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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 ūüôā 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, Celest√©, 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!


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.

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

Los Tercios y M√°s

Tuesday was the first day that Laura, Osiris, and myself were supposed to go to Los Almendros, a primary school about half an hour away from the Center. Laura was not feeling great so it was just Osiris and I who went to meet with the Principle of the school to ask him if us coming once a week would be something he was interested in. We decided on a 4th grade class since they had 30 students – which meant each of us could have about 10 at a time. He brought us into the class and we introduced ourselves. I thought it was interesting that he did not talk to their teacher at all before telling the students we would be coming once a week for a few weeks to teach them some English. Most of the students seemed pretty excited to have us, so I am really looking forward to starting next Tuesday.

Friday afternoon I accompanied two other volunteers here in the Center – Judy and Emily – to a town in the countryside (el campo) called Zacamil II. The town is divided into two parts and are side by side. Judy leads workshops about non-violence and this time it happened to be with a youth group. From what I could gather, all of them lived in either Zacamil I or Zacamil II and their ages really varied. We arrived at a large community gathering place and there was no one there yet. After a few minutes, more people gathered around but they were very hesitant in coming to where we were sitting. As everyone arrived, Judy had us stand up and form a circle and then gave instructions for a ice breaker game. She had 8 or so balls that she brought along and she explained that we were to throw to ball to someone and say “Hi (insert name here)”. That person had to respond with “Hi (and then the name of the person that threw it to them)” and then throw it to another person. As we got the hang of it, she threw in more balls until all 8 were in the air. At the end of the ice breaker, there was an obvious difference in the atmosphere because people had been laughing and talking to each other and much more open than they were at the start of the game. Judy explained that the point of it was to get everyone more comfortable with each other and it really did work. Between a few skits and other activities for us to participate in, an incredible dialogue opened up around how to be non-violent when faced with conflict. I was really amazed at how open everyone seemed and willing to share personal opinions about topics that can be very hard to talk about.

Today I had one computer class and then we went to lunch at a crepe place that only opens up on the weekends. The entire menu was in both Spanish and French so that was pretty interesting. I also went to Los Tercios, a waterfall here in Suchitoto with Laura, Osiris, Judy, Emily, and Meme – a guy that works in the museum and was kind enough to be our guide for the day. We had to walk both there and back which took about 40 minutes one way and then about 15 minutes to get to the actual waterfall. Upon arrival, we realized there was no water! So we sat and rested on the rocks awhile before hiking back up the rocks and walking the 40 minutes or so back to the center. We were told that in a few weeks there will definitely be water, but I am not sure if I’m willing to go back without a ride there and back. It was quite the workout, especially in the humidity!

Los Tercios Without Water

My classes are starting to pick up a bit more so I feel more productive throughout the week. Attendance was not really where I was hoping it would be but I think they were a lot better than last week. So far, the class that I struggle with the most is computer because it is hard for me to give directions to the students and explain things to them without demonstrating how to do it. I constantly have to stop myself from, for example, typing in a username for them instead of having them do it themselves. Making lesson plans for both computer and English has also been difficult for me because I do not want to teach them things they do not want to learn. It is also hard when I have students with different levels of knowledge! I’m hoping by next week I will have a better idea as to who will and who will not most likely show up each week.

Next week, I will have translation work to keep me busy when I am not preparing for my classes. The museum is putting up new banners and they need help with having them translated into English. I will also be helping out with a video that some people in the museum are working on for another client. Overall, week number three went well…it’s hard to believe that we only have 5 more to go!

New and Old Adventures of El Salvador

The past two weeks have flown by in a blurry tornado out of which many things were thrown my way. Being in San Salvador for the first five days allowed me to relive the memories created on my first trip here January 2012. We went to many of the same places I’ve visited during that trip like the Universitario Centro Americano (UCA), the home of Oscar Romero, the workshop of Fernando Llort, and Pops – my favorite Ice Cream shop. On the fifth day we made our way to Suchitoto, a place that I had also previously visited but only for a couple of days. When I was here before, I never realized just how small Suchi really is. A few of us went for a walk one night after dinner, attempting to explore the town a bit and we wound up back at our house within 20 minutes! With a small town, there is usually a charm of some sort to go along with it and Suchitoto definitely has a charm. When passing someone, it is rare to not hear “Buenos, que te vayas bien” or something to that extent. Compared to San Salvador, Suchi is a lot more relaxing and easier to adjust to. However, it is not without faults. There are many people that love the rain, and many more that do not mind it. I am not any of these people. Rain makes me want to stay in all day and sleep, and since we have come in the rainy season, I feel this way a lot! On the other hand, our house is more rural than I am used to, so the spiders and other insects keep me from staying inside all day!

On the days that I have gotten up early with no workshops to give, I have had visitors such as my step-grandmother whom is in another town not too far away called Cojutepeque. She came to take me out to lunch along with a cousin whom I had never met. After lunch, we came back to Suchi and I introduced them to Sister Peggy and then showed them where we live. It is one of the only times I remember spending quality time with her so it was nice. I also went grocery shopping with Peggy in San Salvador which was an adventure all on its own. We left around 7AM and didn’t return until 4 or 5PM. We did much more than grocery shop of course, during that time, so it was fun getting to see her in action running from place to place.

Last week I only had two classes; English and English Conversation. They both went fairly well considering I did not have much planned. Today I had another English class and that also went pretty well. I got an idea of how much the students know and what more they want to learn. I am excited to put together my first actual lesson plan for them next week and teach them some things that they actually want to learn. I think that will be the best way for them to learn. Classes in general are still a challenge for me because I feel like my Spanish is still pretty limited, I sometimes have to rely on their help so I can accurately translate. That is something that I hope to work on during this time!