Today was filled with perfect moments, conversations, and exchanges. Coincidentally, today also seemed to be even hotter than yesterday- but that did not stop us from working hard to finish coating the outside and inside of the house with cement sealant. This process is requires many steps in order to complete a single wall:
1) Carry buckets of water into the house from the garbage can sized makeshift well outside of the house
2) Douse the walls with water so that the cinderblocks will be more absorbent (we refer to this as "making it rain" and Christina is far and away the expert rainmaker)
3) The masons mix powdered cement with water to make a sealant that can be applied to the walls before painting the house.
4) Since we only have three brushes, we must work efficiently to cover the walls from top to bottom or bottom to top before the sun completely dries the water.
5) Once the first layer of sealant is applied (evenly), repeat two more times.
* Keep in mind that in order to reach the top of the house requires the use of scaffolds. In addition, coating the large, awkward brushes with sealant is an art form in and of itself. All things considered, we made the absolute most of the situation by alternating tasks and incessantly singing any song that came to mind.
By now we are all experts at applying and reapplying sunscreen and bug spray, but both the bugs and the sun are persistent. Luckily, I happen to be traveling with the most positive, hilarious, and hardworking group of people so we manage to turn any obstacle into an exciting game.
After lunch we only had to work for a couple of hours before Sr. Jorge arranged for us to go on a boat ride that departed from Usulutan's harbor. Included in the caravan were our wonderful masons: Louis and Oscar, as well as Ronald, Jorge, and Jorge Junior ("Jorgito"). Before the harbor, we made a quick stop at the homeowner's, Marena, current space that she has been renting for the past 13 years. When we first entered it took a moment for our eyes to adjust from the bright outdoors to the dim lighting inside. Covering the walls were pictures of her daughters and grandchildren. As we walked down a narrow, cement hallway we came upon another room with even more pictures of her family. After looking through a photo album of her relatives, it became almost too much for me. Her family is her everything, she holds them together, and in turn- they complete her life. To see the mutual dependence and love that runs through this family is beautiful and I am going to miss seeing and being a part of it when we return to the United States on Friday.
When we arrived at the port, Jorge led us to a stand where we picked up lifejackets and boarded his friend's large boat. We were able to fit 14 adults and one child comfortably and proceeded to enjoy the next 20 minutes on the water- not exactly sure where we were going. Most of us thought we were just going to go on a tour of the water, taking pictures of the scenery and other boats. We were beyond excited when we found out that we were actually docking on a small island close by. After jumping out of the boat and onto the shore, we walked a few steps into the boat captain's outdoor cabana restaurant. We wore our bathing suits under our clothes to the work site so in less than five minutes most of us were submerged in the fantastically warm water, buoyed by our life jackets. After splashing around and taking pictures with Devon's awesome, waterproof camera... I took a moment to lie back in the water (this ordinarily impossible feat was made possible because of the life jacket) and look up at the sky. After several deep breaths to silence my thoughts, a sense of calm settled in my heart and my mind. Here I was, after a tiring day of work, floating in the Pacific Ocean with people that I have grown to love so, so much. I slowly looked around me and my gratitude deepened. Set in the background of the bay that seemed to go on forever, was a panoramic view of the most stoic and majestic volcanos, standing amongst the sparkling blue sky and lightly dusted with pure white clouds. In that moment I was finally present. So much of my time is spent looking ahead to the future or reminiscing about the past. Though my appreciation for the present moment has become more frequent and prolonged in the last year- today felt different. It was as if being in the water surrounded by so much beauty, physically shifted my perspective and disposition. There are no words to explain or describe this feeling but I know that what this trip has given me is intangible and permanent.
After returning to the harbor, we walked down the pier to watch the sun dip below the horizon. Finally we decided to call it a day and returned to the van. As I sat crammed in the middle of the backseat, I knew there was nowhere else I wanted to be. As we sped away from the water and back to our hotel, we traveled through the breathtaking countryside. Though we pass by this land every day on the way to and from work- I've never experienced it at dusk. I stared in amazement at the vivid landscape that had manifested before my eyes. The trees were illuminated as dark silhouettes against the entrancing orange and salmon colored sky that rose like fire from the earth, taking the sun's place. As my eyes traveled upwards, the flames faded into a soft gray-perriwinkle canvas that held the sliver of bright, white moon suspended on its' side. I made an attempt (with Devon's help) to take a picture of what I was seeing, but before clicking, I already knew that a camera could not capture what was stretched out in front of my eyes. What I will remember most about El Salvador is its' vibrance, and this day captured it perfectly. From the hot sun that entrenched us at work to the beautiful pastels that engulfed us in the water, and finally the blazing sunset that ended our second to last night- I begin to understand the uniqueness of this country. This country is alight with a present that has been molded by a violent past, but will strengthen into a blazing future because of the tenacity of its' people. The people of El Salvador shine with humor, faith, and grace.
Every single day in El Salvador we learn something new about ourselves. After an amazing weekend, we quickly discovered that losing one hour of sleep and working in the heat is conducive to blisters, exhaustion, and surprisingly: self-made rap videos. While that last part is not my story to tell (look out for a music video on youtube coming soon!), not more than an hour had passed before a lot of us started feeling the heat, literally. Maybe it was lounging at the beach, walking around a cool volcano crater, and shopping in the open market- either way we weren't feeling 100% when the day started off. However, the tides shifted by the afternoon...
-Morning: We got to meet the son-in-law of the future homeowner. He is a fisherman and also works in a kitchen. As he pulled his weekend catch of: kite fish, cat fish, blue crabs, etc. out of his cooler, a few of us looked on with amazement as he sorted and gutted the myriad of seafood for the lunch the women were preparing. Though I am a vegetarian, I could not resist the opportunity to help him scale one of the fish. It is incredible how cleanly and carefully he and his wife were when handling the sea creatures. They were also very patient with explaining the names of the fish and what kinds of dishes they could be made into. Meanwhile, construction at the house was moving rapidly even if we were not. As the masons began their final rows of cinderblocks, many of us took to the arduous task of filling the house with another layer of white dirt and tamping it down with a makeshift concrete-filled coffee tin with a wooden handle (hopefully the music video will assist with this bizarre visual).
-Afternoon: We took a break for lunch to eat Ronald's aunt's magnificent food that she prepares for us every day. While we enjoyed marinated chicken, rice, and breaded potatoes with cheese (for the vegetarians), the masons and family began their seafood feast of creamy crab soup and fried fish. The culture that surrounds food and family is so different, but incredible here in El Salvador. Rather than rush through lunch to continue working, we get an hour lunch break to eat, swing in the hammocks, plays cards, and/or write in our personal journals. Despite the long breaks, I feel that it's actually conducive to working more productively and efficiently because everyone has digested and is well-rested. In the afternoon we did some more of the same tasks (only on higher scaffolds) before ending the day early (at 3:00 pm) to visit the nearby Puerto de Triunfo public school. A few of Ronald's cousins and his aunt works there so we were able to be let in for the afternoon session. The school starts with 1st grade and goes all the way up to 9th grade. For them, primary education consists of 3 cycles: 1st-3rd grade (cycle 1), 4th-6th grade (cycle 2), and 7th-9th grade (cycle 3). After that, education is not required or necessarily easily accessible.
Upon entering the school we were all surprised to see how open and airy the structure of the school is. When you walk in, there are three columns of classrooms. Though there are roofs above each column of classrooms, the two spaces in between are completely uncovered. Between the left and middle column is a stage with the school's motto and vision. The area below the stage can be set up with chairs, but it is most commonly used as a soccer field during recess and after school. The area between the middle and right columns has benches and tables to sit and eat. There are snack stands and other kid-friendly offerings near the side entrance so kids can stock up during breaks and after school lets out. In total, there are 1,050 students, 525 attend in the mornings and the other half come to school for the afternoons. We were fortunate enough to visit a 3rd grade and 4th grade class. Just as we were excited to see them (there are not enough synonyms for adorable to describe the students), they were excited and surprised to see us. Many of them were endearingly rambunctious, making funny faces when we took their pictures and laughing along as we introduced ourselves in spanish. I had Ronald ask the 3rd grade class what they wanted to be when they grow up and many of their responses included: police officer, soldier, doctor, and/or teacher. After seeing the classrooms, we met the principal who was gracious and more than happy to have us visit the school and answer any questions we had. Next, we finally got to meet Ronald's aunt and we all thanked her repeatedly for the great meals that she provides us with on the worksite. While we were sitting near the food area, the bell rang to signal the end of class. Slowly kids began to trickle out of classrooms- then before I knew it, there was a stampede of hundreds of children running around, laughing, and shouting out to each other. Quickly a soccer game began between the little boys so I rushed onto the stage to capture pictures of them in action. Then, Alisson (the granddaughter of the homeowner) beckoned me to come back to the food area. By this point there was a crowd of curious boys and girls forming around us gringos. I handed my camera to a little girl we had met earlier in one of the classrooms so that she could take pictures of our group (sidenote: she was wearing denim overalls with rainbow straps, so awesome!). Before I knew it, we were pulling students into the massive group picture and camera flashes were going off everywhere. During this moment of chaos, I realized I felt complete bliss. These children were so friendly, so open, so excited to be with us- and the feeling was completely mutual!
After the pictures, it was time to leave, but the girl who I had given my camera to began following us. Ronald explained that she was interested in getting information about Habitat for Humanity so he was going to give her some flyers he had in the car. This girl, only in 4th grade, was already taking the initiative to get involved and give back! I suppose other students saw her following us so they tagged along. As our group stood ready to get back on the van, Ronald brought out some flyers to give her. Sure enough, as soon as the other kids saw him giving her something, they wanted it too! Words cannot express how incredible it was to see the students asking and fighting over the Habitat for Humanity pamphlets. I can only hope that they took them home and shared them with their family. Whether they choose to get involved either through building or receiving a home- does not matter to me. The simple fact that they are now aware of Habitat for Humanity and what this organization does is enough to turn an exhausting day into one of my happiest moments in El Salvador.
Today marks a week since we arrived in El Salvador, though it seems like we have been here much longer than that. All of the people we have met, building that's been done, and experiences that have been had constantly surprise and delight me. Also since it is the weekend we have the next two days off before we resume work at the build site on Monday. Weird as it sounds, we already miss all of the warm and wonderful people we get to build with throughout the day. Friday was especially hard to say goodbye because the children and teenagers must return to school this coming Monday after a lengthy Christmas break. Though they range from 8 years old to 18, every single child and teenager has been extremely helpful in the construction of the house. Whether it's passing the mezcla to fill in gaps between cinderblocks, or shoveling tierra blanca to cover the dirt floor, they all worked with a smile. In addition they helped us speak spanish and kept us upbeat when the sun beat down on us. Luckily we have this weekend to keep us happy- and I am sure this coming week will bring new surprises despite the absence of many little helpers. So in hopes that you faithful readers do not turn a slight shade of green with envy, today we spent the day at the beach!!
We slept in a whole hour extra before rising for breakfast at 8 am. We departed for Espino beach at 9 and made a pitstop along the way to take pictures of a beautiful volcano. Within an hour we had arrived and parked at a hotel across the street from the beach. Though all of us had applied sunscreen and packed beach bags so we could go straight to the beach, we quickly learned an important lesson about the pace of life in El Salvador versus the United States. When we got out of the van, Ronald and two of the hotel's staff led us to an a shades outdoor area near the pool. Many of us were antsy to just go, already- but not wanting to be rude we took a seat, some of us in plastic chairs and others in the surrounding hammocks. In El Salvador, people like to take their time. Why rush when you can take it easy? For us North Americans, this concept is hard to swallow because we equate time with money and are constantly in motion. However, by taking the time to sit down and relax before going to the beach, we were able to converse with each other, order our lunch ahead of time, and truly enjoy ourselves once we finally crosses the street to go to the beach. And let me tell you, once we got to the beach I don't think there was a single person who wasn't smiling from ear to ear.
As soon as I dropped my towel and bag in the sand, there was no stopping me. I practically sprinted to the water with Mary Margaret. We were shocked to discover that the water was actually warm! As more people joined us, and we waded further into the ocean, everyone kept shouting in disbelief: "We're at the beach in January!" Turning around to face the shore, I was speechless to see that in the distance was the incredible silhouette of a volcano. The landscape of El Salvador is so unique, you can go from mountains to beaches in an hour. Devon has a waterproof camera so we were able to capture some excellent (and slightly embarrassing) action shots of us body surfing, getting knocked over by some epic waves, and just splashing around. After wearing ourselves out, we headed back to the sand to dry ourselves in the hot sun (ATTN Parents: Sunscreen was used repeatedly and generously throughout the day!!!- you can thank Professor Gill and our team leader, Christina for their constant and wise reminders). Around 1:00 pm, Ronald rounded us up so that we could go back to the hotel for lunch.
While some of us stuck to the safe options of nachos and salad, we had some adventurous people try fried fish, ceviche, and shrimp (that looked more like crawfish). Since we've all become so close, most of our meals become communal with all of us trying a little bit from each other's plates. After we finished our meal, we let our meals digest as we rocked peacefully on the hammocks. Speaking of hammocks, they are everywhere in El Salvador and many people in our group have purchased hammocks here with the hope of spreading the trend back in the U.S. of A. Upon returning to the beach after lunch, the sun was brighter than ever so we once again raced to the water. It really was unbelievable to us that here we were, in the middle of January, on the beach and swimming in the warmest water we'd every experienced. Life is good.
Later in the afternoon many of the girls walked along the shoreline to collect seashells. I had collected shells earlier in the day and was ecstatic to find the most beautiful variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. I must also give a shootout to a particular little boy on the beach who aided me in my seashell adventure, fore he provided me with some awesome finds. As the tide came further in, we were able to find more critters tracing their way through the sand. Since we were so preoccupied with laughing and jumping around while we were in the water, it was nice to walk along the ocean and observe other people in the ocean. Many families with little children splashed about in the shallow water. Also set up along the beach were cabanas with swinging hammocks. What I was most intrigued by however were the young girls who were selling food to loungers in the sand. From 25 cent bags of coconut juice (with real chunks of coconut included) to fries doused in ketchup and cheese, each girl conveyed their own message and personality. With the help of Ronald I was able to take a picture of a group of young girls- each one nervous and excited to be in a picture during their working hours.
Around 4:00 we decided it was time to pack up and head home. When we returned to the hotel several people immediately hopped in hammocks while others busied themselves packing up and shaking out the sand from the towels. It turns out that we had quite a following. One particularly adorable girl, Catalina, led a group of girls back to the hotel. We took turns playing tag and taking pictures, not knowing or caring who was more happy with this opportunity, the young girls or us? When it finally came time to load ourselves back into the van, we opened all the windows so we could wave and call out our final goodbyes to our new friends. It made us simultaneously somber and grateful that we were able to mix with the local children on our day off. We realized that for many of these young girls, their play time is few and far between. Burdened with the responsibility of providing income for their family, they walk the beaches selling food during the weekends. We felt privileged that we were able to play and interact with them on this afternoon, even if only for a short while.
Time and time again, a brief encounter in El Salvador will gently force me to look at my personal biography in relation to that of the worlds'. How do I affect others? How can my actions facilitate change? This trip is teaching me that no kind gesture goes unnoticed, so why not choose compassion in place of apathy? There are so many questions I ask myself every day- and for once I don't need an immediate answer. Simply conveying my wonder with the world is enough to tide me over for now.
Risa y Trabajo Con Juntos (Laughter and Work, Together)
Never again will I underestimate the power of laughter. Yesterday was a very intense day: driving several hours to see the War of the Revolution and El Mozote. Throughout the day our senses and minds were constantly stimulated by our surroundings and by the time we came home, exhaustion had swept over all of us. Yet, we were still able to come together and reflect on our day and end our pow-wow with laughter. As much as I appreciate living in my comfortable room back home with hot water, an abundance of food, and top notch education- I know this is not a life most of the world knows. Being here, in Usulutan, is probably the best thing that has ever happened to me. Traveling with a class of students (many of whom I did not know well prior to this trip) to work with Habitat for Humanity has been a gift for all of us...
Today we woke up at 6:10 am, went to breakfast at 6:30 and were on the road to Puerto Triunfo by 7:15. Upon arriving at the property, the men were already working on the house and the women were bustling about: preparing the food, washing clothes, and taking care of the homeowner's adorable grand-son: Rudy Alexander. Yesterday we took a day off from the work site so we weren't sure how much progress the men had made since Tuesday. Sure enough, today we saw that the walls had doubled in height and more tierra blanco had been poured onto the ground. Besides the two masons, Oscar and Don Luis, the homeowner's brother, several other family members help out. It is so impressive how much they accomplish in so little time- and NEVER is there a complaint on site.
Today seemed hotter than previous days yet there was more laughter and joking around than ever. I've come to see how important humor is in this culture. After all that has happened- what else can you do but laugh and express thanks for what you do have? Since the walls now reached about 10 feet, we used scaffolding to put mezcla (mortar) between the cinderblock gaps and chizpa (gravel) in the cinderblock holes. El Tigre (eight year old Jorge) was not allowed to be stand on the scaffolding, but the older children were still beyond eager to help us in any way that they could. Teamwork is crucial for building effectively and somehow, despite the challenging conditions, every task seems to go smoothly.
During our lunch break, Ronald, helped facilitate a "Q and A" between our group and some of the kids and teenagers in the family. We asked them about their school, what classes were offered, what they wanted to be when they grew up, etc. In turn they asked us about what college was like and of course, if any of us had boyfriends/girlfriends. It is awesome to see that though we may have grown up in completely different cultures and countries, we all still share interests and dreams for the future. By the end of the day, we had added several more levels to the walls and were able to leave with a feeling of achievement and of course, fatigue. At the rate we're going, I hope to see a roof not the house before we leave next Friday.
For some reason, all of us were more cheery than usual when we returned to the hotel. With no exaggeration, we have been laughing and sharing stories since the beginning of dinner until the end of our daily reflection over an hour later. Within our small group of ten I am beginning to grasp, understand, and become friends with each teammate individually. Every single person on this trip has so much to offer, endless positivity, and infinite support. I look forward to every night when we all gather in the room I share with Devon and Cara to go over the day's events. Our team leader, Christina, and Professor Gill guide us in making sense of the day's events as well as facilitating an environment to take a step back and take an honest look at ourselves. Tonight Christina asked us what we have been able to learn about ourselves thus far on the trip. One of my favorite responses came from Mary Margaret. She expressed learning that she felt discomfort with receiving verbal compliments, because she preferred the exchanging of smiles or the extension of a helping hand to reassure her that she was on the right track. Many of us shared this sentiment. Repeatedly, Ronald (our host), and the family we are working with, tell us how much we are appreciated, even going so far as to telling us that we are "angels." How can this be? They are our heroes. They are the reason we return every morning with smiles on our faces and grace in our hearts. We have found new sisters and friends that we can laugh and joke with, while still never forgetting to focus on the task at hand. "Simple, decent, affordable" housing- that is the goal.
Mezcla, Chizpa, y Tierra (Mortar, Gravel, and Dirt)
Day 2 at the build site in Usulutan was productive, fun, and rewarding. Again, we woke up at 6:30 am for breakfast and departed for the property in Puerto de Triunfo at 7:15 with our wonderful driver, Dimas. Yesterday I spent part of the morning sifting sand, and I definitely felt my "sifting muscles" ache this morning, so I decided to go with "la mezcla" for my first task. Unfortunately, large gloves and an ever bigger spade does not make stuffing cracks between cement blocks the easiest of tasks. Very quickly, Alison Tamara (the grand-daughter of the future homeowner) was there to help me even out the sides and beautify my clumsy mistakes. Thankfully, everyone on the site has an incredible sense of humor, and everyone helps each other out. One of my new friends, Jorge, is eight years old and absolutely overflowing with energy. For that reason, I named him "el tigre" (tiger) yesterday and today I re-named him "el mono" (monkey) because he loves nothing more than playing games. During our morning break, we were all surprised to find that Jorge knew how to play "thumb war" so we proceeded to teach him other games, which he absolutely loved. After the break we began to fill the gaps between the walls and the floor with tierra (dirt). Rather than individually taking buckets of dirt, one by one- Dimas quickly pointed out that forming an assembly line from the dirt mound to the rooms in the house would be far more efficient. While several people scooped dirt into buckets, five of us formed a line passing empty and full buckets back and forth between those who were scooping and the workers who were filling in the gaps. This was a great experience because many of the younger girls were able to help out and join the assembly line.
After our lunch of delicious rice, vegetables, and chicken (minus the chicken for our four vegetarians), I took the opportunity to swing on la amaca (hammock) with my new friend and pareja (partner), Alison. In a matter of minutes, I was surrounded by an additional three girls who were interested in playing with my hair and asking questions (I answered the best I could in my elementary Spanish). The most meaningful part of the day came when our Habitat for Humanity host, Ronald, and the future homeowner, Marena spoke to us about her experience during El Salvador's civil war (1980-1992). Though she doesn't speak English, Ronald was able to capture the essence of her feelings during the war and in its' still present aftermath. Though it was sad to hear her story, it ended on a positive note for several reasons. First, Habitat for Humanity is working closely with her to make sure that very soon, she will have a house to call her own. Second, seeing how dedicated her whole family is in helping out with the construction of the house is truly moving. Not only did one of her daughters pay for the land that the house is being built on, her other daughter and her five children plus their cousins, and Marena's brother all work extremely hard, everyday on the site. From mixing gravel to preparing the meals, "it takes a village" is truly demonstrated. I am so proud to call Marena mi nueva abuelita (my new grandmother). Despite the heat, manual labor, and language barrier- somehow we continue to laugh and joke throughout the day.
Today we ended work a little bit early so that Ronald could take us to the open market in Usulutan. It was fun to see all of the little souvenirs and authentic El Salvadoran products (hammocks, paintings, etc.). Though none of us besides Ronald are fluent in Spanish, we were all successful in both negotiating with the shop owners and finding special gifts to take back home. As we walked through the main streets I was in awe of the variety of merchandise that was offered. From fresh bread to bounties of colorful sandals- it was a haven for both tourists and locals. The majestic mountains and volcano served as a stoic backdrop to the bright and bustling city streets. After we were finished at the market, we walked to a beautiful white church and snapped some group pictures on the steps.
By the time we arrived home, everyone was ready to shower and eat dinner. After our meal, we all gather in the room I share with Devon and Cara (I also live in a triple back at school) to reflect on our day. On this night we each talked about a person who had inspired us at the build site. Each of us (unintentionally) selected a different person, which made me realize how truly blessed we are to have met so many incredible people after spending only two days with them! Afterwards we talked about other things we enjoyed about the day as well as things we could work on as a group. I know I've mentioned this already, but I really can't express with enough words how AWESOME this group I am traveling with is. We all mesh so well which makes building easier, and down time more enjoyable. After going over plans for our day tomorrow (which Devon will blog about), everyone went back to their rooms. However, several people quickly returned to our room so that we could all "journal" together. Each day we write a journal entry about how we are feeling, what we have learned, and observations that apply to our class content. It was really nice to look around and see that even after spending a full day together, we all still wanted to be together at night, just so that we could talk, laugh, and recap the day's events for another hour or so... well I'm headed to bed- we've got to wake up at 6:30 and I`ll take all the sleep I can get!
Yesterday morning we woke up at 6:30 to a eat a wonderful breakfast of fresh papaya, pineapple, juice, eggs, and assorted pastries. Afterwards we packed up and boarded the trusty "coasta" (big van) to visit some sites in San Salvador before going to Usulutan for the remainder of the trip. In San Salvador we saw several impressive churches and visited a memorial wall dedicated to those lost during their Civil War (1980-1992). Afterwards we went to a church that former Archbishop Oscar Romero presided over. It was amazing to see people, young and old, fill the church beyond its' capacity. At the end of the service a couple celebrating their 54th year of marriage was blessed by the priest (I was lucky enough to get a personal shot of them after the service). As we walked around the church grounds, again I was struck by how truly incredible this country is. The magnificent trees, beautiful landscapes, and friendly people made me forget that it was my first full day in the country. Afterwards, we drove two hours to Usulutan where we are staying at Hotel Campo Real.
When we arrived we put our bags away and went to the outdoor dining area to meet several important people from Habitat for Humanity. Our host, Ronald, introduced us to his "jefe" (boss) at the Usulutan office, as well as one of the creditors that works with the family to finance their homes, and the homeowner that we will be building for over the next two weeks. They explained how houses are awarded to families, and how the headquarters really works with the families to ensure that they can sustain and maintain their homes after they are built. The homeowner was very excited to see that our team consisted of nine females and only one male. We were completely up to the challenge to show off how strong women truly are. After lunch, our team stayed outside to go over orientation with Ronald. This consisted of 101 safety, the architecture of the homes we build, and a briefing of jobs and opportunities in Usulutan. It was repeatedly stressed how influential Habitat for Humanity and its' volunteers are in El Salvador. Though its' citizens are hard workers, El Salvador has been hit with a civil war, Hurricane Mitch, and flooding- all in the last thirty years. However, volunteers with Habitat are not only giving to the homeowners, we are receiving so much in return. Besides immersion into the culture, we get the chance to meet incredible people with inspiring stories.
After orientation was over we all quickly changed into bathing suits and hopped into "la piscina" (the pool). There was a family of six (mom, dad, one boy and 3 girls) also playing in the pool. Devon and I decided to approach the father and one of his daughter to practice our Spanish. Fortunately we were able to have a comprehensive and interesting conversation with them. We explained that we were from the United States and were visiting to help build with Habitat for Humanity. After exchanging information, the daughter hung around because she too, was interested in learning another language. She was eager to tell us that she knew the word for platypus in English: ornitorrinco (those rolling r's are tough to pronounce). For over ten minutes we went back and forth translating and conversing in basic Spanish. Eventually the girl became bored with us, but we went back to the rest of the group, absolutely exhilarated! We prayed that there would be many children at the build site who would be as patient and willing to speak with us. It is incredible to see that people who scowl at "gringos" (tourists/foreigners) quickly light up when you greet them with a polite: "Hola, como esta?... buenas dias."
After spending a great day seeing the site of San Salvador and speaking with some of the locals, all of us were more than ready to begin our adventure at the build site. Sure enough, today went magnificently. Besides learning A LOT, the day was also filled with laughter, breakthroughs, and more progress on the house than we expected. With one day down and many more to go, I can sincerely say that I cannot wait to spend another day working in the sun with some of the nicest people I have ever met.
I cannot believe the time has finally come!! In exactly one hour I will be meeting with my group (at 3 am) to head to Dulles where we will be flying to San Salvador before making our way to Usulutan. It is so hard to explain the thoughts running through my head and the feelings I have in my heart. For the past two weeks we have been reading, learning, and discussing the history, culture, and people of El Salvador... and in less than 12 hours we will actually be there, completely immersed!
I am making a conscious effort not to have any expectation, just to keep my mind open to everything as well as to try everything (except the water)! I know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to give back to the community in the most meaningful way: providing the human right to have shelter. Ever since joining Habitat for Humanity (in high school) I have been constantly reminded how fortunate I am to live a life where clean water, a roof over my head, and a spectacular education are givens. Through learning about the areas the Millennium Development Goals are trying to reach- it has become even more evident how much of the world is still developing and growing. I am ready to learn through experience by working hands-on with members of the community to build 8 am-4 pm in 90 degree heat.
The friends I hope to make, the bond our team will create, will make this trip first-rate (sorry, I couldn't resist rhyming). Alright, I have to end here so that I can double check my packing list and tie up loose ends here in the "center of the universe": Ashland, Virginia.
Hola! Our team of ten has arrived safely in San Salvador, El Salvador. We met this morning at 3 am, had a layover in Atlanta and finally made it to the capitol around 1:30 pm (only a one hour time difference). Waiting for us at the airport was our magnificent host from Habitat´s Global Village network, Ronald. He will be guiding us for the next two weeks on the worksite and through the different cultural activities we have the privilege of participating in. Beyond his vast knowledge of the country and passion for Habitat for Humanity, his patience is admirable. All of us have very basic spanish speaking skills but he promises that after our two weeks here, we will speak con fluencia.
On the bus ride from the airport to our hotel (we will be staying in San Salvador for one night, before moving on to our build site in Usulutan, near San Miguel) he provided us with a lot of background information about the history of El Salvador. As we drove along the highway, I was amazed to see the luscious landscape on either side of us. Below rich, green mountains were valleys occupied by houses with four walls and scrap metal roofs that looked stacked upon each other. We also observed produce stands held up by wooden stilts and thatched roofs. Also interesting to see were all of the trucks that packed people into the beds. One particular truck held about seven men in the bed of the truck along with all of their instruments... maybe they were on their way to perform?! In addition, many buses, trucks, and individuals carried the red FMLN (leftist political party) flags to show their affiliation. President Mauricio Funes (elected in 2009) is the first FMLN candidate to hold office and before filling this role, he worked as a journalist which gave him credibility with the masses. FMLN means: ¨for national freedom¨ and was formerly known as a guerilla group during the civil war that took place from 1980 until a peace treaty was signed between the government and the FMLN in 1992.
When we arrived at Hotel Villa Terra, we were amazed to see how beautiful the accomodations are. The structure is both warm and open, with a courtyard that appears at the end of our hallway. After resting for an hour, we all met in the lobby to take a short tour of the area. We spent most of our time marveling at the layout of a grocery store. Besides stocking up on water, Ronald took time to recommend his favorite snacks, so of course we couldn´t resist buying a myriad of different brightly packaged chips and pastries. Now we are all taking a break before we go across the street to eat dinner at 6:30. We have all decided to go to bed early tonight because we have a very full day tomorrow! In the morning we will be a service at the church where former Archbishop, Oscar Arnulfo Romero´s crypt is kept.
In addition we¨ll be visiting many historic sites, museums and attractions over the next two weeks so I will be sure to report back with detail on a regular basis! So far I am beyond relieved at how friendly all of the locals are. Even though our spanish is muy malo, they appreciate that we are at least trying to converse in their language. Ronald also assured us that many of the workers at the Usulutan site are eager to learn English so that we will be able to help each other learn another language. The weather is predicted to be in the 90s for the next week so sunblock (and bugspray) are a must. However, the promise that we will be going to the beach durante el fin de semana is keeping all of us beyond happy. I have so much more I want to write, but I am very unfamiliar with this keyboard and seem to make a mistake every other word. Though we have only been in El Salvador for a few hours, it is safe to say that all of us are beyond grateful that we have the chance to partake in this amazing trip. Until next time, hasta luego!
Hello! My name is Elanya Chin and I am a junior from New Jersey, double-majoring in International Studies (emphasis in Latin American & Caribbean Culture and Society) and Philosophy with a minor in ethics. I have never traveled to Central America before so I am beyond excited to be participating in this journey partnered with Habitat for Humanity's Global Village network. Before I begin my blogging adventure from Usulutan, El Salvador, I think it would be helpful to give some background information about what we have been learning in class thus far
In The Classroom:
The major themes in class discussion and work have revolved around:
-Globalization: its' impacts on the environment, economy, and the way we perceive the world
-Housing: adequacy based on geography, basic necessities, and property/ownership
-Millenium Development Goals: consisting of 8 goals adopted by world leaders to "provide concrete, numerical benchmarks for tackling extreme poverty in its many dimensions."
*Some of these goals include: eradicating extreme hunger & poverty, achieving universal primary education, reducing child mortality rates, and promoting gender equality and empowerment for women.
-Human Rights: In order to tackle what exactly constitutes human rights we read the United Nation's Universal Declaration for Human Rights, and wrote about how to enforce these rights and to what extent are we responsible for upholding rights on a personal and global level.
...In my next entry I will discuss what exactly Habitat for Humanity's Global Village is, and why I decided to participate in this adventure to El Salvador!