Well, this last Wednesday the 17th marks one year since I arrived here in my site in Laguna Verde. While I have been in the country for 14 months, the first two were spent in training in San Vicente, a city on the other side of the country. However, my real work and home is here, so the anniversary presents an opportunity to reflect on the last year. To briefly summarize my experience thus far, I think I can confidently say that it has been satisfying in the personal aspect while less than satisfying professionally.
The personal side of the experience, things such as living in a foreign country, learning a new language, making new friends (both American and Salvadoran), and living with a host family have been very fun and rewarding. Getting to know different places in El Salvador has truly been awe-inspiring, and I feel that I have a solid understanding and appreciation the physical and cultural landscape. Learning Spanish feels very rewarding now, after the initial pain of being reduced to one word sentences and utter confusion. I still don’t understand everything said to me and still have to put thought into every sentence, but for the most part I really enjoy communicating with people here not just in Spanish put in their local dialect, complete with idioms and slang. One the most rewarding parts of my time here has been living with my host family. Living in a house of eleven people nearly everyday for a year has given me a constant source of interaction and opportunities to learn and bond with them. Although I may never be a “member of the family”, I do have a meaningful relationship with them, which keeps getting better as we share experiences and gain further insight into one another’s lives. I consider my relationship with them my most important achievement here on a personal level.
In contrast with the personal aspect, the professional aspect of my first year has not been as satisfying. I consider the girl’s camp and the stove project to be my two successful and worthwhile projects, but I was hoping for more rewarding work. My official job is Environmental Educator, but I have found that the community does not have much interest or need for such a person. Instead, I help out in the school with whatever I can (mainly applying for grant money thorough organizations that give money to Peace Corps volunteers for projects). This leaves me an abundance of free time and a lack of job satisfaction. This seems so be a common problems for volunteers, and we are told to not worry too much about it and that the cultural exchange aspect of our job is just as important. I sometimes feel like I am wasting my time, but these feelings are brief and outweighed by the personal satisfaction I experience.
So, with all that said, here is the best and worst of my first year in El Salvador:
1. I speak Spanish now. Awesome.
2. A remote village in an obscure country now feels like home.
3. Once you figure out their language and culture, Salvadorans are very friendly and never fail to make me laugh (in a good way).
4. I have all my food cooked for me.
5. I know years from now the good things will far outweigh the bad in my memory
6. My job is to help people in whatever way I can.
7. I pretty much do whatever I want, whenever I want, and get paid for it (barely), with no virtually no oversight from a boss.
8. My fellow volunteers are some of the most motivated, good-natured, educated, and positive people I have ever worked with and befriended.
9. I can eat out, stay at hotels, and travel for dirt cheap.
10. If nothing else, Peace Corps is full of challenges, so I am constantly learning and evolving.
11. I have a new appreciation for English, good food, friends, family, the opportunities bestowed on me, American culture, and all the little luxuries we all take for granted.
1. Face-numbing, catatonic-state-inducing homesickness/loneliness.
2. Beans and tortillas are really getting old.
3. The environment is not a priority here.
4. Seeing people who want more out of their life unable to follow their dreams
5. The gang and crime problem
6. How American culture has replaced much of El Salvador’s and left in its wake Rambo, 50 Cent, and junk food.
7. Losing contact with most of my friends.
8. That nagging feeling that I should be doing more.
9. Always being the center of attention just because I have white skin. I miss blending in.
10. If you have to dry clothes outside and it rains everyday, you run into some problems.