Friday, March 19, 2010

Leaving El Salvador

Thursday, 3-18-10

It’s been another long, rough day. I didn’t get to sleep last night until around 12:30-1:00am. I was up late packing and writing my blog. Usually I’m extremely prepared and have everything ready to go. Not this time. Several people asked me yesterday what time my flight was leaving and I had no idea. I knew it was in the morning but I didn’t know when. I looked briefly last night at my itinerary and wrote in down on some paper. This is extremely atypical Alisha behavior. Typically I know exactly what time I need to leave the house, what time my plane leaves, the airline I’m on, the flight number, etc. This information is all on a piece of paper that I’ve printed out in advance. I guess I’ve had more important things to do than plan out every detail of my departure. I think that’s a good thing.

I woke up this morning around 4:30am so Kathy and I could leave around 5:00am. I got my things ready to go. I had a chance to say goodbye to Alejandro since he leaves around 4:30 in the morning most days to catch the bus to school to Usulután. “No quiero salir pero voy a regresar” (I don’t want to leave but I’ll be back), I told him. “Es la vida” (That’s life), he told me. Truer words were never spoken. I gave him a hug and wished him luck in his English class.

Kathy came down around 4:45am. We got everything to the truck and headed for the airport. We chatted along the way. A couple times I fell asleep since I’d only had 4 hours of sleep. Though I’d only fallen asleep for 5 or 10 minutes at a time I was in a dream-like state while asleep. I say dream-like because I remembering dreaming but I don’t think they were actual dreams. Dreams occur when you’re in a REM sleep pattern which you reach approximately every 1 ½ hours. I’m not sure if it’s possible to reach REM sleep in only 5 or 10 minutes.

We arrived at the airport around 7:15am. By then I’d already started to cry. It is so difficult to leave Kathy, the women at the Pastoral House, my students, my friends, the random people I meet in the market, everyone. I love being in Berlín. I feel more connected than ever before; like I have a better understanding of who these wonderful people really are. It will be hard to be without Cecilia’s jokes about how I’m Cipitio’s mom, Idalia’s wisdom about being a part of two families, Blanca and my “looks” that we give each other, Otilia’s thoughts about teaching other people of the struggles here, the craziness of Jesús, and the long chats with Miguel. I have truly come to consider everyone as family and I hold them in the highest regards. What an honor and blessing it is to have known people whose love for God and their community is placed high above their own personal needs. I will never forget all that they taught me and the immense love they have shown. I eagerly await more life adventures with them.

As it was time for me to go inside the airport I gave Kathy several big hugs as we said goodbye. I’m starting to tear up just writing this. She has been so much more than a mission co-worker to me. She has been my mentor, teacher, sounding board, mother-figure, tour guide, adventure buddy, and most of all, my friend. For all that I am eternally grateful. And I am going to miss her so much!!

After saying one last goodbye I went inside the airport to check in. Everything went smoothly and I got to my gate with ease. I saw a few white people at the airport and wondered why they were in El Salvador. Business? Tourism? “Oh, gringos,” I thought to myself. Do they know nothing about traveling in El Salvador? You don’t wear shorts. You don’t buy the overly priced trinkets in the airport. You can at least attempt to speak Spanish. I must admit here that I’m critical (perhaps overly critical) about how Americans represent themselves abroad. I worry that one foolish or insulting thing that we do abroad reflects negatively on our country.

I always try to do my best to represent the goodness that exists in the US and the love many people have for El Salvador. I love seeing the surprised looks on people’s faces when they discover how much I know about the history, people, food, and life in El Salvador. I take every opportunity I can to educate myself about the country so that I may have a better understanding of their lives. And while I am certainly no expert on El Salvador I try to make an effort to listen to the stories, walk with the people, worship with them, share in theirs joys and sorrows, do my part around the house, and eat the food (even if I don’t like it).

Thus, when I got to my gate and sat down in the waiting area I was embarrassed by what I saw on TV. The show was something like America’s Funniest Home videos but worse, and set to the tune of awful music with what sounded like frat guys laughing hysterically in the background. Ughhh. Maybe I’m being excessively judgmental, but that’s not what I want people to visualize when they hear the words “United States.”

A while later I boarded the plane. Everyone got patted down as we boarded. I sat next to an older Latina woman who spoke only Spanish. She and I chatted a little bit at the beginning of the flight. Only one of the flight attendants spoke Spanish. When another flight attendant asked the woman next to me what she wanted for breakfast and to drink I translated for her, thinking it would be nice if the attendant learned a little Spanish (the flight crew was based out of LA). I ate breakfast and also some pan dulce that the ladies said I could take from the Pastoral House. I thought of them when I ate it.

Later on when they were handing out the customs forms for us to fill out the attendant told me he’d have to go get me one in English. Before I could say I didn’t need it he’d moved on. I guess he didn’t see the Salvadoran newspaper I was reading. Eventually he came back and told me they didn’t have any more in English but that I could look at the in-flight magazine for a translation. At first I was insulted. I’ve spent a lot of time trying hard to learn Spanish, and even though I’m not fluent I at least try. But I realized there are several Americans who go to El Salvador that speak no Spanish. So thinking I too could not speak any Spanish wasn’t too much of a stretch. Side note: I filled out the form correctly without the aid of the in-flight magazine.

I went through customs fairly quickly after getting off the plane. The two questions the guy asked and my responses were enough to get me into the country.
“How long were you in El Salvador?”
“Six weeks”
“What was the purpose of your visit?”
“Tourism”
Very easy. I noticed the Latino man in from of me (also in the American citizen line) had his picture taken and fingerprints scanned. Not sure what that was all about. Maybe he didn’t “look” right.

I got my luggage quickly and moved on to have it scanned. But since my checked luggage was my backpacking pack and I looked like a hippie with my Salvadoran bracelets and henna tattoo I was sent to have my bags checked by a person. She asked me about the customs document I filled out and asked if there was anything else I wanted to declare. I said there wasn’t. Then she said, “Are you sure there isn’t anything else you want to declare? Because if I find something in your bag you didn’t declare you could get in trouble.” I looked at her and thought “Did you seriously just say that to me?” Not one to be intimated easily I responded, “Nope, nothing else.”

She opened up my luggage and checked out what I had, and my was she thorough. She took apart every single thing I had in my luggage and asked me about it. She kept asking me questions about what I was doing there and about everything single thing in my bag. She came across my homemade hot chocolate mix and suspiciously said, “What’s this?” I told her it was chocolate. Then she saw my pineapple jam and said, “I thought you said you didn’t have any fruits or vegetables.” Being incredibly smooth and cool under pressure I replied, “I thought the customs form meant whole, fresh foods not processed ones.” Then she found the shells I brought back from the beach and told me she wasn’t sure I could take them into the country. She went to clear everything with the “specialists” and, of course, everything she “discovered” I was allowed to take into the country.

Behind her the whole time were a few guys that kept telling her these foods shouldn’t be a problem. They even rolled their eyes a couple of times which I thought was hilarious. When she left they told me I could repack my things and not to worry about anything. Then their supervisors came over to see what was going on. They made small talk and asked how I liked El Salvador. Several of them spoke Spanish and were very interested about how my teaching went and if I’d be returning. They told me she was training and apologized for the wait. I nodded in response and said, “Cool beans.”

I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t make my next flight, but after half an hour later I left. I dropped my checked luggage off, went through security again, and found my gate. They had already closed the doors but I was able to board my plane. However there was no room for my luggage so one of the flight attendants took my bag and checked it through to Des Moines. As soon as I got on I thought about how much I wanted to be back in El Salvador. A couple girls were trying to figure out where to put their luggage and a mom with three kids was impatiently talking about how they needed to hurry up. Everyone seemed to be irritated, in a hurry, and angry. People were talking on their phones, checking their blackberries, watching movies in mini DVD players, and listening to iPods. “Welcome to the US,” I thought to myself. I felt like crying. I pulled out a magazine and tried to hold it together.

I napped on and off for much of the flight. At one point the flight attendant came around offering snacks and sandwiches for sale. A couple across the aisle from me wanted to order some food. The woman had written down on paper what she wanted because she couldn’t speak. After seeing her sign to her partner I realized that she was deaf. The flight attendant got her food. An announcement had been made earlier that the new policy on American Airlines is that all snacks are paid for with a credit or debit card. The women tried to hand the attendant some money. Instead of getting a pen and writing down that she needed a credit card the attendant turned to the other attendant and said, “They’re deaf. They don’t understand that they need to pay with a card.” I wanted to smack the flight attendant. If I knew how to sign, “The flight attendant is an idiot” I would have done it. Her insensitivity really upset me.

I made it to Chicago with forty five minutes before my next plane left. I hopped on the plane and headed for Des Moines. The ride was smooth and uneventful. I was a little nervous about seeing my family at the airport. I was worried I’d break down in tears. I did cry a little bit when I got off the plane. I am worried that people won’t understand. I don’t know how to explain to people that I was not ready to leave and if someone told me I had to stay for another six weeks I could have been fine with it.

After greeting my family I went to go get my luggage. I waited and waited but it didn’t come. I heard my name called over the loud speaker. I went to the desk to see what was going on. Neither one of my bags had made it on time in Los Angeles (more than likely because I was held up so long at customs by the malevolent customs lady). I was told that they would be delivered to my house the next day. This is the first time in all my travels that I haven’t got my luggage. I guess it had to happen once.

I am happy to see my family and friends and share my adventures with loved ones, but it still really hurts to be away from my family in El Salvador. My heart aches when I think about how I don’t know when I will get to see everyone again. I always have a much harder time readjusting to being back in the states than to being in El Salvador. My homesickness at the beginning of my trip lasted about two days. It usually takes me three or four times as long to adjust to the US than to adjust to El Salvador. I had a really hard time when I came back from El Salvador in September. I am deeply moved by my experiences and friendships there. I’m wondering how well I’ll do this time.

I know I will go back to El Salvador again. I hope I can go back sooner rather than later. I have so many thoughts about what I’d like to do if I taught school again. I also have a running list of things I want to do in El Salvador and lots of ideas for future blogs. I discovered that I absolutely LOVE blogging. It’s such a fun way of telling people about my trip bits at a time. I may write a few more blogs about how I’m readjusting back to the US and anything else important related to my trip. Blogging is therapeutic for me and I’ll talk or write about El Salvador to anyone who’s willing to listen. So if you have questions, just ask!!


Con cariño,
Alisha
a.k.a. Alicia Chelita Cafecita Rosada Langosta Sirena

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Last day

Today has been one of the hardest and saddest days in a long time. There is so much I am feeling that I think I might explode. Saying goodbye to the kids was much harder than I imaged. I am going to miss them so much!! It was rainy and dreary when I woke up this morning and walked to school. The weather seemed to match my mood. There was a brief assembly at school about dengue before classes started. When I walked into my classes all the kids looked devastated when I reminded them it was my last day. The just sat there looking at me with big, puppy dog eyes. That alone made me want to cry. I don’t mind crying in public, but I wanted to try to control myself a little because letting a few tears escape easily leads to all-out sobbing. I did a little teaching and review but a lot of time was spent saying goodbye and giving hugs. Several of the kids told me they loved me and I responded in kind. I hugged all the teachers and many of them took pictures of me with their phones. My first class was fifth grade class B. I love the teacher in this class. She gave me the biggest hug at the beginning of class. All the kids thanked me at the beginning of class for coming to teach them. At the end of the class I took a picture of the whole class. They all gave me big hugs when I went to my next class. My next class was sixth grade class A. When I reminded them I was leaving the all thanked me and applauded me for teaching them. Hearing them applaud and say thank you filled me with joy. I took a picture with the class before teaching a little bit. As I was working with them on a few more things I was suddenly gripped with panic and fear about returning to the US. All these thoughts kept flashing through my mind: I don’t want to be alone on the airplane. I feel like I’m abandoning the kids. What am I supposed to do when I return home? Where do I go from here? What if I want to talk to someone here? When can I come back to El Salvador? I admit that I came very close to having a panic attack in the middle of class. I tried extremely hard to get a grip and not fall apart during class. I told myself that I needed to focus on the kids at that point and I could go crazy when I got back to the house. It took me a good half hour before I felt a little better. After I left that class I was on my way to my other sixth grade class when my fifth grade class asked me to go back into the classroom. They had moved the desks so there was open space in the middle of the room. On the white board they wrote in English: “Alisha- Your classes are very important for us. We need you. We hope for you.” My eyes started tearing up right away; I felt so happy and loved. They had me sit down on the bench. The teacher told me they were going to dance for me. Qué chivo!! Several of the boys put on hats and the teacher turned on the music. I recorded some of it on my camera. They were adorable! Then they all sang me “Happy Birthday” in English. I can’t believe they remembered my birthday is only a week away! I told them that quite a while ago. It was wonderful. The teacher had one of the students bring me a present. It was a jar with a picture of El Salvador on it and candy on the inside. On the lid they had written, “Recuerdo del 5B, C.E. Dr. Alfonso Reyes Guerra, Berlin City, We love you, remember to you.” I couldn’t stop the tears from coming. I hugged every student and the teacher again. My next class was sixth grade class B. I did a little teaching and spent a lot of time talking to the kids. They all sang me Happy Birthday as well and clapped for me. I took a photo with all the kids and gave lots of hugs. Then I went to third grade class A. The all told me congratulations for my upcoming birthday and sang me happy birthday in Spanish. I took a picture with all my kids and gave goodbye hugs to them all. Several came back for more hugs. During my last class, fourth grade class A, I felt a little better; like everything was going to be okay. They all applauded for me and thanked me for teaching them. I took a picture with the part of the class that was still there. In the afternoon I went to my seventh grade class. I said goodbye to my kids there and wished them all well. They are lucky to have a teacher that encourages them to learn English. The principle and vice-principle also came to say goodbye. They both gave me big hugs, which I thought was great even though I didn’t get to talk to them that much. They presented me with a small package that read, “Para Alicia: Con mucho cariño y respeto del Centro Esoclar Dr. Alonso Reyes Guerres” (To Alicia: With much affection and respect from the Dr. Alonso Reyes Guerras school). Inside were a keychain and three pairs of earring from a local artisan shop. Part of me says that I shouldn’t come teach again because it hurts so much to leave everyone. But the bigger and smarter part says that this was the experience of a lifetime. I have formed an amazing bond with people here and I feel blessed to call them my friends. I’m really feeling the quote from my blog yesterday: “If we deny love that is given to us, if we refuse to give love because we fear pain or loss, then our lives will be empty, our loss greater.” So if it is possible for me to return in the future to teach I will. 5th grade, class B 5th grade, class B 6th grade, class A I love the bunny ears Alisha: Your classes are very important for us. We need you. We hope for you. Inside the classroom of 6th grade, class B 6th grade, class B Picture with my students Very cool third graders a href="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_tox_CDYxYXo/S6G1a9VbrDI/AAAAAAAABNI/3rLqQQoNC50/s1600-h/IMG_4976.JPG"> Love the poses With my kids Part of my 4th grade class With some of the fourth graders My school!! Inscription on the present from my students I walked home after my afternoon class and thought about how much fun I had teaching. Around 3:00pm Kathy, Mauricio, Kimberly, and I walked outside the house because there were horses going down the street that were going to be part of a parade. We watched several beautiful horses going by. Kimberly and I followed them up the street. There was a marching band playing in a small parade for the festival. We watched for a while and then went to get ice cream. Since it was my last day I got a double scoop of mango and blackberry. I saw several of my students downtown and said goodbye to them one last time. I even saw a guy that I had met last September who was wearing a Hawkeye shirt. I said hi and told him when I returned I’d bring a copy of the photo for him. Around 4:30pm she and I stopped back at La Casa Mia, where she is staying, for a drink. We each had a rum and coke to commemorate my trip. It is a beautiful hostel and the people there are wonderful, but I’m glad I am at the Pastoral House. I love the women here and treasure the time I am able to spend with them. At 5:00pm I went back to the house. I chatted with Kathy, Cecilia, Blanca, and Idalia for a while. I really feel that I have made a strong connection with them. They are my family. I will miss their humor and love every day. I can’t wait to see them all again on my next visit. As we were talking on the stairs outside the house a young man stopped by asking for me. I didn’t know who he was. He was here to deliver a gift from one of my teachers. How sweet!! It was a beautiful little basket with candy, jewelry, and a note inside. I hope that I never take for granted the affection and generosity of people. Around 8:00pm I walked downtown to the festival with Kathy, the ladies, and people from the Wesley group. We watched another coronation, walked around, got some food, and stopped for a beer at the end of the night. We got back home around 10:00pm. Tonight I had packing to do. Unlike my usual over-organized self I had not packed anything much. I’ve been trying to delay as long as possible thinking about leaving. Buenas noches for now. I will probably write one or two more blogs about tomorrow and being back in the US. Horses walking by the casa Marching band Baton twirlers Drumming A drink with Kim Walking home Home sweet home “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” –1 Corinthians 13:13

Filled with joy & sorrow

3-16-10,

It has been hotter than usual here the past several days. Not sure how hot it is because there really aren’t any thermometers around and you can’t get the weather forecast for Berlín online. The temperature is different than in San Salvador and San Miguel. But between 2-4pm Kathy said it’s probably been getting up to 95 lately. Thank goodness it’s the dry season so it’s not as humid.

My fourth grade class was hilarious today. I was about halfway through the class and I asked the teacher if I could open the windows because I was dripping with sweat (remember, no A/C). The door was open which let a lot of air in but I figured opening the windows on the other side of the room would give us a bit of a breeze. The teacher said yes and I started to open a window. Immediately about six students got up to open all the windows for me. They are so sweet!

It felt a lot better in the classroom with the windows open, but I noticed the students were looking somewhat groggy and lethargic. I asked the teacher if they needed to go get food because it was time for them to get their daily alimento. She said they could wait until class was over so I kept teaching. But they looked really tired so I asked the students if they wanted to eat. They said they wanted to wait until I was done teaching. I commented that they all looked really tired. The teacher said it was because they’d been out last night at the fiesta. I told them I also went to the fiesta last night. They all looked pretty surprised and asked me if I went dancing. When I told them I did they all applauded and asked me to dance. Only at the fiesta, I told them.

In my sixth grade class I was telling the teacher that I’d gone to the coronation of the queen last night. She pulled out a magazine/program she’d got yesterday at the festival. It had a bunch of information about the patron saint festival. It had the schedule for the week’s activities, advertisements, pictures, profiles of the candidates for queen, and other fun information. I asked her where she got it and if they were going to sell more today. She said she didn’t know if they’d be selling more or not. Before I left she told me she wanted to give me the magazine as a gift. She even wrote “Para: Alicia, De: Roxanna, 16-03-2010” inside. She told me it was to remember her. People’s generosity and desire to give what they have still amazes me.

Another example of the generosity of the kids and teachers at school is all the food they bring me. Several teachers have given me fruit, pan dulce, and other foods. Today as I was leaving my third grade class with my little escorts one little boy gave me some cookies. He’d done the same thing yesterday as well. The teacher in my fifth grade insisted that I go get a pupusa with the kids. Even though they’re made with rice flour which is different than what I’m used to they’re still pretty tasty. The teacher in my seventh grade class today gave me a little bag. I opened it up and inside was a mini sandal on a keychain with El Salvador on one side and my name on the back. I love it! Tomorrow is my last day of classes. I don’t know how I am going to say goodbye to my kids. I am going to cry.

After my afternoon class I walked around the house thinking about what I wanted to do. I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to get done before I leave and all that I wouldn’t have time to do. There are so many things I want to do and learn about that will have to wait until next time. Next time won’t come soon enough.

Around 4:00pm Bob Cook and 8 people from the Iowa Wesley Foundation showed up at the house. They are here for two nights to learn about Our Sister Parish and the mission here. Once they got settled in we all walked around downtown. There wasn’t a whole lot at the market but I love just walking around downtown. When they walked back to the house I walked to La Casa Mia to see Kimberly. She’s staying there because the medical delegation that comes at the end of the week needs all the rooms at the house. We chatted for about an hour and I walked home for supper.

Dinner tonight was tasty and there was good conversation around the table. After supper Bob walked downtown with some of the people and me to La Neveria. I had a cone with one scoop of mango and one scoop of strawberry. I love ice cream. I have a good friend that eats ice cream every day and I think I’m turning into her. She’d be proud of me (you know who you are). When we got back home the group had an introduction meeting with the team.

Later in the night I taught Alejandro how to play Uno. I wish I could have thought to do this sooner. It was fun playing a card game with someone. And I know there are some games he could teach me as well. I love that I finally feel comfortable asking people how to say things in Spanish and they can ask me how to say things in English. Alejandro told one of the guys with the student group that I was his teacher of card games. I said Alejandro was my teacher of Spanish. It has been great getting to know him and understanding the struggles he has learning English. Even though we are learning two different languages I’ve realized that we struggle with the same things. He told me he was a little afraid to speak English. I said I also get nervous speaking Spanish but that it has been good for me to be a place where I have to speak Spanish because so few people speak English. It is nice that we can struggle and make mistakes together. It is easier to practice a different language when I know the other person is in the same position.

Tonight I spent quite a bit of time talking to Cecilia and Blanca. We talked about all sorts of things. I LOVE these women!! I am going to miss them so much. I have grown so close to them over the past six weeks. They are like older sisters: they look out for me but we’re also able to joke around and tease each other. Getting to know them and spending time with them has been one of the best parts of my experience. When I leave I will miss their humor, generosity, seriousness, love, and devotion to God and others. These women are truly remarkable and are wonderful role models for how I want to live my life. The Pastoral Team has truly become my family.

Berlín has become home. It hurts to think about leaving. Until yesterday I think I was in denial about leaving. But awareness of my departure has crept up on me and it causes me pain. I don’t want to go to sleep because I want to savor every minute I spend here. I am going to miss so many things! I am going to miss the little ants that crawl around on everything including my computer, the pan dulce, and my clothes drying outside. I will miss washing all the dishes and my laundry by hand. I’ll miss the pan dulce that arrives almost every day at 4pm. I will miss the giant hill I walk up to school every day. I will miss sitting in the hammock chair in Kathy’s office for one of our many interesting conversations. I will miss napping in the hammock. I will miss the pupusas, plantains, and beans. I will miss going to church and the market every Sunday. There are so many wonderful things that I will miss when I have to leave. But most of all, I will miss the love of the people here. I know I will never stop loving them, but it hurts to be far away.


“If we deny love that is given to us, if we refuse to give love because we fear pain or loss, then our lives will be empty, our loss greater” Unknown

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The food of El Salvador

I love food. That's why this blog is dedicated to food. Below are some of the meals I ate here and pictures as well. Enjoy!!

2-11-10, Jueves
Desayuno- tamales, plátanos
Almuerzo- sopa de arroz, papas, habijuelas, tomates, y guisguil
Cena- pupusas, papaya, marañon

2-14-10, Domingo
Desayuno- huevos, frijoles, plátanos, tamales
Almuerzo- pescado blanco, frijoles, ensalada
Cena- aguacate, huevos, casamiento

2-21-10, Domingo
Desayuno- huevos, frijoles, tamale, pan
Almuerzo- guisquil relleno, arroz, galletas
Cena- enchiladas con huevos duros, lechuga, aguacate, frijoles, y queso

2-27-10, Sábado
Desayuno- panqueque con miel, frijoles, pan
Almuerzo- pupusas, agucate, jugo de mango
Cena- ensalada de aguacate, huevos duros, y cebolla

3-4-10, Jueves
Desayuno- plátanos, pan, frijoles
Almuerzo- pupusas
Cena- tortilla, pasta italiano, torta de huevo, cebolla, y chile

3-7-10, Domingo
Desayuno- plátanos, pan, frijoles, tamale
Almuerzo- tortillas, huevos, aguacate, frijoles, queso
Cena- pupusas

3-8-10, Lunes
Desayuno- plátanos, huevos, pan
Almuerzo- tortilla, aguacate, arroz, sopa de la Casa Pastoral, jugo de naranja
Cena- tortilla, pasta italiano, frijoles

3-10-10, Miércoles
Desayuno- panqueque con miel, pan, novias
Almuerzo- guisquil relleno, arroz, ensalada
Cena- riguas, banana con pan

3-12-10, Viernes
Desayuno- banana con pan, novias
Almuerzo- hamburguesa, guisquil, frijoles, tortilla, jocote, banana
Cena- quesadillas, fideos




Meal in Perquin


Typical breakfast


Shrimp are a treat


One of my favorite meals


Chicken lunch


I did not like the coliflor relleno


Breakfast


Fried egg in a tortilla = wonderful


Empanadas, quesadilla, casamiento


Enchiladas


Iguana


Homemade pizza


Pescado blanco


Pescado


Más camarones


Sopa de la Casa Pastoral


Tacos


Torta de huevo


Favorite meal: Tortilla with an egg

Monday, March 15, 2010

Let the festivities begin

Today I was awakened by loud music around 5:15am. At first I was confused because loud music and singing usually happens later at night and not early in the morning. Then I remembered that today is the kick off of the patron saint of Berlín festival. There is always loud singing and instruments being played in the morning during the festival. Not only that, they are almost always incredibly out of tune. Most singing and instruments in this town are perpetually flat. It wouldn’t mind it as much if they could sing in tune and without the nasalness. In addition to that, they set off the noise makers several times every fifteen minutes. They basically sound like loud fireworks but without the visual display. As people here would say, “Qué bárbaro!”

As soon as I realized what was happening I thought, “Are these people insane!? Why do they get up so early in the morning to do this?!” No sooner had those thoughts come into my head than I realized, “Great. Here I am writing all these blogs about how wonderful the people and culture here are, and now I’m wishing they would all just go away so I could get some sleep.” When I walked out of the bedroom this morning I told Kathy and Cecilia that I heard the music during the early hours of the morning. Kathy told me the music had been going on longer than I realized. It usually starts around 4:30am and lasts until about 5:30am. She reminded me that the music happens every day this week. So that’s what I have to look forward to every morning.

I told Kathy I thought the patron saint would want us to sleep in during the festival time. She told me to look up information about Saint Joseph, Berlín’s patron saint, to see what he was all about. Not happy about being awakened prematurely I said I thought he was probably the patron saint of debauchery. In actuality, he is the patron saint of various places and things. He is unofficially the patron saint against doubt and hesitation and of a happy death. And according to Wikipedia: “The 19 March feast for Saint Joseph is a time of solemnity.” So really I am right. They should be more solemn and stop playing music so early in the morning.

School went well this morning. My third graders continued asking me questions about the US and what kinds of food we have there. Today they were asking mainly about fruit. Do we have mangoes, plantains, oranges, apples, beans, rice, corn, etc. I explained to them that we had those things in the US but that not much fruit could grow in Iowa because of the snow. They stood by me and took in all in. They also discovered my temporary henna tattoo and wanted to know what is was, where I got, how long it would last, how much it cost. I made a point to them all that it wasn’t permanent. They love asking me questions and I love it when they do. I have so much fun talking to them between classes.

During my third period class a drum line went walking down the street. They were very talented and it was fun to hear but it interrupted my class. And it wasn’t just my class that was distracted. I think I saw half the school leave to go see what was going on. I had no clue where the kids were going at first. It wasn’t till I got home and Kathy told me I’d missed the parade that I realized why the kids had left. It’s like these things were happening to deliberately distract my students. I did my best to go with the flow.

Around 2:30pm Kimberly and I walked around the market. She wanted to see if there were any neat clothes or new items on display. I love exploring in the town and going into new shops. I got some mango ice cream at a new ice cream store I found. It’s been there all along but I’m pretty loyal to La Neveria. After I got my ice cream I didn’t want to walk by La Neveria because I felt like I was cheating on them. I have loyalty to that ice cream store.

Something I absolutely love about walking around downtown is that I inevitably run into someone I know. Recently I have been seeing a lot of my students downtown. They almost always come over and say hi to me and give me a hug. Most of them greet me in English and say goodbye in English as well. I’m glad they learned something during our time together.

I relaxed for a while when we got back to the house. Put some laundry to soak, checked a few emails, chatted with the ladies. I pointed out to Cecilia that I was a little pink from the sun. She said I could also be called “Roasada” (pink) because my skin color had changed yet again. To that I responded, “Hola! Me llamo Alicia Chelita Cafecita Rosada Langosta. Y tú?” Basically that means, “Hi my name is Alisha, white skinned, brown skinned, pink lobster. And you?” we all had a good laugh about that name. When dinner time rolled around Cecilia, Kathy, and I picked up some pizza at a stand downtown. It wasn’t too bad either.

I really wanted to go to the Coronation of the Queen tonight in Berlín. This isn’t something I couldn’t do on my own because I can’t go out after dark alone. I need someone (preferably someone Salvadoran) to go with me. Kathy has been crazy busy working on what seems like ten million different things for upcoming delegations and coffee project stuff so she really didn’t have time. Normally this is something she’d love to do. So Alejandro went with me to the coronation. We didn’t really know what time it was going to start; somewhere between 6ish to 8ish. We left around 7:15pm. We watched some people ride the mechanical bull for a while and chatted with some of Alejandro’s friends.

At 7:30pm the process of the coronation started. First there was some guy on stage singing for probably 30 minutes. He was all dressed up in costume and sang beautifully. It was a lot of fun. Very loud, but very fun. Then the noise makers began to go off signaling the queen’s approach. A few little girls in fancy dresses accompanied by young boys let the procession. Next was the previous queen and then the queen to be. They all went up on stage and sat in their elegant chairs. Someone announced the people on the stage. The previous queen stood up and thanked God and her family for their support during the previous year. Several things happened next: the previous queen and the new queen switched seats, the previous queen presented the new queen with a crown, the new queen was given some kind of staff (not the right word), she received a sash, and finally a red robe. Very impressive.

A young man got up next to say a few words to the queen about her upcoming reign. I couldn’t follow everything he was saying but what I could understand made me laugh. He was talking about her duties as queen and how wonderful the job was. It was like he was wooing her or something like that. Alejandro almost started laughing because I had a hard time controlling my laughter. I’m not sure why it was so funny to me. I think it was just the theatricality of it all. After that was over the new queen stood and gave a brief speech thanking everyone and all that jazz. Finally, there was a processional off the stage.

By then Sergio had arrived to relieve Alejandro from “gringa bodyguard duty” so he could go eat. It’s hard not to be able to go wherever I want at whatever time I want here. I’m very grateful that there are people who don’t mind hanging out with me at night. We walked around town for a while looking at all the sights. There is so much to see and I love walking around at night. I even went on the Ferris wheel again. I was much less worried than my first experience and really enjoyed it this time. Then we watched another procession as the queen went into the dancing area. The music was wonderful. I was told the band is one of the best in El Salvador. Shortly after that I returned to the house. I got home around 10pm. It would have been nice to stay out longer but that would mean someone would have to stay up and wait for me to come home so they could open the door for me. That wouldn’t be fair to the women here or Kathy so I try to get home before they all go to bed.

“I don't think of it as working for world peace, he said. I think of it as just trying to get along in a really big strange family”
Big Strange Family (Brian Andreas)

Toilet photos

Because not all toilets are created equal:


At the lagoon in Alegría


At a house in Alejandría


At the artisan market in San Salvador


At the boy's school where I teach


At the restaurant, Casa Blanca near Ilobasco


At the Pastoral House


At a team member's house in Alejandría


At the Door of the Devil in San Salvador


At the colonia of el Jardín


At El Mozote


At a caserio of San Francisco


At the canton of El Tablón Cerna


At the University of Central American in San Salvador