Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Looking Ahead

A few years ago, my two best friends and I sat down on New Year's Eve around the kitchen table not planning to go out, not even planning to leave the house nor remove our pj's, and barely even considering making "resolutions." Instead we created Bucket Lists. Really long ones filled with the easily attainable, the difficult but doable, and the nearly impossible, but still not impossible.

Today, I still have this list. It is obnoxiously long and filled with my funny, random, simple, and crazy desires. Despite being a little frivolous in some cases, it is probably one of the most important documents a person could and should own. With it you can reflect and ask yourself, how many things have I checked off my bucket list this year? Then you will know you are really living the life you dream of. 

It is with that list in hand that I look back on this past year and a half and realize I am exactly where I wanted to be many years ago when I wrote it. I am living the life I had dreamed of then. The list is significantly shorter now and I have crossed off some big ticket items- joining PC ( and finishing...almost...), becoming fluent in a foreign language, living abroad for more than a year, and climbing a volcano among just to name a few. I realize I am lucky. I am fortunate enough to not only have dreams, but to watch them come true. There are so many kids around the world, including here in Upire, that don't even know how to dream. I am so grateful that my I was born to a Mother who constantly told me I could be anything I wanted to be, that I was born in a country and in a place with the resources and a school system that helped me learn, grow, and reach for the stars, and through that I developed the skill and confidence to dream BIG. 

Although it is a beautiful gift that I love and treasure, it sometimes gives me great anxiety. 

I guess to be politically incorrect I have "first world problems." I spent some (more than I care to admit on this blog ;)) time this month updating my bucket list and trying to figure out how to keep living my dreams. Tragedy struck when I realized I have too many dreams. I know what you are thinking...poor, selfish, little, ignorant Jamie wants to do and see everything. She actually spends her time creating a list of dreams. Yes, GUILTY.

Okay, it is not that bad....what I mean is that 2013 is a new chapter. I will begin and finish my final projects in Upire, I will finish my Peace Corps service, and return back to the states saying goodbye to the last two years of my life. It is terrifying because for the first time in my life I do not know what is next for me. I have a lot of dreams or ideas for my life, no sense of direction, and little sense of place geographically speaking (all I know is Mom lives in Delaware, but I can't say I want to, sorry Ma). So, the world is literally wide open (well as long as the world will have me and circumstances permit). 

Many (even I) would call me lucky. Free to dream up a life. Free to pick and choose as I see fit. Free to explore for a bit. But as much as I like adventure, freedom, and change Peace Corps has taught me that although all of that is fine and dandy at times, there is also great beauty in security, stability, and having some kind of plan or schedule. So how does one reconcile wanting adventure and security, wanting change and stability, and wanting freedom but also some concrete plans and a schedule? 

I thought 2 years in Peace Corps would give me time to think and "figure out my life." Although  I have time left still, it does not feel nearly long enough. In fact, I believe it has been my relatively long time in the Peace Corps that has given me some tough love and opened my eyes to the reality of certain dreams. As a result, I find myself trying to reconcile the seemingly opposite personal desires listed above. 

So my dreams do not seem so clear anymore. Barely clear enough to make a Bucket List I can make sense of. But maybe that is the point. As one proverb says, "A well beaten path does not always mean the right road." Maybe I am just carving a new type of road- something previously unknown, untouched, and unique. Something that right now does not make sense. Maybe my path is not there yet, it is waiting for me to make it. I know it sounds cheesy, cliche, and like a line from a stupid, romantic comedy, but it is probably true. There is a way to reconcile all of my goals. I just have to do the work and find it.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey." 
**Wendell Berry 

For your viewing pleasure a look into the current Bucket List (10 only):
1. Finish my Peace Corps Service 
2. Upon finishing PC travel through Central America
3. Run an International Marathon
4. Find my dream job
5. Get my Masters Degree
6. Learn to fly planes
7. Live in Europe
8. Pay off debt
9. Know Love
10. Finish Top 100 Books to Read before I die List

What's does your list look like?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

New Year's in Nicaragua

Most of my closest friends know I am a travel junkie. Give me a plane ticket and I'll go. Just about anywhere. However, I have some places I DREAM about going, places that I just can't bear the thought of not seeing before I die. Places like India, Turkey, Denmark, Greece, Lebanon, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, South Africa, Tunisia, okay okay you get the point. Before I joined Peace Corps Central and South America were pretty low on my wish list. I mean I would not have turned down the opportunity to go (aka I came to PC El Sal) but those countries were never quite as intriguing to me as India or Lebanon for example. Of course, Peace Corps has changed me and my perspective quite a bit. Nicaragua?! Really...? It probably would have never made my top 100 of places to visit, but now I am already itching to go back. Even amongst the Central American countries I had it seriously underrated. Next to Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Mexico it seemed kind of meh. But those feelings were just symptoms of ignorance and my failure to truly understand that all countries around the world are beautiful. Let's see just SOME of the beauty that is wonderful Nicaragua:

On top of Cerro Negro near Leon.

Volcano boarding!

Somoto Canyon Tour

Tour of the Flor de Cana Rum Factory!
Lounging at the beach.
Popoyo Beach
Hanging in Granada
Eating tour of Granada

That is vacation in pictures. Now a little bit in words. Four members of my PC training group and I went to Nicaragua for ten days visiting Granada, Leon, Esteli, and Somoto. It was a fantastic trip that included a variety of fun activities, plenty of time to relax, and a lot of great memories. We started in Granada which is the Central American version of a European city. I arrived there and thought for a brief moment I was in Italy. It is laden with beautiful plazas, amazing restaurants, and cobble stone streets. We basically toured Grenada indulging in the food that we don't ever eat in El Salvador: iced coffee, hummus and pita bread, falafel, eggplant, bagels and cream cheese, gelato, etc. It was delicious. From Grenada we rolled into Popoyo Beach where we met up with Cory (a RPCV from our group who left last April) is currently working as a surf instructor (among his many talents). We also met up with some volunteers from PC Nicaragua!!!

We spent the next three days (including New Year's) hanging out at Cory's stunning beach and hotel. I spent my time sleeping, reading, running, sleeping, hanging in the hammock, and more relaxing. From there we ventured to Leon which is essentially a college town providing us with tons of good restaurants, fun night life, great second hand clothing stores, and NEARBY VOLCANO BOARDING. 

Volcano boarding was probably my favorite thing from the trip. Nicaragua is, I believe, the only place in the world where you can literally sled down (or snowboard down) a volcano. We carried our boards up the volcano for about 45 minutes to the top. It was a long 45 minutes mostly because I thought the wind would carry me off the side of the volcano, but we made it. After 45 minutes climbing it takes about 3 minutes to come down sledding. There is nothing quite like sledding down a volcano. I would FLY down and then have to flip myself to stop the sled from losing control. Surprisingly, it does not hurt. The terrain was rocky, but more of a soft, volcanic ash. It was thrilling, fun, dirty, and a once in a lifetime experience of pure adrenaline. I loved it.

The next day after volcano boarding we toured the Flor de Cana Rum Factory. For those of you who know me you know I am not much of a drinker. But Flor de Cana is different. It holds a special place in our hearts as the cheap rum that is ubiquitous at PC events. Therefore, when you are in Nicaragua (birthplace of Flor) you have to check out the factory. Plus, I had never seen a rum factory, nor tried the 18 year aged rum, so I HAD to go. I was quite surprised at the sophistication of the factory and just how much I could learn about rum from an hour and a half tour. Definitely worth its heavy price tag. 

The last stop on our trip Esteli/Somoto. It was a nice change of pace because of its cool climate (NICARAGUA IS HOT--it feels ways hotter than El Sal). We were happy to sleep under blankets and walk outside in sweaters and jeans for a few days. Somoto was placed on our travel list when we heard from a bunch of backpackers in El Salvador that it has a one of kind canyon tour including a long float trip down the river, jumping from high rocks, and beautiful canyon views. We were sold! It was a beautiful trip and really fun. I highly recommend it, especially if you enjoy the thrill of jumping from cliffs! 

Overall, it was a really fun trip. I am so thankful for such wonderful friends to travel with, the opportunity I have been given to travel here in Central America, and the realization that even places that you don't really think about going to have so much for you to discover. I am looking forward to discovering more.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Not Going Home for Christmas

Happy New Year! I hope each and every one of you had a wonderful holiday (whichever one you celebrate) and have begun 2013 with a bang! I know January is typically the time to look forward and make plans for the upcoming year, but before I get to that I need to document my December here in El Salvador.

If you are a loyal reader of this blog you will remember or if you are random reader you can look back in this blog to this time last year and find a post titled “Going Home for Christmas” where I chronicle my difficult decision to return to the states for the holidays. I look back on that post and realize I spent a lot of my time justifying my decision to go home- you know listing all the reasons why it was okay to do so. But I think I was just too proud to admit that I was not strong enough to stay. At 3 months in site, I just could not commit to staying here and missing Christmas at home.

However, I am happy to report that 1 year and 3 months later, the situation is completely different. This year I made the relatively easy decision to stay in El Salvador for Christmas. I say “relatively easy” because it is never easy to make an active decision to stay away from your family, especially on the holidays. This year, however, as much as I wanted to go home I also really wanted to stay here for Christmas. Last year, I would have stayed only out of guilt and shame, but this year I believe I stayed for the right reasons: the love I feel for my friends and family in Upire, the desire to spend one Christmas with them, and the opportunity to celebrate a little differently in a new place.

In a lot of ways I did not really even know it was December (well the way I know it is December in the states). There were few, if any, decorations, no Christmas music really, only some random Christmas movies, and no shopping for gifts. The only time I really felt the hint of commercialized Christmas was when I would go down to the city and into the supermarket—music, decorations, food, gifts, toys, etc. Here Christmas seems to be defined by the basics: family, food, and friends. You know it is December when everyone is visiting family and friends (full houses!!!), enjoying vacation and relaxing in the house, and mentally and physically preparing for the meals on Christmas Eve (in El Sal, Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, not the 25th).

Essentially, that is how I spent December: hanging out with my host brother and sister, enjoying time away from the school, hanging out with friends and family, and preparing for Christmas eve. Despite it being vacation though, there was still work to be done too, which I will document first before the festivities!

The week before Christmas the youth committee and I were busy preparing for special “Dia de Comercio” the Saturday before Christmas Eve. We decided to decorate, play festive music, give out gifts (including a huge basket filled with food), and have two piƱatas for the kids. In addition, the youth committee was also in charge with helping with a Christmas Lunch that was planned for the clients of the community’s finance group. We had to decorate the auditorium of the school, make all the food, and prepare the program. Needless to say, it was a long and busy week. But it was well worth it! It was a really special day for everyone in the community, brought a lot of people out to the community market, and right before Christmas it really helped me (and others I am sure)get in the spirit! Here are some pictures of that day: 

Members of the Youth Group and the Gift Basket

Bashing the pinata!
On to the best day of the year (CHRISTMAS EVE / more importantly the BIRTH OF YOURS TRULY): At precisely 4 a.m. I was woken up to the sound of singing and fireworks coming from outside my bedroom door. I jump out of bed and find my host family, a few best friends from the community, and a band singing Happy Birthday songs to me. I was SO SURPRISED. But the surprises did not end there. I would have been extremely happy with being serenaded at 4 a.m. and a small dinner with family at the end of the night. But Upire never ceases to amaze me. The youth group, teachers from the school, and my closest family and friends got together to throw me a HUGE SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY. I should have known something was up when my host sister wanted to straighten my hair, loan me a dress, and paint my toe nails. But I just figured it was to look nice on my birthday...oh no, I was very wrong. I was sent a (odd?!) note asking me to go to the school and take out a book from the library and when I got to the library there was everyone shouting surprise! It was a lunch party filled with grilled vegetables, fruit, candy, a pinata, games, and just tons of laughs with my 25 closest friends.

Here is what it looked like:

Host sister and best friend Kellye preparing plates!
Youth Group Boys

Pinata Time!

Smurf Pinata and me

It was definitely one of the best birthday parties I have ever had. I almost teared up telling them how much this meant to me. I still cannot believe that they love me this much. I am so honored, blessed, and happy to live in this community. I am so lucky that I call Upire home now.

The rest of Christmas Eve was spent eating with the family. One family party included rice, chicken, and salad. Then afterwards there were chicken sandwiches. Lots of food and then sleeping late the next morning--haha just like home! :) I was on such a high from my amazing birthday party that the day passed quickly and I did not suffer much homesickness. I was surrounded my so much love and affection that it was virtually impossible to feel sad.

However, the 25th was nothing. Just clean up and saying goodbye to family and friends.  I'll admit it was kind of sad--like a REALLY rough post Christmas blues. But I just tried to forget it was Christmas and that my family was all together without me. It worked for the most part, but I think only because I spent most of the day packing to go to NICARAGUA with my friends. Details on the trip in the next post!!!!!!!!!!

Overall, Christmas (December) in El Salvador was a very special experience - one I was cherish for the rest of my life. I am so thankful for both of my families- my Salvadoran one that made me feel loved and cared for so far away from home and my USA one who constantly supports me in all that I do. I love you all very much! My Mommom sent me a card with the perfect quote to summarize this Christmas: "It is the Christmas in the heart that puts Christmas in the air"- WT Ellis

As for making New Year's Resolutions, I don't really have any. My one resolution is to treasure time. Treasure the days instead of constantly looking forward.