Monday, July 12, 2010

This map nearly killed me....

Yes, I know it's been forever since I've written on my blog. I've been busy these last couple of months with a few big projects: painting a world map, making organic fertilizer for 14 home gardens, and building these casitas, which are coverings over the new wells in our community. I feel pretty good about these projects, they're nice and visibile. But, they really took a tole on me physically, the world map project especially. It took a lot longer than I expected because we had to repellar the wall, which means put a layer of cement on it to cover up the irregularities on the wall. Making the organic fertilizer for the gardens was not walk in the park either, it had to be turned over twice a day for 2 weeks, meaning I got up at 6am and turned it over with a shovel, which took about 30 minutes if I had other people helping me. Then, I had to do it again at 6pm. But, overall, it was a good experience and we all learned a lot in the process.

Here are some of the pics from the last few months.

This is me sanding away at the wall to prepare it for the paint.

Mixing the cement...

This is the part that drove me nuts
Almost done.....


Making the organic fertilizer

Constructing the rancho...


Monday, August 10, 2009

August Update

Haven`t had the chance to sit down and write a blog entry for a while, I`ve been busy with work as normal. A few weeks ago, my English classes organized a soccer tournament to raise money for a trip and to buy (photocopies) of textbooks to continue studying. It was a huge success. We organized everyone into work groups, each group sold something different, like snow cones, pupusas, watermelon, fresco, etc. We invited over 30 teams from the entire municipality, and 14 showed up, so a pretty good turn out. I thought we`d make about $150, but we ended up making slightly over $300! Everyone was pretty happy about that. So last Tuesday, we all went to a nearby waterpark. And we still have almost half of that money left to buy more English materials for the class.

A few weeks back I went to Guatemala for 3 days, my first real vacation in almost a year. It was great to spend a few days away from my community, just to take a breather. We went to Antigua, Guatemala, a beautiful colonial town not too far from the capital. The highlight of the trip was climbing up a volcano and seeing this crazy river of lava. There was literally a river of lava pouring out of the top of this volcano, it was one of the coolest things I`ve ever seen with my own eyes. The lava was so hot that it was difficult to take pictures because hot fiery wind kept blowing on my face. I attached some pics below.

It continues to be extremely hot here, I literally sweat all day long, even when I`m sitting in my hammock, it`s ridiculous. That`s probably why I`ve lost so much weight, I`m walking up and down my commuity all day long sweating a ton. I`m excited about the upcoming weeks and months, I`m organizing a sewing workshop for 20 youth in the community, the idea being that I`ll help them form small businesses so they can sell their products in the departmental capital. I`m planning on starting a reading program in the school so we can finally start using the small library we have. And the biggest thing that I´m planning with the local community organization, called the ADESCO, it a large infrastructure project. We`re thinking about building a cement bridge over one of the rivers. So if we actually get that going, this bridge project will surely become my main project. But, I`m super excited about that because it`s such a big necessity in the community.

Here are some pics from the past few months:

Action shot from the soccer tournament.

Another pic of me on the volcano.

Me and my 2 counterparts at a hotel on the beach. Peace Corps put on a training workshop in project management and design so I invited my 2 counterparts. It was a good bonding experience.

This is me and my nephew eating watermelons.

This is me scaling a climbing wall. The record was 25 seconds to the top, but unfortunately, I missed the record by 1 second.

This is me roasting a marshmellow over the river of lava. Hot fiery wind is blowing on my face, it was so freakin hot, holy shit, but it was worth it.

Another pic of the lava.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Singing in the rain

It´s been a long time since I´ve written, the last couple months have been packed with stuff. There was a two-week period when I taught in the Sala de Nivelacion, all day Monday through Friday, (a levelling classroom where kids come to recieve extra help in math and language) for my friend Jose who got this great opportunity to go to England. When we found out that he was selected to go, I offered to teach his classes for him to give him the chance to go. Because the teacher in the Sala de Nivelacion is contracted by the government, I had to go to an interview in the capital and take a psychological test to get approval. Let me just say that this psychological test was the most ridiculous, meaningless ¨test¨I have ever seen. It was a series of 50 questions, each question listing 4 adjectives. I had to select the two adjectives that best described me. Here was a typical question:



I thought to myself: If I was a Salvadoran supervisor, what answer would I like to see from this gringo? I must have passed the test because they let me teach for those two weeks.

Most of the time, I loved the kids in the class. We played lots of math and language games, which were tons of fun. I found myself teaching Spanish grammar, like when to accent certain words, which was great for me, because I learned a lot along with the kids. One of the best things I did was read to them. There are a number of large children books in the classroom that never get used, so I decided to read them a story every day. They absolutely loved it. Whenever I read a story, all the kids gathered around sitting on the floor completely absorbed in the story, listening intently to ever word I said. After I finished one story, they all asked me to read another. Pretty cool stuff. This got me thinking that it´d be great to start a reading program in the school. We have this library that never gets used full of adolescent literature. So, that´s one of my project ideas, to get a reading program going.

The rainy season has offically started. It just so happened that the first day it rained really hard, I was walking home from the turnoff to my community. It´s about a 25 minute walk from the turnoff to my house, and I got completely soaked all the way down to my socks and underwear. I walked past the school, which was still in session, and all the kids laughed at me that I got caught in the rain. I´m not looking forward to the rainy season. I have to cross three rivers to get to my house, and apparently, all three of them rise so high when it rains that it makes it nearly impossible to cross. There are two bridges on the first two rivers, and apparently sometimes the rivers reach above the bridges, so if you want to cross, you have to wait until the river recedes. There´s no bridge over the first river, so most people have to wait until the rain dies down, then take off your shoes and socks, hike up your pants, and wade across the river to the other side, carrying your shoes in your hand. Fun. Although I´m not looking forward to the rainy season, I´m sure it´ll be just another aspect of life I´ll get used to eventually.

The rain has brought in tons of creatures into my room. I´ve seen at least 2 scorpions in the last 2 months, a few rats, tons of large flying bugs that sound like mini-helicopters they´re so loud. And for some reason, the chickens that live in my front yard love to fly through the space in between the wall and the roof and lay eggs in my bed. The egg-laying has become such a common event that my host dad regularly asks me if I´ve found any eggs in my room.

So I so the Star Trek movie in the capital a few weeks back. It was the second movie I´ve seen here in El Salvador (the first was the newest James Bond movie which I saw on my friend´s laptop) and the first movie I´ve seen in a theater. It was pretty cool, but somehow ¨engage¨ just didn´t sound the same in Spanish. I´ll have to see it again in English at some point.

In terms of projects, I´ve started a life-planning course for the students in 9th grade. I got 3 other people to do it with me: the local health promoter, a local government worker, and an NGO worker. So far we´ve had two sessions which have gone pretty well. In the course, we´re going to talk about setting goals, planning for the future, gender stereotypes, communication skills, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, and other stuff related to reproductive health. I was really paranoid about teaching the stuff about sexuality, but my 3 other counterparts thought that it would be a good idea and something that is really necessary. So we had a meeting with all the parents of the kids to get their approval, and to my surprise, they all agreed that the reproductive health stuff was a good idea. I´m really excited about the class, especially the sexuality stuff. Nearly all girls over the age of 21 have babies. I can probably count on one hand the girls that don´t. So, I feel that this is something that is really worthwhile and important. Chivo.

Another thing I´m working on is getting 20 young people to participate in a vocational workshop. I found out that a local organization sponsored by the government and a few private institutions, gives free vocational workshops to poor kids. One requirement is that the kids be between 16 and 20 years old and be able to attend the workshop for 2 months, all day Monday through Frida. So, I´m trying to motivate the youth and get this workshop going. It´s a lot of legwork: contacting the institution about my progress, making invitations and handing them out to all the interested youth, getting my counterparts in the community involved, etc. etc. But I hope it all works out, it´ll be such a great opportunity. The workshops include: carpentry, a residential electricity workshop, sewing, cosmetology, brick-laying, and others.

Other projects are going well, especially my English classes. I´ve been teaching a basic English class for the last 4 months every Saturday, so finally I´ve decided to give the final exam next month. The class wants to have a party afterwards at a local waterpark as a celebration for passing the final exam. So we´re trying to raise money in order to go. We should have about 40 kids total, which will require about $150, more or less. I figure that if my 40 students help fundraise we can get the money in a month or two, we´ll see.

Ok, that´s it for now. In the next month, I´m looking forward to giving a workshop to the new Peace Corps volunteers about teaching English, going to Santa Ana to visit one of my good friends - Emily, and a 3-day Peace Corps-sponsored workshop for PCV´s and their counterparts at the beach. Should be fun.

Oh, the title of the post refers to the fact that when it rains, I basically can´t leave my house, so all I can do is sit in my room and play guitar.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Elections, trash, and mangos...lots and lots of mangos

It´s been over a month since I´ve written, so be warned, this blog entry is a long one. On March 15, El Salvador had its presidential elections. The governing party, Arena (rightist) was beat by the FMLN, also called the Frente, (leftists), after being in power since the civil war ended. Most of the young people in my community are hard core leftists, so after it was announced that the Frente´s candidate Mauricio Funes won, they all piled into trucks and shouted, set off fireworks, and chanted campaign slogans. Aside from that small celebration, the day after was surprisingly tranquilo. It was rather anticlimactic, it was kind of like: ok, now what? Apparently in the cities there was a lot more celebration. A friend of mine who works for Stove Team International said he was in Sonsonate for the elections where there was a mile long backup of trucks with people shouting and screaming for the Frente. And that was just in Sonsonate, the department capital. I imagine in San Salvador there were massive celebrations. But in my small little rural community, not much happened. It was very cool nonetheless to be here during the elections, to see the TV coverage, hear Funes give his victory speech, and to see the excitement of the young people in my community. The significance of the Frente winning is hard to overstate. Everyone under age 25 or so only knows one political party: Arena. They won the last 4 presidential elections, so this election represents a monumental change in Salvadoran politics.
We´ve now officially entered mango season. There are tons of huge mango trees all over my community. The kids climb the trees and knock down as many as they can. To me, mangos are like manna from heaven. I rarely eat fruit so having a seemingly endless supply of mangos is a godsend. There´s also another fruit in abundance called jocote. I´m not sure how it´s translated into English, but it´s a small fruit a little bit larger than a marble and tastes kind of like a plum but tougher. Jocotes are great too. The only downside is that mangos leave strands of mango pulp in your teeth which is pretty gross, but what can you do?

One of my projects that I started last month is a trash collection program. There´s a large garbage dump literally across the road from my community, but there is no trash collection. So, I got the president of the community association, the health promoter, a local NGO, a teacher, and a few others together to go to the garbage dump to petition for a trash collection. We asked for a weekly pickup, which I thought was asking a bit much, but, the owner of the dump agreed. So now every Friday at 11am a truck comes by to collect our trash. It turns out that having a trash collection is more complicated than it seems. First of all, the collection only involves a driver and a truck; there is nobody from the garbage dump to actually pick up the trash and toss it into the truck, which means as a community, we have to do it ourselves. This begs the question: who is going to volunteer to toss all of the community`s trash into the truck every week? And where will the community put their trash? So, I asked a local NGO to donate 4 trash barrells, which we then put in front of the 4 little stores we have in our community. I also asked each store owner to please deposit all trash in bags so it´s easier to toss the trash into the truck. So who actually throws the trash into the truck? Not surprisingly, that burden has fallen on me and whoever else I can organize to help me. I actually really like tossing the trash into the truck, and those who know me well probably can understand why. Just picture it: me hopping on and off the side of a the dump truck, tossing bags of trash 5 feet into the air and over the edge of the truck, and then hopping back on again, waving to the people as I pass by. It´s pretty fun. On the first Friday, on more than one occasion, I tried to toss a huge plastic bag of glass bottles over the edge of the truck only to have it fall back down and shatter all over the ground. This generated uproarious laughter amongst the many onlookers. A few other people who tried to toss bags into the truck had the same thing happen, and every time, everyone laughed hysterically. So, not only is trash collecting helping clean up the community, it`s a source of entertainment. In the future, what we´ll probably do is have each individual person and store owner throw their own trash into the truck as it passes, eliminating the need for a group of guys every week to throw all the trash away. But, for now, I`m enjoying it. Hopefully this will be a sustainable project that continues after I`m gone. We´ll see.....

One more note about trash. On the road where the garbage dump is located, all the trees surrounding the dump are covered with trash. One of my Peace Corps friends said that from afar, it reminds him of decorations on a Christmas tree. So every time I pass by the dump on the way to my community, I think: wow, what pretty trees!

This is me spraypainting one of the donated barrels.

And here´s the finished product.

I helped organize a trash pickup with the students on the day before the garbage truck came.

OK, done with trash.

We had a dance last Saturday in the casa comunal, a large outdoor gathering place, to celebrate the ending of crafts workshop that a number of the teenagers participated in. A local NGO sponsored the workshop. The kids made bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry out of organic material. Pretty cool. Makes me wish that I had thought of that. Anyway, the NGO wanted to have a dance as a way to celebrate the end of the workshop. So, I helped to organize the dance and get the kids to come. Salvadoran teenagers are increidbly shy, especially the girls, so getting them to dance was very difficult. Much of the first 45 minutes was me dancing in the middle of the space with boys on one side and girls on the other, all the while trying to goad people into dancing. Eventually, everyone got into it and they started moving. In the end, it was a huge success.
Picture from the dance.

Another thing that I started last week is a career preparedness workshop for mostly out-of-school and non-working youth. I came up with a rough outline of the course: resume writing, cover letter writing, preparing for an interview, how to find work, how to use the classified section of the newspaper, how to start a small business, and options to continue your education after high school. I hope to have 2 trips to Sonsonate: one to type their resumes and to create email accounts (few of the youth have email accounts, and even fewer check their email on a regular basis). On the 2nd trip, I´d like to give them a tour of a free technical school and other institutes to continue their studies. 8 kids showed up for the first class, all of them guys, but that´s what I wanted. I´m planning on doing another similar workshop for girls in the future. But I´m glad that only guys are in the class because I think the dynamic would be a lot different with girls. The guys can be more open with eachother. This proved to be true during the first class when we had a conversation about the obstacles to obtaining employment. Two of the guys got teary-eyed talking about how hard it is to find work. They described how being from our community, reliable transportation is a huge obstacle. Continuing your education after high school is even tougher, considering the high cost of attending a technical school or university (about $50 dollars a month. Not much by our standards, but prohibitively expensive for most poor, rural Salvadorans). It was a very moving scene to say the least.

Oh, I almost forgot. Here´s a shoutout to Emily, a PC friend in Santa Ana. We had a conversation tonight about integrating, making friends, and toothpaste. She helped me realize that my favorite toothpaste is Crest, which unfortunately is a lot more expensive than the other brands here, but well worth the extra cost.

Here are some pics from the last month.

This is me and one of my best friends, Jose.

This is me with my intermediate English class at playa dorada, a beach about an hour bike ride from my community.

My students wrote ¨Thanks Jed¨ in the sand. Not sure what the writing above says.

Me in front of my Saturday English class. The class started out with 75 people, but now it´s at about 55 or so.

This is a pic of me with the local breadmakers. I taught them how to make chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, the cookies turned out completely flat and tasted pretty bad. But we´ve learned from our mistakes so next time will be better.

Me and my host brother at my host nephew´s birthday party.

These are my clothes hanging out to dry in front of my house.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

It´s a Twister!

Well, no, there wasn´t exactly a tornado in my village, but it seemed like it. A huge windstorm hit my community for about 3 days last week. The power went out and massive amounts of dust, leaves, and debris flew into my room. It was a complete wreck. But my room didn´t receive the worst of it. The wind was so strong that it destroyed the roofs of 32 houses in my community. Most of the roofs are made of sheet metal with logs on top to hold it down. Some houses are lucky enough to have tile roofs which are a little bit sturdier. One roof actually fell on a 9 year old kid and caused a big gash on his head. I gave the family some neosporin and some gauze pads, but it was pretty ugly. The kid seems to be ok now. One house actually completely fell apart due to the wind. Yesterday, I went with about 20 men to repair the house. The family set up a temporary shelter, a hodgepodge of sheets and scrap metal precariously positioned on a few trees. It was actually a really interesting process. We went into the hills and basically just cut down a few trees. We used corvos (large knifes) and axes to hack the tree into smaller logs. We then pushed the logs down the hill and then carried them on our shoulders back to the construction site. Then we used the logs as posts for the house. I didn´t stay to see the finished product, but I imainge they used smaller logs and more sheet metal to finish building the house.

Last weekend, I went to the capital and saw my aunt. She works for USAID and is working in El Salvador this month. So I took the opporunity to go see her and take some time away from my site. We hired a driver and went to Suchitoto, a beautiful colonial town in the north of the country. After taking a few pictures of the city center, we took a boat tour of Lake Suchitlan, which is an artifical lake made in 1973. We then went to the house of Alejandro Coto, a famous Salvadoran artist and film producer. He kind of is a living legend in Suchitoto. He has this huge house with a nice collection of Latin American art. He gives daily tours of his house, so we spent a few hours with him and talked about his experiences in the art world.

I started a basic English class 2 weeks ago for the young people in my community. 60 people showed up the first Saturday. I wasn´t expecting such a large turnout. We ended up taking all the chairs out of one classroom and going outside and I taught the class in the corridor in the school courtyard. The next saturday, 75 people showed up for class. It was a bit overwhelming. I´m glad there´s so much interest in the class, but I´m probably going to split the class into 2 groups to make it easier.

In other news, I sat down with the school director last week and worked out a tentative schedule. I´ll work at the school 3 days a week. I´ll be giving computer classes to the 9th graders, helping the English teacher plan and improve his English classes, and teaching a reading class for kids who either can´t read or a way below grade level in their reading ability. I´m pretty excited to actually have a schedule and to get back into the classroom. Other projects I´m planning/working on: a trash collection program with the local garbage dump, a recycling program, a series of career preparedness classes for out-of-school youth, a shampoo making buisness for a group of women in the community, and we´re talking about a water project - getting a few wells put in so we don´t have to go to the river to get water.

So, that´s what´s going on in my world. In addition to projects, I´m trying to find the time to study some Spanish, practice the guitar, and generally hang out with the youth in my community. Today, there´s going to be a Valentine´s Day dance as a fundraiser for the youth group. Should be a good time. And tomorrow, the youth are putting on a concert in the afternoon.

Until next time...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pictures from the last 2 months

Here are a few pics of me in the Zumbumba costume. We wore capes, large pointy hats, masks, soccer socks, and decorated them with shiny paper. We performed the story of the 3 wise men and the birth of Jesus. It was pretty strange and frankly, it didn´t make much sense to me why we all wore masks. But apparently they do it every year and the community loves it. Everyone got a kick out of the fact that I participated. Since we were all dressed up everyone tried to guess where I was in the dance. Sometimes I´d wave to people in the crowd or give high fives to little kids during the dance.

Here are two pics with me and about 10 kids making pizza. It was so much fun. I taught them how to cut the tomatoes, onions, how to grate the cheese, how to make and kneed the dough, and for about an hour I wasn´t doing a thing, the kids were doing it all. I´m thinking about doing pizza making as an income generating activity or as a fundraising activity.
This is me with a scorpion I find in my room. I´ve found a total of 4 so far. My host brother cut off the tail so it couldn´t sting me. Here´s another creature picture. My host brothers found and killed a rattle snake in the corn fields. They cut of its head, I´m not sure why they did that. After taking pictures with the dead snake, my host brother skinned it and used the flesh to make a type of medicine. Supposedly, snake meat has some curative properties. They dried the skin and had plans to sell it for about 5 bucks in the local market.

This is a pic of me killing a chicken. That´s my host sister helping me do it. I was supposed to cut its neck on the adam´s apple so it would die fast, but I ended up missing it so it took a while for it to die. I felt bad, but maybe next time I´ll get it right.
This is me and two of my friends at the beach. We found this large field of coconut trees. These two guys climbed the trees and knocked down about 20 coconuts. We then used machetes to open them up and drink the coconut water and the ¨coconut meat¨ as they call it.
This is me and my host dad, Don Antonio. We´re at the milpa (corn field) getting ready to haul large sacks of corn back to the house. I´ve been to the corn fields a handful of times to help pick corn. It´s backbreaking work, especially when you do it everyday for 5 or 6 hours. The next pic is the view from the corn field.
This is a pic of my room about a week after I arrived. I slept in that hammock for about 5 weeks before I got a mattress. I rent two small rooms from my family. I have cement floors and walls made of cement and plaster, so there´s a large amount of dust in my room. Dust is literally everwhere. When I wake up in the morning there´s a layer of dust and debris on my bed that fell during the night. That said, I love my room, I borrowed some desks from the school, I have a few boxes to put my books and my clothes, and I have two windows to get some air in. You can my guitar in the background. I can play one or two simple songs. My host brothers are teaching me how to play. Hopefully during the next few months I´ll learn a few more songs.

This is from our swearing-in ceremony at the American Embassy in San Salvador. From left to right: me, our Spanish teacher Lilian, Bethany, and Mark. Mark and Bethany are also youth development volunteers.
This is the kitchen-dining room-living room of my house. The second picture is of our traditional wood burning stove with tortillas on it. (My diet mostly consists of tortillas, rice, beans, and sometimes chicken). There´s little ventilation in the room so whoever is cooking (my host mom or my host sisters) breathes in lots of smoke. In the bottom left hand corner you can see a large tub of water with a plate and cup over it. Every morning my host brothers walk down to the river to collect water in large plastic containers called cantaros. They then put the water in that tub of water to use during the day. We put a small amount of chlorox to treat the water. This room is made of wood with tiles on the roof. You can see spaces in between the wood where the sunlight comes in.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Going back West

I know it´s already late January, but I realized I didn´t write about Christmas or New Years. Aside from a few families putting up red and green lights, Christmas was a pretty low key affair. A few families made tamales and pan relleno, which is basically just a sandwich with chicken, lettuce, and cucumber. Christmas was celebrated on Dec. 24 instead of the 25th, which threw me off a bit. New Years was much more exciting. After we danced the Zumbumba again (in total, we danced probably about 20 times in two weeks, each dance about an hour long), all the kids bought fireworks and for about 4 hours, they set them off all over the community. I was so freaked out that they would blow their hands off, cuz some of them are big. But, no one seemed to care, just another Salvadoran thing. None of them had heard of a countdown at midnight, so I introduced that. We had about 20 people shouting 10...9...8....pretty fun. For the past few weeks, I´ve bee in our training part 2 in San Vicente. I´m heading back out to my community tomorrow. Gotta go now, but here´s a pic of me hauling about 100 pounds corn.