my last years of forced CCD (Catholic Christian Doctrine) I had a few meaningful volunteer experiences with the church in a poor Latino community. But, by that time mandatory Sunday church visits were coming to a close.
I grew up and went to college, where Sundays meant sleeping in. I found myself yearning to believe in something. I started thinking that having a relationship with God would be better than not having a relationship with Him. I sought God outside of church walls and outside of my adolescent understanding. My faith took the form of homemade mantras repeated while running or hiking, requests for strength to do things I didn’t want to but knew I should and thanks when God answered my prayers. I asked God to look over the people I care about, to show me what I should do with my life and to help me worry less. I didn’t know if I believed in everything the church did, but I did sense that God listened to me. And then, for a reason I still don’t understand, half way into my junior year, I went to church. After college, during my career in marketing, I read the bible. I was a copy writer; I made words work for me. I sold them. I decided to heed the advice I gave my parents and make my actions speak louder or even replace my words. With the freshly fallen debt of graduate school and a new car loan I wondered if working for free for two years was logical, even possible. I had been attending a string of wedding showers and engagement parties, and wondered, at 27 years of age and single should I head to a remote and foreign place for two years?
As part of my Peace Corps assignment I am in a small wooden shack in rural Paraguay, still reading my bible. I live in a tiny community tucked in the forest, among twenty-two families in twenty-two thatch roof houses that sit on fertile land. I am still more than I ever have been in my life. I am able to engage the obvious, and the obvious seems to be, that God is love and that I should seek His will. In the quiet of this place, my emotions are easily identified and processed, not muddled by distractions and busy work. My life here is lived with thrift and care.
The closest church is an hour away. I bike there on Sundays (ironically going to church often serves as a cure for homesickness) and sit with the barefoot farmers. They can’t read, and the church is too poor to hire a priest, so I often do the weekly readings. This place does not resemble my church at home, yet I find it more welcoming. Crumbling, no doors, dogs and chickens walk past the altar and children run in and out smiling slyly. We seek God together. I don’t fidget, or will the service to end. But I do wish my Dad’s pancakes were waiting after.
“… Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48). My mothers often repeated words of scripture come to me, unconsciously, like the way I can sing along to eighties songs. I thought of being responsible, three years ago from the desk of my advertising agency job. With graduate school debt and a new car loan I wondered if working for free for two years is logical.
Someone once told me when faced with two options you should probably choose the one that scares you the most. Making a decision is one thing but following through with it is another. And that’s the hard part. Maybe when Jesus asked us to love one another, he wanted us to go beyond simply being nice. When I start to pity my Paraguayan neighbors and project sadness onto them, I ask God to help me love instead. When I see a teaching moment I ask God to help me communicate from a place of love, not criticism. I ask God to continue to guide me in the art of the pause- observe, truly listen, wait, and then choose my words carefully. In a place of so much need, I sometimes ask God for the strength to bear witness, to stand in a place of no reaction and not judge. Yes, in these twenty seven months, I have asked for a lot of things and I’ve received them. “Ask and you shall receive” my mother used to tell me.
“Nde resarai nde eira” (You forgot your honey), Emiliano said, a huge smile beaming from his toothless mouth. He stood in my yard with his arm outstretched holding a liter of honey in a dirty soda bottle. We harvested it that day and it was distributed with great care among the families. Honey is not only a treat that comes once a year, it is a remedio, used for many illnesses. I gently declined the gift- a liter was more honey than most families use in one year. Emiliano placed the bottle in my hands. “He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.” (Mark 12: 41-44). If to give out of need rather than excess is to share, I ask how much have I given? Much is expected.
While one of the goals of my service is to educate people on the most sustainable way to live from our earth, without damaging it, I can’t escape the knowledge that I don’t have to live from the earth. I can buy food. I am not tied to the land. I move around, all the while knowing I’ll be able to eat where I am. Eating is something I thought little about before but now is present in my mind. I live in a place where a bad storm has the power to make a family noticeably, if not dangerously, thin. I can see now why gluttony is a sin.
I’m from a country where possibly half of our meals are eaten in the car. I question our nation’s gratitude for a full belly. I just received a package of sour patch kids and Starbucks coffee from the U.S. It cost twenty dollars to send, enough to feed many families here. What is the price for this ease in hand to mouth interaction? Surely there is a physical one as is seen from the various illnesses confronting us, but what of the spiritual ramifications? What did I learn? Will I adapt the very practices I teach? “Much is expected.”
Even those who reap the benefit of their land in sustainable ways face a global food crisis that involves actual hunger. They live this way out of need, not an effort to live green. Do they fall below a poverty level, yet above a universal lack of consciousness that has separated so many of us from the earth we inhabit? Is this what is meant by “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”? (Matthew 5:5). Bible passages flash through my brain and make sense to me. Out of a need, four year olds build kites out of old plastic bags and make squirt guns out of old shampoo bottles. The need makes bungee cords out of old tires, lines bread tins with banana leaves, has gardens covered in rich earth the color of dark chocolate. People gather around fresh local markets to converse and share the fruits of their harvest. “One who is full, tramples on virgin honey: but to the man who is hungry, any bitter thing is sweet.” (Proverbs 27:7)
My job description said that I was to live in a poor area. The people rarely go into town to purchase anything, and never produce waste that can’t be tilled back into the soil from which it sprung. An anonymous author wrote, “It is not he who has little, but he who wants more, who is poor.” When friends and family comment on how hard it must be for me to work with the poor, I think of this, and respond, “I work with some of the wealthiest people I know.” They do not waste, they do live green. They share, but not to get something back. That’s the irony, that most of us who do something difficult, making a grand gesture, to try to find out what we are made of, we end up finding out what God is made of.