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.
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.
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.