Monday, November 26, 2007

just say hey

i'm getting ready to come home again. i can't say that i'm super excited about the trip but it's required because i'm extending for a third year. i mean, it will be great to be home for christmas and it will be great to see my family again. it does seem like i just got back from my trip in august though.

i think more than anything, i'm sad to be leaving el salvador for a whole month. this second year in el salvador has only deepened my relationships with people here - most notably in san jorge. the thing is, with every day that i spend growing closer to people here, the further i feel from my friends back in the states. part of it's just simple logistics. but i feel like a lot of it has to do with communication and, oh, what's the word.....accessibility? i´m not sure that´s the right word.

see, the first year of peace corps, i received so much support from people back home. not so much "we're proud of you," "you're doing a great job" - not that kind of support - but just general keeping-in-touch kind of support. i got letters and cards from EVERYONE just saying "hey, what's up? how's el salvador? how's peace corps?" stuff like that. not to mention, letters and cards telling me how things are going up THERE, with their lives (you all forget that it´s easy to keep up on what i´m doing because of the blog, but i have nothing to let me know how things are going with you). going into the second year of peace corps, the letters faded and morphed into more and more e-mails. then, periodically…meaning every four or five months or so….i started getting the standard e-mails that start off with "hey, sorry i haven't written in a while, but i've been soooo busy." hey, i know people get busy....i've written some of those "i'm so busy" e-mails myself. but then the e-mails get even fewer and farther between and suddenly it seems like every single e-mail i get from every single person starts off with "don´t have time to write. i've been soooo busy." my interpretation of these e-mails is this: i've had a lot going on and saying "hey, how ya doin'?" to you has absolutely no importance at all.

that's a very dramatic and selfish interpretation, isn't it? i know it is. and on my sad and depressed days, i feel like every single person back home has forgotten that i exist. thank god those days (like the correspondence i get from up north) are few and far between. this seems to be the relative consensus of most peace corps volunteers - communication from back home drops considerably in the second year of service. i had one friend who's dad sent her a package every month just so that she'd get SOME mail on a regular basis.

my non-selfish, rational interpretation of this is that peace corps, to those of you stateside, becomes less interesting after our first year of service. in my case, it's become especially non-interesting because i have the blog and keep you updated on the important (and all-to-often non-important) things that are happening. i know that more of my entries have been critical and devoid of the "everything smells like roses" attitude i had for most of my first year here. that's only natural. the longer i'm here, the more "real salvadoran life" i see - like peeling away layers of an onion, revealing everybody's true self. this is virtually impossible to accomplish the first year of service, especially if you are still learning the language. anyway, things become more "real" during the second year of service....all the novelties wear off, you realize what obstacles not only you are up against, but those that your community and the entire population are up against as well. reading about these trials and tribulations is probably difficult, if not boring altogether. who wants to read about problems where there are seemingly no solutions?

thing is, i think there are solutions. that's why i write about these things...not just to put the story out there of what it's like here on an everyday basis, but to get feedback. who knows, maybe there is somebody out there reading the blog who has something really valuable to add - about my work, or the situation in el salvador, or whatever. maybe somebody knows an NGO who can help with getting resources to my community, or some other community in el salvador. you don't even have to have resources....just feedback - what's your opinion of what i write about? am i full of shit? am i being too optimistic? too pessimistic? feedback, believe it or not, helps with where i see myself going with projects. it's not that i need people to help me along - it's more like i want to know how other people interpret these situations. i've got a thing for education and sometimes i feel like i'm beating a dead horse. i'm always trying to figure out why education isn't of utmost importance in my town, even though i've tried to see things through the eyes of the people here. maybe i'm missing something? not trying hard enough? but without anything at all from anybody else, all i have are my own thoughts and assessments. of course, this was how it was for volunteers back in the 70's and 80's - but now, with all this technology and what-not, shouldn't it NOT be how it is for me in 2007?

i came home in august and i think that after i saw everyone and everyone saw me and saw that i was actually ok, that i hadn't picked up a bunch of mosquito-borne diseases or wasted away from worms in my stomach or been taken hostage by some crazy gang or whatever, that there was no need to keep in touch with me anymore. for everyone at home it was back to 9-5 days, prime-time television, HBO, halo 3, people magazine, tap dancing lessons, or whatever else fills everyone's day. no need to worry about l.v. thing is, there IS no need to worry....i just need somebody to say hey.

this is what i love about salvadorans. they never, ever are too busy to say hey. never. to me, to their neighbor, to anyone. i can walk through san jorge and stop at any number of houses and every single person will stop whatever it is they're doing and talk about whatever it is you want to talk about. i could stop at the same houses every single day for a month straight, and people would still stop and talk to me. they'd invite me in for café or lunch or dinner or just to "descansar." salvadoran kids never get bored of hanging out with me. whether it's playing old maid, uno or just running around like idiots - they never get bored. they'd never refuse a chance to play or read or just hang out. and i compare this reception to the one i've gotten back home and it makes me sad that i have to leave this comfort zone for 30 days.

it really is reverse culture shock. back in september 2005 it was sad to be leaving the comfort zone of the states for unknown and what i thought would be unreceptive (at least at first) el salvador. but i have to admit, with the exception of my site visit back in november of 2005, i've never felt alienated or unwanted or forgotten here in el salvador. people DO care about you here, they worry about you, they wonder where you've been if you've not been around in a couple days. they start asking around, and then when you do show up again, they say "hey, i thought you left! thank god you didn't! que bonita you're still here." it warms your heart to the very core, i swear.

back when i was a youngin', i used to think that i could only be best, best friends (forever...hee hee) with people that i shared a lot of things in common with. as the years went by, i gradually relaxed my thoughts on this. but coming to el salvador has made me completely throw this ridiculous assessment out the window. two of my very best friends in the whole world are salvadorans: one is niña domy - a 56-year old, extremely religious catholic grandmother. i would have never thought that. the other is antonio. even more than with niña domy, i would have never thought i'd be so close to him. even members of my committee - i have gotten used to seeing them for our meetings - they are all such good friends to me now. there is this old man that i pass every day when i walk through san jorge and every day he's outside his house fixing something or playing his guitar while his dog lays on the ground in the sun. he's a religious nut - no matter what it is i comment on he'll respond with "and do you know why it's such a sunny day/why you're doing well today/why you have food to go eat at niña domy's house/etc.?" and his answer - always - is "because god´s up there" and he points to the sky. now i know to say "por dios" instead of "no, why?" when he asks me these things. sometimes his wife comes out and she takes my hands in hers and tells me it's good to see me. i've come to love having that little exchange.

there is also this other old man named francisco that i pass every day when i walk to the bus stop in apaneca. he's so friendly. he's always sitting outside his house and when i walk by he grins his toothless grin and tells me to have a great day and he'll see me tomorrow.

seriously, where did everyone up north go? i got a phone call from antonio the other day telling me that the guard at the post office told him that i had a card waiting to be picked up there (this is how it works here....random people i don't even know that well will sometimes stop me on the street and tell me i have mail at the post office waiting). anyway, i was all excited thinking "finally, i'm getting something from someone in the states!" and when i went to pick up the letter, it was a card from courtney. but i was happy as ever because at least someone is writing to me!

maybe this is what happens though. they talk about peace corps being a "sacrifice" and all that, and i've never really seen myself as sacrificing anything. sure, i'd love to take a hot shower and i'd have loved to have been at home for thanksgiving dinner, but i've never thought of what i'm doing as some huge sacrifice. i'm happy, i've got all the things i need. but now i'm looking at it differently. it seems to me that by joining the peace corps, and deciding to stay another year, i've sacrificed my friendships and my relationships with my family. it's like i've inadvertently lost them, without even knowing i was losing them. i never thought my being gone would be that big of a deal. but now i understand that meaning of "out of sight, out of mind." it's more like out of sight, out of existence. but i suppose that's how our culture is. unless you're in someone's face 24-7 or bi-weekly or whatever, you lose your place on the totem pole. there is so much going on in our lives in the states, that remembering a friend who left over two years ago, is bound to get put on the back burner, behind the christmas shopping, presidential primaries and football playoffs.

the people of san jorge, and apaneca - to a lesser extent - make me feel like i'm still here, like i still exist. i'll miss that while i'm gone.

i'm only going for 30 days. it's only gonna be worse when i leave forever.