Una semana pesada de divertido

Compared to last week, this week was incredibly busy. Monday started off really slow, with no students coming for my English class. Tuesday Osiris and I went to Los Almendros so I got to ride the city bus for the second time. The music this time was a lot quieter and calmer so the experience was pretty different from my first ride. Upon arrival there was a meeting that all of the teachers were in so recess was extended a few minutes as the meeting went on. With only two against about 30 forth graders this week, the kids were a handful. We reviewed the alphabet with them and then continued with numbers 1-20. There were a few kids that did everything they could to get out of writing down the numbers and pronunciation in their notebooks even though we went around and gave everyone that had it written a sticker. At first I was frustrated because I felt like I could not communicate as well as I wanted to, but when I saw them not listening to Osiris whom is fluent in Spanish, I felt better :) I think that a majority of them had the numbers down already pretty well. The next time we go we are going to give them a little quiz to see how much they remembered and then move on to greetings and introductions. After that hour and a half we were both exhausted, I don’t know how teachers do it for an entire day!

Wednesday I had two classes and people showed up for both of them, so it was a good day. I REALLY enjoy the English workshop I lead on Wednesdays because the students are great and engaged. When I told them when I am leaving they actually seemed sad so I must be doing something right! Upon leaving I will definitely miss these students, I’d even be willing to continue class over Skype! But I know that I will have to get over it and hope that they will continue their journey learning english with other volunteers.

Thursday I received some of the translations so I started working that. Its been really fun doing it so fat and I’m learning a lot of new words so its a win win situation. Thursday night I attempted to straighten my hair for the event we would be going to on Friday but with the humidity it did not go so well. Osiris was kind enough to go over what I had done so about 3 hours later it was finally time for bed.

Early Friday morning Laura, Osiris, Celesté, Emily and I went into San Salvador by city bus. This was a very long ride but so much cheaper than a taxi would have cost. Upon arrival Laura, Osiris and I spent the day with Medardo; going to Los Planes where there was a look out over San Salvador, to eat Baleadas, and going to one of the large malls in San Salvador. We then went to the gallery exhibit opening of an artist that resides here in Suchitoto but is originally from Argentina – Miguel Martino. After the exhibit we went with Medardo to Santa Tecla, which is a street with a lot of places to dance, eat, and sing karaoke (we did all three). Saturday morning we went back to Suchitoto and Osiris and I had our computer classes. With Galina’s help again this week the class was so much better than when I was doing it by myself. Sunday I finished the packet of translations I received and got to have a day of relaxation after a busy week!

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Traveling with Depression

This week I am going to reflect on something that has been affecting me throughout the entire trip. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since high school. The depression tends to come first, followed by anxiety. They also feed off each other, each making the other more intense. It is a constant presence in my life, although its intensity varies greatly. It tends to become more intense during times of transition, for example during my first year of college and during my junior year following my semester abroad. I think this is because of the many uncertainties present during times of transition. My depression and anxiety thrive on uncertainties and doubt. When I have doubts and fears, my depression weasels its way in and answers the questions with negativity and self-loathing. So, in retrospect, I could have easily guessed I might struggle with another intense period of depression post-graduation. But of course I didn’t want to think about that.

I have been struggling with depression and anxiety during my time in El Salvador. It has shown up in many different ways. One big way is in over-sleeping. Pretty much everyone goes to bed early here, because people are more in tune with nature and the sun. So people go to bed early and get up early with the sun. So, us volunteers tend to also go to bed early. I go to bed pretty early, but I don’t get up after 8 hours of sleep. I just keep on going back to sleep until late morning. Because I’m feeling depressed. And then I wake up feeling crappy because my body is hungry and thirsty. So this is not a very good start to the day. But I keep on doing it, because it’s hard for me to get up and face the day. Another way my depression and anxiety are showing up is through great anxiety and putting myself down when it comes to my Spanish skills. With my depression, negativity thrives. I focus in on only the negative things about myself, like all I don’t know in Spanish or the things I think I lack. So I have to work very hard to try to also meditate on the positive things and on the progress in my Spanish or teaching skills. The other volunteers have been helping a lot, always being very kind and encouraging. Also all the people who work here at the center and also my students are very kind.

I decided to reflect on my depression and anxiety this week, because I am hoping that through reflecting on it and talking through it, it will help some.

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WOW

Last week was awesome. It was completely different from the week before, unlike two weeks ago last week was busy and great. Last Monday during our English conversation with Galina one of the nurses who works in the hospital talked about health care in El Salvador. She said that everything here is free, that if a person goes to the hospital that all the services are free including medicine. Even the surgeries are free and that doctors here do not earn as much money but still they have to go to school and spend a lot of money and time to become a doctor but since the government is who pays them then they receive a small payment compare to what doctors earn in the States. I was really amazed just to think about that because here the government does not even help students financially to go to school and they have to work to get the money to pay for it, and after they graduate only few students get a job doing what they studied for and others just waste their time and end up working in the fields. Another thing that is going on here is that teachers are not getting pay, for the past three months they have not get their salaries and that is why classes are being cancelled at least once a week every single week. When we went to Los Almendros and we were waiting for the bus, I noticed that moms go pick up their kids in their bicycles. Since some students live a few kilometers away then is easier for them to go in a bike than to walk. It is amazing to see how students here fight to get an education while people who have the opportunity to go to school and have a decent education do not take advantage of that. In the United States students get transportation provided and everything and still they do not appreciate it. I know a few people who preferred to work and not study, while here they have more obstacles to go to school but students do their best to overcome them. Being here made me realized that I care about people (and animals) more than I imagined.  I always said that I dislikes animals and thought that I was selfish in a way, but I found out that is not true. Talking to Sister Peggy she made it clear that I do care about others because just by being here I am giving out myself to help others. Also, this week when I was helping Nicholas with the museum, a little boy fall and started to cry. I went and help him and he came back a few minutes later with a candy and told me “Gracias por ayudarme, eres muy generosa” which means thank for helping me, you are so generous. Those words melt my heart, I almost cried because just hearing a seven years old using that vocabulary to describe me was amazing. Another great that happen was with one of my English class, Keith who is another volunteer and he is an ESL teacher came to sit in my class; the next day Sister Peggy told me that he said I was born to be a teacher. It was a great compliment, but it confuses me because I have been closed-minded about being a teacher, always thinking is not a good thing for me and I am too bad for that; but Keith said that I was passionate, enthusiastic, and motivated which are good skills for a teacher. I know I do not need to have my life figured out yet, but I want to know what I will be doing in the future. I just hope everything I am doing right now helps me to find out what I am truly passionate it about.

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Limbo

This week has been pretty uneventful as no one showed up to my class on Monday, we did not go to Los Almendros (it was fathers day Tuesday so schools were closed), and the translation work was still not ready for me to start working on. That being said, there is not much to blog about this week so instead I will talk about an article (<- link to article is attached) that a friend sent to me. This article reminded me a lot about “To Hell With Good Intentions” written by Ivan Illich, another article that I have had to read for class a couple times since first studying abroad. This time however, I felt like it related to what I am doing at this exact moment of my life.

When I think about volunteerism, to me I think about being selfless and giving to a community in need without expecting anything in return. Apparently, this is not reality anymore as (not everyone, but) many people go on volunteer trips as a way to feel better about themselves. I am on a volunteer trip and especially this week being as slow as I previously described, I have sort of felt like I am not really helping Peggy as much as I expected. Even if I had every single student show up for every single class, being here for 2 months I really cannot expect them to learn a whole lot. I do think that what the Center offers is what is needed to help further the education of locals so I wish I was able to do more. To outsiders and those that are not normally connected to the center though, I just look like a tourist. For example, on Friday a group of students from a high school in San Salvador came to the center. A couple of girls peeked their heads into the volunteer office where I was sitting and asked if they could come in. I said yes and they come right over to me and start asking questions like what I’m doing here, where I’m from, and finally if they could take a picture with me. After the picture they left but only to return with a bigger group of students all wanting to take pictures with me (I got a few pictures of my own as well). They did not care about what I was doing here, only that I am from the United States.

Instead of solely focusing on what I am and am not doing for the center, I also like to think about what the center is doing for me. Every day here is a day that I learn more and more about myself or meet someone new and interesting. To me, it is a learning experience as well as a volunteer position. The article – written by Rafia Zakaria – almost makes it seem like volunteering for the experience is a bad thing because then the volunteers go home and talk about their experiences in a way that makes them look like a better person. Zakaria also seems to suggest that those who participate in voluntourism programs are wealthy and do not speak the native language of the country they are visiting. Neither of these are the case for me. So I find myself somewhere in limbo, between being a tourist and a temporary member of the Suchitoto community; between giving to the community and learning from this experience. With only two more (full) weeks to go, I am curious to see if I will feel fully apart of either side.

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Boring Week

This week was boring. I had nothing much going on because it was Father’s day and classes got cancel on Tuesday, and since the other volunteers arrived then Sara took my place in Ana Dolores, and classes at El Sitio got cancel as well. The weather is hot! The only interesting thing of this week was hearing Sister Peggy’s story, I had the opportunity to sit with one of the delegations. Listening to the way she talked was really impressive; she express herself with so much enthusiasm and passion, that I wish I could do that in the future when I am talking about my life and what I do in an everyday basis. During this time I have been thinking a lot about vocation, and sometimes is frustrating because I do not know what mine is; I guess is fine and that I do not have to have everything figure out, that sometime I will know my vocation. Listening to the speech I realized that I might have more than one vocation and there is nothing wrong with that, as long as I am happy and doing something for others. Sister Peggy also said that we cannot help everyone in the world, but what we could do is find a group that we want to work with and dedicate our time and energy to it; to not be afraid to ask others for help or advices. She said that all the wonderful work she is doing right now could not be possible if it was not for the organization she works for and the people that have supported her this past years. I am really happy to be here, I am so thankful to have the opportunity to work with so inspirational people like Sister Peggy, she is truly making a change here in Suchitoto. I admire her, she is a strong woman and I am proud to be working with her. If I ever have the chance to come back here I will be so happy to do it.

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Rain

Once again, I am just stunned at how fast time is going here. We only have two full weeks of class left. It seems like we just started. Even though I am looking forward to seeing friends in Nicaragua and my family, friends, and fiancé when I get home, I am trying to soak in every minute here. Because I know that once I am gone I will miss all the people here.

This week we didn’t get to go to Los Almendros or San Antonio, because they didn’t have school Tuesday for Father’s Day and Friday for some teachers’ workshop. I was really bummed that we didn’t get to go to San Antonio, I was looking forward to it all week. The little kids are just the cutest. Now we switched San Antonio to Thursday, so we won’t miss as many days, because they often don’t have school on Fridays.

Almost all the volunteers are finally here, there’s about ten of us now. I now teach three of my English classes with other volunteers. I definitely like this better, as we can combine our Spanish abilities and also catch each other’s mistakes. Teaching English always makes me realize how nonsensical English is. I’ve never been good at grammar, and attempting to teach English reminds me of this daily. I feel bad when I cannot explain why things are the way they are. Often times in English I don’t think there is even any rules to the madness. I don’t even know if that last sentence is grammatically correct.

Back home where my family lives in southern Minnesota there has been a lot of rain and flooding. Luckily my mom’s basement did not flood again, as she has already had to replace the flooring twice and has not even paid off the second time. But unfortunately the roof of my dad’s house collapsed, due to water damage from years’ of rain and snow and not replacing the shingles. It was hard to hear this news while being out of the country and feeling even more helpless to do anything to help. I do not know what we are going to do.

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Los Almendros & Ana Dolores Arias

This week Galina and I went to Ana Dolores Arias, an all girl’s school on Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, Natalia Laura and I went to Los Almendros. There is a big difference between the two school, on one hand the student body in Ana Dolores was excited about us going to give the English classes, but in Los Almendros only some students were happy and actually willing to collaborate with us. It’s interesting to see this because even though the girls in Ana Dolores have more opportunities than the students in Los Almendros, they are more thankful and more willing to take advantage of this opportunity. First, I thought that the students in Los Almendros were going to be happier to take English classes than the girls in Ana Dolores because in Los Almendros they have not have any volunteers while in Ana Dolores a few volunteers taught English before. Since I am going to a school every day and it is too much work for me from now on I am only going to two schools instead of three. I decided to keep going to Los Almendros and not go to Ana Dolores; I know it would have been easier for me to teach in Ana Dolores because the girls are more interested, but I decided to go for the challenge. Today was my last day in Ana Dolores and I went with Kate who is the other volunteer who will take my position in the school. Changing the subject, this week I had all the fruit I wanted and that makes me really happy. I had nances, mamones, paternas, coco, lichas, and marañones japoneses. Also, this weekend we went to the beach and to the San Salvador volcano. It was fun and interesting. On our way to the beach Medardo was telling us that the government here gives preferences to the wealthy families. He gave us an example of a golf course that uses ten times more water than what a family would use in one day; he said that some communities in the country do not have access to clean water and the government does not do anything about it, they prefer to provide the water for a course that only few families have access to. Another thing about this week is that my classes keep getting harder because they are getting bigger and bigger; and with the new students I have to start from the beginning and that takes almost the whole hour and for those students that already learned the basic is more like a waste of time to be hearing the same thing over and over. It is more difficult for me to make a lesson plan right now because I do not how to meet everyone’s needs. I do try my best to do review, but at the same time teach something new so the class does not get boring. At least for my computer classes is not that difficult because everyone has a computer and they do the work individually. I know it will get better though.

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Los Almendros y San Salvador

Tuesday, June 6th, was the first day that Laura, Osiris, and I went to Los Almendros to teach English to a 4th grade class. We set out at 7:45AM that morning to catch a bus that we found out did not arrive until 8:20AM. Walking around Suchi this time, it seemed like everyone was awake and busy. While waiting at the bus stop, we decided to walk around and explore that area since we had never gone down that street before. We found a pet store, a few pupusarias, and a small store that does manicures and pedicures for only $8 for both – it would cost around $50 back in Minnesota! The bus finally and thus started what was my first time on a public bus in Central America. After stepping on, I first noticed that there was no one asking for bus fare which surprised me. Everyone went directly to a seat and sat down. The second thing I noticed was the music which made me feel like I was on some sort of party bus. The music was very loud and definitely woke me up from any sleep I still had in me. After about 15 minutes and a few stops, a guy came around and started collecting bus fares. Every time someone got off he would yell “¡Visa! ¡Visa!” (that’s what it sounded like to me at least) and the bus would stop, the person would get off, the guy yelling would get off at the back after collecting fare ($0.90 is what I paid roundtrip) and then run to the front of the bus to get the fair of those that had just gotten on….confused yet? I basically was trying to figure out what was going on the whole bus ride! It was really fun but definitely a culture shock. What was most shocking was the atmosphere of the bus…the music, the passengers, the men working on it, and even the items people brought along with them on the bus! It was all really fun and I’m excited for my next bus ride!

Los Almendros in itself was a whole other adventure. We got there about 20 minutes earlier than needed so we waited in the principals office. When it was time for us to start, the children greeted us as their teacher left the room. There was a soccer game going on right outside of the classroom so the children were extra excited. We started our lesson plan outside with a name game so we could attempt to learn at least a few of their names. After that, we went back to the classroom and started with the alphabet. After writing out the pronunciations in Spanish and having them repeat it themselves, we broke them up into three groups and ATTEMPTED to practice vowels, letters that are hard to pronounce (v, b, x), and the order of the alphabet. This was not as successful as we had hoped it would be. For the last 20 minutes or so we came together again as a big group and played a game. One cluster of about 5 or so students would come to the front of the class where we showed them a flash card with a letter of the alphabet on it. They had to form the letter with their bodies and the rest of the class had to guess which letter it was. By the time everyone had gone our time was up. Looking back, it went a lot better than I thought while I was doing it but it was still pretty exhausting with about 24 students and 3 volunteers! I do not want to imagine what it would be like if I were teaching by myself. On the bus ride back we ended up on the exact same but that dropped us off. This time was a little different because we stopped at a community on the way back to Suchi. A group of around 30-40 little kids came on the bus and I gave my seat up which was probably not the best idea! I almost fell twice, doing what I could to not fall on the students surrounding me. We got back to Suchi around 12:30-1:00PM and then went directly to eat! The next Tuesday we were supposed to be going to Los Almendros (June 17) is Fathers Day here so apparently all schools (including the Center) will be closed. After lunch, Osiris and I taught Galinas Intermediate class since she was not feeling well. Since it was sprung on us we did not have anything planned nor did we know what they had already learned so we had no expectations.  It turned out pretty well. They all had a pretty good understanding of the basic things.

The following morning, Wednesday, June 7th, was fairly busy for me as I had two classes in a row. First Computer, which is still the hardest for me to teach – followed by English and this time I had about 10 students that showed up. I gave them a few verbs and then taught them present and past forms of them. I then had them write 10 sentences – 5 in the present and 5 in the past with the verbs I gave them. At first they were all really quiet and hesitant but as I started walking around and correcting them when I saw mistakes they had written they became a lot more comfortable with asking questions and for specific vocabulary words. I did not have any more classes the rest of the week until Saturday which was my second Computer class. In this class I tried to get everyone to make an email address which was very difficult with so many people! A couple people were successful though, so I’m counting my victories. After class I went back home so I could get my stuff together for our weekend trip!

Saturday friend Medardo got to Suchi at around 12PM, just in time for lunch. We ate with him in la plaza and then we set out for the beach in La Libertad. We arrived around 3 or so and went to a lounge/restaurant place where I ate again and then we took a walk on the beach which turned into swimming. The water was very warm which was a nice surprise! We got back to the car around 7PM and headed to another beach town for dinner. There we met up with a couple of Medardo’s friends for pupusas but left soon after eating because it started to rain. That night we stayed in San Salvador at Los Pinos which is the guest house I stayed at my first time in El Salvador. Medardo’s mom bought the house behind them and expanded the entire guest house into an even bigger place. The addition was incredible! The following Sunday we woke up and went to breakfast at Pops – an Ice Cream shop a couple of blocks away from the house (per my suggestion). After Pops we got lunch at Mister Donut, a donut shop that also has food with more substance. We then went to the volcanos called San Salvador. All volcanos in El Salvador are active which definitely makes me nervous since there are communities living so close to them. The volcano had 4 viewpoints where you can see a huge crater called El Gigante. After walking to all of the viewpoints we went to the museum and then some fruit stores set up right outside of the entrance of the volcano. This weekend was much needed and reminded me of how much of a city person I am. I like Suchitoto but I would not want to live here for any longer than 2 months!

This museum translations that I have been so looking forward to doing are not yet ready so I still feel like I am not as busy as I would like to be. Therefore, I’ve taken up learning how to play the Piano. My first lesson was today and I think did a pretty good job! Emily, another volunteer here, gives classes but when her students do not show up (days like today), I will be her student. The goal is to try to get the same set up going with a volunteer that just arrived on Saturday named Kate but with the guitar. I have 3 to 4 more weeks to take full advantage of free lessons and I plan on doing so!

El Gigante from afarCloser shot of El GiganteClosest shot of El Gigante

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Week number four?!?

Wow. I cannot believe that we are already over half way done with our time here. Time here has went very fast, yet at the same I feel like I have been away from home for so long. This week Natalya, Osiris, and I went to Los Almendros on Tuesday morning, a school in el campo. There we taught English for two hours. It went pretty well considering there was a soccer game going on right outside the classroom. Riding the bus was a fun experience. On Wednesday I had three new students for my English class. I really liked them, and I hope they come back next week. On Friday I went to San Antonio with Michelle’s daughter who is in high school. We made sock puppets. The kids loved it, they were so adorable. They put on a show with their puppets after they made them. All the boys talked in really high voices. And they sang songs. It was so cute. Also, Michelle’s daughter doesn’t speak any Spanish, so I got to practice my Spanish. It was a great confidence booster.

This weekend we went to the ocean and the San Salvador volcano with Madardo. It was a very fun and relaxing mini vacation. Being at the ocean is always such a wonderful experience for me. Just sitting and listening to the waves and watching the people surfing. Being next to the ocean always calms me down and often leads me to reflect on my life.

This last week I applied and got accepted into the Minnesota Reading Corps program. I am very excited about this, because if I get a position at a host site I will get to work with kindergarteners! I am hoping to get a position at the elementary school where my niece and nephew will be attending next year. If I do get that position I will be moving home with my mom, which I am actually really excited about. This was not something I was expecting to want to do once I graduated college. But it just feels like the right thing right now.

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El Sitio & Los Tercios

On Friday, I went to El Sitio Cenicero with Celeste. We left at 6:20 am because we had to go with the teachers since we had to take a car and a boat to get to the school. In the school there was only three teachers, and the principal was one of the teachers. Each teacher had to teach three different grades and they all were in the same classroom. For example, one teacher taught first, second, and third grade in the same classroom; I think is really hard for a teacher to teach the same material to students of different ages because they all have different needs depending on their grade. Another interesting thing that I noticed in El Sitio was that the mothers of the students go to the school and make food for all the students. I talked to the mother who had to make the food on Friday to see how they organize who goes when; she told me that they have a committee that decides who goes each week; two mothers go in the morning and afternoon every day and they have a different menu for each day. Also, the number of students in each class was small especially in the afternoon — for three grades there are only about seventeen students, but because of the absences there were only like eleven students. Other than teach classes, Celeste and I also made pupusas. It was my first time making pupusas and it was really fun because I do not like to cook but helping the mothers to cook it was not bad.  Yesterday, we also went to Los Tercios, which are waterfalls here in Suchitoto. The guy who went with us, told us a little of the history of the waterfalls. He told us that there are few stories that say that in the past the indigenous people had  firewood and one of their God turned it into rocks as a punishment. Also, he explained that the name Los Tercios is because here in El Salvador when people make a bundle of firewood they call it “un tercio de leña” and because of the shape of the waterfalls, there are “tercios de leña”. Finally, I learned that Suchitoto means place of birds and flowers in Náhuat.

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