Looking Back


The images above are from my last day at the school.

Now that I’ve been home for a few days, having been in El Salvador almost seems like a dream; a very pleasant dream. It is time to wrap up these posts about my eight weeks in El Salvador. To do so, let’s look at how I did on my three goals:

Maintaining Health and Safety: This was primary because without this the others could not happen. Other than the notable exception of my insistence on using my camera around the markets, I followed all of Joaquin’s other recommendations and had no issues with people bothering me or trying to take my belongings.

I was sick twice, first with a cold and then with a one day bout of GI distress, but expected these to likely occur and went to El Salvador with medications to deal with both. I actually returned leaner and stronger than when I left. Walking several miles a day with a day-pack will have that effect, I guess.

Teaching English in the Local Public School: This is more difficult to judge. My future graduate work will likely provide me with a better framework for evaluating this. Many students were exposed to and demonstrated some learning of new materials. Eight weeks is not a lot of time. All I did was to teach them the bit that I could in that period. Others will come and teach more. It may seem disjointed to have these students learn English from a bunch of volunteers who may or may not have experience in teaching, but there is no formal program teaching English in grades 1 -6. Without Teaching You, there would be nothing for them until Grade 7.

I was successful in engaging the students in learning and was told this repeatedly while I was in El Salvador. My Spanish tutor told me I had to make learning fun. These girls would not sit for lectures on grammar. We played games that I found or developed to teach the concepts I was asked address. The students learned the material in order to win the games. And we had a lot of fun.

Experiencing the Language, Community and Culture: I cannot claim to be fluent in Spanish at this point. I still struggle knowing exactly what is going on. But my skills are much better now than when I arrived. When I shared some food with the police officer on the hike up Volcan de Santa Ana, he was curious and asked me a lot of questions about myself and my thoughts on our two countries. I could manage that in Spanish with no problems. My Spanish is best when I don’t feel pressured or tired.

I tried just about every opportunity that was offered to me to experience the culture in El Salvador. Some things were things that I am not really drawn to in my life here at home, but were worth trying and seeing there. I am glad that I did, but as I said in an earlier post, you can go someplace else but are still the same person you are at home. Ultimately, I embraced more the things that were consistent with my life back here in the US.

Being a part of the community there was one of my favorite parts of my trip. In a small community in which people walk places, you are just always seeing people you know. Over the eight weeks, I developed more friendships and acquaintances than I ever expected. The open and generous nature of the Salvadoran people definitely contributed to this. Helping to serve at the program to feed those who are hungry was one of my favorite parts.

As you can imagine, I feel very positive about my time in El Salvador. I’m glad I went, and was able to experience these things and to help people there. This will be my last post here. If you like the images, I encourage you to check out my other blog, Milford Street. (https://milfordstreet.wordpress.com/) It will go back to being a photo blog starting tomorrow. Often, I have some text but am not as verbose as in this series.

My thanks to Joaquin, Marina, the faculty and staff of Centro Escolar Margarita Duran and all the others who made this trip such a positive experience. My thanks also to my wife and family for their support.

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Leaving

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One of the many gifts I received at my fairwell party today. I have about 500 photos to download edit. Some will make it into additional posts. I leave for home today and plan to take a few days off and then add some posts next week.

Cheers!

A Sense of Mastery

Blind Mans Bluff
(Note: I took this image yesterday of a group of girls playing a version of “Blind Man’s Bluff”. It’s nice to see it is still played somewhere.)

When my wife and I take cycle tour vacations the last day has a special sadness. We’ve usually spent a week or more packing our belongings on our bikes each morning, cycling all day, and then setting up at the next inn. At the end of the trip we can do it all with little effort and maximum efficiency. The final day, we are the best we will get this trip. We’ve developed a sense of mastery over this task.

That is how it is now here in El Salvador. I am as good as I will get. I’ve mastered getting ready for school, doing my laundry, teaching a class, getting copies made, finding good food and a thousand other things that I had only the vaguest clue about eight weeks ago. It means I can just enjoy life a bit more these days.

My Spanish is also the best it will be for now. It is far from fluent, but I can handle all of the basic social graces, make small talk and do all the basic things that I struggled with at the beginning of the trip. The other day on a volcano hike, I followed the custom of offering some food to the police officer stationed at the summit. He was curious about me, where I was from, why I was visiting and what I thought of the country. I was able to handle a five minute conversation without missing a beat. I can also better understand when students or teachers speak to me in the school, even with all of the noise.

But tomorrow, I leave for home. Then, I need to stop saying “como” instead of “what” when someone says something I don’t quite hear, and nodding and saying “Si, si” when I do understand. I’ll miss the feeling of mastery that I have gained here, but I’m pleased to know that I achieved these skills during my time here

My Last Week

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(The image above is of my final class with Grade 7B. As I went to leave, the girls all made hearts with their hands.)

It is my final week here in El Salvador. It is time to wrap things up and say good bye. It is difficult. There are things that I wanted to work on and do that are not possible because there were no classes last week. My guess is that I would still feel that way even if there had been classes last week.

It’s difficult to say good bye to the students. Despite the fact that they have several volunteers each year coming to their school, they really seem to feel a loss with my departure. In a situation like this, you naturally feel closer to some students. Some, I doubt I’ll ever forget.

Many volunteers at the school are repeat visitors. Several times, I’ve been asked when I’ll return. The honest is answer is that I don’t know. My coming here was part of distinct plan at this point in my life. Currently, I’ve no plans to return. That makes it difficult for both them and me. While it has not always been easy these past seven weeks, there are things here that I will miss.

Of course, I’ll miss the school, and teachers and students. I’ll miss being called “Profe”. I’ll miss the fun you can have in teaching children English that you don’t have in teaching adults where I volunteer back home.

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There are other things that I’ll miss also. Sunday was my last festival evening on Paseo El Carmen. Exercising in the open air if El Cafetalon while looking at a volcano will never get old. The hill in the image above mesmerizes me with a beauty I cannot really capture here. It is the view above the courtyard of the school. The gently rolling profile and trees dotting the top are such a peaceful scene. It can quiet my thoughts on even a noisy late afternoon at the school. And there are the countless faces I’ve grown used to in the community.

Goodbyes are all a part of the process; a part of life. And I can continue to tell myself that, but it does not make it any easier.

The People That You Meet

Cafetalon 1

Just about every time I go to El Cafetalon to exercise, I run into someone I know either there or in transit to or from the park. At first, it surprised me, because this seldom happens back home. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In the US, I am part of a spread out commuter culture. Here, people live and work in the same city. Also, they don’t all get in their cars to go places. Many walk or take the bus. Being out on the street provides a way of seeing a friend that does not happen in one’s car. It reminds me of the neighborhood in which my grandmother lived in Boston while I was growing up. It is definitely one of the more appealing aspects of being here.

The idea of exercising in view of a volcano still thrills me.

Meet Marina

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This is Marina on the right with her friend Chabelita on the left.

If Joaquin has been my Obi Wan-Kenobi, then Marina has been my life coach and support person outside of the school and excursions. I have been staying in her home for the past six-plus weeks and I have repeatedly thanked Joaquin for placing me here.

Marina was the person who showed me how to wash the previous day’s clothing in the sink out in the back of the house. She taught me how to clean fresh vegetables and other things so that I won’t become ill. She explained to me the economics of eating cheaply locally. I can have lunch for $5 at a nearby Mexican place, or I can eat at the comedors around town for about $2.50.

She has cooked me so many meals. She can whip-up a meal of eggs, frijoles, queso and pan in five minutes or less. She makes wonderful lemonade and Jamaica tea. This was not in the plan by the way. She just does it. I try to reciprocate by buying groceries that I know she depletes on my behalf and keeping us supplied with “pan dulce” (pastries and cookies and such from the bakery).

She has told me so many times when areas or things are dangerous. Many afternoons as storm clouds built in the sky, she brought in my laundry so that it would not be soaked.

This week, when the schools closed down and I was looking for other ways to serve, she connected me with her parish center for feeding the homeless and served with me my first morning to help me with the process.
We do all of this in Spanish. She does not speak English. She started off very slow and careful and has been speeding up. It is a challenge, but we’ve passed evenings together and laughed and joked as I try to keep up.

I will be eternally grateful to Marina for all she has done and how pleasant she has made this trip.