Sunday, February 12, 2012

The End

I know it's been five months. A lot has changed. The security concerns in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador) have presented a variety of changes to Peace Corps programsin the region. In leiu of these changes, I am leaving about a month and a half early. I wrote this entry the day I left El Salvador. My final words.

I’m sitting on a plane, bound for the United States of America. After spending the last two years living in rural El Salvador, I am faced again with the harsh reality of starting over. It’s odd really, coming back to my country with similar sentiments of uncertainty. I guess I’ve come full circle. I’ve been counting down the days until my return for as long as I can remember. I am finally here, yet I am faced with a painstakingly obvious cliché. You, or in this case I, don’t know what you have until you lose it.

Peace Corps’s grand slogan is “the hardest job you’ll ever love.” Well, that doesn’t exactly sum up my feelings, but let me break it down for you. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever have and hate –until the end. I’ve spent most of the last few years in a fight with myself and my community. The developing world really doesn’t lend itself to development. Go figure. Then again, turns out, Peace Corps is really not a development agency.

I’m sure most of you have caught the frustrated end of my experience, because I probably spent most of my time feeling just that, frustration. Well, here’s the rest.

I learned a lot about myself. A friend of mine once said, “Peace Corps brings out the best and worst in people.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This experience has forced me to face all my faults and insecurities. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, and this is coming from someone who is not very in touch with her emotions. There were a lot of lows, as well as some highs, but it was hard out there. I always saw myself as someone who needed to be challenged. Well, this was the ultimate challenge. I’m only twenty-four years old, but I can say with confidence that these were the hardest two years of my life. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I’m glad. This is not something you can ever prepare for.

Sounds terrible, right? Wrong. I am a better person. I can say that with confidence too. Peace Corps is like the ultimate therapy session. It’s a long, hard road, but it’s worth it in the end. And don’t forget, I had some great times too. It wasn’t all cloudy skies, although it did rain six months out of the year.

I’m pretty sure saying goodbye to my community was like taking a bullet. No pun intended. More and more people are dying in El Salvador every day. I met some really amazing people in El Salvador. People that without any hesitation, took me into their homes and treated me like family. That’s something I really learned about. Family. People in El Salvador live with their entire family. Houses are positioned in clusters so that everyone is surrounded by family members. Horrifying thought, right? As Americans, we like our distance. After two years, I think that maybe they got it right. I lived on a family compound and was treated as one of their own. At first I was bothered. Someone was always in my house. Often parents abandoned their children at my front door or my neighbor would need to borrow my last bar of soap. After awhile though, I fell into this common routine of give and take. Any time I needed support, my entire family was there to back me. It was reassuring. And don’t get me wrong, the constant lingering of the eleven-year-old neighbor was at times excruciating, but that’s all part of family life. Annoying little brothers and sisters. Salvadorans are all very close with their extended families. They rely heavily on each other. The sense of community it El Salvador is in tune with the sense of family. Each member is integral to the functioning of the entire family and therefore the entire community. It’s a beautiful way of life.

Anyway, I made it to the end. It was a little touch and go for awhile, but I did it!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Six Months

So, what have I been up to? Let’s see. . . not much. It’s the same old thing in site. A few weeks ago I attended IST (in-service-training) that happens once a year per program. It was pretty uneventful, but it was at the beach. Another new group of volunteers have arrived, making our group the oldest. Six months left to go. I’m counting down, as usual. Basically I have to make it to November. Once I’m there, school ends for the year and I’m going home for Thanksgiving. Then, when I get back in December, I’ll breeze through Christmas and the new year. After that is our close of service conference followed by a few months of med exams, final reports, and interviews. Then, I’m home free. So I have September and October to kill, really.

Anyway, I’m writing this blog to talk about results. The reason Peace Corps has been so difficult for me is because after all the work, or attempts to work, it seems nearly impossible to see any concrete results. I mean, we’re all really trying to make things work out here, but when you’re giving it all you have and there are no rewards, things can become quite frustrating. I may see little tiny things here and there like a student answering a question correctly in class, but it’s just not enough.

For the first time this last week I saw a result, a result from the workshop I was a part of. Although this result did not appear in my site, it did appear while working on my favorite project here in El Salvador. Outside of my community I’m on an HIV/AIDS prevention team made up of volunteers interested and educated in the topic. As part of the PEPFAR initiative, we hold training-of-trainers workshops several times a year, focusing on prevention and discrimination. They’re usually workshops for other volunteers and their counterparts (host country nationals). This time we included high school students and educators from a school called Sup¬érate. These kids are rockstar students. In addition to attending high school, they come to the Sup¬érate campus everyday to be trained in English, computation, and life skills. Most of them speak fluent English and are quite mature for their young age. All are very motivated and extremely fast learners. Anyway, they were an awesome group to work with and much different that the kids I see every day.

The workshop basically works like this: We (the HIV team) spend a day and a half giving the workshop, carrying out short lectures and participatory activities with the attendees. Then, we have a testimonial followed by preparation for a practicum that comes the next day, giving the attendees an opportunity to practice a condensed version of the workshop that we give.

So, results. I’m here to talk about the testimonial, which is typically the most impactful part of our workshop. Ernesto comes to most of our workshops to talk to the attendees about how he contracted HIV. After telling his story he answers any questions that people might have. He’s an awesome guy who really is an educator himself. Anyway, at the end session, on young girl raised her hand to ask a question, which really turned into a commentary. Brenda explained that she used to discriminate against people with HIV and AIDS. She then explained to Ernesto that he and the workshop had changed her life and she was eternally grateful. Afterward she asked him for a hug. I just about died. I’m mean I know is sounds so cheesey, but watching someone’s mind change about something that powerful really makes this whole process worth it. And after spending a few days with Brenda, it was even more meaningful, watching her grow as an individual.

Now, I plan on going to visit the SupŽrate campus closest to me in San Miguel (there are three campuses across the country and we got representatives from them all). One, to see how the students are implementing HIV prevention work and two, to work more with these amazing kids. And did I mention, this is the campus Brenda attends.

Well, successes do exist here. They're far and few between, but when they come they're worth it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Still Going

New Blog. . .

I’m obviously struggling with this commitment. It’s hard sometimes, life just gets monotonous out here and I don’t really have a lot to write about. And frankly, lately, I’ve been in an uneventful rut. Luckily, on one of my never ending bus rides, yesterday,
I brainstormed a few anecdotes to share with the avid readers out there.

After a year and a half of a clean bill of health, the parasites finally got me. I’ll spare you all the details, but t wasn’t pretty.

P90X, the new workout regimen I’ve been doing the last few of months or so. So I finally decided to start exercising in Peace Corps. I mean, after sweating through the first year of my service, I figured why not whip my body into shape with some more sweating. It’s about an hour a day and it’s a pretty good workout. . . I mean the first few weeks I was a pathetic mess and felt like my body would never recover, but I’ve come around. The down side of it all, the lovely host Tony. I basically want to strangle him at every chance I get, with his stupid jokes and his cheese-ball humor. I mean, a little positivity here and there is fine, but his voice has become excruciatingly unbearable. I pretty much am forced to listen to his annoying stream of consciousness each day. Shut up, and let’s get on with it. Love, Kristina P.S. It’s a really good workout, but Tony thinks it’s the BEST workout EVER!!! Yay, for him. But you should try it.

Next, homophobia. It runs rampant in Latin America, as we all could have guessed. However, we have a high population of men, who dress as women, who have sex with men, who are completely accepted into society. And that’s great; at least this people are accepting of one typically discriminated upon population, but it confuses me, because men are called gay for the slightest hint at sort of feminine demeanor. I guess it’s gotta be all or nothing. . . it remains a question unanswered.

Okay, time for some real stuff.

I have new neighbors who have moved in with my existing neighbors. It’s a mother and her two children (the father is still living in their San Miguel house and working). They hail from San Miguel where they have two houses, but are currently all living in one room and sharing a latrine with my other neighbor, the kids’ grandmother, and I. So what happened? What always happens, MS18 . . . the gangs. They were being extorted and couldn’t pay up. After demanding thousands of dollars, the mareros (gang members) told them to pay or they would slaughter their children. So they came here.

It’s been a couple months now, I they’re a really nice family. I even had the opportunity to speak with the mother, Elsy, about the war. She told me that in the early eighties the guerillas invaded her home in San Miguel, staying there for an eleven-day battle, fighting from her living room. She said they slept under tables surrounded by furniture it hopes to protect themselves from some of the blows. An entire wall in her house was blown out by a bomb. She still says it was the most terrifying time in her life. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for her and her family.


Moving away from the heavy, stuff . . .

Work wise, I’m still teaching my classes and will be heading up to Perquín this weekend with one of my teachers to attend a workshop on recognizing emergencies (First Aid training) so that we can finally start our first aid youth group. Should be productive. At least the weather will be cooler up there.

Anyway, hope that gives you an idea of what’s happening here.

Kristina

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It´s been awhile

Oh hey, I’m still alive out here.

So after a little cajoling from my mother, here I am once again. I’m really bad at committing to these type of things; you know, journals, blogs, etc. But anyway, here’s my revival effort.

I went on vacation for a few days to Utila, Honduras. Caribbean island, luxury. I mean, there are two main islands to visit off of Honduras: Utila, the backpacker’s island and Roatan, the resort island. We went to the cheaper one, but it was still amazing. The islands are infamous for being the cheapest place in the world to get scuba certified. Additionally, the islands are English speaking and swarming with ex-pats who have opened a variety of delicious restaurants. Five dollars for a giant seafood dinner. I mean, it was a REAL vacation (as opposed to going to the capital to stay in a hostel so we can eat overpriced fast food). Anyway, I shouldn’t talk about it too much or I just might ET (early terminate) and move there…just kidding, I think. In any case, if anyone wants to visit, let me know.

After an amazing trip I had to go back to site. Brutal. Coming back from vacation is always really hard. Then, I watched my cat die from eating a poisoned rat. Great. What a welcome back.

On the bright side I’ve been sharing Jordan’s dog, Jefe. This morning I chased him around for awhile, trying to save him from the goat that was tied up outside my house. Just a typical Monday morning on the farm.

Workwise…a sore subject. It’s just hard. I’m frustrated, most of the time.
Anyway, my world map is mostly done, it just needs to be labeled. We’re going to number all the countries and make lists of the names so the map can be utilized for teaching geography. And, my recycling program is finally coming together. We found a group that will come pick up and buy our soft plastics, aluminum, and paper. Also, this week the mayor’s office will be bringing out a receptacle to collect plastic bottles. Last Thursday, I went to Jordan’s site to help teach all the new volunteers a little about micro businesses and shampoo making (yes, another odd skill I’ve acquired here in Peace Corps). Aside from that, my classes are still running well…except for the frequent cases of bad behavior. One thing I have noticed though is that my second and third grade students are actually reading better now that they have to read, so that’s good. Future updates to come. Work is a little slow right now. Everyone’s been telling me I’m in the oh-so-famous one-year-slump. Hope that ends soon.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Feel free to send questions or comments. I’m looking for some new material.

Also, I’m using the vacation days I have left to come home in November. That six month countdown starts immediately.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some good stuff

So, there’s a lot of complaining I do about this whole thing because well, frankly, it’s not that awesome. But then, every once in awhile I have an exceptional experience. During times like these I need to remember that some days are really good days. And it’s not even that the other days are bad, they’re just days. So here’s the story of these last few days.

I am currently spending my time at a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) workshop in Perquín with the English teacher at my school, Don Rodolfo.

Day 1: Friday
The plan was to meet my teacher at the school at 7:30am to leave for the workshop (we had to be in Perquín by 11:30am, ready to go). And of course he showed up leisurely at 8:30, had some coffee and some breakfast, and was ready to leave at 9:00am. Great, I thought, we’re definitely going to be late, in typical Salvadoran fashion. And, being late stresses me out. A great way to start a three and a half hour bus trip.

Surprisingly, things turned around from there, and let me tell you, by surprisingly I mean miraculously. Don Rodolfo showed up in his car. Now he shows up in his car everyday (he lives close, but not close enough to walk), but we had discussed transportation to the workshop and he said his car probably wouldn’t make it up the mountains, which was fine, I understood. We would be taking the bus. But, like I said, miraculously, he said we would try it in the car. . . and we made it! One hour and twenty minutes. Success! We arrived early!

During the car ride we chatted, talking about El Salvador and traveling around, using the time as an opportunity for me to practice my Spanish. Anyway, then we got to the good stuff, the stuff I’m always hoping to hear about, but always afraid to ask about. The war. I mean, it was kind of perfect, kind of cliché really, riding up through the Morazán mountains, talking about the war on the guerilla battlegrounds. I know, it’s a little much, but it’s true. So anyway. . .

NOTE: the information presented here is note being pulled from historical sources, so the accuracy may be a bit off, but the stories are true

he told me how the military took over La Unión, along with most of the country, including Santa Rosa. At the time he was young, in high school perhaps, and the military took over his school, sending the students over to the grade school for morning classes, while the military infiltrated the school and turned into a new base camp.

Kids were picked off the streets frequently to be recruited by the army. The entry age was supposedly eighteen, but from what I here, kids as young as twelve were taken in. And there were no options, the youth were plucked off of sidewalks, and taken away. Peoples’ children would just disappear one day, sometimes returning, sometimes disappearing forever.

Some years later. . .

One evening, around eight, Don Rodolfo and a classmate were heading back from the university in San Miguel, hitchhiking their way back to Santa Rosa, a common travel technique, nothing out of the ordinary. After attempting to flag down several cars, they were offered a ride in the back of a pickup truck, going as far as Jocoro, a pueblo about twenty minutes from where I live. They took the ride and got off in Jocoro, standing beneath a street lamp, assuming they would soon find a ride to their final destination. Suddenly, the street lamp went out and the military pulled up. They began questioning the two about their whereabouts. Don Rodolfo explained to the officers that they were students, just trying to get home after spending a long day studying. The officers made them empty their pockets. Don Rodolfo reveled some Honduran limpiras that he had remaining from a boarder sale he had attended. One of the officers immediately began making accusations about Don Rodolfo’s guerilla involvement (apparently Hondurans were deeply embedded in the guerilla forces). He repeatedly tried to explain his situation, but the officers became aggravated and hostile, accusing him of involvement with the enemy. They then proceeded to question every aspect of his life, demanding to know names of professors and family members, requesting phone numbers and addresses. Don Rodolfo willingly gave all the information he could, but the officers’ attitudes became increasingly aggressive until they began beating and kicking the two students.

Luckily, after spending the night, beaten and bruised, in a makeshift holding cell, Don Rodolfo and his classmate were released. Upon arriving home, Don Rodolfo’s mother already knew what had happened. These things happened often. The military had called and visited his mother, in attempts to verify his innocence, making threats to the family. Lucky for him, though, he returned safely and avoided any further interactions.

Around the same time, Don Rodolfo’s sister was studying the National University in San Salvador, a particularly volatile region at the time. Many of the university students were becoming involved in the fighting and protesting with the guerrillas.
And because of her association with these groups of people, she left the country, seeking a safer life in the US, afraid of being stopped and captured by military, as her brother had. She remains there today.

Moving on. . .

One of the most interesting things Don Rodolfo told me that day, related to a book I read, that I recommend to all of you. Massacre in El Mozote. It’s a short book, based on the experiences of a woman named Rufina, one of the few surviving victims of the massacre, someone left to tell the story. Don Rodolfo knows her daughter. She was a guerilla fighter, who hid those ties from her mother. Don Rodolfo says that she enjoys talking about the war and will take me there someday soon, I hope. It’s really incredible how all these people are connected. Living in such a small country during a civil war really seems to have connected everyone in such a profound way.

It’s really crazy how I’m leaving in a place where America and money seem to be such high and mighty topics when just twenty years ago the entire country was a battle ground for a bloody civil war.

Days 2: Saturday

Okay, so I can’t really top the events of day 1, but getting back to my day to day life, the workshop has been going well. It’s actually been really helpful on a variety of levels. I’ve learned a lot of good teaching techniques that can be applied to a variety of subjects and I have bettered by relationship with my English teacher. We both have been motivated to work together in order to better the quality and diversity of teaching English in our school. I feel good and I hope to utilize these new techniques to motivate our students. Time will tell if we can really make some changes. Wish me luck and I’ll cross my fingers.

Day 3: Sunday

Today. We will be presenting unit and lesson plans that we worked on yesterday, reviewing several more teaching topics, and heading home after lunch.

The End.


All in all,I’ve had a good weekend that didn’t involve the capital. Haha. Now, I’ve just got to hold on to this positivity, because it doesn’t always show itself often.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dear Creeps of El Salvador

Dear creeps of El Salvador,


Just because I’m a gringa does not mean you have the permission to do the following:


1. Speak to and hit on me in broken English. (Just because you try to speak English, does not mean I want to jump in bed with you).

2. Hit on me, period. (You’re old. . . or sometimes you’re a minor).

2a. Refer to me as Mi Amor, Baby, Mami, etc.

2b. Hit on me in groups; that parade (literally they were part of a parade) of men yelling at my friends and I was awesome.

3. Attempt to kiss me on the street. (I have faster reflexes than you do, you’re drunk).

4. Touch me.

5. Press your whole body against mine on the bus, sandwiching me in between you and the window.

6. Stare at me like you want to rape me.

7. Jack off next to me.


Respectfully Yours,

Kristina

Monday, March 7, 2011

Reasons why I love my neighbors...and some other things

Reasons why I love my neighbors. I know I’ve probably mentioned them before, but let’s do a recap. We have the parents, Modesto and Sandra, who are in their mid-thirties…almost; then Milka who is thirteen; Madai who is eleven; Modestito who is three; and Kaley who is one. I adore them all. I mean, Madai has got a lot of personality, but keeps me laughing; and Modestito is about the cutest kid ever, but definitely knows how to push your buttons. Milka is thirteen, a little angst-y, but extremely polite; and Kaley is just adorable…just not as adorable as my niece, of course. Anyway, I spend lots of time at their house and the kids spend lots of time at mine, they’re really my la Chorrera family. They pretty much inherited me, but have treated me like their own.

Aside from all the mushy stuff, they feed me and take care of Coco and Jefe when I’m gone, and Sandra is my personal tailor. She has taken in a number of my pants and shirts (By the way, Peace Corps is also like fat camp) and recently made me a pencil skirt….all for free might I add. I mean, I try to pay her, but she refuses, so I usually just buy her something in return…mostly food items (baked goods or fruit) or bath products (she’s a big fan of facial moisturizer). Anyway, I don’t know if I’d make it here without them. Just thought I should let you know. I’ll try to start circulating a family photo soon…I’ll just need someone else’s camera for that…
Work, is busy, Midservice med starts in a few days. Can’t wait to tell you what diseases the Peace Corps doctors are about to find in me…

Speaking of diseases, I ate some broccoli the other day that I later found a worm living it. Uh oh. Also, I’ve discovered larvae in my water source. That is, not larvae thriving in my standing water, but larvae dispensing itself from running water coming out of my hose. Definitely sticking exclusively to the bottled water from here on out. Gross.

Work wise, I think you’re all pretty up to date from my last entry. There are few new items on the agenda. I’m attempting to start a First Aid Club for some of the older students at my school. They want to go on to study medicine, so they requested this club. Awesome initiative, I think. I’m working on getting some materials together for them. Additionally, I’m taking a group of students to the view the recycling project that has been started in Santa Rosa by some Japanese volunteers with Japanese funding. I’m taking them to see the landfill on the 15th and I’m soliciting for a recycling program at our school, also through the mayor’s office.

That’s all the updates I have for now. Feel free to ask questions and I’ll keep you all updated as time progresses.

WHAT’S HAPPENING (and what I hope to happen) BREAKDOWN

World Map: Draw and paint World, Central America, El Salvador

Recycling project: Visit landfill (March 15), Solicit recycling program for the school (plastic to start)

Youth Groups: Primera Auxilios (First Aid), Guardianes Ambientales (Environmental preservation group)

Classes: Como Planear Mi Vida (life skills), Reading Comprehension, Environmental Education, Sex Ed

Workshops: TEFL-teaching English as a foreign language (March 25-27), Scholarship
camp (April 29-May 1), HIV/STIs/Equality/DomesticViolence (April 8-10)

Funds needed: $320 fix/update computers, $80 world map supplies

Failed Projects: Women’s health group, HIV/AIDS day (Dec 1 2010)

Peace Corps: Midservice medical exams (March 9-11)