Friday, September 3, 2010

El Trailero

Meet Omar. Even though you have just met him, you would think that you have known him for years, based on his overwhelmingly. Need a ride? He’ll pick you up curbside in his 18 wheeler complete with a trashcan top for his steering wheel or his gigantic stag that he refers as “chelito” because of his brillo. However, to even the trained eye, you will not be able to physically go anywhere with him other than by foot, because all of his modes of transport are for the sole purpose of pleasing the multitudes of personalities. But he sure is the nicest motorista I have ever met.

So people must be thinking? Are you honestly talking about a bicho? Are you just making fun of some bolo? Quite the contrary, Omar is an eighteen year old resident of my community and is probably the happiest person that I have ever encountered. He is most definitely more content than all of us strive to be in our daily lives. BUT, and here comes a big BUT, even though he has never been diagnosed, he has a condition. Whether it is autism, a strain of Down syndrome or one of those other conditions, no one will ever know. I am not exactly sure that accurate testing for those conditions exists here, but even if they did, people would still just say that he is “sick in the head.” No one refers to anything in the campo by its technical term as many PCV’s would undoubtedly know. Like diabetes, or as we know it in the campo, el azucar en el sangre. I am still surprised almost every day when I see how happy he is whilst briskly pacing the makeshift roads in Las Posas without a care in the world. I have seen him upset and that’s never pretty, but the good thing is that it only lasts for about ten minutes. And even then, he just grabs his trashcan top and peels out of the driveway. I don’t even know if he has the capacity to hold a grudge, which I suppose can be really uplifting.

For the most part, the community responds really well to a kid riding up and down the main road on what he assumes to be one monster truck. I think he might even be a better parallel parker than me. His family does their best to understand, accept and accommodate him, but eventually everyone tires. There are also times when he escapes from the confines of his family’s home, away from Mom and tries to fraternize with the bolos. That never ends well, but then again what good comes from the certified bolo? The closest friendship I have had with a bolo for me would be when he ran out of beer money and tried to get me to buy his bike for 13 big ones. I would have bought it too, but by the time I got back to the bolo hangout, he was passed out cold. Too bad too, I really could have used a set of wheels. For me, Omar just doesn’t get me around fast enough, no matter how fast he gallops.
Even though he might be handicapped in his mind, he makes up for with his spirit. In life when you encounter these people who love life just to love living; it makes one wonder about all the larger-than-life battles that we fight daily within ourselves. As PCV’s, living in rural El Salvador, I think we can all take a tip from Omar. That being, stop taking ourselves so damn seriously, myself included. As Omar always asks me, are you enjoying the ride? Even though he might be referring to his imagined 18 wheeler, it definitely brightens my day.

Then there is the update from the Alcaldia. Apparently he has been fired from his motorista position, so he has turned to his second passion; he’s a cowboy now. That would explain his long rides throughout the community galloping with a broomstick without the broom. Here I am worrying about what the community thinks of me and trying to get projects started and here all El Trailero is worried about is getting to the next destination.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Sweet Sixteen! Sort of and Mi quince dulce here

Ok so these are photos from a quince that I went to recently in my community. The theme is pink! can you tell!

These are pictures of my backyard and home garden. As you can see, it is going very well! I wanted to share this with you all back home, because it will not be here for long. Turns out I do have a bit of a green thumb or just fertile land!

So I have 2 mango trees, 2 papaya trees, 1 lime tree, corn, squash, zuchinni, green bell pepper, chiles, and tomatoes!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My new boyfriend!

This is my dog here. I rescued him from just one of the average Salvo abusers of dogs. I wish I could save every dog, but alas its just me and Ta-lo (tay-low). I did not give him the name but he responds well. We keep each other company.

My work here!

I miss home, so whoever reads this I need some updates from home! I think as long as I get updates, I resist the urge to come home!

So I am sure a lot of you all are wondering, what the heck is she doing down there in El Salvador? Not looking at direct flights to Dallas, that’s for sure! Ok maybe sometimes, but that is mostly to help those people who want to visit me. If you aren’t one of those people, maybe you should think twice about that! So in all seriousness, I will give you all an idea of what I will be doing for the next year, or at least the next like 6 months. It’s hard to constantly think about the 2 year time frame, so I break it up into increments. It also is very effective for goal setting and mostly not to drive me crazy.

So projects that I will be working and some I want to be working on
-The computer project. This project I have inherited from the previous volunteer, kind of. The local school in my community is recently the proud owner of four computers with an impressive operating system of Windows 95! But heck, they were bought for an extremely LOW used price from a computer donation company in the states. For future reference, never toss out that old computer, there is always a place for it in the developing world. And that’s word. I bet you can even get a tax write-off for it, for all you elephants out there! Just kidding the dems like that too. Ok so back to the computers. Of the technology generation, I was always around computers, so it seems as second nature to operate one and use one efficiently. But than for those of you, like my grandma (love you) and people in the developing world; unless you were one of the few that was able to go to school, you probably have never seen a computer, let alone knows how to use one. True story. So being able to operate a computer, opens a lot of doors. Like typing, creating a flier and or invitation, surfing the internet, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

-I already mentioned the girls' soccer team, but that is a work in progress.
-I already mentioned the Latrine project, but that's a work in progress as well.

-I have started a home garden, which has proven to be quite successful. Who knew I had a green thumb!? I am growing corn, zucchini, cucumber, green bell pepper and tomatoes. It is the rainy season right now here in El Salvador, where it rains every day, so its ideal for planting and growing vegetables. Along with the vegetables, I have two mango trees, two papaya trees, a lime tree, and a chile bush. This is all in my backyard at the moment. The hope for this project will be to re-create my garden in other communal parts of the community. This is a project that will touch on nutrition and proper diet. Because the diet here is BAD! full of grease and salt, with little nutrition to boot. A lot of people dont even realize there are other ways to cook, other than in a pot of oil. I also hope to start cooking classes. Simple ingredients and simple techniques that hopefully will catch on! Like they can't even cook an egg, without it being in an oil soup! And maybe this cooking class turns into a womens' group, and then we get into some health topics. Little successes!

an unfortunate event

Recently, there was an incident in my community that struck a cord with me. A 40 year old man decided to go fishing with some of his nephews in a river that runs through my community. Mom calls it my village, but it’s like a small (500) people. Being an epileptic, the man had a seizure while fishing in the river, and consequently fell in. Being as no one he was fishing with knows how to swim, no one jumped in to save him. By the time, help was called ( and when I say help I do not mean 911 or local police) the man had been swept by the current in the river down towards the nearby lake. This happened about four in the afternoon on a Monday. Neighbors, friends and family (mostly the male populous) soon after started a rescue party beginning to search down the river. However, there was one tiny BIG problem hindering the search rescue. The river is filthy dirty. When I say dirty, I mean human and animal feces, you name it trash residue, and whatever falls in. The people who did know how to swim did not want to jump in to look around, go figure. Every time I think there is positive progress here, I am reminded by the fact that this is a developing country, with significant problems in action-solving here. When the police were finally called, there was little they could do, considering they did not want to jump in either. Everyone is upset that no one will jump in to search the waters, when really they should be upset that the water is an issue in the first place. Sidenote, people also take water from the river, to drink as well. I know. Can’t even begin to think about it. Long story short, man was discovered in the lake 72 hours later. And its usually custom here to have a vela, kind of like a wake, except the whole community shows up for free food and coffee. But there was no vela, only burial service because the time they found the body, there wasn’t much of a person left. The whole incident was upsetting because of the duration of the search and the issue with the water. These are the people I will be working with for the next two years.

As a result of this event, local government and myself have iniated a campaign for swimming lessons. Don’t worry, this will be done at local pool and not feces water.

Also the doctor assigned to my community and myself have been talking about coordinating a first aid and cpr workshop. No time like the present I have been telling myself. So along with the swimming classes, and first aid, maybe just maybe someone who was affected by the training will be able to rescue someone in need. Dramatic? Maybe. But life here is just like that. Things that we associate as basic functioning So So needs are not even passerby thoughts here. Events like this remind me why I am here.

Jumpin Tortillas!

I know it has been awhile since I have posted, and alas there are no good reasons, except for the fact that I live in a third world country and it is really hard to explain life here.

So I have been adjusting to life here, as silly as that might seem, it’s a big step here in the Peace Corps adventure.

I don’t believe anymore that I am changing the world. I don’t believe that I will change lives. What I do believe is that I will spend the next two years creating sustainable projects that hopefully will help people help themselves. What do I mean when I say sustainable projects? This means being a facilitator in the progress of development so when I leave this place, whatever work was on-going will continue without the gringa. This is hard, because its really tempting to just get things done or just buy that soccer ball for the soccer team. I am learning that when an individual and or on a community level is given and or gifted something, NO ONE APPRECIATES IT OR RESPECTS IT. I could take offense to that, but instead I am learning the value of ownership. If someone is invested in something or someone, maybe not financially but maybe socially, people pay attention and people respect it. It’s a weird concept that we, I think as Americans tend to often overlook.

I will give you some examples that I have encountered on this:
I am currently forming a girls’ soccer team, and they lack a lot of supplies, like balls to practice with. I could just buy a ball, its like 12 bucks here for a ball. Cheap right? What’s the big deal right? The big deal here is 12 bucks is two 10 hour days of hard labor here. The big deal is who will take care of a free ball? Nobody. Why would they, it was free. No biggie. SO, we are approaching a different way. We are currently doing some fundraising selling food at soccer tournaments and doing a raffle. Our goal is not huge or unobtainable, it’s 50 bucks. But for these women, to raise 50 bucks for a common goal is a big deal here. You better believe it when we get that 50 bucks and those purchases are made, they will be fighting over the chance of who gets to take care of the balls. Silly. Maybe. More sustainable than the gringa just taking care of it, you betcha. Because now they know they are also capable of teamwork and as well as raising funds for a project. I am going to start counting little successes like these, and then maybe they will start adding up to what I prematurely thought success was defined.

I am also beginning work on a latrine project. Half of the community receives remesas from the states, but for the other half, they are without running water, electricity, and most importantly, a place to do your business. I found this out when I initially completed a health census upon arrival in my community. And this project will be beyond fundraising for funds, because this project wiill be financially expensive. So I am beginning to search for grants etc. However, in order for them to properly care for aid latrines, ownership has to be involved. I am now in the process of securing labor from the community to complete the project, so we will see how that goes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Oh home!

So I have been here for a little over 3 months now and so far I have been good, relatively. I mean I haven't gotten terribly ill, nor has anything bad happened to me. But I feel like time is here is getting to a point, where the honeymoon phase is wearing off, and I am like, I moved here, willingly?! I moved to a place that is ungodly hot, where everyone plays their music at uncomfortably loud level, and where there is a lack of the concept for time for anyone and anything. So with my levels of frustrations rising and not seeing a free weekend with gringos in sight, I have decided to make a list of things I like so far about this place to overshadow what might not be so peachy about living here in El Salvador.

-The majority of Salvadorans that I have met have an overwhelming level of generosity without even knowing me.
-The fact that anytime I visit anyone, they will find a chair for me to sit in. (BTW, you are obliged to sit in the chair, in case not to offend)
-I have RELATIVELY good transport, and get anywhere in a day if I wanted
-Coca-cola in glass bottles with REAL sugar
-Riding in the back of a pick up, anywhere
-Eating fruit here in all stages of riping, not like in the states where you wait till its sweet and ripe. They have 4 levels of riping here.
-Almost anywhere here you can see the stars
-I can lay in a hammock all day and its justified
-The lack of urgency for anything
-bucket baths!
-Pupusas, if you havent tried the cheesy goodness, you should!They only cost a cora! Thats quarter to us.
-Curtido, it's like a cabbage vinegar slaw that accompanies the pupusa. Cant eat a pupusa without curtido now!

Ok that is all for now, but just making that list made me feel better being here. I dont want to say that I am homesick, I am just adjusting to life here. It's a very different world down here.

In other news, I have to hold a town hall type meeting in front of my whole community and to think of being in front of emotionless faces, scares me!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Remesa Phenomenon


So I have found a house to live in for the next two years! The concept of renting to people in the campo is difficult because they don’t understand non-conventional ways of making money and that of foreigners way of living. Let me give you a picture of what I have been through. I live in a remesa community, meaning that most people here have a relatives or multiple living in the States, Panama, and or Spain for the most part. What I mean by Remesa, remittances in English, money of some value, gets sent home, usually monthly. So that means I have found a house, whose owners live in San Francisco.

Remesas lack long term development. People who depend on that monthly money wire do not think about investing and or saving that money.

Remesas are resources from immigrants in the States, mostly monthly payments back to families.
Remesas are keeping this economy and all while people living in the states are sacrificing their well-being to help their families here in El Salvador. s

First the upside to Remesas. Folks with more money every month have more time than those who HAVE to be in the campo, working the fields (often not their own) for ten dollars a day. Women are likely to be more participatory in projects we, as Peace Corps volunteers, attempt to do. Remesas, more disposable incomes, means larger donations for things/projects/events (Sure am lucky to live in what’s called a “remesa community”). Those “Hermanos Lejanos” (Familiy in states, literally translating to far away brothers) can hook it up for projects, something that is benefiting their community of childhood. In fact, that perkI have already witnessed here in my community. A man, while visiting his dad and mom here contributed several hundred dollars to a fundraiser for the local city council. Remember, even the jobs that a lot of you would never consider doing STILL make more than ten dollars a day, some can make that in an hour. So essentially when those folks return home for a visit, they are ballers, literally.

The downside to Remesas: Remesas don’t give people motivation to get a job and or to better themselves. For people who do not have a loved one in the states, will travel hours to a job and the majority of people in the campo average out to ten dollars a day.

And another issue. Some peoples’ spouses and other family have been living in the states for significant periods of time, sometimes never given the opportunity to come home (you know that whole thing with being illegal).

There are approximately 5.7 million people living here in El Salvador, while an additional approximate 2 million Salvadorans have immigrated to the United States. While in training, we were informed in 2004, 70 percent of El Salvador’s economy were Remesas. A lot of the time, if you are able to work, you find a way to go to the states. Its not because this country sucks or anything, but the lack of jobs available. And we think we got it bad with our unemployment.

Productions comes before consumption in a developing country, thus chances of developing are slim, as they will never develop more than they produce.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Alright, definitely time for an update!

So I moved to Guatemala. Well not really, but yeah basically. I live in a village that borders Guatemala and the river is what separates the two countries. I have had trouble with my internet, mainly because service goes in an out here because I am so close to Guatemala. Yesterday marked my third week in my site. Where I am now is where I will be living for the next two years! That's really overwhelming to think like that so I am going to divide my service up into tri-monthly quarters. So for the next three months, I am working on adjusting to my new community as well as doing a census to get to know the community a better. And it's awkward. How many cases of diarrhea have you had in the last two months? When was your last mammogram? Do you know anything HIV/AIDS? Etc. Etc. How much do you make in a month? How much do you receive in Remesas. All awkward questions, for me and them. I have 130 houses to do, so I work on that a bit every day. I am also just doing some diagnostics with different groups in the community to get a better needs assessment and priority rankings for potential projects for the next two years. But mainly it's just adjusting to be the new gringa in town. I am the second volunteer in my site, so they kind of have an idea about our weird behavior and our strange culture. For example, living on my own. That is so weird for them! So I think I will have some luck in being pro-active and make some headway in doing some projects. But we will see.

On another note, I know you all want to visit. I can officially have volunteers in July, but I hear November, December, and January are the best times to come. But naturally, whenever you all can come, let me know! I miss you guys.

Monday, March 22, 2010

My site!

So my official home for the next two years is in El Angel, San Antonio, Pajonal, Santa Ana. Google it and Google earth it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This is the life!

So time for a blog. This blogging thing is a lot harder said than done. You have to sit down and reflect over thoughts and events. But here it goes. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks. Us trainees had a “free day” last weekend so we decided to make the best out of it and go to the beach! When I say “free day” I meant it is like the one day in our training schedule where we don’t have an activity/Spanish class/charla (its like an interactive lecture/discussion)/technical session/etc. Essentially, our schedule is just overwhelming and it was really nice to be able to take a “mini” vacation. Being that El Salvador is a TINY country, we got to the beach in an hour. We got up early Saturday to make the most of our day, thus the drinking started early  Let me remind during training alcohol has been outlawed due to past trainees abusing alcohol. Someone always ruins it for the rest of us! Anyways, the beach was awesome. The coast of El Salvador has black sand, presumably from the Volcanoes and the ocean is a deep blue monster, literally. The waves were crazy, good for surfers, not so much us who wanted just to enjoy the waves. Also our beach was covered in rocks so our feet got a beating. Other than that, it was awesome. When night fell, the beach turned into a crazy party with drummers, fire dancers, and lots of dancing! The next day I spent some much needed time in a hammock overlooking the ocean. I can’t complain!

Training is going by fast! We are swearing in like two weeks, and which point I will be an official Peace Corps volunteer in El Salvador. So where am I going? Good question. Like most of the application process, and getting to this point, the Peace Corps likes to leave you in suspense. I have received clues about my future home for the next two years, but no word as of yet. This Thursday, March 18th we are getting our site placements, and that day could not come soon enough! I say this because I have seen several volunteer sites now and have my current host family’s situation to consider, but with the location, several factors and amenities vary. What do I mean by this? Glad you asked. For example will my site have running water? Or will I have to trek down to a river, only to haul it back a couple of times? Will I have electricity? Or will the solared powered items I brought really be of great use? Will I be close to other volunteers? Or will I be far away? Will I be close to a bus stop? Or will I have to hike to get there? Will I live up in the mountains or by the beach? Will it be dusty and hot or just hot? Will I have cell phone service or will I have to travel or climb up a tree to receive your phone call? The LIST goes on. A lot of things to be thinking about for somewhere I will live the next two years of my life. Last year I was trying to decide what to do for work and this year I am just trying to have running water! But I am finally starting to get accustomed to life here, and I don’t think I would trade this for a life in the states right now. Here every day is different and sometimes don’t know where it will lead me, can’t say that about life in Dallas. Don’t quote me on that just yet! It’s still early!

So ladies, I have something to say about Latino men, or maybe its just the Salvadoran men. The Machismo is outta control. Seriously. Men here think they are god’s gift to women, and they don’t waste any time time telling you that. You walk down the street and it’s “e baby, how you doin” (by the way, the only English they know), or kissing and or hissing sounds, mamasita, etc….some get more vulgar. And I really don’t mind them, because I get to walk Noaway. What I do mind is the machismo in the culture. Cook my food, clean my clothes, lay on your back so I can impregnate you till there’s nothing left, and you get the idea. Women look and are VERY tired here. They definitely get the short end of the stick. And if this is the case, there is no way I am ever dating one of them! They have another thing coming if they think I am going to cook, let alone wash their clothes! I don’t even like washing my own clothes! And who knows, maybe my soul mate is a Salvadoran, but at this point, it’s very unlikely.

Tomorrow I am going to build houses in a town that was affected by the mudslides last November. So that should be interesting. I just won’t let know I have no idea what I am doing!

Monday, March 1, 2010

49th Anniversary of Peace Corps

I discovered this on of my friend's blogs, so I thought I would share it with you all.

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Washington, DC
March 1, 2010

Since 1961, the men and women of the Peace Corps have carried forward our finest traditions of service and embodied the United States’ commitment to forging partnerships and solving problems around the world. Today more than 7,600 Peace Corps volunteers from all fifty states serve in 76 countries, putting their skills and efforts to work on behalf of others. They follow in the footsteps of generations of dedicated volunteers whose hard work has changed lives, created new opportunities, and deepened understanding between cultures. Their example has inspired millions of other Americans to serve their communities through organizations here at home such as Americorps and Teach for America. And for many, the Peace Corps has been the start of a life-long commitment to service and engagement with the world. The State Department and USAID are filled with returned Peace Corps volunteers who draw on their experiences to serve our country and help build a more peaceful and prosperous world.

On this anniversary, we honor the nearly 200,000 Americans who have answered the challenge first laid down by John F. Kennedy a half-century ago and volunteered in the Peace Corps. Let us recommit ourselves to the vision they championed, the example they set and the work they began.

Immersion Weekend

This past weekend, all of us trainees went to go visit volunteers around the country to see what life is like for a volunteer in their respective sites. This was the first experience here in which we traveled by ourselves. Yikes! And we went in ALL directions to get to our destinations. It wasn't as bad as I thought it could be. Some people traveled as much as eight hours to meet up with their volunteers for the weekend. No way, right?! El Salvador is such a tiny country! Yes, it is a tiny country, the size of Massachusetts actually, but not all the roads are in great condition and a lot have to go through the mountains which takes a lot more time than needed. Also there are not highways that connect all the departments together, so just because it might be a short distance kilometer/mile wise, its not necessarily relative to how much time it actually takes to get to places here in El Salvador. Fortunately for me, I only had a four hour bus ride, only having to change buses once, when I passed through the capital. Some people had to take up to seven buses! What a hassle!

I went to go visit a volunteer that has been here a year up in northern El Salvador. I went up to the northern department of Chalatenango to a pueblo called La Palma. Departments are like states (there are 14) and pueblos are like towns. There are few big cities, mainly the capital San Salvador. Then outside pueblos, there are cantons, which are like suburbs and then within those cantons, there are casarios, which are like neighborhoods within those suburbs. So it goes pueblo --> canton--> casario. My volunteer, Heather lived in a casario not too far outside La Palma, but far enough she has to take a bus to get in and out of town. She is also binded by the time the bus takes its last route to her casario, so she can get back home. So she could be in the pueblo as late as 4:30 pm and still get back home. Sigh. People go to bed early here. As rural health volunteers, Peace Corps places us in "rural" areas, hence the name. Casarios are typically the more rural areas to live, because they lack civilization and a majority of them lack basic public services (ie running water, electricity, cell phone service etc). Here in El Salvador, we call it "el campo", the countryside. The department of Chalatenango is essentially covered in Mountainous landscape, which was so beautiful. I wouldn't mind be placed there, as living in the mountains with beautiful views could suit me very well. Not to mention the weather! Let me just say how awesome it was to be in El Salvador and for the first time not sweat my ass off all day! Where Heather lived, the weather was super fresco (cool) and had such a nice breeze, mostly because we were at a higher altitude. It was very nice and relaxing. I even needed to use a jacket to keep warm! The reason I even mention the weather is because were I am currently living for training is located in a valley in central El Salvador and it's super HOT here and super humid. It gets to be in the 90s every day but where I spend the weekend, it only got up to 75!

The first night I was there, I spent the night with a family in her casario (about 100 houses to give you a better feel of the area) that she recommended I stay with for my campo experience. Their house was very RURAL! Ten people to a two room house, one of which had two queen size beds for all of them! I slept on a bed put in the front room, pretty sure I took someone's sleeping spot. It was totally Gringo TV. After seeing how much they could make me eat, literally, they all stared at me and waited for me to talk. So that was interesting and a lot of the time awkward. Welcome to the Peace Corps, and to remember this is what I signed up for! I am sure with time and integration in my future site, there will be less awkward moments and more meaningful moments.

Because they are such a big and poor family, all of them work out in the fields with their parents. They are just finishing up coffee season, and what that involves is going out and picking the coffee and filling up barrels. Let me remind you that most people do not own their own land, so it's like a co-op for parts of the land and they pay to have a part. So everyone works the fields. That is their life. After coffee season is over, it will be cane sugar season, and they will work those fields. A big problem I came across while visiting with this family is that the coffee they are able to sell has to go through so many middle men that by the end, they don't profit as much as they should. They get $1 dollar for every barrel. And all of the time, they are hiking up and down these mountains, usually wearing sandals of some sort, carrying these barrels full of coffee beans. And these people are some hardworking individuals. They go to bed at eight, only to rise at four. They work seven days a week. I don't know if I could do it! But then again, if this is the only life I knew, maybe it would be satisfying.

The next day I went with Heather and she introduced her community to me. Everyone was super nice and everyone wanted to feed me! She says the trick to gaining "confianza" in your community (meaning trust so they will want to work with you) is to say hi and to everyone and accept all food that is presented to you! Good thing she lives in the mountains and she is always hiking! While I was also there, she did a charla at her school about a stove project she is working on. These stoves produce little smoke by their construction and use little wood. These stoves are so great and they will help with all the respiratory conditions people get for standing over the fire, cooking. They only cost 30 dollars and already are gaining popularity. Overall, I got a really good feel for the daily life of a volunteer. Things move very slowly and it takes a lot of time to get anything done! Which is ok because I have two years! Overall really good immersion weekend. I feel less anxious that I did before, and now I just need to cross my fingers to get a good site! I need to prioritize amenities and lack there of. I think having running water is going to be the most important thing to acquire. Because if you do not have running water, you have to go and haul water back to your site. And the trek could be killer, like it is for some volunteers. Yup definitely think having water is better than having electricity, if it comes down to that.

Alright, well hope everyone is doing well and you all are enjoying the blog.

Paz y amor

Sunday, February 21, 2010

So another week, still alive!

Hmm, still training. Which means my schedule has little free time and is packed full with training activities, some more fun than others. We visited San Salvador, the capital last Wednesday. It was exciting and terrifying to be in civilization again, or the closest I will be to it for two years. San Sal is like any big city, dirty, polluted and over populated. But then again, everywhere is dirty here. Seriously, the invention of the trash can seems to never have popped up here. In San Sal, we started our tour of the city with a visit to two museums about the civil war with the two points of view. If you are unfamiliar with the civil war that occurred here, google it (1980-1992). I have to stay NEUTRAL as far as as talking politics, so basically there were the two forces, one of the government and that of the guerillas. As far as perception goes, people really do choose to see history instead of the actuality of history. Nuff said about that. We then had the opportunity to eat lunch at the biggest mall in Latin America, in which there were several American eatieries. I opted for a cheeseburger and fries, which definitely did not taste like McD's.

We also learned some bus routes and how to get around in the city. The safe routes that is. To be a bus driver here in San Sal seems to be the worst job ever. However with job shortages, people have to take what they can get. Why is it so bad you ask? Well, for those who didn't know about the Maras (gangs MS-13 and MS-18), they have been an escalating problem for some time now. The maras literally "gang up" on the bus drivers and their cobradors (people who collect money from the passengers) and DEMAND that they pay the maras RENT. Why? Because the Maras want/need money, and the busses are a reliable target. All the busses have their persepective routes, and so the Maras can efficiently extort them for money. And if the bus drivers do not pay up, the maras blow up their busses. And if they can pay up, sometimes it even comes out of their pay. So it's a bad, dangerous situation. And unfortunately, the local Police department is way understaffed and underbudgeted and the the Maras know this. We were told that the National army is starting to step in to help, so maybe the situation will get better. Oh and did I mention that MS-13 and MS-18 are rival gangs and they hate each other, so mayham insues all over the city. However, we are reassured that they typically do not try to harass Americans, so we are good there! (Sigh. Awkard laugh). To reassure everyone at home, I am FAR away from any danger, and Peace Corps is REALLY GOOD at maintaining our safety. So DONT WORRY! We were live there is NO Mara presence and it is very calm and peaceful community. It's just like if I were at home in the states, there are palces of town I won't go to because its dangerous.

Other than that, I have just been fighting off a stomach ache for the past few days, but it should get better soon. Well I am off to training classes, everyone have a good day!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ok I am getting the hang of posting photos

Week 2

To you blogs readers, I just want to let you know that my internet situation is one I will not have daily but will be a weekly treat! Sigh. So what that means is that you will just have to stay in suspense longer for my updates! At least for now is the situation. I am going to make the best effort to blog once a week, if not more! So much happens here, it is hard to describe the scene here. It has almost been two weeks and yet if feels like an eternity already.

A lot has been going on here. Right now I am in the training period of my service, where they teach us Salvadoran Spanish (Caliche=slang here), safety protocol, cultural sensitivity, and much more. I had a two hour talk the other day about Dengue, Chagas, and Malaria. Chagas is a disease that is transmitted through a bug. This bug is referred here as a “chinche” and kind of looks like a small beetle. Basically this bug likes to bite your face and nothing really comes about it. Until ten years down the line and you die of cardiac arrest. Kidding. Kind of. Basically you got to get tested if you notice any weird bug bites. Then there is that malaria. I have to take pills every week that I am here as a preventive measure as well as use a mosquito net, and not to mention the obvious wear lots of DEET. Mosquitoes are everywhere! Dengue fever is also transmitted through mosquitoes and appears to have the symptoms of the flu. So yeah, that will be fun. And I have even mentioned the possible parasites and amoebas I might get from eating the fruit here or drinking the water. But I can say that I haven’t gotten sick yet! My stomach has been good to me. Cant say that everyone has had the same luck. A handful of people have already gotten sick and it comes out both ways. This one chica threw up all over, while on a bus! So Salvadorans are getting a good impression of us gringos! But enough about that! I am doing fine.

Last weekend, a group of us trainees went to go see a real live volunteer intheir natural habitat, meaning where they are spending their two years of service. His site was relatively close to where we were, or at least we thought. We spent an hour on what they called a road, which in reality was a series of rocks. Roads, other than highways or important streets are bad. So after a bunch of bouncing around, we arrived in the middle of nowhere. His site! It was exciting and terrifying all at the same time. It was nice to get a better picture of exactly how we would live, but at the same time I am glad they ease us into this idea of living in a remote area with training and living with a host family. He had a reltively nice house for the community. When I say relatively nice, I mean cement walls, cement floor, and tin roof. The alternative is a house made of mud and sticks, and I hear that’s where all the chinches like to hang out. He had a papaya tree project going on, where he hosted a bunch of papaya trees to give to everyone in the community and he had started a chicken project. His chicken project was very interesting. Everyone here has chickens because they are very useful, either to eat, to sell, and to take advantage of the eggs. However they are free roaming chickens, eating everything under the sun. They also get into a lot of trash. Oh have I mentioned the trash? El Salvador is plagued with trash, because they don’t have a good system for collecting it. So the majority either burn or throw it into the street. Photos to come. Back to the chickens, chickens here do not have chicken coups. His idea is to have caged chickens, because they tend not to eat as much and to be healthier. They also produce more eggs. The idea is to get other people in his community to implement his model for raising chickens to make more money. More eggs, more money. However, from a cultural aspect, caging chickens seems like the craziest idea to people here. So everything takes time. First comes the education and leading by example.

If anyone did not know, American culture is WAAAY different than those around the world. I have been thinking that we really have it good in the states, but maybe a slower, less advanced way of life is the key to a blissful life. You know what they say, ignorance is bliss. However, not having indoor plumbing, internet, reliable transportation, and Chinese food at 3am just to name a few, is something to contemplate when you have absolutely no access to it. So a life here is much calmer, and forgets having to worry about being on time anywhere. Salvadoran time is much different that that of gringo time. You want to meet someone at one p.m. and you need to show up at 2 p.m. to be on time. Getting the picture here? My mom would do well in this culture. (just kidding mom). But on a serious note, we have it good in the states. Everything is convenient, effective, and for the most part all within access. And to think I am only going to be here for two years, and the people here have been living like this with significant less amenities for a much longer time. Things we take for granted are essential amenities here (ie running water, electricity, trash service, education, clean water, and the list goes on and on and on.)

So I sitting in my adobe kitchen (which is a small building outside the house) right now watching my mom school me on how to school me on how to make tortillas. And they are not like tortillas that we have seen in Texas. They are made out of corn and they are thick . They also eat them at every meal, so they are like tortilla machines! And having tried to make them already, they make it look easy! Quite the contrary. Turns out I am pretty terrible at making tortillas, but I really don’t cook either so I guess I am going to have to learn how to do that! Also trying to politely say that I don’t like all my food to taste like salt, is easier said than done. She tells me that food doesn’t taste good if it doesn’t contain a dangerous amount of salt. You think I am joking. So its going to be a work in progress on the salt issue.

Going to see the sights of the capitol soon, so I will tell you about that the next time I get to blog. Hopefully you all have enjoyed this blog entry.

Paz y amor.

Just to let everyone know, my address is located on the upper right corner, so feel free to send me packages and letters if you want.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Un dia en la vida de nina alma

Hola todas y todos! (hello everyone)

Well I survived the weekend, so maybe that´s a good sign for the two years to come. Yesterday all of us gringos spent a day in the life of one of our family members. Since I decided not to follow a five year old or an eight year old around, I shadowed my host mom. The day began bright and early at five a.m. to make breakfast over a fire, then followed by a rouzing bucket bath. You become accustomed to cold buckets of water over your head. We then went to the market to buy food for the following week. Just think of a crazy black friday crowd, and that sums up the market. However, again like I mentioned before I have been learning to lower my standards of living pretty quickly. Here almost nothing is refridgerated and we definitely bought chicken at the market that had been sitting out, while the vender gives our change with chicken juice to add on. My host mom assures me that when we could the chicken, all is good! Haven´t gotten sick yet, so I am crossing my fingers. After several hours at the market, we took our means of transportation, the back of a pick up (I explained this in a post before) and headed back into the campo back to our casa. At that point we washed all the vegetables and fruit that we bought. And I say we, but I really mean me. The family´s economic situation is quite bare, and I am realizing if I want to eat vegetables and fruits, I am going to have to buy them myself. Which is fine, I am just glad I went to the market with her. After that, she made probably my favorite meal to come, a vegetable soup! After that, we all took some snoozes in the hammocks and then I learned how to wash clothes by hand (yes mom, I took a picture to prove it). It is definitely no joke that washing clothes is hard work here and definitely time-consuming, at least where I am. Today I found out that some volunteers got placed with families with wifi, indoor plumbing, including showers, and a washing machines. Some with paid help! So it´s definitely a big difference when I live with chickens, use a latrine, and bathe in a bucket. But I think this might make a little more sense and I might not have as big as a shell shock when I move to my permanent site, which is suppose to be very rural. That means most likely no electricity or running water. So we shall see about that.

Later in the afternoon, she took me to a local soccer match, which was very cool, except for the fact that culturally women do not watch sports here.

Also, for anyone who has not had a pupusa, you must try them! They are delicious.

I tried to post some photos here, but it´s taking too long, so I will find a different way to post them.

On another note, there are several cultural differences I would like to point out here while I am El Salvador. There is one in particular that I feel is important to address. The treatment of animals is a significant difference here. The animals of any monetary value such as the chickens (eggs, meat and to sell), cows (to sell), and the pigs (to sell) are very well fed and taken care of. They get fed three times a day and they recieve medicine when needed. Obviously it is in their best interest to take care of the animals. However, the animals that are considered as pets, are almost completely ignored. My thing is, why have animals that one you might not want and two that you cannot or won´t take care of? (For all you PIDA people, you might want to stop reading now). They say it is part of the culture, but I have a hard time seeing that. There are a lot of stray dogs who recieve the same respect. However I have two dogs and two cats that live at my house. The only food they ever recieve are table scraps, and because the family is not affluent, she really only makes what people will eat. I have to say this bothers me a lot, because I feel for these animals who cannot fend for themselves. One of the dogs was bothering them, begging for food, so he got put on a chain and essentially ignored. You would think the dogs would eventually go searching for food. So I think I am just going to start saving some food to feed to them, because I do not think I can be here and see these dogs in poor conditions. Or is it that my dog back in Texas was EXTREMELY spoiled. This is a cultural and personal filter that I am bring with me, but it is hard to see past it.

To end on a positive note, I am starting to adjust very well here and I think this will turn out very well for me. Spanish is already getting better.

Sorry if the post did not interest you, I am sure there will be more interesting things to talk about in the future. So KEEP POSTED!

Friday, February 5, 2010

First Couple of Days

So if anyone had any doubt that it is hot here, let me assure that it is VERY hot! I have been in country for three days now, but it already feels like a longer time.

The first couple of days have been spent in orientation sessions learning about safety protocol, cultural aspects of El Salvador and more than I ever needed and or wanted to know about Diarrhea. They say we are ALL going to get it, but I am hoping to try my best to avoid it (I know, joke´s on me). The food is here is rich in carbohydrate and grease and sodium, so my stomach is going definitely going to have to adjust if I want to eat. The pupusas here are super tasty though. For those who do not know what a pupusa is, it´s like a quesadilla and a pita had a baby and that baby is super delicioso. Haven´t really seen any vegetables yet, but I am hoping I can buy some to help with the diet. Potatoes, tortillas, rice, and beans are pretty much the staple item.

It has been a whirlwind of information and meeting new people. My training group has 36 people in it, and hopefully we will all make it through training together. I always knew this was going to be a very interesting and tough experience, but the adjustment is pretty big. You begin to learn to lower your standards real fast.

Also, I understand the term ¨gringo tv¨ now. As soon as we arrived in the airport, to walking in the streets, from sitting in this cyber cafe, and to our house out in the campo (country-side), we get stared down as if we are the zoo. Our trainers like to call it the fish bowl effect and its pretty accurate.

Another thing, the smells here. Its the ¨dry¨ season here, which means everyone is burning their crops for the next installment of the crops. The incents of burning sugar cane are everywhere. Where I will be living in for the next couple of months, I will be coexisting with all animals and be amongst burning trash daily.

I moved in with my host family yesterday whom I will be spending the next two months with in their house, eating with them, hanging out with them, and so on. They consist of my host mom and her girls, ages five and eight. Grandpa also lives with them as well. The kitchen is outside as well as the shower and bathroom :) (latrine). And at any given moment, whether in the house, front porch, or around the kitchen, you will see the rooster running after the hens, the dogs looking for food, and hearing the grunts of the pigs. Which honestly those pigs sound like they drank a soda really fast and have the burps to prove it! Living with a host family, altough overwhelming at times will definitely help me with my spanish. They speak a lot of ¨caliche¨ (slang) so it´s like learning a whole new language. For example, dog is not perro, it´s cucho. So for the first night, my host mom kept asking where are the cuchos? And I am really glad she was just talking about the dogs and not something I did! I also took my first bucket shower today with cold water, but it is so hot here, you want to take a cold shower.

We are all in different communities now, and I have five gringos where I am living. We made a map of our community with our spanish teachers. It feels a bit better to know where things are and get oriented to where we will be spending a lot of time. My town is a bit spread out, so I will be doing a lot of walking. Oh and if I need transportation, it´s the back of a pick up! Pick ups here have bars in the back to look almost like a cage (there are meant to be hold on to while they are driving). Definitely an experience.

Well I have to go, but keep checking in to the blog. I promise they will get interesting because life here is everything we don´t deal with in the states.


Thursday, January 7, 2010

Less than a month!

So for you family and friends out there, I have decided to start a blog to allow everyone in on my adventure. I hope that my adventures in El Salvador will provide you all with some good reading.

I am not sure yet what the interenet/phone situation will be, so until further notice when I get there, you can refer to the blog and or facebook. My email also is

Flight is booked! I leave for D.C. on February 2nd and I fly out on February 3rd to El Salvador where I will be till April 2012.

Now all I have to worry about is packing! Not fun at all...