Thursday, July 28, 2011

I started PC with a bang...literally on the ground.

So you remember that last post? I sounded like I was living on cloud nine, right? Well things went downhill pretty quickly. After I signed out of the internet cafĂ© I went back to my host family and had dinner. After I ate dinner I knew something was about to go very wrong. I excused myself to my room immediately after dinner and began to feel abdominal pain, lightheaded, nausea, and so hot (Even for here). I knew something was wrong when I was shivering and sweating at the same time. It an extremely uncomfortable feeling. The night dragged on and around 1 a.m. I had to go to the bathroom (I won’t say anymore than that) but on my way to the bathroom apparently I passed out twice trying to get there (hence the bang from the post title). Don’t ask me why after I fell the first time and woke up (an unknown amount of time later) I thought it would be a good idea to keep trying to walk to the bathroom (all I can say in my defense apparently I really had to go). After I reached the bathroom, go, and mange to make it back to my room which took so much energy that I literally plopped into bed afterwards covered in dirt, sweat, and my own blood (following the epic fall in which I busted my lip, my elbows, knees, and shins). I am not sure if I slept or what but I just remember being hot and lying there until my host mom came in around 9 a.m saying how she was worried because I had not come out yet. She came in the first time and offered to get me something to eat or drink. A few minutes later she came back to clean up my wounds. Then she left again and came back offering to get me more things and then wanted me to call PC. I declined to call. But as soon as she left my room, she called PC and they called me and decided that they were going to take me to the hospital in San Salvador.
*Note: I just want to highlight here an important piece of information: PC took such good care of me. I was literally in a car on the way to the hospital in 15 minutes. The hospital, doctor, and care were excellent. And most importantly, I am so lucky that my host mother loved me like my own my mother would and called PC for me insisting that they come look at me. To all I am so grateful.

So I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday morning in the hospital in San Salvador for a bacterial infection and a parasite. I won’t bore you with the details of lying in a hospital bed for a few days, watching television (Law and Order, Lost, Friends) and trying to understand what your nurses are telling you in a new language. The highlights were air conditioning, the hospital food (yes pathetic), and running water. Aside from that I was just sad because I missed some activities with my family on Sunday (day off) and Monday when we were supposed to shadow someone from our family all day. So that was a bummer. But I would say that biggest challenge was that my pride was smashed pretty rapidly. First, if you know me in the states you know the following things: 1. I never get sick 2. I hate taking medicine 3. I hate feeling vulnerable and admitting defeat 4. I hate when others have to take care of me ALL FOUR ACCOMPLISHED. But the more I am here the more I learn that PC is just an all around pride crushing experience. There really is no shame here. You just got to get over being embarrassed and having any sort of pride because it is going out the window. So yes I was the first person in my group sick. Done. No harm, foul.

I know all of this sounds really tough for a first weekend in the country. But I was actually in good spirits throughout the whole thing. So Mom please do not cry!! They offered to let me call you from the hospital but I knew it would be bad if I did. So I thought I would wait and tell you in the message later when I knew I was better. Don’t take it personally! I love you!

Anyways, I left the hospital on Tuesday morning and went to San Vicente where we were having a entire group meeting/health meeting in the office (this includes all 15 trainees not just those in my pueblo). It was nice to see everyone and hear their stories from the weekend. Everyone was so nice and concerned for me. It is nice to know that there are people here who really do have your back and know what you are going through.

Today (Wednesday) we had our first all day Spanish class. I feel pretty good health wise, especially since I left the hospital yesterday. It was long and tiring, but I know the length of studying will help us get better, faster. We went to one of the local schools today to meet the director, but he had a meeting he had to be at, so it has been to be rescheduled. After that we had papusas tonight. Yum! Then we played Frisbee in the park. Now I am studying Spanish!

That is all for now. I know I promised pictures but my access to anything is very limited. I will work on it for next post. I just need to plan better. I hope everyone in the states is well. If you want to be awesome send me an email especially if you want to help me out with what is going on in the world. I feel so lost. I did catch that Amy Winehouse died and apparently we’re in countdown to default…I wont say anymore…

Mom, I hope you are not crying.

Love to all!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

San Esteban Catarina

Hola from San Esteban Catarina! I am currently in an Internet Cafe in my new community for the next two months. I only have about an hour here, so I cannot promise that this post will be wonderful, but I will try my best to capture the highlghts.

Yesterday was our first day in our training communities. I will admit that I was incredibly nervous for moving in with our host families. Prior to departing, PC was telling us how had this first weekend is and how some people come back crying and ultimately decide that PC is not for them. Anyway, despite nervousness, we ( my training group which includes Cory and Liz) arrived here around 3 p.m. by way of the back of a pickup truck. It was actually an amazingly fresh ride and would have only improved if I did not have a backpack on. My community is located north of San Vicente and is very hilly, which is great because it means that it gets colder here than in San Vicente. Also, it is what is deemed a pueblo so it is a town, which means it has more people, more stores, and in many cases the houses have more amentities than maybe some of my fellow trainees are facing, but I won´t know their experiences until Tuessday.

And here is the information you are probably all waiting for: My host family is amazing! I absolutely love it in this community so far. I live in this big house but I am having trouble calling it that because it is mostly open and has a large garden in the middle of it with rooms surrounding it on the outside. Then there is the front of the house where this a room with a hammock, a room with a television, and then the kitchen. I have a large room with a double bed, a dresser, and a table and chairs. I do have a toilet that is esentially a hole in the ground with a plastic cover and I do take bucket baths, which I have to remember to take at certain times because in the morning it is so so so cold. The garden is my favorite part. My host family grows avocados by the dozen, oranges, and random fruits I have never eaten before that are delicious. The family is huge and I cannot keep everyone straight. There are many children running around so I cannot keep straight yet who is who. But I have a host mom and host dad, their daughters, and their one daughter´s children. The older daughter with the children is going to the US in August with the youngest son who is going to start school. They have family in New York and Maryland, so she speaks some English from being there too. I will try to post pictures of the house soon when I remeber to take them and come back here.

We spent the night keeping out of the storm ( my goodness the rain here is downright terrifying). They seemed to be impressed with my Spanish compared to the past volunteers. I cannot say a lot but I understand a lot when they speak slower, which they are really good about. Apparently they have hosted a lot of volunteers so they know how to deal with gringos learning Spanish. I played with the kids about (loving the bubbles), we had papusas, talking in Spanish, and then we hit the hay around 8 or 9. Yeah everyone goes to bed early and gets up early. The sun goes down really early like 6 p.m. I slept pretty well under my mosquito net in my new bed, but it is tough with all the noises coming from chickens, cats, dogs, and other animals lurking around the area. There is generally a lot of noise all the time, but it is lively and fun.

Today we had Spanish class at Cory´s house (where all classes will be) which is next door to mine. Yay for a nice commute. We completed a community map where we took down all the places in the community, places we should not go, and places of interest. This includes schools, the pharamacy, the stores, the park , the cultural center, internet cafes, the music school, the ice cream place, the church, the day care, the police, and government center. It was a good way to get outside, start meeting people, and learn our new home. I really like the activity and we will present it to the rest of the PCTs on Tuesday when we had back into San Vicente for sessions with everyone. After class we all went to have lunch with our families. Then Liz´s host brother took us climbing up the moutains in our community and to watch a soccer game. It was good to be hiking and active, plus the view was spectacular of the valley, the moutains, the volcano, and the endless green that is ELS.

Okay I am cutting this off now to go back home. I know this is not very descriptive and I probably will not get back to a computer to Tuesday or so. On Sunday no one really does anything and on Monday I have to shadow a family member for an entire day.

Until then, paz y amor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

No Turning Back Now

Staging accomplished. Officially a Peace Corps Trainee. Arriving accomplished. Officially in my new home of El Salvador. Onto the next battle that is Peace Corps training and the next 8 weeks. But one day at a time...

I took the train and arrived in D.C. around 11 am. I went to the hotel and stored my bags and walked around my favorite city until 1 pm when we had to start our Staging event. I am not going to lie when I say I walked around D.C. I mean to say I found Whole Foods up the street and had some seriously delicious lunch. Anyway the beginning of staging consisted on filing out and finalizing paperwork, getting our passports back and our new govt ones (yay!), and getting a credit card (which we later all took out our $120 stipend to cover potential costs). We then had the common ice breaker game of finding out facts about people and writing down their name. Then we covered the core expectations, our commitment to service, our anxieties, aspirations, and potential threats. I would say the best part of it was that our regional director Carlos Torres was there and a bunch of RPCV's from El Salvador, Bolivia, etc. They were really passionate about our future home, the people, and the in country staff dedicated to making us feel as comfortable as possible in Salvador.

Following the formal event we all went out to dinner. Our group split up a bit and my group went out for Thai food. BEST DECISION EVER. So delicious, spicy, and an epic choice for a "last"meal. After that it was pretty much heading back to the hotel, chatting with my room mate, repacking a little, and getting four hours of sleep.

Yes four hours of sleep because we had to leave the hotel at 3 am to be at Reagan before the check in even opened. But it was good because we beat the crowds and we had a lot of luggage for them to process. A lot of luggage. Speaking of which, I was underweight, which I consider amazing, even though my hands are sore from carrying it all. Flight from DC to Miami- easy, simple, and quick. 2.5 hour layover. Big airport. Lots of walking around on my part.

Miami to El Salvador delayed because a luggage cart hit our plane and they tried to assess the damage and in the end decided we had to switch planes. That took forever. But it was a good flight. I sat next to a Salvadoran-American girl who was going to visit her family for a week. Highlights of the conversation include that she thinks I am crazy, that I look "so young", and I ll never want to leave. I'll take all three.

We arrived and were immediately greeted by our Country Director and a bunch of PC staff (some volunteers who have even extended to their third and fourth year which is an awesome sign). I have to just say here how amazing they have been thus far. So energetic. So helpful. And ready to assist in any way possible. Plus they made it so easy to get everyone and everything together for us on arrival. I should also point out that my fellow trainees are awesome too. Small group of 15 people more heavily girls, one married couple, and a lot of humor, diversity, and experiences to go around. I like it.

After making our way through customs though the special "diplomat line", :) We then drove in a neon green bus to San Vicente and went to the training center to get a brief introduction on health and a welcome address. Things got pushed back because of the delay so this was very short and we went to dinner almost immediately.

*Okay I have to interrupt this post mid way because I literally jumped out of my bed to go outside because there is literally a monsoon going on. It is raining so hard. This video is dark...but I hope you can hear it. It is kind of awesome. I am sure it is not so awesome a lot of the time too, but right now I can appreciate it because it is new and refreshing.

Anyways, dinner was great. It was pork mixed with beans and rice (yes I ate it and thought it was really good- I did have some of the boys finish my portion though- baby steps for this "recovering vegetarian"). It came with avocado, pico de gallo, bread, a juice that tastes like Tang, and watermelon for dessert. Successful first meal thus far.

Okay I am in a really nice hotel with free wifi, nice showers, and A/C. It will be yanked away from me on Friday, so I am trying to enjoy it. I am not sure how much posting I will do throughout training. We have a lot of ground to cover and the schedule is very controlled. We start tomorrow with vaccines, health discussions, language placement, and everything else under the sun.

I seriously need to sleep. We have a 6:45 wake up call. Sweet.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Three C's of America- What I Will Miss

I leave tomorrow morning on the Joe Biden train from Wilmington, DE to staging in Washington, D.C. If you are not familiar with Peace Corps lingo, staging refers to an orientation event typically including at least one overnight in an American city where trainees gather to meet, turn in paperwork, get the low down on expectations, and then travel to the airport together to leave on the same flight to their host country. My group's schedule includes meeting at 1 p.m. in D.C., going through registration and various talks until 7 p.m. We are then free to sleep in our hotel until about 2:30 a.m. where we depart for Reagan Airport. We have a 7 a.m flight to El Salvador that includes about a 3 hour layover in Miami, FL.

On this eve of my last night in my own home, I have decided to put together a list of the things I will miss in America. It is intentionally vague. I am writing this post in the least sappy way possible because to be honest, I am not really fond of being over-emotional. My family and friends know how much I love them- as I told them in person (which in my opinion is how you should do it anyway). Plus, I am not going into my Peace Corps service sad or already missing home. If I was that sad about leaving, I would not be going.

So, if this post is not meant to be sappy and emotional, what is it for? This post is about appreciation for the homeland: an appreciation of certain things here I think most people need to be more cognizant of. Think about how my three items play out in your own life. 1. Convenience 2. Comfort 3. Choice

My three C's of America Appreciation:
1. Convenience - last night at midnight my best friend Hannie and I decided that we wanted Wawa. I got french vanilla flavored coffee. It was delicious. Need I say more about American covenience?! *
2. Comfort- Family, friends, privacy, thinking in English, alone time, knowing everything and people around me, feeling safe, secure, and aware.
3. Choice- Independence, political freedom, free speech, autonomy, self determination, my voice, political activism, and so on. Oh yes, let freedom ring...

* I placed the star on this because I realize that the element of convenience is relative to economic status (which is true anywhere). I am thankful that I can afford the luxury of convenience here in America and my $1.35 Wawa coffee.

All of this having been said, I love America. I love all of you. But the time has come (the walrus said) to learn about not being reckless with my three C's ( I don't always need coffee at midnight), to give and share what I can because I have been afforded the three C's all my life (this does not imply that other people around the world have nothing and I have everything, but I only mean to say that I think we all deserve to share and honor the three C's in a variety of ways, together), and to pay America back in my own way for spoiling me all these years. I hope you will keep up with my journey in Central America and enjoy what I have to say. I can't promise anything about future content, but I can promise that I will always share what I can.

See ya in anotha life, brotha...

Post script: Please write letters, emails, send packages (Contact Me section has current address, please use USPS and padded envelopes!), and add your email address in the side bar to get an automatic email when I post!

Monday, July 11, 2011

My Peace Corps Rules

I have a week until departure. In that absurd brain of mine among the ridiculous amount of things I am currently trying to process (you know that whole leaving for 2 years, 80 pounds of luggage, saying goodbyes, handling paperwork and general life affairs), I am worried and nervous about my ability to be a good volunteer. So, I have taken this opportunity to think about my Peace Corps mantra. I have decided to take a copy of this and paste it in my (future) room so that I always remember these rules. I have to give credit to Kathy Gau and Lyle Jaffe and the following article for the inspiration in some (if not all) of my so called rules. I read the article and decided to take parts of their tips, paraphrase some, and transform them into my own little manifesto.

1. Be a positive role model in my personal life.
2. If you are feeling self-righteous or important, drop the ego. You are not God.
3. Development is painfully slow. Be patient with the process, appreciative of your own situation, and respectful of others situations'.
4. Never underestimate the power of teaching. It can be a wonderful gift. Embrace potential teaching moments in any kind of way. Do not be patronizing! Make it fun and memorable, focus and understand who you are working with, and do it as often as you can. This way you can hope that this will be a cyclical process where skills are shared among and throughout generations.
5. Be open and sincere.
6. Focus on building positive relationships with those around you.
7. Always maintain a positive attitude. People internalize your attitude quickly.
8. You are in El Salvador for a brief period, do not think this means you can judge.
9. Humans are humans. This is not ever about you versus them.
10. Do not focus on the larger goals of development, do your duty well, and treasure the little successes in your space and time. You are one step in a very long process.
11. Be humble. You are not always right. The way you do things is not always right. Listen to those around you and yield when necessary. Even if you are right(hypothetically), keep in mind that this is not about you. You will eventually leave El Salvador. So, listen and understand your community.
12. When you are frustrated, do some self-examination. Are you and or your mentality causing the problem?
13. Always look for ways that you need to grow and adapt, especially when you are feeling negatively. Be honest with yourself and be prepared to change. You will get much more out of this than you will actually give.
14. Expect the unexpected
15. Do not give up. If you need a moment, recognize it, and take it. Then move on. Take this as a chance to really know and learn about yourself in challenging, new situations.