Thursday, December 29, 2011

Going Home for Christmas

(note: written from the plane from Atlantic City, NJ to Fort Lauderdale, FL)

There are crimes of omission. Guilty as charged. I failed to mention to my readers that I would be venturing home to the United States for Christmas. Although I am sure that most of my loyal readers actually knew I was coming home because they saw me (aka my readers are my close family and friends). But still I failed to make public that I would be returning home for the holidays. Why? It seems like something I would want to celebrate and announce to everyone out of shear excitement and happiness. Well the truth of the matter is that I felt (and still feel) quite a bit of guilt and shame in my decision to go home and I really did not want to admit that to the world. However, I pride myself on being honest and “real” on this blog, so here I am.

There are a variety of reasons why I have (had) these negative feelings associated with returning home for Christmas. Here they are in list format:

1. Returning home to the United States so early in my service (6 months in)

2. Using a good chunk of money to do so

3. Using vacation time

4. Leaving my community and new home for over a week and for the holiday

5. Missing out on celebrating with my family in El Salvador and experiencing a new culture

6. Worrying about what my community thinks about it.

7. Worrying about what other volunteers think about it

8. Worrying about what people at home think about it.

9. Dealing with readjusting again

10. Forcing family and friends at home (especially my mother) to say goodbye again.

I am sure that I could think of more reasons but those are the ones that come to mind first. Also, it feels nice to list the perfect 10, so I will leave it at that. I guess the question now becomes how did I rationalize going home? Once again in list format:

1. I love Christmas

2. I love my birthday (Christmas Eve)

3. I love celebrating these holidays with my family and friends

4. When else am I going to go home and see everyone? And I mean everyone!

5. I can’t bear the thought of not going.

6. How depressed would I be in El Salvador?

7. I get to bring sweet swag back!

Okay, so I have considerably less reasons to go back home. But the human mind is complex. Also, it really is quality over quantity. Plus just to make myself feel better, I only used 7 vacation days out 24 for the year and I am 6 months into service, it was not that expensive, and luckily most people (Salvadorans and other volunteers and Americans) understand the importance of going home and visiting ones family, especially during the holidays. The main issues I have to face are readjusting and making up for the fact that I missed a holiday and some bonding time with my family in site. But, I am heading back to site for the new year (which some say is more important that Christmas and a bigger deal) so that will help.

So that is why I ended up at home for the holidays. Worth it? Definitely!! I had an amazing time with my family and friends. Thank you all so much for making my week at home so special. I have the best support crew I swear.

*Special shout out to: my mom, Mommom, Julia, Hannah, you guys’ families, Aunt Laurie, Uncle Lee, Nick, Emily, Zoe, Oliver, Grandma Albrecht, Aunt Tana, Uncle Joe, Craig, Michelle, Sarah, Aunt Dana, Uncle Bart, Aunt Karen, Uncle Steve, Aunt Kathy, Uncle Charlie, and my dog Hailey! I loved seeing you guys<3

But this wouldn’t be an honest blog if I didn’t mention that I am still struggling with some guilt and shame (see reasons 1-10). Also, I’d be lying if I said it was easy to get on the plane tonight and return to El Salvador. I cried a little bit after I left my mom and went into the airport. And trust me when I say, I don’t typically cry. It is not that I am sad to go to El Salvador, it is that I am sad to leave America. Life in the states is so much more comfortable. And I am going to miss it: 7 full days of my favorite foods (Grandma’s rolls and red velvet cake being pretty high on the list), coffee, warm showers, my family and friends, relative ease walking down the street, my own language, my home turf, etc. The trip reminded me of how I am so lucky to call America my home.

As lucky as I am to call America my home, I also know that I have my whole life to live there. Even more important, I made a commitment to the Peace Corps, to Upire, to my family and friends in El Salvador ( I can’t wait to see you guys!!!), to my new country, and above all to myself. Vacation over. Time to get to work. And I am heading back to work feeling rejuvenated, happy I spent the holidays at home (and not depressed in El Salvador wishing I had gone home), and ready to start the new year in Upire!

Watch out El Salvador, I am coming back.

Hope your holidays were filled with love and cheer everywhere around the world.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Safety and Security

Sometimes I wonder if I neglect to post really negative or challenging parts of my peace corps service. I think I tend to do this for a variety of reasons including personal pride, not wanting to write a blog that is constantly negative or complain-y, not wanting to worry others or cast a negative light on peace corps or El Salvador, the list goes on... Most of my posts recently have focused on some very special and fun moments in my service making it seem like life here is a walk in the park. However, that is an inaccurate portrayal of life in El Salvador. There are many challenges in this country on a daily basis for us volunteers. One of the more serious challenges (that we sometimes ignore because we are young and naive - yes I will admit it we sometimes have "invincibility syndrome") is our overall safety and security.

El Salvador was recently listed as the "most dangerous country in the world" by the Geneva Convention based on the number of lethal deaths per 100,000 people. You can read more about it here:

In this file you will find that we are listed right above Iraq, which definitely says a lot. Now I think it is important to note that here in El Salvador, Americans, luckily, are not generally the targets of there "lethal deaths," but still the violence is here. You should also note the number of Latin American countries ranked high on the list. This makes our region of the world incredibly dangerous.

There have been a number of serious crimes against volunteers (and other people as well) in our region lately most specifically here in El Salvador, in Honduras, and Guatemala. As a result, our little threesome is undergoing a lot of scrutiny. This past week we received an email with the following information:

"Due to ongoing safety and security concerns, Peace Corps has made the difficult decision to implement some important changes to its Volunteer program in Central America – specifically Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. As many of you are aware, there have been several incidents in recent months across all three posts that threatened the personal safety of individual Volunteers. Consequently we are immediately implementing a series of actions to help mitigate safety and security risks. Initially we will suspend the arrival of the new training group in January 2012. In doing so, we are asking staff to redirect its energies to reinforcing the current safety and security systems in place and to implementing additional measures in support of the recent policy shifts regarding family home stays and travel.

In the coming weeks, we will be announcing additional actions as we continue our analysis of the operating environment in Central America. Please rest assured that we are taking these initial measures precisely because the safety and security of our Volunteers is the agency’s highest priority. Our staff in Washington will be working to provide all of you with the support you may need."

What does this mean? Good question! We would all like to know. All of us volunteers are confused and gossi
ping amongst each other about what is going to happen. Are we going home? Are we moving countries? Are we going to have to change sites? Deal with new rules? There are so many questions and very few answers. As of now we are just waiting to hear the future of peace corps in El Salvador.

My o
pinion, you ask? Well fortunately for me I feel so safe in my site. I live so far away from everything that I never feel at risk. But there have been a number of cases recently of things happening in "tranquilo" sites that I am not sure anymore. In addition, I always feel on edge whenever I have to leave my site. Yes, I do often feel unsafe here that is true and a number of my friends here have unsafe sites or travel a lot more than me, which makes me worry for them. Therefore, I agree with Washington mandating some changes take place. This country is unsafe and we should do something to make volunteers safer. But at the same time if they are going to mandate us never to travel or make serious restrictions on our daily lives, I am not sure that that is the kind of service I want to have. I don't want to be in a country where I can't go anywhere or do anything. In that case, I think I would rather have a new assignment in a safer country. But do I want to leave El Salvador and change countries? Ouch. Not really. The idea of changing countries and going through adjustment all over again just sounds terrible. Also, I love my community, I love the people here, I love my fellow volunteers here, and I don't want to leave any of them.

As you can see this is a com
plicated opinion and I am just one person. Therefore, I realize that this is going to take some time to get all figured out. I guess we just have to be patient in this vague limbo-land.

In the meantime, I would just like to
post a hopeful message for my second home. I hope that the future of El Salvador (and all of Latin America) is more peaceful and safe for all to live, work, and visit. Because it truly is a special little country. And it deserves a bright future.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Oh the festivities

I meant to blog much sooner regarding the rest of my events that I posted about last time, but somehow time always slips away from me. So here goes nothing:

I went to and helped organized my first bridal shower ever (here and in the states). I was really excited because my host sister came in from San Miguel to help with the event (for her cousin-thus my host cousin Ruth)! We made lots of food and organized really cheesy games. For example, we played that game where everyone has a name tag with a household object on it and you have to use that as the person's name for the entire night or you lose points. My name was Aramario or closet. Although, we did not take it really seriously in the points department, it was just really funny to call each other household objects. We also made dresses out of toilet paper and the bride to be had to pick the better one. My team lost this one, but I still think we made a pretty awesome toilet paper dress. After that we put together a little book of secrets and tips for a new bride. The whole night was just tons of laughing between a great group of women and girls, which is one of my favorite ways to spend time.

The following day was the legal part of the wedding where a lawyer came and the couple signed the official marriage documents. This was a little less fun than the party the night before. It was simply a bunch of preaching, signing of documents, lunch, and then cake. But because of the religious aspect of my community this includes preaching about the "abomination" of marrying two guys or two gals (why can't they just talk about the couple at hand? not sure why it has to include a 20 minute diatribe on the horrors of gay marriage...) and a serious lack of dancing. I kept busy though because I was in charge of sound via my computer, which includes the simple task of playing the national anthem before the ceremony. Then I helped serve in the kitchen and followed that up by recording the rest of the event with cameras. The funniest part of the afternoon though was that I was almost as much of a celebrity as the bride and groom. Everyone (even those who didn't know me yet) wanted a picture with me. Apparently because I am super beautiful and white...It was a little uncomfortable for me just because in my culture the bride should always be the center of attention on this day, but it is also kind of nice and fun to be told how beautiful you are and feel like the center of a little community's world.

Another cultural note here is after lunch most of the people leave immediately. It is the most serious case of eat and run I have ever seen. It is as if the people to eat some meat and that is all. I explained afterward to my host family that in American culture we stay for hours after food and hang out and that it is typically considered really rude to "eat and run." I also found it hilarious because Salvadorans are usually an hour late to everything and are so slow to get somewhere, yet they are so fast to get out of a place when an event is over (especially when the food is gone).

Following these two events I spent more time that week helping my host mom do some work for the school with the computer. I am hoping to make one of my first projects a computer one. I would really love to find a way to bring a few computers into my site and start teaching computer classes. My host mom is dying to learn how to use the computer as are all the teachers in the school. Then I could work on running some classes for students as well. At times, I think about computers as being a luxury and maybe I should start with more basic priorities. But I think teaching computer technology is one of the most sustainable things I could do in my site. For example, I can teach my host mom (the school director and unofficial town leader) and other community leaders how to research, write grants, etc and then they can do so much more for themselves when I leave. Of course, there are plenty of other important and necessary material priorities, but I really do believe in the value of access to information and knowledge too.

When I am not helping my host mom with the computer I usually can be found playing with kids near my house or chatting with my favorite families. The kids right now are really enjoying jump rope, my version of yoga, and my insane unreal version of karate. Or we just play tag, random guessing games, or do running races. During our down time, they like to cover me in temporary tattoos. Ah, I love my job.

To tie this festivity post all together I also had the wonderful opportunity this weekend to take part in a few great events. I spent Thursday with Jesse and his parents (who were here in El Salvador visiting - hi Jesse's mom!!!(she reads blogs)). We drove to the pueblo of Corinto to visit because there are caves with rock paintings that date back like 10,000 years. It was a really beautiful day filled with this awesome archaeological visit, a breathtaking drive, and a fabulous walk through Corinto and the surrounding area. I had one of those moments where I thought to myself, "Man, I have an amazing life to be surrounded by this beauty." I am even more excited because Jesse and I decided that we are going to complete the hike from Upire to Corinto in January (should be about 5 hours)! It is even better because Corinto is the amazing pueblo of Tricia meaning visiting her more often! It was a spectacular day. Thank you Jesse and parents for inviting me and having me along :)

The final festivity which I am still kind of enjoying. I am currently in the capital for a combination of reasons. But one of them was a peace corps soccer game yesterday versus JICA (Japanese version of peace corps) in the giant stadium here in San Salvador. It was so much fun to play soccer in a giant stadium! Even better because we dominated! :) Then we had them over to our office for lunch and games. A great time to meet more JICA volunteers and hang out with all my friends here.

Finally, CHRISTMAS IS COMING! Yay. The best festivity ever. Oh yeah and my birthday. getttt ready.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Transition

My last post covered the magnificent Thanksgiving I had in the embassy house in the capital following a three week English intensive training session filled with my fellow gringos, hotel stays, new travel experiences, and much more access to lots of things! Imagine going from that back to campo life. One tough transition. I am not going to lie about this at all. I sat on my 8 hour bus ride back home to Upire thinking about how much it sucked to be returning. I did not want to leave the luxuriousness of the past three weeks. Luckily, my fellow NLU - er(northern La Union) Anna was with me ensuring me that life would go on. Thanks, as always, Anna! It only took me getting off the bus and seeing my community, my best friend here, and hugging my host dad and mom that I am reminded why I love where I live. I know it sounds cheesy and cliche and you are probably thinking that I am just saying this to make my blog sound happy and nice, but this is true: A wise friend once told me, "You don't realize how much a place is like home until you return to it." And it is so true. I love my community, my family, and how I came home to a plate of big tortillas, cheese, and avocado!

Since the great return I have s
pent a considerable amount of time getting to know everyone again. I know I was only gone for three weeks but I was still relatively new in the community so I really need to get back out there again and make my presence known. I started by visiting my favorite houses, attending all the meetings possible, and just being out and about more often. I am going to continue focusing on this for a long time and try not to worry about starting projects. I truly believe the best ideas and most sustainable ones are going to come after I finish learning everything I can and the people trust me enough to come to me with their own thoughts. Ideas are more sustainable when the people are involved in the beginning process of thought production.

Contrary to
popular thought, I have been extremely busy in all of this since returning. I feel as though I have had little down time. It is mostly because I have been attending events left and right and I am going to do my best to capture them all here:

Ferias: My
pal Jesse who lives about an 1.5 hour walk from me invited me to visit his community and attend his ferias (which is like a corny fair in the states). We got to see a little girl pageant show with them dancing and prancing around in beautiful dresses, which was so adorable until they made me decide the winner. Haha, nothing like putting all the pressure on the neighboring pcv. But it was all in good fun and they provided me with some other women to help me make the tough decision. After that Jesse and I just walked around, ate some carnival food, played some games, and rode the creepiest ferris wheel known to man. I saw scenes from final destination flashing before my eyes. I still hate him for making me ride. Strike that. No one can hate Jesse, but still it scared the living daylights out of me. He made up for it too by serving me a delicious peanut butter sandwich for dinner, so I guess I forgive him. :)

p: Wyd is a ‪p‬rogram here in El Salvador that offers scholarshi‪p‬s to both boy and girls to go to high school or college. I am attaching the web site link in the ho‪p‬es that you will take a look. If you are interested in s‪p‬onsoring a student (or schools looking to fundraise??) or hel‪p‬ing with the ‪p‬rogram in anyway, ‪p‬lease contact me. Anyways that is enough of me asking for your money...haha. So, the volunteer before me, the awesome Brian, found two girls in U‪p‬ire who deserved to go to high school but lacked the funds necessary. Just for a frame of reference: there is no high school in my site so kids either have to travel over an hour each way or find someone to live with an hour and a half or more away. This does not include the money for the uniform, materials, and other ex‪p‬enses involved. Thus, these scholarshi‪p‬s give kids an o‪pp‬ortunity to go when otherwise their families would just say "no," es‪p‬ecially with kids who could otherwise be hel‪p‬ing in the house or out in the fields working all day. I have two girls, Gladis and Idalia, who are in high school now with a scholarshi‪p‬ and absolutely wonderful. This year I was in charge of renewing this a‪pp‬lication for each of them to remain a student by earning their scholarshi‪p‬ another year (very difficult for me given I had to write recommendations etc in S‪p‬anish, but thank you Brian for all your hel‪p‬ as I would have failed miserably without you) as well as bringing them to this year's WYD cam‪p‬. This year's cam‪p‬ was in Suchitoto (a ‪p‬o‪p‬ular tourist destination here in the country) and included art and cultural events for all of the scholars as well two nice evenings in a hotel and great food!

Every event like this has ‪p‬ositive and negative as‪p‬ects and in the s‪p‬irit of being com‪p‬letely honest I am going to recount both what I loved and what I loved a little bit less.
Loved: This cam‪p‬ was a wonderful o‪pp‬ortunity for me to get to know my scholars better and really bond with them. I learned so much more about them, their families, their lives, their studies, as well as more about my community as well. It was also amazing to see them enjoy a wonderful event such as this: an event away from their hometown with other students where they get to ‪exp‬erience art and culture and a s‪p‬ecial ‪p‬art of their country with other youth. On a ‪p‬ersonal level, I loved Suchitoto, s‪p‬ending time with my fellow volunteers, and getting a little "vacation" while working to get to travel and see a new ‪p‬art of the country. I also really loved the history of the war that we learned as well as the beautiful boat ride around the lake.

What I loved a little bit less: I want to put it out there that some of the things I am going to complain about are terrible but I have to be honest. First, this trip cost me a lot of money (relative to a peace corps budget). (This is the part I feel most bad about. I really hate that I am going to complain about spending a huge chunk of my own money to bring two girls who would otherwise never see Suchitoto to this camp. This makes me feel so guilty that I am so bothered by using my money for them. Here I am in Youth Development but I am complaining about having to bring these girls to camp? ) Here is the best way I can rationalize it: I get $300 a month and I legitimately spent over $70 on this three day trip, which includes paying for myself and two girls to get to and from Suchitoto, paying for their lunches on two days, and for my staying in the hotel. That is a big chunk this month. Now a good volunteer would have gathered funds to do this, but with my time in San Vicente and no knowledge of the camp far enough ahead of time it really was not possible. I just try and remember how you cannot put a price tag on bonding experiences and that is what's important. I also have a nice safety net of funds from my moving in allowance, so I am good.

The other things I am going to complain about really are my own fault particularly the management of youth. I had a few challenges with one of the girls (not my two girls) at the camp and it just made me realize that I need to be a little more strict at times. I will definitely have to work on that while I am here. Not so good at being strict and forceful with kids, but we will see how it goes.

Okay this post is getting ridiculously long and I still need to recap my two other events including my first bridal shower and civil wedding experiences. But I will save those for later.

Hope all is well with everyone out there. It's birthday and xmas month. YAY DECEMBER! LOVE IT! <3


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Accion de Gracias

I had one of the best Thanksgiving dinners in a long time. Ironically, it was not even in the United States. I thought that being in another country would make Thanksgiving come and go making me feel sad and homesick. Totally not the case and here is why:

El Salvador has this awesome program where volunteers get to stay the night with an American embassy family for Thanksgiving. I had the pleasure of staying 3 nights with an awesome family – downright amazing. The father of the family is a returned volunteer from Costa Rica, paul, (where he met his lovely wife Patricia) who now works for USAID. We also met their lovely daughter Rachel who is joining peace corps this summer in Africa! What a family! They were so wonderful and welcoming that I felt like I was home in an American house – complete with hot showers, delicious American food, air conditioning, and super comfy beds! It was such a nice break after training to enjoy all of this and feel rejuvenated enough to head back to our sites afterwards. Although it was also challenging because I never wanted to leave. The family was so incredible I really have to thank them again – as they even offered to let us stay whenever we need to in the capital. Great, great family. I feel so blessed to have met them this Thanksgiving.

But I have not even told you why the Thanksgiving was so good. First, it contained all the traditional American fixings meaning turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, rolls, wine, and desserts. Also, I ate turkey and bacon for the first time in so many years. WOW! Delicious. Vegetarianism? Huh? Just kidding. Sort of. The food was even better because I got to share it with my new embassy family, my two favorite other volunteers Tricia and Kara (my rocks here), and about 20 Salvadorans who were there to hear the story of Thanksgiving and celebrate with us. Thanksgiving in Spanish and it felt so good, especially when we told the history of the holiday. It is such a glorious holiday. I love it.

After dinner, we sang KAROKE! And danced the night away. Words cannot describe how cool this was, so I am going to include some pictures (mostly stolen from Kara, thanks girl<3).

My best girls and I hanging in the mall before Thanksgiving.

Food :)

Karoke - Livin' La Vida Loca

Friends<3New and Old.

post script: I also would like to report that I went in Starbucks and there was Xmas music playing. I just about died of happiness.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Training Done

My time in San Vicente is officially over. We finished our technical training last Friday with a fun game and sports day, which was designed to help us with preparing camps and organizing sports events for kids and communities. Hands down one of my favorite days because we played lots of sports – naturally. Backing up though, I have to recap at least the highlights for training part dos.

Overall, training is long, tiring, and draining both mentally and emotionally. I am sure I said this in my posts leading up to training and during pre service training, but it is true. I think this time was harder though because we had no free time whatsoever and all of the sessions (most of) were so applicable to our sites that it made it imperative to really be listening and paying attention. We had sessions on everything but some of my favorites include: making arts and crafts including piñatas, bracelets, purses, the sports, learning about getting stoves, letrines, and potable water, as well as the session on making shampoo, disinfectant, and hair gel. I also really enjoyed the lectures on teaching business courses and how to help kids here plan for the future. I hope to use these ideas in my site, especially the arts and crafts ones. But that is a lot of information to grasp and understand all in a two week period, so it really is overwhelming just thinking about how to apply these ideas in site.

But as I continue to complain about training, I also have to talk about the absolutely wonderful breaks we had. We had quite a few field trips (including a fun interactive children’s museum with bubbles!) and hotel stays not only in the capital but also in the western part of the country near Ataco. We stayed in this amazing hotel where the rooms are like log cabins in the woods and they are surrounded by beautiful flowers. The cabins have all you need including standard bathrooms, televisions, nice big beds, and a full on kitchen area. But I am not sure why you would use the kitchen area. Dios mio, the food was to die for. We had big plates of pasta, giant pancakes, warm bread with herb butter, and much more. It was like heaven on earth. I was sad that it was only one night, but luckily we have a training session there in May, so I will return soon!

Unfortunately, I had the terrible experience of coming back from this lovely paradise and seeing a dead body in the road. A man got shot in the street as we were driving in our car back to the capital. I won’t go into too many details because it was a horrible sight that I would not want any one to see. The worst part is that my boss driving the car just brushed it off like it was no big deal. It makes sense given he has grown up in a country with daily homicide rate of 16 (keep in mind Massachusetts is the same size and averages 2 a day). I feel so bad that he has grown accustomed to seeing dead bodies in the street. No one should get used to that. Ever.

I am going to end the sad part and move on to recapping the end of training. After all the field trips we just finished up in San Vicente with more lectures and then more Spanish class. Although I was incredibly tired, I was really happy to get some extra class time. I needed to work on some more advanced Spanish topics and now I realize how terribly I have been speaking. I just hope I continue to improve. I got a lot of compliments in San Vicente about my Spanish and how far I have come, so it felt really good to hear that. I just don’t want to stop improving now that I don’t have any more formal classes to go to.

Okay I need to go and write my Thanksgiving recap. Look out for that post!


post script: remember the hair cut I mentioned:

Yes, those are the giant pancakes I mentioned :)

Always when possible donate your hair to Locks of Love. You can do it all the way from El Salvador. :)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Training Round 2

Remember San Vicente? Remember San Esteban Catarina? Well, I am back for training part two. I do not have much to report in the sense that it is going to interest you all. It is more interesting for me. We are learning about all the stuff we could potentially do in our sites. Yes, the really useful information we have all been dying for this entire time. Anything from how to make pinatas to how to teach English to how to work with your local community organization to make it stronger. These are wonderfully amazing sessions. The only downside to training is that it is so long and tiring. Additionally, it has already been one of the most overwhelming experiences thus far. And here's why:

You are presented with tons of really cool ideas that you would love to see in your site. It looks so great in a powerpoint presentation given by a volunteer who has been here for 1 year and is super confident and awesome. *Intimidating* Then they present just how hard it was to get done, everything that went wrong (welcome to El Salvador), and then how hard it is to get money. *Damn*

I keep reminding myself how long and hard development is and to just try and slow down my thoughts. My community still needs to get to know me and I still need to get to know them. We still need to talk more about priorities and figure out what things are sustainable out there in the boonies.

On the upside of training--it is amazing to see my friends, hang out with my old host family, and eat everything I don't have access to in the campo (rural countryside). Although, everyone here just keeps telling me how fat I have gotten since I left, which is just fantastic for the self confidence. I try to remind myself that Salvadorans love to say that you even if it is not true (although it probably is) and love the idea that you are bigger in general. But in my American I want to be skinny mind frame (yes I will admit it) it just sucks. But I am also being told that my Spanish has improved so much, which if I am fatter because I have been sitting in houses, eating pan dulce, and talking in Spanish for hours it is all good. Right...perfectly justified.. Moving on...

The other upside of training is that we do have a few field trips planned, a few hotel stays, and the end includes Thanksgiving at the Embassy!, and our Swearing in party. LOTS OF FUN! So it is all going to be worth it in the end.

Love to all<3

post script: getting my first hair cut on next Sunday....let's see how it goes...maybe ill do before and after shots :)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

General Assembly

Oh, the General Assembly or Assemblea General - the pinnacle of a volunteer's first six weeks in site. It is a required meeting for every volunteer to officially present themselves to the entire community, explain peace Corps (my letter p is broken on my computer, sorry), explain Youth and Family Wellbeing (my program), the results of our community diagnostic and what we plan to do in the community in the future. It is also one of the official staff visits where one of your program managers comes to watch and help the meeting as well by answering additional questions. Also in attendance were my lovely neighbors (other volunteers) - Anna, Jesse, and Drew. Although, I will admit they actually made me the most nervous. I don't know why but I feel the most nervous talking Spanish in front of other volunteers because they are so good at it and well I am just...

*But I have to add here that my neighbors (while making me nervous) at the same time also made me feel so much better- giving me high encouragement beforehand and praise afterwards- so I am eternally grateful that I live next to some awesome volunteers.*

I spent the entire morning leading up to the meeting pacing around the school and practicing my presentation. (Insert a lot of sweating and bright red cheeks). Nonetheless, we began around 9:45. It was supposed to start at 9:30, but I told all the Salvadorans 9 because, well, time here is just a little bit different. I would post what I said but it is in Spanish and I don't really feel like translating it all into English at this moment. So, here is a rough outline of my agenda and a short explanation of what I did:

Welcome/Introductions- I introduced myself, my community guides, Hector (boss - man), and the other volunteers, and thanked everyone for coming.

An exercise- AHHAHA please do not judge me but I did a breathing / stress relieving exercise. Here is my rationale-- here during my health survey I realized that people here really suffer from headaches and stress related health problems. Unfortunately to handle this, they constantly pop pills or sit outside closed clinics waiting for a doctor who will never show up. So, I did a breathing exercise to teach them, but also to help me calm down before my presentation--two birds with one stone. Score! I think it went over well. haha

About Me-self explanatory

What is peace Corps? What is Youth and Family Wellbeing? -google it
Community Diagnostic- I explained that I went around to houses collecting data, asked people around the community, and simple observed as well.

Results- Biggest community needs in general: permanent doctor/nurse/working clinic, all the kids in school, activities for the kids after school (they are always super bored), help the kids plan for the future, help with English teaching in the school, and help with facilitating community organizations to benefit the youth.

Ideas/Your Ideas- basically my ideas of health programs, youth programs after school in areas of their own interest, and my cooperation with the existing community organizations and forming new ones as needed.

Questions and Answers- Hector explaining more about my role and answering questions

Of course after this I served rice with milk and cookies because you always have to have something for people to eat.

I feel very happy about the way it turned out. The meetings in the morning are usually really tough because people are busy preparing for the day and working, so I was really satisfied with my turn out. Heck, I was just happy people came and listened. They also seemed to really love the photos of me and my discussion of my life back home in the states. So, I am feeling good about it.

After my meeting, I went to another new volunteer's meeting - Drew- who lives about 45 minutes away. His was awesome! He had a full house. I was really impressed with his turn out. I am also jealous because he was able to schedule his meeting at the same time as a uniform distribution. I really wish I could have done that too. But Drew would have had tons of people regardless, since he is just a rock star worker.

Following the meeting, Anna spent two nights here and then I went back with her to her site on Thursday and stayed until Friday. It was a great visit in general with her, especially because I just had a week of stress leading up to my meeting. So I was so happy to go to her house, have a girls night, eat peanut butter, and do our nails (and other things like that). I did also do some work in that I saw her teach English and dance classes all day in the school, which really helped me visualize myself teaching.

Now I am about to go to the graveyard with my host family to clean some tombs. Here November 1 and 2 are the Dias de Los Muertos where you put tons of flowers on the graves of those who have passed away. Therefore, we are in preparation mode. Following this I am going to visit one of my favorite houses and work on the scholarship application for high school with two of the girls in town.

I have a week left in site before I go to San Vicente for the second part of training. I cannot believe that I am heading back already. I am excited to see my host family there, my fellow trainees, spend some time in an urban area with more access to everything, and also finish with my final part of training. But at the same time I am really sad to be leaving my community and my family here. I feel like I am in Upire mode out here in rural El Salvador and I don't really want to lose that mentality. I am also really going to miss my family and kids in the school out here. But I shall return ready and able to finally work! So that is the most exciting part! :)

Time to clean some tombs. My love to all...

Friday, October 21, 2011


I wish I could end my lack of blogging streak with a more creative title, post, or even something more interesting to talk about, but unfortunately I cannot. I know I have not blogged in a long time which would typically indicate that I would have something awesome to report. However, the amount of rain has clouded my ability to remember anything else but the never ending freezing cold rain. I will stop the complaining now because this rain that I am referring to has been devastating - leaving thousands people hungry, homeless, and without all of their belongings (including the loss of their crops). So, I will take this time now to be grateful that I live high up here in the mountains in El Salvador and we have escaped this storm relatively unscathed. We are just suffering from icy cold temperatures, a lack of dry clothing, wet/muddy streets, a lack of ability to leave or do anything, cabin fever, and some electricity loss.

Did I mention the cabin fever? Yes, because I think as an American (or just my type A personality) with my constant need to be doing something, the cabin fever has been the worst. We literally have not left our house in about a week. I have done nothing but watch television, read, eat, and sleep. Classes have been canceled all week. And no one really has done much of anything.

At first I thought this was all a little bit of an exaggeration. Canceling classes all week for some rain? But then the reality of the rain and just how debilitating it is here has finally sunk in. I think in my American mind frame there is nothing wrong with a little bit of rain - and even with a lot of rain - generally a lot of business still goes on. But here the situation is very very different. Literally everything shuts down. But I think I can see why: it is not just a little bit of rain like we normally think of it. This is all day all night down pouring. Then on top of that there are no paved roads in my site which means endless mud, landslides, and the inability to go anywhere (of course, kids can't walk to school, buses can't get here, etc). I also have to point out here that none of us had any clothes for the longest time. Now I know this also seems a bit of an odd reason to not do anything, but seriously when you have no clean, dry clothes, can you actually go anywhere? Not really. So, I am actually beginning to understand the seriousness of "a little bit of rain" and just how big of an impact the weather can truly have.

*Here I have to add how point out how amazing it is in the United States the capacity we have to deal with natural disasters (usually) in a really effective way that does not completely shut down the entire country. I also have to mention my love for our paved roads too!*

Because of these things, I think in the United States the weather is sort of an afterthought at times. Yeah, we check it out to see how to dress sometimes, but is it really that big of a deal? We can so easily change our indoor environment to make us more comfortable (a/c, heat, etc). Here the houses are open and the water will get everywhere. Even more importantly when the weather hurts the food supply of a few farmers in the area, everyone suffers. It is truly devastating and I am finally beginning to understand the reason why Salvadorans will talk to you about the weather all day, everyday, multiple times a day! It is truly something to talk about.

Fortunately, I think we have reached the end of the storm. Gracias a Dios!

Yes, this Atheist just thanked God. That is a whole different post, but I have to add here that when you live as I do in an Evangelical community and there is something like this occurring in the country, you have no choice but to pray. And pray we do. However, I actually do not mind the praying. I actually find it to be a very peaceful event. I like when people come together to talk about how much they appreciate one another. I think we can all do more of that even if we are not religious.

I hope everyone is warm and dry in the states. I promise to actually update on my life soon with more to talk about than the rain!


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Address

Send anything!!!!!!! No obligation, of course. But I love mail.

Current wish list if you are feeling awesome:

mixed cds, movies, books (I do have a kindle but still), gum (yes I still love gum), dried fruit, crystal light packets, magazines, anything that reminds me of you. Oh yeah and if you want to copy the new Glee and send it to me too. :) Make my dreams come true.

Jamie Albrecht

Voluntaria de Cuerpo de Paz

Centro Escolar Caserio Upire

Canton Monteca

Nueva Esparta

Departamento la Union

El Salvador, Centro America

Love to all!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Real Peace Corps Volunteer...week 1

I have been a real volunteer for over a week now. I like to say that this also means I have been a real person here in El Salvador for a week too. Training is just not real life with its intense schedules, serious English and gringo time, and hand holding, but that is old news now. I am now here in Northern La Union in Caserio Upire. I am going to do my best to try and describe my new home for the next two years and what I have learned about this place in about a week’s time.

I’ll start with my host family. I live with the school director and her husband and their son. There are two other sons in the states and one daughter and she lives in San Miguel (5 hours away) studying, but she comes home on some weekends. Met her daughter and love her! Missed her so much this past weekend. The school director is the most amazing woman (also my community guide) who practically runs this town. Her name is Nina Maria and she is just impeccable, full of ideas, full of energy, and full of love for her new daughter, yours truly. My host father is also an incredible farmer her in the town. But on top of that he destroys every negative stereotype I have ever had about Salvadoran men. He cooks, cleans, and is super interested in me and my work and he talks to me all the time (every other family I have encountered in homestays, the man never talks). He even refers to me as his daughter already too, which is amazing considering it has been awhile since I have had a father type figure in my life. My host brother is equally respectful and will unfortunately be leaving for university in San Salvador very soon. I will miss him because he likes to talk (and slowly) and play the guitar all the time.

The best part of this week with my family has been going to other places when they call me their daughter. But even better is the fact that my family has blue eyes and light skin (my community is one of the remaining strongholds of European – Salvadoran mixes) so I actually look like them. So all the new people we meet assume I am their other daughter. Awesome! Integration…yes. Even people in the office in San Salvador during counterpart day said, “Oh you guys look so much a like.”

Moving on, my house is almost as amazing as my family. I can’t believe I am going to say this but I have a regular toilet, a regular shower, and a WASHING MACHINE. I am not sure how this is possible and how I got so lucky, but yes I am incredibly lucky. Oh yeah, I also have a big screen television. Seriously?! Am I in El Salvador? Yes, thank you remesas. But on top of that my family as I said runs this town, so they have earned their amazing house in my opinion. And by the way they are treating me I believe they deserve everything in the world. I have never felt so loved and welcomed.

Luckily for me, my community is just as welcoming and loving. I love how I can literally walk up to a random house and they will inundate me with hugs, coffee, lots of food, and friendly conversation. I also have to comment here that my community also rocks because it is super cold (in El Salvador), they grow their coffee (no more café listo), and the tortillas are delectable. Furthermore, my host dad is an amazing farmer (runs in the family) meaning good, strange cheese, lots of corn on the cob (yummy!), and more corn (the real stuff).

I also have to mention another point about my community. My community is very religious and by religious I mean Evangelical. This means no dancing, no playing cards, and dressing super conservatively. But I think I was put here for a lot of reasons including the fact that I don’t drink, I am super oddly curious about religious, and open minded about going to church with them.

In terms of doing my actual job here, things are moving along smoothly so far. Surprisingly, I have been crazy busy thus far. Nina Maria has been keeping me busy with lots of meetings with the students, teachers, directors, doctors, community members, etc. Then other days I went to the Alcaldia (local government), policia, and took a trip with the other teachers and directors to see some indigenous pueblos. With all of this stuff to do I feel like I have been seriously slacking in meeting the people in their houses. The majority of our first two months are supposed to be spent visiting houses and collecting information about them and the status of their house and health. Yeah, I have not done much of that. I have been to quite a few houses, especially because the closest volunteer Anna came these past two days and brought me to her favorite places. She knows a lot about my site because her and the previous volunteer were great friends. I really appreciated getting to know her and her help with some house visits.

But now I am feeling intimidated by the health diagnostic and survey I have to do in every house. I honestly just want to go to houses and introduce myself and talk to people. I don’t really want to sit and ask them about their latest pap smear, but hopefully I can get some help from the local health promoter.

I will admit in addition to feeling intimidated by these house visits, I still feel so new in a way that really challenges my American notions of independence. I really can’t (as in not permitted) to do much on my own yet, so I feel like I really have not explored the community or done anything on my own. I really just want to go out and walk around, but I don’t want to just take off, especially when it feels like Nina Mary always has something to show me or planned. Hopefully with more time I will be able to really figure things out here, how they work, and where everything is.

But I will take this emotions because honestly I feel so well taken care of here. I cannot tell you more how lucky I am to be with this family. And the town too. They loved the old volunteer so much (which is sometimes overwhelming when I think about having such big shoes to fill) but it is also nice because it means they want to care for the new volunteer, me.

How can one possibly feel lonely? Impossible. Just lonely in my gringa-ness, but that’s what the other volunteer friends are for (and we got that cute family cell phone plan).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye to San Esteban

It is funny how a place can quickly become so near and dear to your heart. I only lived in San Esteban Catarina for a short two months, but for my first two months in a new country I am so happy that I got to know this wonderful little pueblo.

It really hit me how much I loved my time there on the night before my early morning departure when I had to start to say goodbye to friends and family. I can only imagine what it is going to be like leaving after living somewhere for two years given the fact that just after two months my host family cried.

I am just so thankful that I had such a warm and welcome introduction to El Salvador. So thank you, San Esteban Catarina!

Some of my favorite things/moments:
Climbing the cerro (mountain) and overlooking San Vicente
The Neveria (ice cream shoppe)
My host family/friends/youth group/running women!
Our community projects
Playing in the park
The moment when I saw we reached San Esteban every afternoon after riding in a crowded pick up for 30 minutes
Proximity to San Vicente and superselectos (groceries)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Swearing In

I’ll admit I was not really that excited for swearing in. To be honest it felt really anti-climatic. I guess pre Peace Corps I had this notion that this would be the biggest moment of my life considering how long it took to apply, get here, and then finally survive training. Needless to say, I was not too pumped. I think it had to do with the impending stress of living for our sites, the medical session beforehand, some ridiculously placed PC enforced rules about our whereabouts after swearing in, etc. It was looking like swearing in was going to just plain suck… But then I saw our little group of trainees all dressed up. And then it all changed.

Everyone looked absolutely beautiful/handsome. It was amazing to see us all looking so nice for a change (no offense to anyone but we usually look like tired, semi-professional but sloppy, gringos. But this night we looked super sharp. I stop going on about how beautiful we are and move to the fact that the ceremony was also a very big success in my eyes. The ambassador came and not only delivered a nice speech, conducted our oath, but more importantly she stayed afterwards to take lots of pictures with us and talk with our host families. I mean seriously, what a freaking champion of a diplomat. I just cant believe how nice, humble, and down to earth she is. Note to self: when you become an ambassador, be like her. And to top it off, our star gringo Andrew, delivered an amazing speech in Spanish on behalf of all of us. I was just so proud of him and us as a group that I am not ashamed to admit I did that tearing up at a happy moment thing.

Following the ceremony we were locked down in the training center (to avoid the trainees going out and drinking). We had a good time anyway. It was really nice to just to spend the final night together and then hang out in the hotel all night. Because the next morning we headed off to meet our counter parts. But that is another post.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Site Assignment

I can think of nothing more torturous. Try putting 13 trainees in a room after they have just had their Spanish placement interviews (aka stressed out- but I passed with an Intermediate Mid yay) and ask them to wait a few seconds longer for the name of their new home for the next two years. It is downright awful. I think if you had asked us to wait even just an hour more we would have staged a revolt. But nonetheless Peace Corps finally revealed our new homes for the next two years:

That green star all the way up on the right is yours truly. I am heading to Caserio Upire, Canton Monteca, Municipio Nueva Esparta, in the department of La Union. What can I tell you about this little canton in the northeastern region of El Salvador. Well because I just got off the phone with a wonderful volunteer in the area (thanks Anna) I know a little bit more than the information Peace Corps gave me in the “Welcome to your New Home” packet. So I have some wonderful information that I could share about my site, but I feel as though I should get there first and make my own observations and then report back to you all.

But here is what I will tell you. If you cannot tell from the pictures of the maps my site is REALLY far away. And I am not sure that the map conveys adequately just how far I am. For some reference, I am 8 hours or more from the capital, 1.5 hours from the nearest market, 3 hours from the nearest supermarket and atm, and 5 hours from San Miguel (closest Peace Corps hospital). My site is cold (for El Salvador) and mountainous, which is music to my ears (hiking and the ability to sleep at night because I am not dying of sweat). I look forward to the moment here when I actually put a blanket over me because I feel cold. It relies heavily on cattle ranching (hello dairy), coffee plantations (thank goodness), agriculture, and remittances. Finally, I am going to live in a canton of about 300 families. It has a school to grade nine and the school principal is my host mom (who is apparently the most amazing woman in the world).

That is essentially the information that Peace Corps gave me. And that is what I will give you (for now). The next time I write about my community it will come from my own feelings, observations, and acquired knowledge. Get ready! I know I sure am.

I know I just wrote “I know I am ready” but in a lot of ways I am not. I don’t want to pretend like it is that simple. In reality I am terribly nervous and anxious. I am about to make a big change and this time it’s the big league. Of course, I want to start but those first tough months in site are coming up and knowing that now is making me even more apprehensive of leaving the comfort of training, San Esteban, and my gringo friends.

But that is what this adventure is all about. See ya later, comfort zone.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pictures of my Youth Group

There is a Carnival on my Front Porch

(written on Sunday- sorry it is now Thursday)
After enjoying a nice, relaxing weekend (read my last post please) we headed straight to another busy week of training. Monday was relatively uneventful with just a short session in San Vicente and then afternoon Spanish classes.

Tuesday was a typical day in San Vicente with medical information on nutrition (not going to happen here), a Civil War movie, a meeting on gangs, and then Trainee facilitated presentations (including mine this week). These sessions are supposed to help prepare us to give charlas (discussions) in our sites about various topics. Rachael and I presented on trash management and I think it went really well. We started off with a drawing of a house that was having serious issues with trash and then had the other trainees describe the problems in the photograph. Then I went into the discussion of potential sicknesses resulting from poor trash management. Then Rachael talked about the proper ways of disposing of trash. Then we had activity where the trainees had to place trash in the appropriate location. Pretty simple, but also in English, so I feel like this process will only be harder when I have to do this in Spanish. Oh well, one step at a time.

Tuesday was also my host mom’s birthday, so when I got home we had a big cake! It was a delicious dinner. I got her two small paintings in the market and pan dulce. She seemed to really love them both! J

Wednesday my group (Liz, Cory, and I) accompanied the La Cruz kids (the canton just down the road from us) on their caminata (which is like a hike that they took from La Cruz to San Esteban to climb our mountain in the community, which serves as their community project for training). Then once we got to the top of the mountain the trainees from La Cruz gave their discussions on self-esteem and goal setting. They did a really good job and it was nice to spend the morning not in Spanish class. Though in the afternoon we had to leave the caminata and head to lunch and then Spanish. This would have been a pretty normal day, but around 6 p.m. the town starts to freak out a little bit and my host mother informs me that some man was just shot near our community. Long story short this gang member on a motorcycle shot a driver of a pick up truck because he refused to pay him renta. It was all over town and caused a lot of upset because the driver had two young boys here in the local school. So everyone was really worried and upset over the entire thing. Furthermore, this caused all the transportation to shut down (except a few buses) causing even more problems for those needing to leave the community for the next few days. (Transportation was finally back and normal on Sunday).

Thursday we spent the morning shadowing a health promoter here in San Esteban. This is part of our “making community contacts” portion of training. First we met with the director of the Unidad de Salud, the health clinic in town. After our initial interview with her we scheduled this day to follow around this promoter. Our promoter’s duty for the day was to make house visits to women with very young children (4 days old) and see how they are doing. So, I spent the morning holding very little babies. I have never held something so young and fragile. It was so intimidating. I am not sure how you parents do it…

In the afternoon we ran into San Vicente (luckily finding a bus) to prepare for our caminata on Friday and buy prizes in the market for the winning team.

On Friday we had our caminata with our youth group! It started out a little rough because unexpectedly the kids all had to go to church in the morning to mourn the death of the pick u driver. So we got off to a late start, but no real harm done. I should also note that our original caminata was supposed to go to the place where the man was shot, so we had to change it last minute to the mountain and soccer field here close to the center of town. It was just decided that it was too dangerous to bring all the kids there. Totally understandable, but still kind of sad that we couldn’t take the kids somewhere a little bit different. Anyway, we started with a charla on trash management. It was a really simple discussion. But the best part is that we started it with a competition to see how much trash they could collect for the soccer field. Surprisingly, the kids loved this and gathered so much trash that we hardly knew what to do with it. It was such a wild success that we didn’t bring enough bags to deal with the amount that they collected. After that we started the field day like competitions between our two teams of 14 (tie dyed black and red versus green and yellow) including: tug of war, potato sack race, wheel barrow race, egg race, a balloon popping race, limbo, and then ended with a soccer game. The yellow and green team one getting a marvelous prize of a new water cup. We went with the recycling theme! Overall I will say that it was a great success and all the kids seemed to have a really good time. But I have to admit it was a really challenging event to actually see through and definitely frustrating at times. The biggest challenges were getting the kids to listen, dealing with cheating and arguing, and also dealing with their sometimes too competitive teachers. I definitely need to come up with more effective strategies for handling these issues. I don’t think I am quite firm enough yet with the kids, but I feel that is something that I can improve on with time and experience.

This weekend has been filled with our community festival/carnival. I was really excited the first day but then I quickly realized that the positives of the festival are minimal. Picture those rinky dink fairs near your house during the summer. They are kind of creepy looking with a shaking ferris wheel that you should never in your life go on because it might just fall apart. Yes, that is what has taken over my community complete with the token fair foods and random places to buy music, jewelry, and random junk. It has also brought an influx of random people, drunk men, stray dogs, fireworks (these are the worst), more noise than usual, and an end to my sleeping. I should mention that the festival is literally on my doorstep. Because my house faces the park there is literally no separation between my house and the fair. Yes, I am living in the middle of a fair right now. It is not all bad though. I got to go to the dance which after reminding me of a seventh grade dance where no one wants to make the first move, was actually a lot of fun. Did I mention that my group was the awesome magic to get the party started? We went right in and danced immediately: 4 gringos and our close friends in the community (most of which are friends of my host sister). It was a great night because I really enjoyed being out with my host sister. Plus, Salvadorans take their dancing so seriously that it is really fun to watch them. I just danced like a crazy white person and luckily they all would clap and scream. I’ll take it.

Wow, I need to stop this post. It is getting ridiculous. All I will say is that I am happy that this fair ends tomorrow and I can sleep again. I need my sleep this week because it is literally the second biggest week of training. Not only am I going to the capital to have tea with the ambassador, but Thursday is my Spanish interview (intermediate mid PLEASE!) and my site assignment day. If you can drop me a line of luck that day!

All my love to the states.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Ode to the Couch

I am currently blogging a couch. I forgot what having furniture is like. It is kind of glorious. My fellow trainees are I are at the beach for our "free weekend." Of course, free weekend is more like free day considering we left early on Saturday and have to leave today (Sunday) at like 4. But nonetheless, free weekend is awesome. We have an amazing house on the beach with the following amenities: air conditioning, running water, showers, a complete kitchen, television, wifi, and did I mention yet that there are couches? I mean do not get me wrong I love the Salvadoran obsession with hammocks too! But couches are great too :)

I am not quite ready to leave. This weekend was totally necessary. It has been so nice to just relax without thinking about being around people and a different language all the time. Plus, the amenities are nice too. I got to Skype with Hannie bear (best friend) and take a nice shower (not hot but still lovely). And I slept like a baby in my air conditioning. Great night.

I will leave the rest of the details of free weekend to your imagination. I am sure you can picture the shenanigans for yourself.

I am going to use this time now to update the blog on my week since Immersion day. This week we had a lot of activities with our youth group. We have our field day on Friday where the kids are going to compete in a variety of games and then we are going to give a discussion on the environment. This week we tye dyed t shirts with the kids. One team is black and purple and the other is green and yellow. The kids had so much with it. I have never seen kids so happy as when we revealed the t shirts! Oh the simple things. We also completed a garden project with them this week. We planted tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, etc. Ill admit though we spent a lot of the time there actually eating oranges off the trees...:)

I also taught my first English class to seventh grade this week. It was on clothing and possessive pronouns. I started with a jigsaw puzzle, used pictures to explain the clothing, had them repeat, then did pronouns and had them do sentences, and then I played a board game including clothing and sentences for them to complete to get to the end. I think for my first class it went really well. But Ill admit it was really hard to keep their attention. Also, their level of English is very low and it makes it tough for me when I have to explain everything in Spanish. But I guess it helps me speak more Spanish, so that is always a plus.

On the Spanish note I think I am getting a lot better. We have our interviews coming up in a week and a half. Of course, I am super super nervous. But this week we have a lot of time in our communities to focus on Spanish, so I think I should be okay to get into the required level.

I think this is it for now. But all I have to say now is that I think the world is ending. Earthquakes, meteors, hurricanes, etc. I hope Irene was nice to you guys in Delaware! Love.