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?”
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,
a.k.a. Alicia Chelita Cafecita Rosada Langosta Sirena


Matt said...

Sounds like you had a long, exhausting day. Welcome back to the US. I know it may be a difficult transition but I know you will definitely go back to El Salvador soon and the people you met will always remember the impact you had on their lives.

Sandy and Joe Ellis said...

Rather than just criticize the airline staff on the plane, you might want to write to the airline and express your disappointment. Not so much for the lack of Spanish (some people, myself included, do not have a knack for languages - but you might say that they really should put Spanish speaking staff on international flights to Spanish speaking counties), but more for the rudeness shown to the deaf people. Their bosses need to know. Include your flight number and the day you traveled.

Alisha Lundberg said...

I will be writing the airline about my disgust at the way the staff treated the people who were deaf. That kind of behavior is unacceptable.

In regards to the Spanish, I find interesting the double standard that seems to apply to many areas of life regarding second languages. So many times people from Latin America are expected to speak English but there is rarely an expectation for people from the US to speak Spanish.

Most Americans know what the words "hola" and "adios" mean. It is not that difficult to attempt to use those words when greeting people from Spanish-speaking countries. And I would think that people living in LA (where the flight crew was from) would know even more Spanish what with almost half the city being Latino and Spanish-speaking. It seems like they’d have to go out of their way to not hear Spanish.