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.
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.
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.
Well, this week got off to a rough start, as I got really sick from I don’t know exactly what. I`ll spare you the details, but needless to say I was pretty miserable Sunday through Tuesday. Also, being sick made me really really homesick for my bed, bathroom, and mostly for my mom. Whilst in the throes of my sickness I had a lot of time by myself to reflect. Being so sick and then getting better and feeling so great, like I had died and been resurrected, made me reflect on my good health and the preciousness of such a gift. My good health is something I usually take for granted and only reflect on when it is momentarily taken away. It is something so many people take for granted. But it is so precious. I have been blessed to have been born able-bodied and also with healthy functioning organ systems and a great immune system which has been strengthened throughout my life also. I know that I need to take better care of my body. Youth can have this funny way of making you feel invincible and immortal. But that feeling is starting to erode as I age and reflect more on my health. I know that I need to start changing my eating and exercising habits and also taking better care to protect my skin from the sun. I think this time, post-graduation, is a good time to start slowly making these lifestyles changes, seeing as it is a time of transition and uncertainty. I know that I need to start out by making small, realistic goals, and that I will be encouraged to continue by accomplishing these small wins.
All this reflection during my time abroad has made me realize how much you learn about yourself when traveling. When you find yourself in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by a foreign culture and language, you really start to reflect more critically on who you are, what your culture is, and also on your home country.Your own values and worldviews are challenged and therefore sometimes changed. But in the end, your values can become more your own and less a simple reflection of your upbringing. Your values become stronger but somehow, at the same time, more flexible. Because if you immerse yourself in another culture, you can see the world from a different point of view; you can learn about and experience the validity of someone else`s values that may be different from your own. And you realize how your viewpoint is just one of many. And that what you think, feel, see, and learn is based on where you stand in the world, on your point of view. I think that immersion and community-making and sharing of life stories, which sadly does not happen on many people`s travels, can lead to a deeper, more complex perspective on many things.
Well, we have been here now for almost two weeks now and I can tell the remaining six weeks are going to fly by. I am starting to make friends here, which is great. That is the most meaningful part of traveling for me: making meaningful connections with people and communities and nurturing those connections after you leave. This is one of my biggest goals for my time here and after: build and sustain relationships. In my past travels I have made meaningful connections, but I have not done as well with sustaining them after leaving. One reason for this has been the language barrier, but I am determined to not let this deter me anymore. Another goal of mine is to practice practice practice speaking Spanish.
This first week of classes has gotten off to a slow start. Out of my five classes, I only had students attend two of them. Sister Peggy said this is always how it starts off and as more kids hear about the classes, more come. I am excited for this next week, to meet more of my students and to also go out to two schools en el campo on Tuesday and Friday.