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.


  1. It was such a joy to read this post.Your are very lucky and have amazing family there too.Who love you very much and made such a huge effort on your birthday.I especially love the 4am gig,and the firework serenade at your bedroom door.The whole day looked like alot of fun. For me December 24.,the most important day and my most favorite day in my life.1988!!We all missed you so very much,but this post has given me so much back.Im glad that they and you got to enjoy the time with the family.You all deserve it..Then amazing vaction to follow.Sounds like a pretty awesome b-day /Christmas to me :""""":]]]/Love momom

  2. Great post and I could feel your happiness on your special day. I just watched a pretty interesting documentary about 6 (or so) PC volunteers in Ghana in 1966. There was some video and lots of photos from that time but it was mostly interviews with the volunteers reminiscing and they also had gotten together and returned to their various villages recently. They all couldn't say enough about what a wonderful, life altering experience it was. They talked of counting the days til they were coming home but crying their eyes out when that day came. Some saw it as simply a personal lesson and test of their ability to cope and survive while also at times feeling they were the luckiest people on earth (Vietnam was gong on). But then others saw it as having a huge impact on the lives of the villagers. It was interesting the contrasts of what they each saw as the main outcome of spending those 2 years away.I thought of my days in Afghanistan and especially of you and am just so happy that you have had this experience. (Not that we don't miss you!!!!) So continue to treasure your days there. It will end soon enough and I'm sure there will be days when you return that you will question the relevance of whatever you are doing when you look back on where you've been, what you've accomplished and the friends you've made.
    Love you and hope my little package finally arrived. I'm sure it was late but wanted you to have some little things from us.
    Aunt Karen