Tuesday, August 22, 2006

let me try to answer that.....

since being here i’ve been asked a myriad of questions by people back home about a bunch of different things. so i am gonna try and answer some of them here, since it’s possible that more than one person has the same question. anyways....

where exactly do you live – what country?
el salvador. which is in CENTRAL AMERICA. not south america. and i certainly don’t live in the jungles of south america (as one person put it). and i don’t live in ecuador (as yet another person put it). ecuador is in south america. i live in CENTRAL AMERICA. central america is the group of countries (panama, costa rica, nicaragua, honduras, guatemala, belize and el salvador) that lies in-between mexico and south america. you all know where mexico is (if you don’t, well, i don’t know what to say about that) so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out where central america is. el salvador is the smallest central american country with the highest population density. it’s the only country that does not have a caribbean coast. el salvador lies beneath both guatemala and honduras and it’s entire southern border is the pacific ocean.

here is a great map of CENTRAL AMERICA showing where i live.

what town is it that you LIVE?
i LIVE in apaneca. apaneca is a pueblo of about 15,000 people, but that includes all the surrounding cantones and caserios, as well as those who live in apaneca centro. there is no bank and no grocery store. there are only small tiendas that sell lots of stuff, but if i need something specific, i have to go to the city of ahuachapán. the city of ahuachapán is the capital of the department of ahuachapán. ahuachapán is where i do my grocery shopping, where i have my post office box, where the big market is, where the banks are. ahuachapán is 40 minutes (by bus) from apaneca.

where do you WORK?
i WORK in the caserio of san jorge, which is in the municipio of apaneca. san jorge is about 3 minutes from apaneca. san jorge has a population of about 900 people. these are the people i work with and this is where the school is. most of the people in san jorge are poor, which is in stark contrast with the people who live in apaneca. there are poor people who live in apaneca too, but there is also a lot of wealth there. there are some rich people who live in san salvador that have houses in apaneca. so apaneca doesn’t see these rich people all of the time, just on weekends, or during fiestas like semana santa or the fiesta de patronales – things like that. about 80% of the population of people living in apaneca (or in the surrounding cantones and caserios) work in the cafetales (coffee forests) and this brings in money during the coffee season.....which is from about december to march. the rest of the time people don’t have work or do other odd-job stuff. this is why so many people are poor here.....well, that and the fact that it’s el salvador and there are no jobs for people.

el salvador is broken up into the following: 1) departments (biggest), 2) municipios or ciudades/pueblos, 3) cantones, 4) caserios, and 5) colonias (smallest). so it goes like this....i work in the department of ahuachapán, the municipio of apaneca, the canton of san ramoncito, and finally the caserio of san jorge. it’s basically along the same lines of counties, townships, cities, towns, villages, etc. in the states.

where is ataco and why do you spend so much time there?
ataco is about 5 minutes or so from apaneca. it is in-between apaneca and the city of ahuachapán. i like ataco because it’s a fun little town. it has a higher population than apaneca. i like visiting ataco but i wouldn’t want to live there. there are too many bolos (drunks) and lots of riff-raff in certain areas. ataco is the opposite of apaneca to me....i like living in apaneca, but i don’t spend a lot of time just hanging out there, unless it’s at the hostal. i know more people in ataco too, so it’s nice to hang out with them. it’s also where the pupuseria that i like is located. it’s located in the intersection where the buses come through and i like to sit out there with don gerardo and antonio and niña rosa and whoever else is there just watching everyone. it’s kind of like that bar cheers because it’s usually the same people hanging out. it’s also nice to be able to people-watch since people spend so much time staring at me all the time. i like the park in ataco better than the one in apaneca too because it is bigger and the park benches aren’t all broken. their market is also bigger, so if i need stuff that i don’t want to go all the way to ahuachapán for, i can always try for ataco because there is usually a chance i’ll be able to find it in ataco.

this is a map of the area where i live....as you can see my town is on “the ruta de las flores.” anyway, you can see where all these places are located. the two departments (not labeled) to the right of the department of ahuachapán are santa ana in the north and sonsonate in the south. the towns of juayúa, salcoatitan and nahuizalco are in the department of sonsonate. apaneca and ataco are in the department of ahuachapán.

this doesn’t mean that i don’t like apaneca. i LOVE apaneca and i LOVE living there. i could even picture myself living in apaneca if i didn’t leave el salvador. it’s just a nice quiet mountain town. it just seems to be that i spend more of my free time in ataco just because that’s how it’s worked out.

you always talk about how apaneca is cold but you never explain why. so why is it so cold there?
ok, it goes like this. apaneca is the highest elevated pueblo in el salvador. it’s elevation is approximately 1,480 meters (4,855 feet)...which is almost a mile above sea level. anyway, apaneca is also located smack dab in the middle of the “apaneca-llamatepec” mountain range. there are mountains on all sides of apaneca....cerro apaneca, cerro las ninfas (where the laguna is), cerro laguna verde, cerro los naranjos and cerro las ranas ( both in the dept. of sonsonate). anyway, what happens is it gets cold at night because of the high elevation, but if it’s at all windy, it’s freeeezing because the wind sweeps through the valley between all these mountains and gathers speed because the mountains serve as sort of a tunnel.....and it’s already cold air. once you get past apaneca (going south) the mountain range continues, but only on the eastern side of the ruta de las flores so juayúa and salcoatitán don’t get the wind. plus they are at way lower elevations because they aren’t really in the mountains like apaneca is, so it’s a lot warmer there. also, ataco is to the north of apaneca, but it’s at a slightly lower elevation and it’s not surrounded by cerros, so it’s also not as cold.

here is an ok map of ahuachapan where you can see some of the cerros i talked about (las ninfas, laguna verde and cerro apaneca). cerro los naranjos and cerro las ranas aren’t on there because they are in the dept. of sonsonate and this is only a map of ahuachapán. but they are both located to the southeast of apaneca, below las ninfas and laguna verde. so you can kind of see how apaneca is located within the mountain range.

here’s another photo i labeled (i’m getting good at this labeling thing). you HAVE to click on the photo so that you can see what the labels say. when you´re done looking at it, just hit the back button and it´ll take you back to the blog. anyway, this is a huge wall map of el salvador that they have hanging up in the training center in san vicente. anyway, when we were told where our sites were gonna be, we had to go up and put a star on the map where our site was so everyone could gawk at where people were gonna be. anyway, so that’s why there’s the stars with people’s names on it. so here’s what i have labeled (i’ll try to move from left to right):

APANECA/SAN JORGE: duh, well if you don’t know what this signifies by now, i’d give up on the blog if i were you.

EL IMPOSIBLE: this is the largest protected forest in the country and home to tons and tons and tons of biodiversity. it’s beautiful there and i can’t wait to visit again. i hope salvanatura (the group in charge of protecting these areas) is successful in fully protecting the area because it’s one of the last areas of el salvador that hasn’t been deforested or cultivated.

ANNA’S SITE: self-explanatory....but the name of her little town is “el porvenir” and it’s literally on the beach.

KATE’S SITE: this is where the super hard mountain that we climbed (the first full-moon hike) is located, way up in the northern part of the department of santa ana. also where parque montecristo is.

IMMERSION DAY, PORTERO SULA, CHALATENANGO: this is the little canton i where i was sent to spend my first few days alone, trying to get along with my really broken spanish. it’s located near the border between chalatenango and santa ana and is near the río lempa which is the natural border between the two departments.

LAGO COATEPEQUE: in the southern part of the department of santa ana. this is where anna and i went a couple of weeks ago during vacaciones.

VOLCÁN SANTA ANA: self-explanatory since i labeled it “the one that erupted.” duh.

SAN SALVADOR: self-explanatory....the capital of the country, and the city that i hate to go to most of all.

EL TUNCO: this is the beach in the department of la libertad where i spent my second travel weekend during training. it’s a fun place to go, but definitely not my first choice for beaches. but it’s a surfing beach and near the surfing mecca of la libertad bay which is reportedly one of the best places in the world to surf.

GRACIAS, HONDURAS: where i spent 4th of july this year.

LA PEÑA: this is the most recent mountain i climbed which is near york’s site in the upper part of the department of chalatenango.

COURTNEY’S SITE: the name of courtney’s pueblo is “dulce nombre de maria.” i like courtney’s pueblo, but it’s really friggin’ hot there. i’ve been to dulce nombre about three or four times now and it’s a nice place to just chill (not literally) out with my friend and get away from my site.

SUCHITOTO: this is where i spent my first travel weekend during training. it’s kind of a touristy place, but it’s tranquilo and clean. i haven’t been back there since that travel weekend, but i’m sure i’ll hit it again sometime in the future.

MOLINEROS: the little canton where i spent my months in training.

SAN VICENTE: where the peace corps el salvador training center is located.

PERQUÍN – this is a pueblo in the department of morazán which was heavily affected by the civil war. most of the people who live in morazán are die hard fmln supporters and have horrible memories of the massacres that were carried out by the u.s.-supported salvadoran government. there is a war museum located in perquín which i haven’t visited yet, but that i hope to visit soon. it’s such a far trip, i’d need to plan for a whole day of bus rides just to get there!

FIELD BASED TRAINING, MONTECA, LA UNIÓN: this is where anna, courtney, nathan and i spent four days laughing our butts off during training. the four of us still say that those four days were the most hysterical time we’ve had during our peace corps time here in the savior.

you talk about food all the time....why?
i’m not sure. i guess i didn’t even realize i was doing it until someone pointed it out to me. and so now i’m all self-conscious about it. most of it is because the food really is amazing here. and i also think part of it is because i’m absolutely shocked that i’ve lost 35 pounds since coming down here even though i’ve been eating all kinds of different foods. i’m not kidding.... and i don’t think people in the united states realize how horrible the food is there...i mean, it can taste good, but i’m talking about how horrible it is for our bodies. it’s like – food can be good and be a normal sized proportion. i’ve learned that from living here. proportion sizes in the united states are out of control and i didn’t really realize it until i came here. but the thing is, i never felt like i was not getting enough food when i made the move from the u.s. to here. food here is REAL. it’s not made of preservatives and fillers and all that kind of stuff that is in practically everything we eat in the states. fruits are the colors they are supposed to be. oranges aren’t orange. bananas aren’t bright yellow. the ingredients in pan dulce are sugar, butter, flour...maybe oil too. and yes, that sounds bad for you, and you probably shouldn’t eat pounds and pounds of pan dulce....but i’d rather eat that than pan dulce that has partially hydrogenated oil and preservatives and color #5 and chocolate flavoring and whatever. also, i think when i was sick and i couldn’t eat food a lot of the time, it really was a bummer. and it wasn’t like that lasted for a week or two. that was like for a month or so. so when i could eat, i think i was so excited about being able to eat again, i wanted to describe it all. i don’t know. i’ll quit talking about food for a while!

why is it winter there right now when el salvador is north of the equator?
this question was asked by someone who actually knows where el salvador is. winter and summer are not really terms that people use that much here. yes, it’s winter right now and you’ll hear people using that term sometimes, but what most people use is “the rainy season and the dry season.” the rainy season (winter) lasts from may to november; the dry season (summer) is from december to april. más or menos. there really is no variation in temperatures between the rainy season and the dry season. it’s just as hot in winter as it is in summer. it’s just a matter of if it’s raining or not. temperatures in places like anna’s site are probably around 95-100 degrees every day of the year. so el salvador’s being located north of the equator really has nothing to do with the fact that it’s winter here, because really, it’s just the rainy season. el salvador is also closer to the equator than the united states, which is why it’s hot all year long.

what exactly are you doing?
sheesh. i try to explain things in the blog, but i guess some people don’t read it or don’t get it or something. that’s kind of depressing. i work with the community of san jorge...mostly in the school. in the school, i teach environmental education to the kids – things like recycling and biodiversity (what kinds of plants, animals, trees, etc. live right here in el sal) and why trash is bad for the earth and how water gets polluted and other environmental stuff. in the community i try to talk about the trash that gets left in the streets and how it relates to health problems and how we should recycle and i try to get them to recycle. i’m also working with the community on some agroforestry things...mostly lombriculture (worm-bedding) to grow flowers and vegetables which reduces organic waste and promotes organic (and not chemical) fertilization. basically that’s it. just trying to educate kids and adults about the environment and get them to actually put what they’re learning into practice. the teaching’s not hard, it’s the getting them to do things that’s hard.

are you going to come home during your time there?
no. at least right now i don’t plan on it.

what are you going to do when you’re done with the peace corps?
i have no idea. but i´ve gotten anna hooked on the idea of the apartment in europe idea. and we´ve talked in length about it. and we decided that maybe italian would be easier to learn than french for now, since it´s similar in some ways to spanish. so we´re thinking maybe italy....like take some kind of language course at a language school there for 3 months or something. after that, if we do that, i have no idea.

who is antonio?
god, that question AGAIN? you people are worse than the people here! he’s the promotor de salud in san jorge. he’s my good friend. that’s all you’re getting out of me.

when is your official last day of service?

sometime in late november, 2007. i can’t believe it’s august already. come september 21st, i’ll have been gone for a whole year! time flies!

is it dangerous there?
el salvador is the most dangerous country in all of latin america (yes, including colombia!) so on paper, yes it is dangerous here. but i think that also has to do with the fact that it has a really high population density. add that to the notorious gangs here and you get a pretty dangerous country statistically speaking. but i don’t really ever feel threatened or like i’m in danger. i mean, i’ve explained before that it’s not safe to really be out on the streets anywhere after 9:00 p.m. at the latest. so i just don’t go out in the streets after 9:00 p.m. sure, there’s always a chance i’ll be on the bus that some mariñosos (robbers) decide is the bus that they’re going to board and rob everyone on. but, i mean, what am i gonna do – not go anywhere? i have to ride the buses, there’s no other way to get around. and yes, there are incidences of this – or of gang members getting on buses and harassing people – but it’s not like it happens all of the time. the incident on the bus coming back from la peña was the first time i was feeling a little uneasy, but even that wasn’t that big of a deal. it could have been worse, obviously. but it wasn’t. san salvador is way dangerous and it’s just not a good idea to be walking around alone at night there. i have this one story about san salvador...not my personal experience, but an experience of ashley’s (our tech trainer). she went into the market area of san salvador to buy materials for her artesan group back in her site (which is now anna’s site) and when she was walking down the street, she saw a human head on the sidewalk! there was rickety police tape around the area where the head was, but it was like real shoddy – not very official-looking. but it was some crime scene. and ashley said she never went back there again and made the women of her artesan group go there to buy things after that. can you imagine? central america is kind of rogue still when it comes to things like this. like on the news, they always start off with how many people were found murdered (most by gang members...mara salvatrucha, etc.). but it’s not that they just report on it, they show the lifeless bodies, blood and all, laying where they were found. it’s totally weird. but i have to admit that now i’m used to it and it doesn’t weird me out anymore to see that. but can you imagine if that’s how it was in the states? guatemala seems to have a lot of killings every day.....we get the guatemalan news stations here in my area and it seems that there’s always a lot of murders in quetzaltepeque. guatemala city’s supposed to be super dangerous. i suppose all these central american capital cities are dangerous. but then check this out....remember when i went up to gracias, honduras for that fourth of july thing? well, jamie, the volunteer whose site gracias was, apparently got the shit kicked out of him by la policia there.....like they beat him up pretty bad. i guess what happened is they thought he was some gringo escaped convict or something (not sure on those details) and so now he has to have his site changed to some other town.

the police down here are not messing around. and i’m not sure if we should be afraid of them or be glad when they stop the bus and order all the men off to search them. that’s happened only a couple times on buses i was on. they set up these roadblocks and then randomly choose buses and cars to search. so they’ll pull over a bus and all the men have to get off and line up on the side of the road and get searched. it’s just a whole different ballgame when it comes to the police here. police officers in general just ooze arrogance to me anyways – in the states and down here – so it’s doubly sketchy to see the police officers here gripping their friggin’ machine guns like they’re just WAITING for someone to make a wrong move. i told you how anna and i saw these two police officers kicking the crap out of this dude on the street in san salvador. they did it totally for kicks too, because they kicked him around for five minutes and then started walking back down the street and were laughing. like it wasn’t an arrest or anything like that.....yeah, like if it was an arrest it’d be justified..... but what i´m saying is this dude was not carrying any weapons or anything so it wasn´t like the police were afraid he was gonna hurt them.

also lots of guys carry machetes everywhere, which sounds crazy just reading it. but it’s not really a threat and i’m never nervous or anything because it’s just so normal. it’s just if there’s a fight or something (like the one from la peña) that it could be a bad thing. also, you can carry a machete on the bus as long as it’s in a case, or it’s covered. so lots of guys just wrap newspaper around the blade. which, really, is that making that big of a difference? anyways, so yes, el salvador is dangerous if you read all the reports of the gangs and murders and what-not. but here in my little world, it’s been alright.

do you get bored a lot?
sure i get bored. why do you think these blog entries are so friggin’ long? i think i have it better than a lot of volunteers though because i hang out with antonio a lot and he likes to hike or show me new places around here, so i feel like i’ve always got something to do especially on the weekends. plus i live in an area where it’s relatively easy to visit other towns close-by. and those towns are fun....ataco, juayua, salcoatitan, etc. i’ve been hanging with my peace corps friends a little more lately too it seems...we do the full moon hikes and i like to visit other people’s sites. when it’s just me and my cuarto after school, i sometimes walk down to the park and get pasteles (more food...i won’t go into detail about what they are) and that’s usually sufficient for dinner. then i either come back to my cuarto and read or write on my computer. i’ve read a TON of books and one of these upcoming blog entries, i’m gonna do a book report. i’ve read some really great books and people keep sending me books which is super cool of all of you who have. i’m loving them all. about one night a week i try to go to the cyber cafe to check my e-mail or update the blog. so i keep myself busy. but i will admit, i’ve never had this much down time in my life. i don’t usually work outside of the school because i’m at the school almost every day and since every day i’m not teaching or whatever, if i have a charla or an activity to work on, i just do it there. so my time here at the hostal is usually down time. and like i said, i read or write or lay in the hammock and read. or i’ll chit-chat with niña teresita about something. and i go to bed at about 9:00 p.m. every night and get up around 7:00 a.m., i get tons of sleep and i usually feel good (unless i’m sick). so yes, i can get bored, but for the most part, things are pretty tranquilo.

what is tranquilo? you use that word A LOT!
i know i do. it means that things are just fine, there aren’t any problems, you’re content, lovin’ your life, etc. and unless i’m going through a funk or something (which happens every now and again), things are usually tranquilo around here.

SO, that´s it for now....i´m sure i´ll get another bunch of questions from people soon, so i´ll start saving them up again!