Monday, March 25, 2013

Visitors Part 2

First and foremost I hope you read “Visitors Part 1” because it is a great post, but also because it will provide you with the necessary context to process this next segment. This past week March 18th- 22nd, Upire and I hosted 3 new trainees and a Spanish Teacher from Peace Corps Staff in what is known as Field Based Training (FBT). FBT is a week-long immersion trip (see Visitors Part 1 for information on Immersion Weekend) where trainees are expected to help a current volunteer with executing some of their projects (FYI: This was not part of my training). Current volunteers were asked to apply to host by submitting a schedule for the week and how the trainees would be asked to participate and help. Additionally, we were asked to find host families for each of them for the entire week.

My work plan looked a little like this:

Monday: Arrive to Upire around 5, eat dinner, and sleep at Jamie’s house.
Tuesday: Meet host families, meet students in my art class, begin painting light posts, continue painting in the afternoon, prepare for Wednesday’s food festival, and stay with host families.
Wednesday: Sell American food in the First Annual Food festival, help with games and activities, and help clean up at the end of the day.
Thursday: Cleaning Campaign of the community, paint light posts, celebration with host family of a week well done!
Friday: Trainees leave for Santa Rosa to go to San Salvador

Looking back on my plan we were very successful and I very content with the amount we accomplished in a week. We followed that schedule almost exactly. The only hiccup was on Thursday afternoon we had to cancel painting more posts because there was a huge rainstorm. I think it was a blessing in disguise though. The trainees and I were exhausted and it gave us a little time to celebrate finishing FBT, process the week, and have a small question and answer period, which I hope was helpful for them.  

Here are some pictures of our week: 

Boys leading the way

Yeah, girls can paint too! 
The painters and myself!
We sold Mac and Cheese, PB&J's, Rice Krispie Treats, and Pop Corn!
Peace Corps Staff came to visit! Eating Soup with cow stomach :)

Trainees enjoying food festival

Cleaning the community campaign!

That was FBT in Upire. I am so grateful I was able to host because it gave me an incredible opportunity to move forward with the painting project, add a unique touch to our first food festival, and give my community a chance to show off a little bit for the trainees. It gave my community members (especially the kids who worked with us and the host families) so much pride that we were chosen to host and to do our best to provide the trainees with a rewarding and comfortable experience. I hope that we succeeded in that! Thank you so much to Ariel, Ismaldi, and Jacky for coming out and helping us! It was truly a pleasure to have you all.

However, I also have to admit FBT was downright exhausting. It was like a more intense Immersion Weekend (see previous post for details). You can multiply the challenges, stresses, and frustrations by 3. I am so glad that I did it, but I am also so glad it is over. Selfishly, I am kind of ready to have Upire to myself again.

Of course, until you decide to come!.....

Visitors Part 1

There is something special that happens when you bring people to visit your community. I am not sure what it is exactly, but you get so many points for it. Maybe it is that Salvadorans love to see that you actually have other friends? And on top of that that you are proud enough to bring them home? Maybe it is the allure of meeting a new person? Maybe it is they are just bored with you and like a shiny new face? Whatever it is, I’ll take it. I’ll never turn down the opportunity to gain more “cool points” in life. (READ: COME VISIT and HELP A SISTER OUT).

I have not had many visitors (COUNT: my two bosses and the previous volunteer, Brian ) up until this point in my service. I promise it has nothing to do with me. I am a good host. I provide good snacks, a comfortable house, and an amazing community that will welcome you with open arms. I’ll chalk my lack of visitors up to Upire’s location—maybe just a little too far for the average traveler. However, the word has spread, our luck has changed, and rightfully so Upire has become a high-class tourist destination. I have already received 4 visitors this month and this is just part 1.

Okay okay I am exaggerating a bit. Tourism is taking it a little far. Most of my visitors came because they had to (work related/training), but despite that tiny detail 4 new Americans over a 3-week period in a small rural community feels like tourism is booming.

I know you are interested so here is the general breakdown of my visits:

Visitor # 1:
A lovely volunteer friend of mine who just finished her service came to visit me for a few days. (SARAHHHH! How’s the states?! I hope you are eating the steak and potatoes you talked about as I write this. Miss you every time I put on my sea horse (caballo del mar?!) shirt)…which is at least every 3 days). She is the one visitor who came for the pure pleasure of my company and to enjoy the cool climate in Upire. I should have put her to work teaching my students how to make fabulous bracelets because she is a rock star at it, but I had just come back from a workshop with my teachers and was feeling pretty lazy and unmotivated to go to the school immediately the next day. Instead, I just took her around the community and we hung out in my house. I hope she didn’t mind the lackluster, unproductive visit. I really enjoyed just having her up to hang out with me. Plus, she is so easy going I knew I did not have to worry about her. It was a nice, relaxing, easy-going visit. The best kind!

Visitors # 2 and # 3:
Then for a weekend in the beginning of this month I had two visitors in one weekend! If you recall during my training to be a PCV I wrote a post entitled Immersion Days (or something like that). It documents my weekend visiting a current volunteer in their site, learning what is means to be a volunteer, and to live in the campo. It also documents my challenges, surprises, and my infamous one time only chicken killing experience. Well now the tables have turned and I find myself writing as the host of two future volunteers. Our weekend was pretty relaxed for the most part (as weekends usually are). Plus, one of my trainees had a cast on her leg which made a lot of things seem impossible when I planned the weekend, but she had such a great attitude and can do mentality that I believe we could have done way more than I had anticipated. We arrived to my site late on Friday (9 p.m.) because we got off the bus and met my host mom in the community a little bit up the road to help her set up for a big birthday party. The poor girls were stuck setting up chairs and tying ribbons, but they also got a chance to meet my youth group and see just how flexible one must be during their service. On Saturday I brought them to Dia de Comercio and then in the afternoon dropped them off with host families so they could spend the rest of the weekend being "immersed."I hope they enjoyed the weekend. For me, hosting two trainees was a really fun, reflective, and draining experience. I guess I should explain what I mean by all of those feelings.

FUN: For the most part, hosting is really fun. It is a chance to show people what you know best: the place where you live. It gives you a unique opportunity to be a guide and convey the love and deep connection you have to a certain place. Hosting other Americans also wins you cool points (mentioned above) and provides sometime to chat in English, gossip about Peace Corps or life in general, and feel a little more at home for a brief stint. For all of those reasons, I really had a fun time hosting trainees. I got to meet two new friends, to tell my random stories from the past year and a half, talk to them about training and their current situations, and introduce them to a community that I believe represents the best of El Salvador. Additionally, they were a breath of fresh air for a Peace Corps program that has suffered quite a bit during my time here. I am so excited to see the program rebuild again, welcome fresh faces, and start a new chapter for Peace Corps E Salvador.

REFLECTIVE: During the weekend, I could not help but find myself reflecting on my service. For the first time since I arrived to this country, there is a group that is newer than mine. I am no longer a “newbie.” I think it took meeting this group of trainees for me to actually realize the truth in that statement. I am that “older” volunteer that I remember during training giving me annoying advice, telling me to suck it up, and learn to live in rural El Salvador instead of the fancy USA. During training I often hated the condescending tone of the older volunteers telling me let go a little more, eat the food and gain the inevitable weight, and learn to be more patient and flexible. However now that I am in the position of “older” volunteer I realize just how right they were and how terrible it feels to give that kind of advice, especially remembering how you felt in their situation. But, I realized in order to become the volunteer I am today, I had to follow their advice. You have to let go of your old life and embrace a new one, you have to eat with your family and gain a little pudge, and more than anything you have to be patient, flexible, and ready for an emotional roller coaster. I think the quicker you learn the better off you are—hence I told the trainees the truth with all the brutal honesty I have in me. I hope it helps them in the long run, even if they hate me for it today.

DRAINING: Well hosting can be fun, it can also be draining. First, I have gotten pretty accustomed to being on my own in my site. Therefore it was a little out of my routine to have two other people around me constantly. Moreover, two people who actually relied on me to kind of take care of them. I was in charge of their daily activities, their travel, their host families, and just their overall well being while in my site. It sounds easier than it is. Trainees are still new and adjusting to life in El Salvador, which means they are a little more vulnerable to the elements. They are not quite used to the dirt, bugs, stomach issues, travel time, language, host family life, food, climate, lack of privacy, need to be social with everyone, etc. As their host all of that falls on you to try and mitigate potential discomforts if possible. However, this is virtually impossible and leads to some stressful and frustrating moments for all parties involved. 

Visitor #4: 
Following Immersion Weekend I was so happy that my next visitor was one of my favorite current volunteers, Kara, who is not only one of my best friends in country but also a fantastic volunteer, person, friend, and human being in general. Hosting Kara was awesome because she is flexible, ready for anything, and always has a positive and energetic aura about her. Not only all of that but she also taught my kids how to make wallets out of chip bags and make paper beads (all part of my art and leadership course). Talk about a rock star! Here are the pictures: 

It was a really productive week with Kara. My kids loved her, the crafts that they learned, and are more motivated than ever to keep coming to class. Mission accomplished! Until the next is a picture of me and Kara!