Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Immersion Day

One aspect of Peace Corps training is that each trainee about half way through visits a current volunteer in their site for four days and three nights. This past weekend I went to Las Dantas, San Pedro, Victoria, Cabanas, which is extremely close to the Honduran border way up north. Before I begin my entry, I would like to extend a huge thank you to current PCV Kelsey for being an inspiring and gracious host this weekend! Not only did I survive the weekend, more importantly I had an incredible time. Thanks again Kelsey!!!!

Recap commence: On Thursday I awoke and completed my normal routine here in San Esteban. I said “bye” to my host mom and I could not help but notice how concerned she looked. It is so nice knowing she cares so much, but it also made me nervous as I was about to make a five hour journey alone using the wonderful public transportation system here in El Salvador. I took a pick up truck down to the Pan American, waited for a bus for about twenty minutes, and got on Bus 116 headed towards San Rafael Cedros, which took about 35 minutes. There I crossed the road and went to the bus stop across the street and caught the 112 to Sensuntepeque, which took about an hour and a half. There I met Kelsey who was in town to do some shopping. Sensuntepeque is the closest place to her site where she can buy a lot of items and it is about two hours away from her site. We went through the market, bought some fruit and some other things, and then we got on a huge pick up truck that would take us to her site. Kelsey kept apologizing to me about the duration of the journey, but it was not too bad. The roads to her site are in really bad condition and in the pick up truck you have to swing back and forth to avoid getting nailed by a tree, but I was busy asking Kelsey so many questions that I was not too overwhelmed by the ride.

We arrived in her site and she took her house. It is absolutely darling! Furthermore, lucky girl has a regular toilet and a regular, which surprised me so much given that she lives in an incredibly rural site (and so far away – see journey above). We had a little snack and then left to visit her school. Kelsey and her school director are working on a grant project to redo their roof and so they were writing that and taking measurements of the necessary places. I enjoyed this mostly because we have not covered this part much in training yet, because it comes later in November when we return to San Vicente for technical training (they do it this way so that you go to your site for two months and then come back and know more about what your community is going to need). Also, it was helpful to just listen because Kelsey’s Spanish is so amazing. Quite intimidating at times, but she was so humble and supportive of my own progress, which I greatly appreciated the whole weekend. We spent awhile at the school and then returned to her house where we helped a girl in her community with her English homework. Then we made pasta with veggies and just spent the rest of the night chatting about all things Peace Corps.

The next morning we returned to the school where I talked with a professor and his students for a bit while Kelsey continued to work on her project. We returned to her house for lunch (grilled cheese J ) and then afterwards went throughout her community to do some house visits. The people in her community were so nice and seem to love her so much. I loved seeing all the kids in the streets shout her name and everyone ask her to come over. We stopped in a few houses where of course everyone feed us dulces, tamales, coffee, etc. Following those house visits, Kelsey and I walked back up to the school to meet the young girls of the family I would be staying with for the rest of the weekend. (The goal of immersion weekend is also to stay with a family and get used to life in a site—not a cushy training community).

In my host family in San Pedro, there is a mom and three girls. But they live pretty much next door to an aunt and grandmother who have more and more young girls. This family was absolutely incredible! We got there and the mom served us dulce, yucca, and coffee. Then we lost power, so the girls and I played jacks in the dark by the light of my headlamp. Finally when the lights came back on we had a dance party. Yes, I made a complete and utter fool of myself, but I think they loved it. After the dance party, we all went to sleep.

The next morning everyone woke up at 5:30. We had breakfast including tamales, cream, plantains, and bread served with coffee. Then I spent the day taking part in the family’s everyday activities. This includes washing clothes, making tortillas, and killing, cooking, and eating a chicken. Yes, I took part in the killing of a chicken. (Sorry to the former vegetarian in me). Essentially the process is as follows: You feed the chickens, wait for them to all come running, grab one by the leg, tie it up and let it hang there for a few minutes, and then proceed to twist its neck until it breaks. Then it flutters around for a bit and eventually dies. After that you put it in a pot with scalding water and then take all the feathers out. After that you wash it with soap and water and remove various unwanted parts. Of course, they keep a lot of the insides (which I don’t recommend eating- the kidney was awful). I know some people are probably cringing, but to be honest it is a part of life and completely necessary for the family. There are no real stores in the town for people to just buy tons of food. They rely on what they have available.

Throughout the day I spent a lot of time chatting with girls, having random dance parties, making a long trek to a store for things for the house. We also went to the mill where the grind the corn to make tortillas. Around four we went up to the church where I watched the girls practice in their little choir for Sunday. When we returned it was time for dinner, which was beans, tortillas, and eggs. After that we went to the aunt’s house to watch home videos of an English festival in their town. By the time it was over it was about 8:30 and we all went to bed shortly after.

The next morning I got up at the same time and the oldest girl in the house walked me to the bus stop around 6:30. Given the distance it was recommended that I try and leave early. Of course, there was no buses or anything “public” running, so I hitchhiked, which according to Kelsey is extremely normal in her community because there is not much public resources available throughout the day. Everything turned out perfectly and I was back in San Esteban by 12:30. I will admit it was nice to return “home” to the warm hug and kiss from my host mom and the glorious site of San Esteban, especially because on Sunday there was a corn festival and a soccer game with the neighboring community making it an awesome day here in my little pueblo.

I have to mention here some of the distinct differences between life in San Esteban and my immersion day site. Here in San Esteban I live in a pretty large house, the latrine is in a shed like structure, we have a bucket shower that is also in a shed like structure, my host family does a significant amount of shopping at a supermarket giving us a variety of food choices, and we have a small television with a few channels. In my immersion day site the house was two rooms, the latrine was really far away from the house, there was no shower area so you bathe with your clothes on next to the pila, there is no regular access to a large market (two hours away), and there is no television, little cell phone service, etc.

It was definitely quite a change to go from my life here in San Esteban to life in the “campo”. But despite that, I still had a phenomenal time. We are supposed to use this past weekend as a means of telling our project manners what we are looking for in a permanent site. For instance, do we want a rural or urban site, isolated or close to a big city, spread out or compact, big or small, close to other volunteers, etc. Before leaving for immersion weekend I thought I wanted a relatively big site with regular access to stores and luxuries. But this weekend really showed me that a site is honestly what you make of it. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if things are a little bit more “rough,” you can still laugh and have an incredible experience.

So I have made it half way through Peace Corps training. And still going strong! We have this week and then our “free weekend” – translation: one day off. But all the trainees are going to the beach! I am very excited to get to know everyone outside of talking about Spanish, bowel movements, and our never ending fear of getting Dengue.

Love from El Salvador!


  1. This post rocks Jamie! I cringed just twice -- once for the chicken and once for the fact that you hitchhiked -- but context is everything and you explained the context of both so well. I'm proud that you are truly immersing yourself in the culture rather than looking on it as an outsider with lots of assumptions. And Kelsey sounds great! Just think, that will be you someday -- sharing all that you've learned with a new volunteer and hearing kids call your name out in your village! Love you, Aunt Laurie

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  3. Cabañas is the best, lived there for 2 years and loved it!

  4. Hi..well my sister and I are alike on the fact is that i cringed twice. but as she stated it was written so well,that im actually okay with it! You are amazing and im so very proud.This post i learned much more from your weekend then our chat on the phone,I enjoyed the day to day of your weekend.The fact that you remain open minded and adapt to these cultures and situations,are amazing.okay one question all this riding in these pickups,,who is in charge of this,or are they just random trucks that pick a bunch of people up??lol..also,once again your host mom rocks!!!proud of you girl..miss you bunches

  5. Hey Jaime liked the post except for the chicken part, but hey people gotta eat right!? I am so glad that you are enjoying your venture over there. Take care and will keep reading your posts. Enjoy them so much.

    Deb Sparks