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).