Tuesday, November 01, 2005

the tortillas are better in the east....just an FYI

field based training rocked. we had such a great time up in la unión....i’m so glad that i was selected to go to evita’s site near monteca. she had awesome stuff planned for us, and even though we had a lot to do, it didn’t seem like things were too intense. in fact, things were really laid back and chill. the volunteers that were in my group were anna, courtney and nathan. we’re all in the environmental ed group, so we were kind of glad we got assigned to the same group for field based training. let me explain about the environmental ed thing first. our program is the “agroforestry/environmental ed program.” it’s all one program, it just has two different divisions. but, actually, no matter what division you’re in, you’ll end up doing almost the same type of work. the only difference is that your counterpart in the AG4 group is a farmer, or ADESCO member, or something like that. in EE group, your counterpart is a teacher or someone in the schools. we had program interviews with rolando - the guy in charge of the AG4/EE group – something like the second week we were here just to get an idea about what the program is and all that. i told him i didn’t care...he could put me in whichever area. he said that was cool and to think about it over the next couple of weeks, and he would have second interviews. so during that time i learned alot about the two areas.

the problem is, we’re dealing with a super machismo culture here and being a female and having a male, adult counterpart in the agricultural field is really hard. we’ve heard tons of stories here so far from female volunteers about the difficulties they’ve had working with their male counterparts in the AG4 group. some have had to change sites, or change counterparts because some males just don’t respect females at all – that’s just the way it is. they want help, but don’t want it from a girl.....so it’s kind of a bit of a problem. and we’re really not here to change the machismo aspect of things.....so it’s just really hard. we’re here to help people with farming and environmental issues and that kind of stuff. don’t get me wrong, some farmers are totally great – like the two farmers i worked with in chalatanengo. or even mario (megan’s dad). it’s just that some farmers don’t think women can do that kind of stuff. in any event, i didn’t want to take my chances with ending up with an asshole counterpart. so in my second interview i told rolando that given the problems that could arise, i think i’d be more effective in the EE program. plus i’ve done work with kids, which is a required part of the EE program. there’s still a chance i’ll end up with a shitty counterpart in the EE program too, but the chances are much less likely. we were shocked when rolando posted the assignments because there are only six of us in the EE program, and the rest of our group is in AG4. we started separate technical training sessions last saturday – which basically means we learn different things we can do in our sites. we totally love our EE group because it’s small and we can do a lot more. we did a hydroponics project and a square meter organic garden last saturday. we also started work on a tree nursery which was something i had really never thought about doing before.

so that’s how that’s all divided up. anyway, so on wednesday, anna, nathan, courtney and i loaded up into the NEW ride (the replacement for the truck that got totaled during that crazy week of rains), along with carlos and esmerelda – our spanish teacher. the trip to la unión took about 4 hours or so. halfway there we had to pick up evita – the volunteer we were visiting. her site is way up in the mountains in la unión – and it’s really beautiful there. you can see the mountains of honduras from her canton, and it’s like her site is hidden away from everything. she has a great relationship with her community and everyone knows her and loves her.

on wednesday when we got to her site, she took us over to the school and we did a map project with the fifth graders. basically, the project entailed having the kids draw a giant map of el salvador on the wall in this big open area of their school. (all of the public schools in the rural areas of el salvador are basically half inside and half outside) anyway, evita had already drawn the squares, and she had papers with the map divided up and drawn on the squares. we each had to work with 2 or 3 kids and help them draw our section of the map. that was kind of hard because explaining to them in spanish what they had to do was confusing. most of the kids got it though. although – the school situation here in el salvador is really weird and strange. kids have like tons of recesses, and even during this project, kids would lose interest and go play....or some would be really into it. then, it would be time for them to go back to their classroom and half of them would either stay with us, or they’d go play or buy snacks and just generally goof off. some kids would go back and study and the teachers basically only take the kids who want to work seriously, and don’t make the other kids come back if they don’t want to. it’s so totally different then what we are all used to. anyway, we got the map drawn and a couple countries painted before we had to leave. later, we hung out at evita’s house for a bit and then she took us over for pupusas at this woman’s house. turns out this woman also makes and sells pan dulce (something we’ve all grown to love) so we were salivating over that. that night we all realized too that it was going to be a crazy three days because we were all so hysterically laughing about the most stupid stuff. anna and i knew each other pretty well because we were roomed together in DC, and then both assigned to molineros. and we knew nathan and courtney, obviously, but didn’t know them really, really well. that night, we were dying laughing about something i can’t even remember and nathan brings up this laughing incident he and i had at one of our tech training sessions. anyways, nathan says to me “dude, i can’t even look at you without laughing.” so anna tells him that i am always making her laugh hysterically because we both think the dumbest things are just so funny. i was trying to explain to them about how funny it is when i get together with my best friends, or my other friends from my old job and nathan says that i have to be the factor in all those situations because he’s practically in tears from laughing so hard.

i’m not kidding you, my stomach was hurting that night – and i thought more laughing was not even possible. well, it was possible because later after we dropped anna off at her house, we had to park the car near evita’s house and walk to mine and courtney’s houses. so we’re walking in the dark, and carlos has a flashlight but doesn’t have it on for some reason. so we’re walking along and all of a sudden carlos turns the flashlight on and there’s this huge pile of dirt in the middle of the road. one more step and we’d have all bitten the dust big time. courtney’s dying laughing and we’re trying to walk around it when this mule appears out of nowhere on the side courtney and i are walking on. i about lost it. finally, we get around that and we’re still walking and courtney says “i feel like i’m in a time warp....all we’ve done is travel around el salvador and stay at stranger’s houses. we give them a couple of dollars and then leave a couple days later.” it’s so friggin’ true!! and it probably doesn’t even sound funny, but damn it was so funny when she said it!!! i guess you have to understand how it is doing this. we literally show up at the front door of these people’s houses. the only families that have any contact with the actual peace corps office are the ones we are staying with during training. the family i stayed with in chalatenango didn’t even really know maria (the volunteer)....she knew the nephew. so i showed up on their doorstep and stayed there for 3 days. my family in la unión at least knew evita. the mom was a teacher in the school, but it didn’t really take away from the awkwardness of moving into her family’s home for 4 days. these people are so nice....they give up a bed that every other night is being used by one of the kids, and make us our meals and give us fruit and pan dulce, and talk to us and ask us questions about ourselves and don’t laugh when we sound like total idiots. my family in la unión was so nice. norma and her husband mario have four girls...the youngest is 7 months (jisela), next was jessica (4 years), norma – or normita as everyone called her (11 years) and the oldest, Cassandra (15 years). anyway, in some way you have to experience this whole thing to understand how strange, funny and interesting it all really is. like when courtney and i were walking back to our houses later on thursday or friday, we were saying how we can’t believe we are experiencing this whole thing. i’ve seriously not ever in my life seen so many stars in the sky because we were in the mountains, and far, far away from any kind of city or anything. and we were walking back to families that we only met a day ago. it’s just really cool to think about.

on thursday we had to do some charlas in the school. nathan, courtney, anna and i were basically in charge and the first one we had to do was a sex-ed charla to the 8th graders. no, this doesn’t really have anything to do with EE, but it’s what usually happens when volunteers get to their sites. we’ll end up doing tons of secondary projects – which may have nothing to even do with what our primary project is. it’s all about getting into the community and participating as much as possible with the people who you’re working with. in evita’s case, it’s the school.....so anything she can participate in and help the school with ends up helping her primary project. so anyway, we had to do this sex-ed activity with the kids, and basically it was the nathan show because he speaks awesome spanish. he has a really thick southern accent, but when he has to speak spanish, he speaks perfectly and you’d never know he is from north carolina. we then had to present the same charla to the 9th graders, and that one went a lot better. i worked with a small group and was able to actually have a few conversations with them. after lunch we played soccer with the kids at the cancha. nathan got his ass handed to him playing with the boys. those kids are born playing soccer. courtney, anna and i played a mean game with the girls while evita laughed and took pictures of us. later that afternoon we gave a lombriculture charla to 6th graders and that was really fun. we briefly talked about lombriculture and then spent the rest of the time building a worm box. after that we went over to evita’s and she taught us how to make bracelets. that was a bit of a challenge, but i think we kind of got the hang of it. evita has gotten a group of women together in the community and taught them how to make these bracelets and they now sell them. it’s a small start, but it’s really necessary for some of these women to have some sort of income other than remesas. it’s strange how the communities are losing men to the united states. some men send back remesas; some don’t. it’s really quite sad that so many men just decide el salvador has nothing for them. they’re not escaping oppression or anything like that – it’s simply the lure of the united states and job opportunities. but i feel like that coming to the u.s. only burdens them with the feeling of always wanting more stuff. in the short time i’ve spent here, it’s kind of like the people that stay here don’t seem to be constantly “saving” for something new or wanting the new and improved thing that has just come out – like we are prone to do in the u.s. they’re not saving for a washing machine....they wash clothes by hand and it gets done and the clothes are clean. but that’s another issue i’ll have to take up on another day – the changing social structure here. it’s like it came to the point where i really had a great respect for mario – my host dad in la unión – because he hasn’t left and is staying with his family here in el salvador.

friday was spent hiking up cerro chato with the 4th graders. that was soooo fun. the kids were so into it, and they totally had a fun time. we took a ton of pictures at the top and just chilled out for a half hour or so. you could see the mountains of honduras, as well as the canton and even a bit of monteca. after we got back to the school, we had lunch with the teachers and then that afternoon finished the wall map. it looks really good and it was cool to think that it will be there for a long time. that night before we left the school there was the most awesome sunset on the west side of the school. we all were just in awe at how awesome it was. i would have never thought of el salvador when thinking about something like that – but it was just as awesome as anywhere else. we were walking back to evita’s that night and i was telling nathan, courtney and anna that i probably sound like a spanish neanderthal because my grammar isn’t super good yet....and that practically sent everyone over the edge laughing. but it’s true!!!!! i’m sure what i sound like is “hello!!! i laura. i teach you. worms. need newspaper. need plastic. need dirt. need orange and bananas. fun!” well, maybe it’s not that bad.....but still. i feel like that sometimes because it gets frustrating. back at evita’s we made pasta and talked about the following day. esmerelda made us chocolate – which is similar to hot chocolate, but without the milk part. it’s basically just sugar and chocolate melted into this fantastic drink. evita also told us that the next morning we would be capturing the two chickens in her backyard and taking them to my family’s house because we were going to learn how to make chicken soup. we were all like “you’ve got to be kidding.....”

well, she wasn’t. on saturday, we gathered at evita’s for the chicken capturing event. nathan was successful in catching the first one, and anna finally got the second one, although she didn’t really know what to do when she finally caught it. we carried them down the road back to my family’s house and left them there while we went out with mario to learn how to milk cows. that was friggin’ hysterical – as one of the young calves took to head-butting all of us when we weren’t looking. after realizing that we all made smart choices by not taking up cow-milking as our careers, we went back to my family’s house where we began the chicken killing. i’ve taken part in this before when i was a kid and my dad put our chickens down so that we could have a freezer full of meat. but as an adult, i definitely put much more thought into the whole event. it was really quite slow and norma cut their throats so methodically that it was almost as if the chickens didn’t even know what was happening. i’m never left feeling good when i see an animal lose its life.....but it was over so quickly and quietly that i only felt bad for a few quick moments and then realized that this is how this family – and most other families here – feed themselves. we took the dead chickens back to the house and did the whole de-feathering thing, and then watched norma de-gut them. that was actually as interesting as it was disgusting. a couple of hours later, we had a tasty chicken soup.

we were all super tired, and the ride back to san vicente was relatively painless as i slept most of the way. anna found a “brainquest” game in the back of the car, so we were playing that for a full five minutes before we realized it was for 7-12 year olds. i’m not kidding you......one of the questions was “was chicago’s al capone known because he was a gangster or an olympic skier?” WTF??? why did the peace corps have that game in the car????

well, i’m not sure if i exceeded my entry after my visit to chalatenango....but there’s just so much to tell about my time here. there’s going to be a lot going on in the next couple of weeks too. next weekend we’re hiking chinchontopec as well as visiting an archaeological site – probably the thing i’m most looking forward to. the following weekend is our second travel weekend. that week, i’m pretty sure we find out where our sites are going to be. i’m so nervous about that. we have to do a camp that next weekend, and then after that is our site visits – where we have to find a house and all that stuff. then it’s time to swear in. i can’t believe training is over half done. time flies i suppose.

oh, i think i’ll have pictures to post next time....i’m snagging them from anna’s and nathan’s digital cameras.


me - walking with three 4th graders on our way to climb the cerro

anna and nathan with the two unfortunate chickens