Friday, May 26, 2006

attack of the parasites....and work stuff, too

dudes, i´m all kinds of sick. parasites have taken over. i´ve been sick for like 2 weeks but i still haven´t gone to the doc´s because every day i wake up (after not eating all night obviously) and feel ok. that, and i don´t want to sit on the bus for forever while being sick. plus, i don´t know where the doc´s is in sonsonate (the lab closest to me) and i´m not that big of a whimp that i can´t just go and find it....but me being all bummed out and all, i just don´t think i can take it when fifty salvadorans are staring at me on the bus or in sonsonate. so i keep putting it off because i think i don´t have to go right away. but then at night, i get kicked in the ass once again.

so antonio told me he´d go to sonsonate with me this morning to show me where the place is and then he said he would go see the davinci code with me at the metrocentro there. i thought - well there´s an idea. i can find the place and hopefully the movie will make me not think about parasites in my intestines. but then he came this morning and told me that now he´s sick and he felt really bad and said we could go tomorrow. i totally understood because he was looking pretty sick. but then i suddenly got all upset - not that we weren´t going, but everything surrounding me being sick and not being back home in the states. i was like pissed off at if i were sick in the states, i could just go to the damn doctor, IN A CAR....or, better yet, if i was in the states, i probably wouldn´t have parasites.....i was pissed because after watching and supporting my beloved detroit tigers after having losing seasons that were secured in APRIL for the past 8 years or whatever, they now have the best record in baseball and are actually WINNING and have a WINNING RECORD and i´m friggin´ in central america, miserable, with parasites....i was pissed that my WINNING streak of not getting sick - like parasites and amoebas - has come to an end (8 months isn´t bad though)....i was pissed that this book that i had my parents waste postage to send me is the stupidest book i´ve ever read in my life, so bad, in fact, that i quit the book after getting halfway through it, i actually threw it on the floor and considered using it to line the second wormbox i´m gonna make at the school....i was pissed that there is all this drama going on at the school (including my own frustrations which i´ve documented below) between the teachers and i´m thinking, goddammit, it´s the same everywhere you work, no matter what country.....

so antonio´s like we can just go today - let´s go! and i felt even worse because i was making him feel bad so i apologized and told him i didn´t mean that i was pissed because we weren´t going and all. i explained what i just explained to you all above. then he said we could go tomorrow when he felt better. then he said something about him feeling responsible to help me out because it´s not my country and i don´t ¨have¨ anyone here like a family to be there when i am feeling crappy and all. so that made me feel better.

anyways...enough of that. (as if this post about my work wasn´t long enough when i wrote it last night, i had to go and add that beginning .part today).....

so i’m gonna talk about work stuff now. it’s been the cause of great happiness and joy working with the kids, but has also been super frustrating as well. i’m doing a myriad of things at the school, and less with the community right now, just because that’s how it’s worked out these past couple of months. i’ve got this harebrained idea/proposal that i may or may not go forward with, so i won’t go into that right now. i’ll stick with writing about what i’m actually doing.

LOS HUERTOS (aka me and my green thumb!)

because the rainy season (winter) just started, it’s been kind of hectic trying to get planting stuff done. the huertos are coming along little by little. let me start way back when i went to the ENA training at the end of april. it was cool because we had a session on vegetable planting and learned all this new stuff which was super informative to me. one of the biggest problems, however, is where in the hell salvadorans are supposed to get seeds to plant vegetables. i went to about five agroservicios in ahuachapán and they all only had cucumber, tomato and radish seeds. one place had carrot seeds but they were in this huge can that cost $7.00 and i was like screw that. and when i was in san vicente for language training i went to three agroservicios there and they had the same seeds. i’m like what the hell?? one guy in an agroservicio in ahuachapán told me that it’s easier for people to buy stuff that’s imported from guatemala so they don’t grow that stuff here and that’s why there’s no seeds....because there’s no market for them. but that’s bullshit, because at one of those meetings in san jorge, all the moms were complaining that vegetables were too expensive to buy for their families to eat all the time. they could only afford them once in a while for sopa de pollo or something like that. so whatever...that guy’s full of crap that i talked to in ahuachapán.

so, when i was at the ENA i asked the dude who was giving us the tech session on vegetable planting that i was having a problem finding seeds. i told him how i went to all these agroservicios and none of them had anything but the big three. he tells me that there’s an agroservicio in santa tecla that usually has a bunch of different kinds and i thought, well that’s great.......buuuuut, santa tecla is just outside of san salvador. that’s not something that’s feasible for the people in my’s too damn far! i’m supposed to be teaching these people to be self-sufficient and teaching them how they can provide for themselves, but i can’t tell them that in order to get started they have to go to santa tecla and find some random agroservicio that may or may not have the seeds they want. i need to call CENTA (this ag group here in el sal) or write them a letter and express this concern because it’s not gonna work for these people if they can’t get the seeds to plant, ya know? so my dad ended up sending me a bunch of seeds from the states so i could at least teach the kids how to plant stuff and the people of the community will see that we have stuff growing and all that. so that was frustration number one.

secondly, at the ENA, i got a lesson on direct and indirect planting. apparently, since there are so many crazy bugs here, as well as lots of times when there’s waaaay too much irrigation from the rain, there are lots of plants that should be started off in planters and not in the ground. i never thought about this because back in the states, every spring when my dad “planted the garden,” we always put the seeds in the ground directly and each summer we’d have feast after feast of awesome vegetables until we could eat no more. i don’t remember him ever starting any seeds in a planter or anything. maybe i was spaced out or something. but anyway, this guy at the ENA was telling me that certain plants HAVE to be started in the semilleros (starter boxes) here because they’re super delicate and if bugs have a go (specifically zampopos...these humungous ants like i’ve never seen before) or it rains super hard, the plants will totally croak. i knew we had about 3 or 4 of these semilleros at the school left over from some school project way back when. i asked the guy where i get those and he says “at an agroservicio.” and i’m thinking – oh great...wonder how many i’ll have to go to to find them. so of course, i go to one in ahuachapán and the dude tells me the only place to get them is in san salvador. ugh. are you friggin’ kidding me? so i finally just ask him to show me the smallest plastic bags they have and i decide that i can use them instead. so i buy a couple hundred of those and decide to improvise. i ended up taking those bags and folding them in half so they’re not so big and they’ve worked out fantastically. we have lots of dirt so it’s no big deal that i’m using more dirt than i would in a semillero, but geez. but we can also use these again and again as long as they don’t get torn or something. so first we planted tomatoes and then cabbage. they’re growing like crazy and it’s almost time to transplant both of those...probably in a couple weeks or less. last week, a group of 4th and 3rd grade boys and i planted lettuce and beets in some more bags. so we have four different types of vegetables growing in bags in back of the school. they seem to be doing fine. but the whole semillero thing was frustrating.

also last week, the 5th and 6th grade boys and i planted radishes, sugar snap peas and carrots. the peas and the radishes have already started coming up and we’re waiting on the carrots. i’ve been a little concerned because it has been raining like CRAZY here and it’s cold too. i asked elba if this was normal weather in may and she said it’s not supposed to get this rainy/cold until july or something. so who knows what’s up, but the huertos seem to be fine. this past week some 3rd and 4th grade girls and i planted cucumbers, and then some 5th and 6th grade girls helped me plant spinach and corn. so we’ve got a lot of things growing, basically on the same schedule, but we’ve still got more to plant. it’s been hard though because it’s been raining so much and it’s difficult to get up there and plant stuff when it’s pouring. plus, the huertos that don’t have anything planted in them keep getting overrun with zacate and other crazy weeds because of all the rain, and i’m constantly having to clear that. so that’s been kind of frustrating too.

but planting with the kids has been great. they all love that they get to do this kind of stuff. sometimes they get WAY too overexcited and i’m in the middle of this pack of kids that are shouting and holding out their hands “dame más semillas señorita laura!” and they don’t quite get the whole idea of spacing out the seeds a little....but whatever. and when i had the girls planting cucumber i told them to get some rocks to mark the rows and i didn’t notice until later when i was uploading the pictures off my camera onto the computer that they took the friggin’ rocks from the carrot rows to put on the cucumber rows. and because the carrots haven’t come up, i have no idea where the rows are. ugh! but’s all good. what’s really funny and nostalgic though is that i’ll be washing my clothes and i’ll be going through the pockets in my pants and i’ll find random vegetable seeds and papers and dirt and just random other stuff and it reminds me of when i was growing up and it’d be my turn to wash clothes or something and my dad would have all that same kind of stuff in his pockets. so maybe i am now becoming the agricultura de mi familia. anyway, so that’s all the huertos and planting stuff.

GENERAL MEDIO AMBIENTE STUFF (aka plans i thought up the night before)

the other day i did another activity with the 5th and 6th graders. there is this really small magazine that i think is supposed to be some kind of tourist magazine of el’s super small though, like maybe 10 pages – if that – long. it comes out each month and in each issue there is an article about an animal or bird that lives in el salvador. the article is written by someone from this group called “salvanatura” which is this group that works here in el salvador in protecting the animals, plants, trees...everything nature-related. they work in el imposible (which is by me) and parque montecristo and other protected areas in el salvador. anyway, these articles talk about the animal’s color, size, where it lives, etc. and since niña teresita runs the hostal she gets multiple copies of the magazine for the “lobby.” so i found copies of about ten magazines and i cut out the animal articles. so i had the kids get in groups and they had to pick one of the animals and i gave them poster paper and they had to draw a picture of the animal and put its name at the top. then below that they had to list its characteristics. then each group had to go in front of the class and talk about their animal – which was funny because they are super shy in front of the class like that. but i just thought the activity was good because i didn’t have to do too much “lecturing” or anything. it was a good way to educate them on the local fauna and they had to read the article to get the characteristic information. plus they got to draw and color, which of course, they spent most of the time doing...but it was a good activity i think. and it totally worked out. and i was happy because before i went into their classroom, i was in the room next door, and i heard mirna tell them that i was gonna work with them and they were all clapping their hands and happy that i was gonna teach. so that’s good, right? so i’m doing stuff like that.

FRUSTRATION CENTRAL (aka other work i’m doing)

let me start by saying that one thing that i DON’T have to do is teach english. so many other volunteers end up doing this and i just have major problems with us teaching english. there are so many kids that have trouble with their own language, that i think it’s stupid for us to be teaching them english....taking time out of their already short day and teaching them a language they may or may not have to use in the future. there is this dude that they hired back in february who comes in a teaches english and computers, so i don’t have to do any of that thank god.

so anyway, my mom sent a bunch of spanish books to the teachers to use and i told them that i’d like to do that – read with the kids who are having trouble.....or just generally read with the kids - because it’ll help me with my pronunciation as well. anyways, the other day i went into mirna’s 1st grade classroom to see what she was doing with the kids and she asks me to take this one kid in the other classroom and work with him on this language stuff. so that was fine. and then elba brings in like three kids from her class and wants me to work with them too. supposedly on the same thing the other kid was working on, even though they are in different grades. so fine, whatever. then mirna brings in this other girl, who is partially deaf, so that i can work with her too. ok – it’s a little overwhelming, but i figured, at least they’re getting extra help, ya know? i mean, i’m not working on primary project stuff for the peace corps the entire time i’m at the school, so whatever. so that was that morning.

later in the afternoon, after i did the activity with the 5th and 6th graders, paola (elba’s daughter – who is now attending the school too...she had some kind of problem at her other school in apaneca [read on and you’ll probably guess what her “problem” was]) is hanging out because her dad (elba’s husband) couldn’t come to pick her up. so i was helping her with her homework. well, i have no idea why, but mirna had four 1st graders back in her classroom in the afternoon, sitting at a bunch of desks while she (and me, earlier on the whole animals of el salvador thing) is teaching to 5th and 6th graders. so since i was working with paola, who’s also in 1st grade, mirna decides to sherk these four 1st graders off on me. so i had three different 1st graders than the ones i had in the morning plus the karen (the partially deaf girl) and paola.

ALSO, let me backtrack....that morning, and the morning before, i was working on something in the empty classroom and i heard one of the 1st grade girls crying. the first morning i walked by and saw that it was paola. she was sobbing and mirna wasn’t paying attention to her. elba walked by the classroom a couple times and didn’t acknowledge that her daughter was crying or anything either. but of course, all the kids in the class were like “what’s wrong with paola? paola’s not working! blah, blah, blah” and mirna’s shouting instructions at the top of her voice about whatever it was they were doing in an effort to pretend not to pay attention to paola. friggin’ chaos. well that lasted like maybe half an hour or an hour. the second morning, paola bawled all morning totally sobbing. WTF? but during recreo she’s fine and running around and what-not. so that afternoon, i’m working with her and i’m all scared she’s gonna start bawling but she ends up being fine. but i’m still all overwhelmed with these kids.

then the next day, i was just about ready to read some books with bessy’s kindergarten class, when mirna shuffles me in the other classroom and tells these kids that i’m gonna work with them again. so i’ve got erick, karen, ever, melissa and of course, paola. i’m not even sure why i’ve got this mix of kids because a couple of them have no problems whatsoever. we get two seconds into starting and paola starts bawling over absolutely nothing. all i’ve said is the word “dama” (they need to write the word down, spelled correctly). i’m not even kidding. i said “la primer palabra es dama.” and paola starts bawling. ??????? so i ask her what’s up and she’s sobbing something and i’m like – look, i don’t EVEN know what your problem is. and this is even more confusing because later, when she finally stopped and the kids were all acting wild and what-not, i had to do the whole “ok, the kids that work hard and listen are gonna get a sticker” routine. so i kept using that when they would get crazy and paola was acting horrible and finally i told her she wasn’t getting a sticker and she didn’t shed a tear. (i predict this girl is gonna have some big-time issues in the future.) so i never got to read with bessy’s class, because every time the 1st graders i was working with would finish a page, i’d tell them to go give it to mirna and they’d come back and say “seña says to do another one!”

AND, if that all wasn’t crazy enough, mirna came in at one point and was yelling about how the kids weren’t writing the words and sentences in the appropriate spaces in their notebooks, and i’m thinking “seriously? this is what you’re worried about? the organization of the words? shouldn’t it be on the fact that they’re spelling them correctly?” so she’s kind of yelling – not really, but kind of – at me that the kids need to leave space for the sentences and i’m like “i know, but you need to tell THEM that. i understand you.” because i had tried to explain it to the kids earlier and they didn’t get it so i just let it go because at least they were working and they were doing pretty good at the spelling and all that. so after mirna’s outburst, i told the kids that they had to write all the words in the top half of the page, and the sentences in the lower half and paola’s like “no, the words need to be in a list all the way down the page.” and i’m like “but you don’t have room for the sentences at the bottom then.” see, they try to copy exactly how it is in the book and the way it’s laid out all fits because it’s stuff that a book company laid out with a printing press or a computer – not by first graders with crazy handwriting. but they try and copy it how the book is so it looks exactly like that and of course, it doesn’t work because they don’t have enough room for the sentences and ugh.

ANYWAYS, so finally i draw a line in the middle of their pages and i say “look, you have to put all the words here in the top half and the sentences in the bottom half.” and it works out fantastically. they LOVE the simple fact that i draw a line in the middle of their page AND they understand it. so great, right? well, then mirna comes in later and says to paola “why do you have that line there” and paola tells her why and mirna tells her “you don’t need that line.” and i looked at mirna and i said “i’m the one that put the line there because they don’t understand that they have to leave room for the sentences at the bottom.” and she was like “oh, you did?” seriously, for fuck’s sake!

so yeah, mirna was all uptight about the “format” of their notebooks. and i was kind of like “ok, whatever” not making a big deal about it. i was a little irritated at mirna’s obsessiveness about it, but that’s pretty much how everything is here. salvadorans (and i’m not sure if this is true in other latin american countries) spend soooooo much time worrying about appearances. like with mirna and the notebooks. they ignore the big problems but spend huge amounts of time on presentation. mirna isn’t glad that they can spell these words and write the sentences....she’s mad that the notebooks look less than perfect. they’re 1st graders!!! they can barely write, let alone in perfect lines and all that!!! or like with the animals activity i did. one group wrote the name of their bird on the side of the picture and couldn´t fit it all on one line and they wrapped the words. mirna walked by and was like ¨you didn´t do that right, you should have left enough space for it all.¨ and i´m thinking - seriously, why is that important? they´re not giving a presentation to the board of directors at some huge company.

yesterday, during fisica, i was down on the football cancha sitting on one of these tires that surround it, and this other dude who sometimes works with the boys on soccer, comes over and is hesitant to sit down because there’s a little dirt on the tires. and i’m thinking – you just threw your plastic mango bag on the ground where it joined all the other churro bags and candy wrappers and you’re worried about getting a couple specks of dirt on your pants? meanwhile, i’m sitting my ass on one of the tires, my pants have mud and dirt on the bottom of the pant legs and on the front (from working in the huertos). i KNOW that there are people who think i’m the “gringa sucia” because when i work at the school, i get dirty from the mud and dirt and whatever else. my shoes always have mud on them, a lot of the time my pants do, my hair’s not perfect, i don’t wear makeup or anything. and you know what, i could give a rat’s ass. i’m not peeing on the side of the road, i’m not throwing my trash in the street.

i mean, who are the people here kidding? seriously? on any given day i can walk down the street in apaneca and see some dude peeing on the wall of a building or house. or on the bus.....i’ve seen people hack up loogies and not even spit them out the window. no, they bend their heads and spit on the floor of the bus in front of them. the kids at school even. i’ve seen some of them NOT walk up to the school to use the restroom, but drop trou right on the side of the cancha and do their business. and the teachers, while they don’t encourage this, don’t yell at the kids and tell them to get their butts up to the school bathrooms either.

while this might seem just plain gross, and it is, it’s also the cause of serious contamination problems leading to lots and lots of illnesses. what is frustrating for someone like me witnessing all this is the fact that they HAVE appropriate places to go to the bathroom – especially at the school – it’s not like they have to “hold it” all day or something. but you know, i don’t even blame the kids because they just do what their parents do. all the houses in san jorge have latrines or bathrooms, so there is no excuse here for the people here, adults especially, doing that. i should point out, though, that not ALL kids do this, and not ALL adults do this either. i’m just speaking in terms of how ironic it is that i’m seen as the “dirty” foreigner, or the weirdo teacher because of the whole lines-in-the-notebook thing, when there are salvadorans who are doing things that i would consider way more “sucia,” but because they look perfect or “presentable” doing those things, it’s ok. does that even make sense?

but getting back to the whole presentation thing.....i already told you how the people here iron EVERYTHING. when i was in molineros whenever it was, ana was ironing dayana’s and sindy’s clothes and then saying “i’m so tired. i have a headache from ironing all these clothes.” ??????? i can understand dayana’s school uniform. but sindy’s clothes??? the ones she’s gonna wear for a couple hours until she spills juice or candy or rolls around in the dirt in? i think ana could’ve skipped those – which was probably the bulk of the clothes – and saved herself a headache. but it’s the whole “appearance” thing.

so to end this dissertation of my work as i head on into my 8th month here....... please don’t think i’m a jerk for being frustrated. i DON’T WANT to sound like an asshole, which i probably do. in fact, i REALLY don’t want to be an asshole, because working with the kids is fantastic. and everyone here, in both apaneca and san jorge (and everywhere else), most of the time, is absolutely swell. they are nice and caring and do everything they can to make me feel welcome here and feel like it is my actual home for 2 years. and i DO feel like it’s home. it’s just that there are also times where i start to feel it, that crappy feeling that maybe i am “better off” simply because i’m from the states and things are different there. i absolutely DON’T want to feel like that AT ALL. i want to believe that the people here can change the way they view some things....that’s it’s NOT ok for a girl to only complete 6th’s NOT ok to ruin not only YOUR environment and health, but THE environment and EVERYONE ELSE’s health by throwing your shit all over the place and using the football cancha/street/wall of another person’s house as your own personal bathroom.....that maybe it’s OK if your 11-year-old doesn’t iron the whole family’s clothes because the 11-year-old needs to go to school.....that it’s NOT ok to take an hour of school away each day for a week (when they are only in school for 3½ hours a day) so the girls can practice dances (some of which are totally inappropriate) for yet ANOTHER fiesta......

and while i want people here to change their views on things like i just previously mentioned, i’m changing MY views on things as well because of the people

you do NOT have to be able to communicate with words all the time - you can understand people fine (even when you have no idea what they’re saying) when they smile and take your hand and shuffle you into their home for almuerzo that they probably can’t even know who they are and where their heart is;

living my life without unnecessary complications – jesus did i spend a lot of time worrying about pointless crap back in the states;

being a more visibly affectionate person – i thought i was a friendly person back home, but being here has turned me into some kind of super amazing friendly person;

appreciating my family more – i don’t think i’ve ever realized why it’s so great to have parents and grandparents and cousins and kids until coming here; and

not relying on material things so much, but appreciating the non-material stuff – we are obsessed with material stuff in the states...every single one of us, and i know when i come back i’m definitely going to be at least a little less obsessed.


i need a vacation!!!!

3rd and 4th grade girls planting cucumber

johana covering the first row

johana making the next row



selena, leti (leti HATES getting her picture taken, and ALWAYS has this face in pics she ends up...i always tell her she doesn´t HAVE to be in any pictures, but occasionally she gets peer-pressured into it and settles for just giving me this face), johanna, jenifer, norma, alexandra and ruth (with the rake)

the 5th and 6th grade boys planting radishes, carrots and peas

3rd and 4th grade boys planting lettuce and beets in starter bolsas

jonathan and david working on the animals of el salvador activity

juan carlos

melvin and lucas

el gavalin pajarero

tucan verde