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