Monday, November 10, 2014

Special Feature Post

During mid-October I had the immense opportunity to play host to my parents who came to visit El Salvador for nine days.  Although we endured a 7.3-scale earthquake, fear of a tsunami and evacuation from the beach, and my dad's broken back, we had a blast.  I asked my dad to write an account of his experience here, so you may see this wonderful country in a different view and he graciously accepted.  Below is his recollection of the trip:

After months of having our daughter, Janina Victoria Yates, out in the world on her next big adventure, her mom Maria and I, Bruce, wanted to see how life was in her current country of residence: El Salvador.  My work gave me the "green light" to travel to San Salvador, El Salvador, where we met Nina on October 10th, 2014 during a typical tropical, third-world country night.  We were exhausted from having three separate flights and I had just broken my back at work a mere four days earlier.  Nina was very exited to see us but had a slight  look of worry on her face when we first met.  Apparently the San Salvador Airport had just recovered from a power outage due to heavy, torrential rains. I’m sure she was thinking, “Oh crap, my parents are going land at an airport in the dark!” However, customs for us was great and the people were very friendly.  We kissed and hugged one another and rode the shuttle straight to get our rental car.  Luckily we did not get the Toyota Mini car that we had originally ordered, but a very nice Nissan Standard four-door to hold all of our luggage.  

First stop was a great hotel where all the Peace Corps volunteers stay when they travel to and from San Salvador.  Short of an elevator, it was rather luxurious and spacious.  I have tons of pictures of this and many other places we traveled to with Nina, but this short article would turn into a novel if I include them all.  Because of mainstream media in the United States, El Salvador may appear rather scary to the American gringos; however, Nina showed us many of the wonderful sites that the country has to offer.

Our first destination was Concepcion de Ataco where typical life can be seen within an artistic atmosphere.  Ataco is a gorgeous colonial town which, in the native language Nahuatl, means "high place of springs" and is located on the highly-sought-after Ruta de las Flores. It's a very cheerful village, with lots of local and international tourists from around the world speckling the roads. 
One thing I noticed while our three days here were that the many scenes sprinkled with poverty.  One can encounter individuals of all social classes walking the streets.  Although there is relatively low health services due to a poor economy, the streets are clean and the food is well-prepared in restaurants. 
Unemployment throughout the country, according to Nina, is 28.9%, so the artisans do what they can to live and as I saw that they were happy doing it.

A group of mariachis who serenaded us during lunch one day.
Out next stop was the coast.  Nina had a reservation at a beach hotel that was obviously for the young-hearted surfing crowd.  Unfortunately it was not for us because the bed did not provide enough support for my back.  After settling for a bit, Maria (Mer) and I drove around and found a beautiful resort just down the coast called Atami Beach Club.  It had informed, excellent service.
 Our first lunch on the cliff of the resort overlooking the North Pacific Ocean was fabulous!  We fell in love with the air, the sea breeze, and the nature surrounding us.  Mer loved the clean rooms of the resort and I felt safe with the security at the entrance of the community and at the resort complex itself.  This place had huge swimming pools, a putt-putt golf course (although unmaintained), and a complete and utterly peaceful atmosphere.

Nina taking a much-needed break in one of the luxurious pools.
In fact there was no problems at all except the 7.3 earthquake just off the coast and tsunami warnings that ensued.  We feared the threat of evacuation, but were happy to discover that it wasn't necessary.  Unfortunately, one woman died in the country from having an electrical pole fall on her, but with such a large-scale event, the casualties could have been much higher.  For hours after, I monitored the news through the excellent wi-fi the resort provided.

Our next stop and the place where Mer and I were most interested in discovering was where Nina lives: La Palma.
Nina and Mer standing in front of a building with a passing "mototaxi"
The town is beautiful and serene.  Everyone says hello and “have a good meal” when you're eating at a restaurant, whether they know you or not.  The buildings of the city are covered in paintings in the style of Fernando Llort (El Salvador's national artist). 

Nina took us on a wonderful tour during our time here, and we met many friends, visited her many work sites, and encountered innumerous amounts of loveable people. 

The staff of La Palma's "Casa de Cultura"
Nina's work in El Salvador is focused around music.  She volunteers with music lessons and mentoring at a community history and cultural center called Casa de la Cultura.  For me, the most rewarding place she works at is the school where she teaches. Here, at CE 22 de Junio, Nina has a choir of 23 pupils who eagerly sing and absorb every word she says.  The existence of the choir is vital, it not only offers the students a positive environment to remain at after school, but it also keeps them from getting involved in dangerous gang activity, which is common for out-of-school youth in this country.

Some students at CE 22 de Junio playing basketball during gym class
We met her counterpart Christi who is wonderful and took us in as part of her family right from the get go.  

Nina's counterpart Christina Gardu; a teacher, mother of five, entrepreneur, and overall wonderful person.
I could see how Nina has already made her mark with the hugs from her students and observations during her choir practices.
Janina speaking to one of her students.
Mer and I stayed in a beautiful hotel next to La Palma in San  Ignacio.  It was on over 100 acres in the mountainous region of the North equipped with a gorgeous view of Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.  It has an Olympic pool , tennis courts, and a gym where Nina often works out. 

Mer and I were pleasantly honored to meet Nina’s host family.  They were one of the best things about our trip.  I felt as though I had known them for years.

Sofia, Margoth, Janina, Diego, Juan, and Alejandra
Nina lives with them.  They constantly watch over her and I could tell she loves them as well.

Our trip back to the airport was filled with excitement.  We drove though some pretty shady areas and saw a glimpse of what the American news has portrayed regarding poverty El Salvador.  However, that was minimal and we saw the city's Metrocentro shopping center where any American can get what they want and although it doesn’t feel quite like home, it shows the people of El Salvador and their culture. 
By asking directions in a sports shop, we didn’t find how to get to the airport, but how gracious and loving the people of El Salvador can be. 
In fact our whole trip was getting acquainted with a Peace Corps volunteer's life in a third-world country and how she lives and prospers.  Now I know that Nina not only is living the life of a Peace Cops voluteer, she is exemplifying the main themes of a volunteer.  Through getting to know the land and people, she helps where she can, and promotes world peace and friendship by fulfilling the organization's three main goals: she helps the people of El Salvador in meeting their need for trained men and women, she promotes a better understanding of Americans on the part of the Salvadorans, and helps promote a better understanding of Salvadorans on the part of Americans. 

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