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.