Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Day in the Life

For fear of posting too much about my mushy feelings of how I'm loving El Salvador, or our fun weekend trips (only on the weekends, mind you), I will attempt to describe a typical day here by recapping what I did on Friday.*

6:30--Get out of bed, get ready, eat breakfast, etc. (depending on the day, but every day we wake up to bright sunshine, a rooster, and the dogs next door who NEVER stop barking.)**

7:15--Catch 3 buses to get to ASEI, a microfinance organization in San Salvador, where we would be accompanying them to a village about an hour away to meet with a group of women who had requested a group loan.

10ish--After an hour-long ride in the back of the ASEI pickup, we arrived, and got to hear about the women in the group's various microbusinesses (selling tortillas, clothes, etc) and listen to their thoughts and experiences with microfinance and community banks. It was incredible to see how the goals of microfinance and the benefits of community loans are actually working in this community.

I know that microfinance can't solve every problem, but it was really cool to see how it really is benefitting these women. I've learned about microfinance and Muhammad Yunus in classes, but it was totally different to see it in person. That is the power of an idea.

1:00-After we got back to San Salvador, we grabbed lunch and went to Hogar CREA, a rehab center for female drug addicts (a voluntary 2 year program, with a strict schedule and religious emphasis). After the director gave us a tour, we met with the girls and talked to them about their goals for the future and the things they like to do. I feel really strongly that, with organizations like CREA and CIPI, building a relationship with the girls and being a positive role model is the most important thing I can do while I'm here and is crucial before planning any activities or solid project ideas. It was amazing to listen to the responses of these 8 women (ages 14-50) and see that we aren't that different in the things we want for the future. We're hoping to go back next Tuesday.

4:15--After leaving CREA, a few of us went to teach our Friday night English class. At first, I wasn't very interested in this project, but it is turning out to be one of my favorites. I think that is partially because I feel like I can make a real difference before I leave (in 2.5 weeks), because the class is 3 times a week and I'm really getting to know the students. It has been so fun to come up with lesson plans and teach them, and see their progress.

I'm constantly amazed by how much English they know; seeing the looks on their faces when something clicks is priceless. I never realized quite how much of an asset English is. As these students have told me, there are a lot of employment opportunities that are only available to you if you speak English, so that is even more motivation for me, as one of the teachers, to do my best to help them be successful. (As a side note, I really feel like my Spanish has improved significantly in the past couple of weeks. After getting over my fear of speaking incorrectly or sounding stupid, I really feel like I'm able to communicate better and more articulately than before this trip).

6:30--Every night our cook, Estela, makes the most amazing food. After long days like this one, I am so grateful for her and for the food she cooks. It's also really fun to meet up with the rest of the team and discuss the day's events. Now that things have really started to pick up, it's really fun to hear about everyone's adventures, challenges and successes.

After dinner, a few of us went to the Cinepolis to see Pirates of the Caribbean 4. It was actually pretty good, and it was fun to relax a little bit, and enjoy the air conditioning.

Anyway, I'll post about the rest of the week another day. Hope all is well back in the U.S. of A!

*Every day is different, because we are working on so many different projects, but here's just a sampling of what I've been up to.
**Friday was especially interesting because our water was shut off, so none of us got to shower before heading out for the day. Luckily, it was back on by Saturday morning, but I didn't know that until I had already taken a bucket shower. An experience, for sure, but it was just fine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Almost halfway done...weird.

(Above) This is a picture from Getsemani, one of the communities we visited last week and talked to about the Adobe Stoves project. Beautiful and green (sooo many places here remind me of Oregon), just like home.

Pictures of us on our way to San Lucas, before we reviewed the square foot gardens the HELP team implemented last year.

(Father's warning! This is us riding in the back of a pickup, on our way to San fun!)
New friends (Left to right): Britta, Kristen, me, Harie (like Harry Potter), Hilary, and Logan (and Ben was taking the picture). Travis (aka Travieso) was riding in the cab of the truck. We all had that model look of windblown hair and dewy (err..humid) skin afterward. But it was a blast.

Here are just a couple pictures from our beach trip (my photography skills aren't adequate to capture how fantastic this day was, but believe me, it was perfect).

Today we are spending most of the day at a restaurant called China Wok, stuffing our faces on yummy french toast and chocolate cake and using their WIFI. Later tonight, Lauren and I are going to teach an English class for Kristen (pictured above) because she's not going to be back from Getsemani in time.

In other news, I come back to Provo (and then Roseburg, and then Provo again) in a little over 3 weeks. I have such mixed feelings about it. In some ways, I'm really excited to see all my friends and family again and to get to do stuff in the adlab, and to have a washing machine again, and all that good stuff.

But then I think about all the people I've met here (both Salvadorans and the other people in our group) and how much I'm going to miss everything about San Salvador: having food be super cheap, the food itself and how yummy everything is, the nightly movie watching parties (huddled around a laptop in the front room), the discotecas, the spanish music I hear on the buses, and just having life be simple and focused.

Gotta make the most of the next 3 weeks!

Friday, May 20, 2011


These are a fruit called mamones, that sort of tastes like a peeled grape on the inside with a big pit. Interesting.

Just a few pictures of gorgeous El Sal. Hot, humid, and almost always sunny.
Handwashing station....that thing that looks like a rollerskate wheel is the soap.
Yes I shoveled dirt and helped lay concrete for this house. Go Habitat for Humanity!

And then we did a little painting on this house.

I apologize for the limited pictures on this blog, it takes about 5 years per picture to upload them to the computer, but I'll try and add some more again soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

La Playa y San Lucas

Saturday we went to the beach and it was so relaxing and fun. It was hot, the water was warm, the sand was black and I didn't even get sunburned.

On Sunday, we went to church and it was wonderful. My understanding of Spanish is pretty good and my conversation skills are definitely improving. I love getting to know the people and listening to the lessons in Spanish.

On Monday, we took a 2.5 hour bus ride(er...1.5 hour bus ride and then 45 minutes or so of piling into the back of a pickup truck, bumping down a dirt road) to a community called San Lucas where we walked around and reviewed these square foot gardens that the Help International team from last year helped the community create. It was really fun to talk to people and practice my Spanish.

On Tuesday, we visited an organization called CIPI which is a temporary house/school for girls who have rough home lives. We were hoping to be able to interact with the girls and get to know them a little better, but instead they just had us paint the walls of one of the rooms to cover up the marker/pencil marks.

Tuesday night, a few girls and I went to a church activity for women, where we learned how to make Chinese wontons (yummy fried goodness), and that was really fun. The women in the ward here are so great and got so excited about teaching us how to make pupusas (typical Salvadoran fare) next week!

Yesterday, we went to a community called Getsemani, where we are hoping to do a variety of projects. The group I went with walked around the community and talked to people about their stoves. One of the problems with communities like Getsemani is that because of the high price of gas, many people cook over wood stoves, and inhale a lot of smoke in the process, causing some serious health problems. We're hoping to build a few adobe stoves in the community, because from my understanding, they retain heat better and channel the smoke in better ways. It was an adventure looking for an area called Las Prisas(a community where better stoves had been implemented), but after squishing 4 of us into a little 3 wheel taxi, we made it. We met Dora, one of the community leaders, who seemed to know everyone, and she showed us around and let us look at some kitchens in the community.

The people here are so friendly. Anytime we ask for directions, people are so willing to help (even if that means taking a little detour).

Today, we went back to CIPI and chatted with the girls while they were doing their "talleres," which are the hours when they learn how to sew and embroider and things like that. It was really fun to talk to them and hear about what they like to do. It's amazing how positive they are, even when they've experienced such difficulties in their lives.

Lessons from the week:
-It's much easier for me to talk to children in Spanish, because I feel less intimidated.
-I feel pretty comfortable asking for directions and talking to people, even if my Spanish grammar isn't perfect.
-People are fascinating and I will never cease to be amazed at what we/they are capable of.

In other news:
-I've eaten fish twice and liked it....both times it was breaded and fried. Both times delicious.
-Lord of the Rings has beautiful cinematography.
-My Tevas may have been the best purchase I made for this trip.

More pictures, soon!

Friday, May 13, 2011

This week

(If you already read this in an email, feel free to disregard)

Monday--researched microfinance in the cibercafe...ate at our favorite little pupuseria (la pupuseria paciencia--and it is called that because it takes FOREVER sometimes. but if I were to do an ad campaign for them, their slogan would definitely be (worth the wait).

Tuesday--Mother's Day in El Salvador. So naturally we went to Hiper Paiz (i.e. Walmart's name in El Salvador). I know, I know. But I was looking for PowerBars and sports bras. And then I remembered that women in El Salvador don't really go to the gym...oh well. We got flowers for our cook, Estela, and the boys sang her a mother's day song in Spanish.

Wednesday--Spent the whole day with an organization called FUDEM, doing preliminary eye screenings for kids at a school in Ahuachapan. And when I say the whole day I mean, of course, that we took a 3 hour break to go to the our clothes..and mosy around until we went back to the school at 1. Gotta love it. Tony and Andrea were the FUDEM employees we went with and they were great.

Thursday--We went to an organization called CIPI, which is like a transitional school for girls that have been abused or have had pretty rough circumstances so far. It was really fun to get to know the girls and see the school that they live and study at. They are all so fun and just seem like normal girls, so it will be really interesting to get to know them better and work with them this summer.

Friday--Visited an NGO called ASEI that works with microfinance and ate at a fabulous little place called Cafe con Sazon. I got this chicken filled with cheese (think cordon bleu) with rice and tortillas. YUM.

Lessons I've learned so far--
You need two free hands to ride the bus.
Coke can kill anything that might make you sick.
Pupusas are way more filling than you would expect.
Don't tell BYU, with boys can be pretty entertaining...especially when one of them brings his own shower in a bag...and decides to shower but also contribute to the meeting in the living room by yelling across the house. Oh brother. (he kept it decent, no worries).
I eat way more yogurt than I realized (we didn't get a fridge until yesterday and I about died from withdrawals of all things cold and refreshing)
Bags of water for 10 cents...interesting.
My hair is about 2.3 times curlier here. Cool.
Doing all your laundry by hand is pretty satisfying.
I've definitely caught the travel bug. and the packing light when you travel bug. I'm very proud to say that of all the people in our house, I may have packed the least.

Okay...and the important stuff I'm learning--
Life is so much slower here, and I really love it. Everything I'm doing is so focused and I love not having the distractions of cell phones and constant gmail updates.
I really really care about people. I think they are so fascinating.
Spanish is harder than I expected..but I'm getting there. My progress is what I make it though.

I already feel at home, and that just makes everything better.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The first 24 hours

I can't believe it has only been 24 hours since we landed in El Salvador last night.

A few updates-
-The food here is incredible. The only problem is that they give us SO much of it. I feel bad leaving -anything on my plate, so I'm trying to stuff as much as possible. It's so delicious though. (chile rellenos, the most amazing rice, and all sorts of baked treats)
-The traffic is pretty crazy..but we're learning the bus system and looking both ways.
-I took lots of pictures, but I haven't had a chance to download them from my camera yet. But be excited.
-Today, the driver of the microbus we took to the Habitat site was playing a CD full of classic 80s love songs. It was fantastic.

I'm realizing how much Spanish I can't actually understand. I can understand the other members of my group when they speak Spanish, but when locals talk to me...sometimes I end up just smiling and laughing. But I'm learning.

The house we are renting is really nice. It has a spectacular view and a sunrise that I woke up to at approximately 4am.

We spent most of the day today working with Habitat for Humanity (something I've always wanted to do), and it was so satisfying to do some serious hard labor. The area we went to is called Ahuachapan and it is beautiful (it's in the country and I was reminded a lot of Oregon on the drive out there. It's really green and full of trees).

I'll write more about today when I'm able to add pictures.

I think I must have some natural ability to feel at home most anywhere I go, and for that I am very grateful. I don't quite have my bearings yet, but I will soon, I'm sure.

I'm going to stop by SuperSelectos (the grocery store--yesterday, I bought a mango, banana, water bottle and some pan for 97 cents. yessss.) and then head home to wash off the dirt and grime.

Tomorrow--Eye Camp initiation training, and meetings about teaching English classes. Can't wait.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On my way

I'm currently sitting in the Houston international airport, killing time before our plane leaves for El Salvador at 5:45.

A few highlights from the past 24 hours:
-Hot tubbing with friends
-Watching "The Adjustment Bureau" (meh, it was alright. Not bad, but it was a good thing we saw it in the dollar theatre)
-Starting my serious packing at about 12:30 (don't worry, I definitely put a load of laundry in at the same time)
-Hanging out/Girl talking with the roommates until the wee hours of the morning.
-Surviving on 30 minutes of sleep.
-Gorging myself on fried rice and orange chicken from Panda Express and splitting what may pass as the thickest, densest slice of chocolate cake I've ever consumed.

Anyway, in less than 7 hours I'll be in San Salvador!

Here's to:
-eating all the pupusas I want
-packing light
-new places and facing fears
-a whole set of new friends

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

T-24 Hours

I leave for El Salvador bright and early tomorrow morning and I can barely wait!

After all the months of preparation, fundraising letters, packing lists and shopping trips, I feel about as ready as I'll ever be, so I really just want to get there and get used to it.

Last night I dreamed that I was there, using my Spanish. Oh boy, oh boy.

Tomorrow is a rite of passage: I get a stamp in my passport.*

As a side note, I'll be getting an international phone, but since my minutes will be very limited, email is probably the best way to get in contact with me. {}

(I'll be getting a Skype account, too, but probably won't be on the computer a whole lot.)

*The passport that I got over 2 years ago for that one time when I was going to go to Scotland, but then didn't go.