Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just a story.

Today I had an awesome experience. It was something that you would never think would be cool, but it was. A family in my community has a son and daughter in the United States. They both went there illegally 9 years ago, and since they are illegal they cannot come back to visit. Well today I brought my laptop over to their mud hut and 11 people in their family and I climbed up to the top of a mountain in my village so we could get satellite signal for internet and we skyped the son and daughter in the United States. For us Americans, that may not be so crazy, but for these people… who have never been to the capital and have only left their village a handful of times, this was huge. It was the first time seeing a computer for some of them… For the first time in 9 years they were actually seeing their kids, brother and sister and they did not have to worry about how much it cost. They huddled around the screen in this barren field while chickens, roosters and cows looked on and talked, shared laughs and even shed a few tears. This went on for 4 hours. I guess William Shatner was right… the internet can’t hide anymore.

Village life.

The ice cream truck is passing right now for the third time, which means I have now been in my site for three weeks. It seems like an eternity, but my new life is starting to take shape. Right now the kids are begging my host dad for some change so they can buy a scoop of ice cream, but he already gave them money today for watermelon. Maybe next week… The truck comes every Friday. The last couple of weeks have had their ups and downs, but things are becoming more normal. The only thing that really bothers me right now are the kids in my house. They follow me everywhere. They eat my food. They go into my room and use EVERYTHING, including my facewash, que tips , bug spray, and anything else you could think of. Normally that would not bother me, but considering that those types of things are hard to come by in the middle of nowhere in El Salvador… it bothers me. Or the fact that ANYTIME I am on my computer they have to pull up a chair and watch me the entire time. I’m sure you get the point… It’s annoying. But I will only be in this house for what I hope is just a couple of more weeks.
Earlier this week I started my community census, which consists of visiting every house in my village and introducing myself and asking them a bunch of questions about their lives and their families. At first I was nervous, but right now I have 50 houses down and 50 more to go and I am pretty comfortable with it. I try to spend no more that 20 minutes per house. Some of the questions are: How many people live here? What do you do with your trash? Do you know anything about HIV/AIDS? Do you brush your teeth? Have you had a mammogram in the last year? Do you discuss family planning with your husband? And then I kind of snoop around the house and check out the sink areas and see if there is soap around and how much mosquito larva is their water supply. Yesterday I went to a house that was completely constructed of mud, it had 2 rooms and there were 14 people living there. Of the 50 houses I visited they were the happiest and most friendly family of all… I think I would probably lose my mind if I were in that situation. The one question that I did not ask them, that I really was curious about was… how do you make 12 children when you all share two bedrooms?!? What a mystery. After I am done with my census I have to compile the results and then present them to my entire community in a general assembly meeting on May 11th. It is there where I will formally set an agenda with my community and discuss potential projects. I already know one of the projects will be about latrine construction. So many families in my village do not have latrine or toilet and forced to go wherever they can in their backyards.

The average salary in my village is 6.00 per day or 36.00 per week and they work harder than anyone I know. But about 90 percent of the families receive money from family members in the states. Most of the time it is about 100 dollars per month or at least that is what they tell me.

So here I am 3 weeks in… 101 weeks left. But who’s counting.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Pictures

Monday, March 29, 2010

New gringo in town

Well I’m here. I took a 3.5 hour miserable, hot bus ride and arrived in Metapan. I threw up on the bus… it sucked. But I made it and I didn’t get robbed. After the bus ride I waited for about 4 hours at a fast food restaurant until the pick-up truck arrived to bring me to my village an hour away on a dirt road. I sat in the back of the truck with a lady who was about 75-80 years old. She stood and leaned on the cab of the truck for the entire hour. I sat and stood and breathed in the dust as I took in the sights of my new home. My assignment is rural health… and when they say rural… they aren’t joking. I’M IN THE MIDDLE OF NO WHERE! My village has 500 people and one road/path that was paved last year… they are still talking about how great it is to have a paved road. It’s very squiggly and about as wide as a back alley. For the first 2 months I’m living with a host family. They are super nice and have 3 kids. Last night I was out playing with the kids in front of the house… and a little crowd started to form across the road at the neighbors. The kids started giggling and I asked what was going on over there… they giggled some more and finally said… they are here for you. They want to know who the new gringo is. I am starting to feel like I just landed from mars on a space ship. But I guess I can understand where they are coming from. They live in a tiny village in the middle of know where and all of a sudden this 6 foot 2 inch white guy shows up. I would be curious also.
We are not supposed to work for the first 2 months. Just do a community census and if you want very small projects are ok. Right now it’s all about gaining trust and building relationships. Last night my host mom came into my room and she told me she doesn’t know how to read or write. I asked her if she was able to write her name for me. She couldn’t. So I wrote her name and had her copy it… she put her hands over her mouth with a big smile. She is 48-years-old and she just wrote her name for the first time. Tomorrow we are going to learn the alphabet. I found my first small project. Angelina is going to learn to read and write.

Summer camp is ending. 3/27/10

Summer camp is over. On Friday we had our swearing in ceremony at the American Embassy in San Salvador and in the morning we met with our counterparts at a local hotel. Our counterparts are people that live in our communities who will help us get acclimated and will be there in case we have questions or need something over the next 2 years. Some of them had never been to San Salvador. To give you an idea how crazy that is.. El Salvador is the size of Massachusetts.
Swearing in was at the ambassador’s residence at the American Embassy. It was pretty nice to say the least. Our host families were invited and I wish I could explain how they felt about it. I don’t think they have ever seen anything like it. After taking the oath we had dinner and our host families INDULGED. Not only did they eat... but they packed enough food in their purses and bags for the rest of the village. It was hilarious. I think my host mom left with at least 7 hamburgers and 15-20 small deserts in her purse and little bag. It’s not very often that they get to go to a free buffet style dinner and not have to pay.
Later in the night we all went out to party at an open bar. All the volunteers from around the country came in for the party. So there were about 150 of us. It was really fun. At one point as the music was blasting and the drinks were flowing I said to one volunteer…”something tells me Peace Corps Botswana is not having the same party tonight.” Overall it was a solid night. I didn’t get back home until 5 a.m. I had to be up at 7 to get my bus to the town I am going to live in for the next 2 years. I was not in any shape for that bus ride.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Just Some Stories

Just Some Stories
Many of the volunteers have been eating fish. I definitely have not. They don’t chop off the heads here. They jus t serve them whole. No thank you. Anyway, a lot of the volunteers have been commenting on the size of the fish. Well we got an explanation as to why the fish are so big here right now… last November there were really bad storms here. Hundreds died inland and near the coast. Well in a developing nation someone apparently thought it was a good idea to put the bodies in the sea. That being said, the fish had more than enough food and they are now VERY big because of it. So more or less the volunteers who are eating fish are also eating human.

During the first week I remember people talking at lunch about their diarrhea and I couldn’t believe they were talking about that over lunch… and I said something to them and a staff member just laughed and said “Sam…get used to it… this will be your dinner conversation in a couple of weeks.” Well she was right. We talk about it; we tell each other were going to the bathroom before we go… we discuss it after. And it’s all normal. Today we were lucky enough to get a ride home back to our village because one of the other volunteers in a nearby village broke her toes and she doesn’t want to take the bus.. so we all get a ride. It’s actually really nice when you don’t have to take the bus. Anyway, our conversation was all over the place, but at one point it started from the rats in Emily’s house last night who ate through the rope that holds her mosquito net up causing her to have to turn on her flash light though out the night to scare them… none of us were phased and neither was she. Then Jordan shared about the tarantulas in her bathroom and her bedroom. Again, none of us were phased. I then said out loud… isn’t this weird that none of us even thinks it’s strange that any of this is happening.

Last night I realized that not one of my family members except for my sister is able to read. I have 3 brothers and a sister and of course the mom and the dad. The two older brothers are 22 and 24. They both left school after 6th grade. Which I have come to find out is not out of the ordinary. I asked my mom about why they did that and she just shrugged her shoulders and said they aren’t students. I was shocked that in this day and age a 22 and 24 year old can’t read. A lot of the neighborhood boys come to my house at night and ask my sister to read magazine articles to them if it is accompanied with an interesting picture.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Things are changing

March 9th 2010.

It’s funny how quickly things change. During the first few weeks when I would write in my blog, I think I did it as an escape. I was writing to friends and people who were of the same mindset. Now things are different. I feel normal , at home, comfortable. I feel as if I don’t even have to write here anymore, because this is normal life. Why would I write about my usual, mundane schedule? It has only been 5 weeks and I rarely ask myself why I am here anymore. Hopefully the feelings of being at ease continue after March 26th when we move into our permanent sites. If I have learned anything thus far… it’s that it is all about adapting. We can adapt to anything. I cringed when I first saw the house I am living in now. This past weekend we went away and I said out loud “I’m ready to go home”, and then I thought about what I had just said… home... And I was referring to my home stay family.
Al though our assignment is “Rural Health” we will be doing much more than that. Today in training we were learning about working with and starting local governments. Many of the towns we are moving to will have a local government already set up and some may have nothing. Some also may technically have a government established but it really does not do anything or even exist. That said our job will be to help organize and create substance within these administrations. We will not only be helping launch new governments but also teaching the locals how to correctly and honestly run the operation. More specifically we need to make sure they are following their bylaws and having fair elections and that they have and maintain a relationship with the provincial mayors. It’s interesting how life works. This time last year my biggest concerns were what I was doing for spring break and getting my journalism assignments completed. This year I’m helping institute local governments in Central America and encouraging sustainable change within them so they can better the communities in which they exist. What Will I be doing next year?