Week Three: The Gifts of Health and Perspective

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.

Los Tercios y Más

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!

Primeras Dos Semanas

These first two weeks have been intense. Since we arrived to the country we have not stay in one place, we moved three times in two weeks and that is a little bit stressful, but thankfully now we moved to the house where we will stay for the next six weeks. Being able to clean my room and the bathroom makes me feel like is my own house. So far, I am enjoying being here, the people are really nice and friendly. Another thing that I like here is the food, even though for now we have only be eating out, the food to me s more like a home cooked meal. The food reminds me of the meals my mom cooks when I go visit her. When it comes to the weather, I do not like it because is too hot. I do not like to sweat, so I shower two or three times a day, but now I’m getting used to it. Our first weekend we went to El Lago Suchitlán with one of the delegations and we stopped in the Guazapa mountains to hear the testimonies of Mercedes and Rogelio, two survivors of the Copapayo Massacre on November 4 and 5, 1983. My first week of classes was easy because it was mostly to get to know the students and what they know and will like to know in the class. No planning was necessary, but for this coming week I need to have a plan for each of my classes. At the beginning I thought that the same plan was going to use the same plan for all of my classes, but after meeting the students I found out that I need to make some changes for each class in order to meet everyone’s needs. For example, one of my computer classes has three teachers who have never taken computer classes and others who have a little bit of knowledge of how to use the computer. For my future classes, I am aware for the teachers I have to focus more in teaching them the basic, but also the skills that they would use on their jobs. I like all of my classes. Now, I’m doing yoga, I never thought I was going to do it but I want to try new things here. On Saturday, we went to El Necio, a bar near downtown (la plaza). This bar has a really interesting history — it was created during the civil war and now once a month they have a concert here local artists have the opportunity to read their poems or expose any of their art. The music played there talks about the history and all the people who suffered and died during the war. Also, the decoration of the place consists of pictures of idols, poems, and flags that tourists have donated. Natalya and I went back to the bar to learn more and they told us that right now the bar just started a new project where they use the bar’s profit to help students financially. They give a few college students a grant to finish their educate. On Sunday, we went to La casa del Escultor — a really nice restaurant. The cook is Argentinian and his wife is from Mexico. The restaurant was expensive, well at least for the people here in El Salvador. I feel like I am so cheap now, when we go to the nice restaurants and a meal costs five dollars I think is too expensive, when in the States a meal ranges from eight dollars and up; but here we can get lunch and a drink for three dollars. I’m scared that once I go back to Minnesota I will not want to eat because is too expensive. Overall, everything is going well.

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!

Weeks One and Two: Building Relationships

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.