¡Ya terminamos el aula de computo!
The other big focus work-wise is my continued efforts to save the environment… or at least convince some kids to stop tossing their soda cans and snack bags out the windows of buses. The litter bugs have moved in and mutated into giant trash-loving aliens around here. Resistance if futile, but I´m trying anyway. Salvadorans do some things so much better than North Americans – the overwhelming majority of people utilize public transportation rather than personal cars, they eat eggs and meat without any added hormones or chemicals so that they aren´t growing breasts by age 7, and they greet each other with ¨good morning¨ on the streets instead of staring at their shoes, ignoring strangers. But one things they don´t do is toss their trash in trash cans rather than wherever they feel like it – aka, the street, the river, the park. Part of this is not normal Jose-blow´s fault – trash cans are not available in public places around this country, so in theory one would need to keep their garbage on them until they return home and throw it in their own can or pile to burn. This would be like asking a Salvadoran man to cook his own dinner – its ludicrous, absurd, completely against the natural order of things. I want my beans and rice for supper, I tell my woman; I want to get rid of this churro bag, I chuck it out the bus window. I´m not fighting against individuals here so much as against ingrained habits, an age-old system that from a short-term point of view has always functioned just fine. What people don´t realize is the long-term damage they are inflicting upon themselves by not properly disposing of their garbage. But when you tell 7th graders that plastic bottles remain on the planet for 500 years after you toss them on the ground, they look at you like you have absolutely no concept of what is important to them. 500 years? Their brains are 100% occupied with what they´re going to wear tomorrow. 500 years might as well be the end of time. So, this is not easy. Nor will a project to recycle plastic bottles generate a significant amount of money to show for the efforts. Each 100 pound bag of crushed plastic brings in a whopping $6.00… that´s enough to purchase some saldo and a dinner of pupusas with a soda thrown in. Big bucks we´re talking here. But until recycling takes on in this country as it has done in the States and there is a greater demand among companies for recycled products, prices will stay at the gastronomical level of $.06 a pound.
However, there is hope. We have five jumbo (joombo) bags to fill in Chapeltique at 100 lbs of plastic per bag in 6 months and we´re at least 40% there so far, thanks to the kids of my environment groups collecting bottles each day at school, individuals helping out at their homes and the guy who works at the soccer field collecting soda and Gatorade bottles after each game or practice. And, my co-collaborator on the project, Clivia, is motivated and supportive, which makes working in tandem a pleasure and a huge help. We´ve been collecting now for a few months and I see interest in the idea, a slight change of habit, and that is encouraging beyond belief. As volunteers we expect ourselves to drastically improve upon the quality of life for the people in our communities, with large, tangible results and noticeable differences… until we get here. Then, we recognize that the little things count, and count big. We´re getting there, one second thought of chucking crap on the ground at a time.
Besides work, I´ve been having a lot of fun around here. The week before Easter, my sister Sarah and three good friends from home Lisa, Kadee and Nicole came to visit for ten days. It was an absolute pleasure having them here – they really took the good experiences whole-heartedly and the not so pleasant experiences with a grain of salt. We started out in the capital the first night, staying at the hotel of choice for Peace Corps volunteers (read: for the price, not the ambiance) La Estancia, which was the one and only time everyone had their own bed for the trip. The next day we made it out west to a town called Juayua for some souvenir shopping and to enjoy the international food festival that occurs there every weekend. I have to congratulate the girls, especially Nicole, for taking the initiative to bargain with local shop owners for the things they wanted to buy; language barrier or no language barrier, it didn´t deter them from demanding $3 for a pair of earrings instead of $4! Which is exactly the way it´s done down here, nicely done girls. I managed to not kill anyone (though Sarah might tell you otherwise) in the pickup ride from Juayua to our next stop, Suchitoto, which is a small town famous for its clean, safe streets, extensive war history and breathtaking views over a huge man-made lake with the mountains of distant Honduras in the background. We stayed in a beautiful place overlooking the lake for two days, spending our time strolling around town, eating good food and taking a boat ride out on the lake with a friend. The girls found some more cheap earrings, we encountered some foreigners willing to take us out and test their luck at getting drunk with us (we said no, though Lisa was really pushing for it ;)) and we ate the best cream cheese in the world (again, that was Lisa…). Also, the girls tried their first ever pupusas, tortilla dough mixed with beans and cheese then fried on a grill to create a flat, cheesy masterpiece, a food original to El Salvador and at $.25 a pop, the pride of the land. I´m thrilled to say the pupusas did not disappoint and in that instant my friends went from estas gringas to pura salvadoreñas.
It was tough to leave, as it always is, Suchi, but we pushed away from the central part of the country to the very northeast tip and the town of Perquin for the third leg of the trip. Perquin is located in one of the areas most affected by the civil war in the 80´s in El Salvador; it was popular as a known guerrilla stronghold and therefore a constant hotspot for fighting. It also sits at a higher elevation along the border of Honduras and is characterized by pristine rivers, rugged mountains and pine trees to the likes you would see in any part of Connecticut. As interesting and beautiful a place as this is, I knew I had to take my friends. We stayed in a log cabin at the Perquin Lenka, a hotel reminiscent of a ski lodge owned by an American ex-pat. One of my best Peace Corps friends, Angie, lives in Perquin and we spent the next two days running around with her, visiting the war museum in town and, well, eating. On the second day we took a trip to visit the caserio of El Mozote, where all but 1 of the 1000 inhabitants were killed by soldiers in one day, and then spent the afternoon swimming in a river and sunning ourselves on the rocks. I think maybe we could have stayed in Perquin forever, except for the fact that our cabin sported a good number of large bugs which made everyone uncomfortable. Although I do have to say, between Sarah´s ability to smash the begeesus out of a cockroach and Kadee´s all out search for an enigmatic spider; I think the humans would take home the W with this bunch.
From there we travelled south to my friend Matt´s site, again due to my superb driving skills (ha, ha). Yamabal is about 10 kilometers from Chapeltique, my site, making Matt one of my closest volunteers both geographically and emotionally (although half of that emotional stuff is probably because we can complain to each other about how damn hot it is all the time). After a quick visit in Yamabal, we made it to Chapeltique. Of course the first thing to happen was we showed up at 2pm and wanted lunch, a latino fau paux, but the girls were great about accepting what food was still available. I took them to my house and to the Alcaldia, where everyone was excited to meet them (afterwards, I heard about how white Nicole was and how small Lisa was and how blond Kadee was and how contenta Sarah was… Salvadorans just love to comment on physical qualities, its part of their charm). After another meal of pupusas (deemed better than the ones at Suchitoto, yeah that´s right!) we spent some quality time with my 3 year old host sister, Yaneli, and the family parrot, Manolo. Everyone bonded instantly… Yaneli getting her picture taken and running around with her new mates, Manolo breaking out of his cage and barricading whatever white girl he could find in rooms by standing guard outside the doors and nipping at feet when someone dared to escape. We visited the school where I completed the computer classroom project and watched the kids make their Microsoft Paint houses, walked around the soccer field at dusk and hung out at my counterpart family´s house shooting the shit with Alexi who speaks English fairly well. It was hot, extremely hot, and at many points the toilet in my host family´s house didn´t flush, but everyone was in good spirits and the time in site went by fast. Everyone in Chapeltique is grieving the girls´ return to the States, as they made quite an impression upon the town.
And then it was Friday, and with two more days to go we headed southwest to the beach Playa El Tunco (meaning pig) in the department of La Libertad. This beach and the hotel we volunteers usually stay at, El Miramar, is one of my favorite places in the country. The water is warm and wavy, the atmosphere is one of complete tranquillity and the sunsets just can´t be beat. Ok, so everyone got sick from lunch and yeah, the water was turned off most of the time we were at the hotel (not a good combination), but even so I think we were able to enjoy the time in the sun with some of my other volunteer friends. Saturday night dinner was the best: it was just the five of us, and we joked around and talked about life and just caught up in a way I haven´t been able to do with friends from home since I arrived down here almost two years ago. Yeah, things have changed, and none of us is the same person anymore, but that doesn´t stop us from caring for one another and sharing histories and relating to one another in a way you can only do with old, good friends. Saying goodbye to these guys on Sunday wasn´t easy, and I´m so glad they could come down to visit and see what life is like in El Salvador. It means the world to me, and I´m sure it meant something good to them.