Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Closing Time

Well I believe it is time to close this blog up. I should have ended it over a month ago when I finished my time in El Salvador, but buried deep in the process of leaving and closing my service, I could not find the words to wrap up two years in Peace Corps. After a month and a half of traveling (including many 12 hour bus rides of staring off into the distance) I think (think...) I can finally write this long awaited post.

I should start this post by saying that the conclusions I am about to draw after two years in Peace Corps El Salvador are not at all new or unique from the thousands of volunteers who have come before me. I think all of us finish with the desire to make some big, bold revelation to the rest of the populace. But most of the things we come up with have been said before, said more eloquently by someone else, and or are so cliche or obvious that at this point it is probably not worth much anymore.

For those reasons I will keep this post brief and to the point. The thing I most take away from Peace Corps is that every single place, person, and time has something to offer you should you let it. Therefore, try everything once, keep patience in your back pocket, and never underestimate your ability to adapt to the most frightening conditions.

I am thankful to Peace Corps for randomly sending me to El Salvador, for introducing me to a small little country with incredible people and communities, and for giving me the greatest group of best friends anyone could ask for.

Now for a photo recap of the greatest back packing trip of a lifetime!

Starting in Nicaragua- Island of Ometepe  
Waterfall and freezing

Made to La Fortuna Costa Rica!

Weirdest border crossing ever?

Copan, Honduras
bargaining in Chichi market!

Getting boots made in Antigua, Guatemala
Semuc Champey!
Getting down with tradition on Independence Day in Guatemala! (tradition is to soak runners with water--google it)
Tikal!!!

McDonalds in Antigua-Awesome place to hang out.

So those are a few pictures just to give you an idea. It has been incredible but now I am coming home!!!!!!!! APPLES beware!!! I am coming for you!!!!!!


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saying Goodbye

The time has come...

to say goodbye to Upire, El Salvador, and my Peace Corps life. The goodbye process was difficult and just plain weird. I could not quite grasp my impending departure so I ended up just telling people I would see them later or tomorrow. That made it easier. I have grown accustomed to approaching goodbyes bye just ignoring them and acting like it is not actually happening. Seems to work...

Basically, all of August I have spent time just hanging out, going on random trips, hugging people, and trying to stop tears from flowing (mine and my community members).

These are just pictures of me saying goodbye to my peeps. I promise a more lengthy post documenting the actual mental and emotional process shortly.










Obligatory pensive picture...


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

One Year Anniversary of Dia de Comercio Upire

August 10th was a big day for Upire. It was the one year anniversary celebration of opening our community farmers market. For one full year now my community has been coming together every Saturday from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. to buy, sell, and hang out together. Over the course of this past year the market has evolved. In the beginning it was a weekly (surprise?) event that everyone assumed would just end at one point. However, today it stands as a permanent community establishment that everyone looks forward to attending all week long. Saturday is now the day to go shopping, hang out in the community center, and enjoy Comercio with its frequent games, competitions, activities, and much more. On top of celebrating one year of comercio August 10th also become my "going away party" with my impending departure from Upire being the 13th of August. I think the best way to describe this incredible day is through photographs. Hopefully with the pictures you will feel like you were there. 
Parade of our Queen, horses, motorcycles, people, clown, etc. 
Queen of Comercio

My Community decided a Jamie shrine would be appropriate

Town band performance 
Crazy clown performing
Yours truly giving her speech to the community
Raffle of apple pie provided by my Peace Corps bosses that came!
Horses relaxing before the belt race!
Horse Racing!

Mayor giving diplomas to superstar vendors!
I hope this variety of random photos conveys just how packed this day was with fun and entertaining events. Between all the activities the streets of Upire were packed with people, cars, animals, motorcycles, different booths- basically more people than have ever been witnessed in this small, rural community. 

As much as it was fun, entertaining, and packed with my closest friends, family, and neighbors it was also a sad, overwhelming day. This large community celebration/party so to speak also served as my goodbye party, which meant speeches made in my honor, this large banner (pictured above) served as the center of the event, and everyone came up to me with hugs, kisses, well wishes, gifts, and much more. I was also asked to make my final speech to the entire community which ended with me crying (not going to lie...couldn't really finish the speech)/ Afterwards, I began the long process of saying goodbye to the many members of Upire that have made the past two years some of the best and formative of my life. 

Dia de Comercio has probably been the highlight and the best part of my service both personally and professionally. It has been a way for me to meet more members of the community, hang out every Saturday with everyone, develop an important relationship with the youth population, and hopefully leave a successful and sustainable project that helps Upire grow and develop. I feel so thankful that I was able to see it reach its one year anniversary and be a part of this pivotal year in the history of Upire. I hope when I return over the years to come that I still find them celebrating this special date.

Celebrating

July was a month of celebrations. Well I guess that depends on your definition of celebration. Here are my definitions:

4th of July with all of the volunteers in the country at a beach in the eastern part of El Salvador. It included the finest of American things found in El Salvador: water balloons, ridiculous games, and overall debauchery. I wish I had a good picture of this event, but I don't. I am sure you can picture it though... 

Shortly thereafter I celebrated being parasite free at my close of service complete medical exam. Yay for coming home healthy! 
YAY for zuccini keeping home gurl healthy.
video
or it might be the vitamins from my watermelon consumption...

Dia de Alumno: celebrating all the students at the school. It included pinatas, a clown, and a show put on for the students. Here are the kids collecting all the candies from the floor. Semi organized chaos...
Then the youth group and I were able to celebrate reaching our fundraising goal of $1100.00 and buy our VERY OWN SOUND SYSTEM for Dia de Comercio! Needless to say, we were (are) happy!
This month I also had the pleasure of celebrating the amazing accomplishment of my good friend and fellow volunteer Mike. He finished his classroom made out of trash and plastic bottles!!!! I took my community on an excursion to visit his site and see his school. It was a fun day and my community is more motivated to begin this project on their own! Hopefully one day there will a classroom out of bottles in Upire or in one of the surrounding communities.
Mike and my host mom!
The final celebration of the month was that the youth group and I finished painting our trash cans. Hopefully the BRIGHT colors will make people want to actually throw the trash in the cans. One can dream, right?!



Saturday, June 29, 2013

Surprise, Surprise

June has been a strange month. I have probably described a lot of months like that in my Peace Corps service, but once again it is so true. I imagined June so differently. I thought it would be relaxed and I would begin the smooth glide into the final months of my time in El Salvador. I had vacation time planned, trips with Tricia and her brother and friend planned, and lots of exciting, fun things lined up. JUNE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A PARTYYYY! I was naive and so very wrong like I have been SO MANY times before believing in all of that, which I have had the pleasure of documenting on this blog for your reading pleasure. I should have known that just like the beginning and middle of my two years-- this journey (any journey) is never pure "smooth sailing." There always has to be some sort of surprise. Thus, I give you my June surprises:

The month started off okay...a few hiccups like my best friend getting sick, a training where my counterparts backed out at the last minute, and my bathroom broke (and there is still no replacement)... but then LUCK struck back and...

I had the pleasure of hosting 20k Watts! From their web site (www.http://20kwatts.com/)"20K Watts is an international nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the current and future quality of life of children, and their families, living in extreme poverty through the use of solar and wind energies. 20k Watts seeks to power community development projects that promote children's education, clean water and sanitation, health, economic development, food security, and eliminate household kerosene consumption." 

In Upire, we received 25 solar lamps for a portion of the community that does not have electricity. Here are some pictures of the distribution ceremony: 



The Youth group that works the market project on Saturdays needs funds to purchase a sound system. I am trying to help them accomplish that large goal before I leave in August. This means we are currently rushing to raise money. Of course to try and make money we had a community wide culto (basically hours of prayers, music, and testimonies to God) where yours truly not only rocked the token religious veil but also made papusas (2 monumental surprises for community members). 


Then there are moments where I am ridiculously surprised--like when your school decides to put together their own follow up Environmental Education training workshop. My school director told me it was because she wanted to make sure the teachers were using the book we gave them. Thank you Nina Mary for promoting sustainability and allowing me to essentially just show up for the event and do ABSOLUTELY nothing :) Therefore, I give you Goin' Green Part 3 pictures:



Then there are surprise parties. Happy BIRTHDAY to my host mother, best friend, and amazing counterpart Nina Mary!!! Que Dios te Bendiga! Te quiero mucho!



Then there are sad surprises. Like when your best friend gets medically evacuated from Peace Corps. I had to start my goodbyes way earlier than I expected. I was not ready or prepared to watch one of my best friends leave me behind. I know it is not goodbye but simply See You Later, but it IS still so rough More than anything (besides wanting her to get better ASAP and wishing her well back in the states), I am just sad and worried that I have to make it through my final months without her. It is going to be tough...

Then there are happy, CRAZY, weird, overwhelming surprises like when your group has their COS (close of service conference). 

The process of leaving deserves a whole other post. So I will stop there. All I will say at this moment is that I am both excited and scared for the future. But that's no surprise...


Until next time folks. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BRO's


Back in December during our camp for our scholarship students I began pondering projects for my final months as a PCV. I think it must have been afterwards because only when you are done with a camp can you imagine doing another one. Camps are just draining. You have to be on your “A” game for multiple days. Of course, I decided to take the crazy up a notch and suggest a camp of all boys. Who does that? Not to stereotype but teenage boys are ridiculous. However, my rationale was that because the sad fact (sad mostly because I joined Peace Corps to find my future husband--failed) that most PCVs in El Salvador are women we often find ourselves working on projects that aim to empower more women and as a result we often ignore young men. We have done several camps focused on all girls. I thought it was time to dedicate a camp to boys. If we are concerned about gender relations and the treatment of women we have to spend some time with the boys too.

Luckily, I found two amazing PCV friends (yoooo Kara and Jess thanks for everything) who believed in the idea and together we began the long process of soliciting money, planning a camp, and getting all the details worked out. Unfortunately, because of PC’s radical changes regarding transport, movement of volunteers, grant restrictions, etc we could not do the camp we dreamed of in the western part of the country. We had to cancel that camp completely. Just about impossible to pull off. I just about gave up the hope of an all Boys Camp when my homegirl Els decided to give me the extra push of motivation I needed to attempt to put on a regional Eastern camp. Thus, the camp was reborn, but we unfortunately could not includ the western part of the country, which means dissing some incredible PCVs and communities out west (Jess and Kara especially). Despite leaving the west hanging, our eastern camp was incredible. Thanks to my fellow PCV’s who made it all run so smooth.

The camp's focus was on male leadership, gender roles, HIV prevention, and sports/athletic competitions. We had 19 boys from the eastern part of the country (all from the communities of my favorite 5 PCV friends) for an entire weekend in Alegria, Usulutan (a wonderfully beautiful cool town in the east). We also had 2 volunteer university students who came from San Miguel who helped us give lessons and provide a little more “BRO-ness”since Tricia, Elsa, and I despite how hard we try, we can’t pull off being a BRO too well. 

The highlights of the camp included hiking to the nearby crater lake, doing a relay race/obstacle course, having a soccer tournament between the communities, as well as tackling 7 lectures on HIV/AIDS, gender roles, and male leadership. We also included a fun movie night featuring The Avengers and a “BRO Night” where the male volunteers got the boys together to chat about all their doubts, questions, concerns, etc. The girls during that time prepared ice cream floats (yes, unfortunately we stayed along gender stereotypes on that one.)

It was a good way to end doing camps. Thank goodness I will never do another. 

Here are some pictures: 





If you are interested in seeing more pictures of the camp you can check out my buddy Elsa's public album: pictures

Take care everybody.