Sunday, July 27, 2014

I milked a cow!

Today marks my official second weekend in La Palma, Chalatenango, El Salvador.  Only 10 days in and I’ve already experienced a tumultuous series of highs and lows. 

To begin with, let me tell you a bit about our swearing in ceremony as Peace Corps Response volunteers. Now, with regular Peace Corps, there is an extensive three-month training in which volunteers are introduced to rigorous shocks of culture, language, job assignment, etc.  With Response, everything passes with barely enough time to breathe.  I was whisked away on an airplane, trained for two (that’s right just two) days in San Salvador, and then taken straight to La Palma to begin my assignment with no phone, no internet, and a plethora of questions.
Here is the group (missing one) of Response volunteers (and the El Salvador Country Director Jaime) signing our commitment to service.

Taking an oath to serve to our country
Now, when I say taken straight to La Palma, I mean it figuratively speaking.  La Palma is in the mountainous region of Northern El Salvador, about 13kms from El Pital (the highest point of elevation in the country).  So the drive from Metapan, Santa Ana to La Palma, Chalatenango was anything BUT straight. We arrived and butterflies swarmed in my stomach like molten lava; I was not only going to bid farewell to my newly acquainted Peace Corps Response cohorts, but I was going to be left all alone in a family’s house to fend for myself.  Luckily for me, my new family had three children that helped the adjustment process run a bit more smoothly. Since that day, the family has taken me under their wing and cared for me as if I was their own. 

My first weekend, I spent my entire Sunday at the hotel in nearby San Ignacio.  (Quick side note: although my project assignment is to work in La Palma, the family that I live with actually lives in “la Laguna” which is directly on the border between La Palma and San Ignacio.)  I enjoyed the free wifi, the home-made nachos and the views of the pool outside (as per my last post).  As I was working in the restaurant, a mother peacock and her two chicks came waltzing in the room! I was the only one who was beside myself with excitement while everyone continued to either eat or shoo the majestic creatures out. 

Mama peacock and one of her chickadees

Hammocks around the compound of Hotel Entrepinos
The following Monday marked the beginning of my official job. 

The restaurant of Hotel La Palma where we ate lunch after our meetings with community leaders
I left early Monday morning to the school with my host parents (who are both teachers), after greeting all of the students and teachers in their classrooms I departed the meet John (the other Peace Corps Response Volunteer [PCRV] ) and together we visited the community leader (El Alcalde) as well as the head police officer. Everyone seemed so happy to have us, and even in such a formal setting, began joking around with us.  The following two days we had meetings with community leaders throughout Chalatenango and I got to see a bit more of the beautiful city that I’m living in.

This type of art surrounds the entire city of La Palma
On Thursday morning, as I nestled comfortably in my sheets and dreamt about sweet things, I was startled by a loud, explosive banging sound from far away.  My heart began racing as I looked at the clock and realized it was only 4:30 in the morning.  The sun hadn’t even woken up yet…what on earth could be causing such a ruckus!? My mind started racing with all of the things that could possibly be so loud.  A car backfiring? A car crash? A gunshot? A firework? But then three more bangs followed to lead me to the conclusion of the latter two.  I laid still, clutching the blankets between my fingers (as if that would have saved me from whatever it was) and slowly eased back into a tormented sleep.  When I woke the next morning, my family had informed me that the Ferias Patronales (festivals) had begun in San Salvador and not only do they set fireworks off from 4:30am-10:00pm every day, but that it goes on for TWO weeks. 0_o…. 

The lead singer of the fusion band
After swallowing that tough dose of reality, I decided to take part and see a little bit of what the festivals were about.  The first night we went to a huge beauty competition where people gathered from all around San Ignacio to spectate at the lavish evening gowns and batting eyelashes behind them.  Another night we went to listen to a fusion band that played everything from Santana to bachata.  I was overcome by the sights, sounds, smells, and smiles that were surrounding me. My host brother, Juan Diego, rode the Ferris wheel while my father and sister bought sweets for everyone.
Juan Diego is at the tippy top of the ferris wheel

The cornucopia of sweets that were available to us that night
On Friday, I was asked to act as a judge for a celebration at the elementary/primary school.  It was “Student’s Day” (Día del Aluno) and there were to be a series of presentations that took place in honor of the pupils.  I was delighted to see groups of children of all ages partake in various types of dances. I judged both the morning classes and the afternoon classes and was overcome with elation that this is where I am right now in life.

The kindergardeners preparing for their "Jailhouse Rock" performance

Some of the 4th grade girls were having entirely too much fun!

Couple's dancing
Usually when people hear that I’m here for music they will begin to demonstrate for me their musical talents.  Take Don Edgar, for example. Although he is a deputy headmaster at the primary school, he is completely devoted to singing and playing the guitar.  My hopes are to make him the director of the choir further down the line when it is established.
Don Edgar serenading me before classes start
Let me tell you a little bit about my house now.  As I said before, I’m living with a host family that consists of a mother, father, two sisters (ages 17 and 14), and one brother (who just turned 9).  Now, for someone who has been living on her own for the past two years, the idea of living in another family’s home had gotten me a bit nervous.  And although we have all adjusted pretty well, there have been a few hiccups here and there.  If you know me well, you know that I love to cook.  It brings me peace to be able to see the ingredients, plan a meal, cook, and enjoy my masterpiece. The difficult part for me now is that the family with which I live doesn’t really do meals together. 

This is the house in which I live in. The mountain you see in the distance of my back yard is El Pital, the most elevated point of El Salvador

Our backyard with a cascading El Pital
I have cooked a few dishes in which everyone has sat around the table and given me their honest feedback.  Pizza, spaghetti with vegetable marinara, and battered tilapia are the only few dishes that I’ve prepared so far.  Generally the overall consensus is that the food, although different, is well-liked.  My biggest concern now (which, I would NEVER find myself saying in Botswana) is that this culture has a very bread-and-cheese centered cuisine. Breakfast is usually French bread with requesón, lunch and dinner always served with tortillas and queso cojido, and snack is more tortillas or bread.  My body craves vegetables. And fruit. We’ll see if I can’t get my hands on them soon at the markets.

So today was actually kind of a fun day J I woke up early, heard everyone rustling and bustling outside then heard the neighbor’s cows moo-ing.  I got up, threw on a change of clothes and treaded out to ask Juan Diego (my host brother) to teach me to milk a cow. 

"You wanna do WHAT?!"
So that’s precisely what we did. It felt nice to be able to milk a cow, bring the milk home, and drink it with my morning tea. 

I got it on the first try!

It felt really slippery and awkward

The final product, boiled fresh milk with cinnamon. YUM!
After a long day of milking I got dressed, spoke with my family back in America and made my way to Entrepinos Hotel, where I currently write by the shade of the tree, and hanging from a hammock.
la la la la la la life is wonderful.

So far, life is good.

Can’t wait to keep you posted about the upcoming choir meeting!

Love and good wishes.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quick Update

Here I sit, writing you from Hotel Entrepinos in San Ignacio, El Salvador.  High ceilings with cascading windows and a hand-painted wall entailing a scene with a white Central American cathedral surround me while the sound of a Spanish newscast echoes throughout the hall.  A bright blue pool sits outside the open veranda and a wall of green vines crawl the fence as if trying to edge their way inside.  At long last I have arrived not only at this physical place but at this point in my life where I have begun youth development in Latin America, something I have dreamed of doing for so many years.

The floor-to-ceiling painting reminiscent of an old time in El Salvador
A number of events have led to today; and while they all feel like just moments ago, they have passed as if in a whirlwind.  First, I began the close of my service in Botswana, was the guest of honor at not one, not two, but THREE farewell parties, I took a trip to the Indian Ocean, and then flew to the United States where I was fortunate enough to spend time with friends and family both in Colorado and in Arizona.  After only a few short weeks, I was whisked away again on a plane and set foot in the humidity of San Salvador, El Salvador. Two speedy days of training, a Salvadorian Smashburger, and a bus ride later, I arrived at the lush, mountainous town of La Palma to meet my host family. 

The new group of 5 Response volunteers and our country director, Jaime, sworn in on July 16, 2014
And from here, I will begin to tell you the details of the previous events as close to my memory as possible.
My new site in La Palma, Chalatenango as well as my new site mate Jonas.
Please check in the next few days as I slowly update!     

More news and pictures to come!