Sunday, March 24, 2013

Never Will I Ever

This is a list of things I will never do upon returning to the states.

I will never forget to call my host family/ second family in El Salvador.

I will never under-value the food I eat.

I will never be ashamed of my love for Pitbull
I will never complain about doing laundry, even if I have to go to a laundry mat.

I will never forget the security that my mosquito net gave me.

I will never get bangs again.

I will never take for granted fast internet, CVS or fresh mangos

I will never forget how important family is. Or how awesome it is to have a supportive family.   

I will never not complain about buying a $2 pupusa in the states.
(I will also never be deterred from buying it just because it is $2)

I will never trust a pig.

I will never forget the kindness shown to me by those in a country not my own. 

Peace out El Salvador... until next time

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Stove Project: The End (Thank God)

Neri helping carry planchas
Well I am going to attempt to wrap up this crazy stove project in this post. As of today I have one stove left to build. And hopefully that will be happening tomorrow. Lets all take a moment to cross our fingers.

Hela loven her some cocina mejorada
So lets recap real quick. There were, at one time, three masons working on this project. Two in Alex Boy's site and one in mine. Well on the same day, one of Alex's masons dies and my mason has a heart attack. On.The.Same.Day.People. The next day people were coming up to me telling me that this project was cursed. Great, that is exactly what we did not need. We only had eight more stoves in my community. We were so close. Luckily Alex's other mason decided to save the day and agreed to come down to my community to build the last of the stoves.

I needed the materials for five more stoves, and I wanted to buy the all of the trees with the money my youth group raised. Neri offered to give me a lift in his giant blue truck. Thank God for Neri. We picked up the rest of my stove materials and the rest of Alex's stove materials. I then purchase 200 baby fruit trees. We have been distributing them all week. We have some Orange and Lime trees, but for the most part they are trees that produce fruit like Paterna and Mamon that do not exist in the states. Epic. 

Don Mario has been splitting his time between my site and Alex's, so it is taking a little longer than projected to finish this project. But I am hopeful that it will finish. And that the project is not actually cursed. Send me good vibes, we might need them. I am ready for my deep breath of relief for when this project is over.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Craziest, Best Weekend Ever.

What do you get when you combine three Peace Corps Volunteers, 22 Salvadoran youth and an overnight excursion to a national park? The best night ever, that's what! But let me back up a moment. Alex Boy and I have been trying to plan this last excursion for months now. It just seemed like it was not fated to work out. But as life sometimes does, all of the pieces fell into place at the last moment.

I had agreed to host a 'work day' in my site with the new group of trainees. But that happened to be the only weekend that Parque Nacional Monticristo had availability to host myself, Alex Boy and our two youth groups. So we booked it figuring it would all work out. I convinced Alex Girl to come out and help us through the events. She came out on Friday afternoon. Saturday we got up and started to get the house ready for the work day. Really there was not too much that needed to be done. Just wait.

My youth group was the first group of people to show up. I threatened them that if they were not on time, 9 am on the dot, they could not go on the over night trip. I was only bluffing, but I did not want to take any chances with anyone deciding to blow off the morning portion of the day. The trainees showed up next with my bosses, Claudia and Iris. This was the first trip that the trainees had made to an actual PCV community and it was also the first time they interacted with Salvadoran youth. Once Alex Boy and his youth group showed up I directed everyone to the soccer field where we all got to know each other with some ice breakers.

Dream Catcher making!
I split everyone up into two groups, each a mix of Salvadorans and Americans, and I let them loose to play a short game of pick up soccer. The game ended and everyone was a winner. Corney to say, but no one kept score. We all headed back to the house where I attempted to teach the significance of and how to make dream catchers. It was kind of a disaster. I was explaining the directions once in Spanish and then again in English. Life gets confusing when attempting to explain anything in two languages.

Just as everyone was finishing up the dream catchers and the snack Claudia brought, I get a phone call saying the Monticristo guys were at the entrance of the community and ready to go. Oy, the one time Salvadorans are on time I am totally not ready. I had not even packed for my self yet. I go up to the entrance and meet them and invite them to lunch. Melida had made a beans and rice dish called casamiento and there was plenty to go around. The trainees left and we ate a quick lunch before heading off to Monticristo.

I had been a little anxious about the trip. Forget the fact that we were taking 25 kids on an overnight trip in the wilderness. Alex Boy and I had not planned anything for us to do with them. We knew there would be a hike, and Alex found someone in the park to cook all of our meals for us, but other than that, we had nothing. As it turned out the park really had their act together. We arrived and immediately had a charla from park staff on the history of Monticristo and why it is important to protect the environment. From there we went through their museum about the park and then on to the 100 Year Garden. It was there we saw the Tree of Love. We had a great dinner and got settled into our cabins. Alex Boy brought speakers and someone found a broom stick and limbo just happened. It was amazing. I am not sure any of us have ever laughed so hard.  

The park staff came back to gather us around at about 8pm. We walked out to the middle of a huge field. Monticristo is a huge forested park in the middle of no where. We could see every star and hear every sound. It was amazing. The guides spoke about the importance of taking care of national treasures like Monticristo. Alex Boy and I spoke a bit about how awesome these experiences had been for us and how we hoped some of them would take something away from these experiences. Then the kids started. Not all of them spoke, but the ones that did had some powerful words to share. They talked about how they would not have had these experiences without us and how they wished were not leaving so soon. It was enough to move some to tears. I won't name names though. Oh and we introduced them to smores. Epic.

Tree of Love, go figure...
As this night was the first away from home with out their families for most of the kids, we gave them a 10:30 curfew. There were two cabins and two tents. Girls were put in the cabins and boys in the tents. Obviously. We were up the next morning by 6 and down to breakfast so we could begin the hike up to Trifinio, where El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet. Just after breakfast two of the more delicate kids in my youth group came up to me and said they were feeling too ill to do the hike. I opted to stay with them just to make sure everything was ok. In the end they admitted to faking it, which was disappointing, but as they say down here, asi es. 

By the time we got back to site, everyone was exhausted. It was a crazy weekend but totally worth it. I will miss these kids like crazy when I leave in just under two weeks. I just hope they have taken something away from these new experiences, I know I have.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stove Project: Part Three

Stove building!
If you will remember where we left off last time. I could not find a mason in my community that wanted work. One Alex's masons took other work and the other mason did not feel it was worth his time to travel down to my site everyday to work. Cue massive freak out. I called TWP and explained the situation. I told them how our main mason flaked out and the other mason did not want to work down here. They were calm and helped me work through some options I had. They did not want to come back up and train another mason. They said I could find someone myself and have Alex's other mason train the new guy, or their mason could come up and work for me for a couple of weeks. The second option did not sound ideal because I would have to house this guy for weeks on end, feed him meals, pay his transport and pay him to build the stoves. It would end up costing me much more than I had planned.

She is happy about her stove, I swear.
I reached out to my community once more. This time though I came back with more success. I found Don Martin. Melida and I went over to his house and basically begged him to take on this project. He agreed and the next morning we set off for Alex's site so his mason could train mine. Masons training masons, that's what we call sustainable people.

To shorten the longest story ever, I will cut through the suspense. Don Martin got trained and he has built 22 (!) stoves. This is where we are at right now. I don't mean to say that it has been smooth sailing, because it has not. But we were trucking along at a pretty smooth pace for about a month there.After the first 10 stoves we ran out of materials. I am not exactly sure what I was thinking when I only ordered the materials for 10 stoves, but I am sure I was probably thinking I did not want to dig myself into too big of a hole if this project was going to fail. So I had to go through the whole ordeal of ordering the materials for 20 more stoves. Thank goodness it was much easier the second time around.

This is what materials for 20 stoves looks like
I did have a freak out about eight stoves in because I felt overwhelmed with all of the small details that seemed to be going wrong. Like I said most of the stove materials are donated or paid for with grant funds. But the families have their part to contribute or the stoves could not be made. They are responsible for coming up with one bucket of sifted colored dirt, three buckets of sifted ash, they must sift the sand they pick up at my house, they must provide a helper for the mason the day the stove is being made and lastly they must pay $20. (The $20 is important for many reasons. First off it gives them a sense of ownership over the stove, making them want to take better care of it. Secondly not all of stove materials are covered in the grant or are donated, this helps cover some of the extra costs. It also pays the mason who is building the stoves.)

 It is shocking how hard it can be for some people to get their act together. For example one of the family contributions is three buckets of sifted ash. Ok I get that three buckets is a hell of a lot of ash. But these families have known this was their responsibility for months. Literally everyone in my community has ash. Everyone. Just go ask your neighbor to save some ash for you. Melida found two buckets of ash the morning her stove was made. (This is not recommended, she thought only one bucket was needed and had a minor freak out when I told her she needed two more.) It is easy, you just have to have a little forethought.

Any who when the families are not prepared Don Martin gets frustrated because he cannot build that stove and he looses work. Often this could be remedied if he would just pick up the phone and call me, because I often have a second family who is ready. But often he just sulks and does not call me. (I also have a sneaking suspicion that he may be illiterate, so maybe he just can't find my name in he phone?) Then there is all of the behind my back gossip about how he is threatening to quit. But when ever I approach him he acts as though everything is fine and dandy. Whatever I would say, just as long as he sticks it out and does not quit before the project is over.

So here we are. I have about three weeks left in site, and eight stoves to go. Keep reading to learn about the latest plot twists.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Parque Imposible: Adrenalin Junkies Only

My lovely ladies.
I couple of months ago Alex Girl and I were chatting about our El Salvador bucket lists. You know, all of the awesome activities and towns we have spent two years listening to other volunteers talk about. We ticked off all of the major places, La Palma, Perquin, Ataco, one last trip to Playa Tunco, she had visited my site, I was scheduled to visit her site, etc. We had done the museums, visited other volunteers, released baby sea turtles and hiked volcanoes. But there was one more big nagging place that we just could not let pass us by: Parque Imposible in Tacuba.

Getting ready for the jump!
This is a full day hike in the beautiful department of Ahuachapan. After getting up early and taking an hour long car ride into seemingly the middle of no where you get out and begin the hike. You start off in the middle of a coffee plantation and head down. It can be quite steep in parts but no one complains because you have not yet been told that you will have to climb back up this monstrous hill. Unfortunately, you notice, all of the coffee plants in the area seem to be dead. After asking the guide about it, he explains about the tragic fungus that has taken El Salvador's coffee harvest by the throat and refuses to let go. The harvest will be drastically less than it should be, cutting jobs and profit for the farmers. The government does nothing.

Eventually you reach a dried up river bed. You think, well this cannot be good and maybe I should have come in the rainy season. But on you walk, the guide not seeming to notice the lack of water. But before long you reach a small waterfall, maybe nine feet down from where you are standing. There are tall, rock walls on either side. The moment of truth has come, there is no turning back. Someone counts down from three. You close your eyes, every nerve in your body on edge because this is not natural. Everything in you says stay, but you hear the collective 'ONE', you let it all go and you jump off the ledge into the pool of water waiting for you at the bottom of the first waterfall.

Sara and Alex
As you hit the water below, your first reaction is 'I'm alive! I did it!'. Your second reaction is 'Shit this water is cold!' Your body is shaking you are so pumped full of adrenalin. All of your friends and hiking companions are jumping now, you begin to come down off of the adrenalin high. The group starts walking again. You come to the next waterfall, it is significantly higher than the first water fall. As you are standing there waiting your turn you remember the story of another volunteer who did this hike several years ago and hit some rocks on his way down breaking his jaw and a few ribs. Nope, you decide that was a terrible story to call to mind at that exact moment because it is your turn again. And so it goes for six more waterfalls, eight in total.

Me jumping again!
After the eighth jump, the guide informs you that it is time to start the hike back. You are mentally and physically exhausted and this hike back is 100% up hill. But there is no other option, all you want is your bed, and that waits for you at the top of this hill. Well that's where the car waits to take you back to your bed. If you are doing this hike as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the guide will go on and on about how much he loves the way PCVs speak Spanish. It is full of slang and we all have terrible Salvadoran accents. He loves it.

That is what you will experience should you ever find yourself in El Salvador, in Ahuachapan, in Tecuba, in Parque Impossible. I highly recommend it.

Drinks in Ataco!

We spent two nights in Tacuba at a cute little hostel. We cooked our own food, we played with the puppy that lived there and we walked through the fiestas that were happening in the town center. Sunday morning we got up and took the bus to Ataco. Oh how I love Ataco. We met up with another volunteer, Kara, and spent the day eating, drinking coffe and shopping. We went crazy that night and went out for drinks after dinner. We got hit on by a creepy guy offering us his home made coffee liquor. (Um no thanks...)  It was a great weekend, the kind you want to re-live again and a again.