Holy Meditation I’m Becoming a Hippie

In all honesty, if I could post videos to this blog instead of write it, I would definitely choose to do so for this post. You see, I have just returned from a silent retreat. Meaning I just spent the weekend in silence….

Zero words spoken.

Zero conversations had (well there were some nonverbal ones).

There was even a point when I saw a very large spider in my shower when I went to reach for my shampoo and you know what? I didn’t say a word (but I do imagine my actions mirrored that of Kramer from Seinfeld when he’s shocked about something). Pats of the back for me.

You could say I did a lot of thinking, but that would be an understatement. I sat around, marinating in my own thoughts the entire weekend.

There was an amazing lake (Ilopango I believe) that was breathtaking enough, but then we were told that there’s actually a volcano UNDER the lake. Can you even imagine that? My mind was just slightly blown.

Anywho…back to this retreat.

So we all sat around in this wonderful place about an hour and a half outside Antiguo. We were surrounded by plants, flowers, trees, even some bamboo (which I did not know existed here). Most of the time I would go and sit on this edge that overlooked the lake and let my feet dangle as I journaled or read. I listened to music but most times it wasn’t necessary with all the lovely bird chirping and wind breeziness that made me feel like I had bought a “Peaceful Sounds” CD in the $1 section at TArget or something.

And I let myself go, I found the me that was one with my surroundings and at peace with my thoughts.. It was wonderful to be liberated and know that I can come back to this moment and find peace in the future.

We also meditated like none other. Like I said, kind of hippie things, but I mean, it was all for the best and I regret none of it and I love this new hippie side of myself. There’s nothing wrong with that. We had 5 reflections and each one included a meditation. They usually lasted for around 20 minutes and focused on breathing which in turn helps focus your mind. After we would have time for journaling, drinking tea, taking a candle to our rooms, making art in the art corner. Anything to help us with our reflecting.

We had a morning of yoga and a morning of hand massages. Yes. We sat in pairs, meditated for 50 minutes and gave each other hand massages. Complete with oil. This happened after we stared into our partner’s eyes for almost 10 minutes straight (if anybody thought of the scene from Baby Mama when Tina Fey gets 5 minutes of uninterrupted eye contact, then we must be good friends.) I will also admit that the first time we tried this exercise I had a very hard time keeping a straight face. And I’d like to see you try it after spending a day and a half in silence and then having to stare at someone’s completely relaxed face. It’s difficult.

Lastly, we practiced mindful eating. It was slightly challenging since I normally eat very quickly so I can keep on schedule. But I savored each bite of my food (shout out to my Dad and my cousin Brandy who always do this) and I cut everything into smaller and smaller bites, I even cut my watermelon with a knife and fork, it was that serious. And I enjoyed it a lot more. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to do it without everybody else also eating slowly, but I think I’m going to try.

We ended by reading a poem out loud together, and then one more time while shouting. I was going to post it but I forgot the paper in my house and I am now sitting at the internet cafe. My bad.

It was an inspiring weekend. I filed up half a journal with thoughts, reflections, and poems, I watercolored and drew even though I was previously under the assumption that I was completely incompetent at both of these things. And now here I am at the internet cafe, after a bus ride filled with shouting and stories and sharing artwork. Back to the homework I neglected and the week ahead.

Next up: Vacation week, starting Friday afternoon. My plans aren’t final, but I’m excited nonetheless.

 

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It appears that at this point I am halfway done with this program. Well I guess more than halfway now that I have procrastinated updating this blog post.  Most people probably assumed I had forgot, but never fear, procrastination hasn’t got the best of me (this time).

I can hardly believe it. And everything just keeps speeding up from here.

 

Even though this is the first year they have done it, praxis week is basically the most important aspect of the program because it allows students to be fully immersed and able to accompany a Salvadoran family they have been spending time with for around 2 months. Before this year, students would spend a week in the Campo, which is the more rural part of El Salvador.  This was a good experience, but also difficult because students had to build new relationships with their host families while knowing they are going to leave after a week with a small chance of ever seeing them again. In order to avoid this, the Directors of the Casa program decided to give us the opportunity to further build our relationships with our Praxis families.  Some of the families live in the Campo, or more rural areas in general so it turned out similar to having a campo week after all.

So here it goes, one week of immersion in my Praxis site.

First off, my Spanish has improved quite a bit from being fully immersed for a week. I gave myself a couple pats on the back for that.

I’m going to try to rapid fire through most of the events and then things may get a little serious for a second so be aware that this post won’t be all sunshine and rainbows (mostly because it rained all week so there wasn’t any sunshine to begin with.  So first off we had to drop off 2 other students at their site up the hill/mountain.  Considering we were carrying small mattresses and 2 gallons of water we opted to go in the pick up.  But then that meant that we were all in the back of a pick up with the mattresses, water, bags, and food for their site. After dropping them off we just went back to the house and got started with the week.

So the house that I stay at is actually on a larger area that has 5 more small houses inside of it.  By house I mean one room with a couple beds, possibly an area for a TV, and and even smaller possibility that there is an area for a refrigerator.  All of the inhabitants are somehow related to one another and they all share the large kitchen/comedor area for cooking.

Note/reminder: The comedor is a lunch program for kids in El Salvador run by my praxis site coordinator.  She opened it to provide a free lunch to the kids who cannot afford food, some aren’t even able to eat breakfast before school, which affects their attention and ultimately their education.

During the week I learned how to cook plenty of delicious meals and I learned a lot more about what kind of cooking methods they use, why the tastes are different, what produce is available in what seasons, and more stuff along those lines.  Angelica (my praxis coordinator) really knows how to cook, and the 24 kids she serves now are getting a way better free lunch than I’ve ever seen in the US.  We made rice with vegetables, eggs with vegetables, a different sort of egg and vegetable dish that involves beating the egg whites first, then putting the yolks back in, then frying the vegetables covered in this mixture, then simmering in some tasty sauce made of only onions, tomatoes, and green peppers.

Yeah, we did a lot of cooking. And just eating in general. It’s something I love about my praxis site.

I also learned how to make arroz y leche (basically rice pudding), tried some tripe soup (I approved), drank plenty of warm sugar leche (My own name for it. It’s a popular breakfast drink where you make powdered milk with warm water and then add sugar, trust me it’s a lot better than it sounds), and also cafe con leche (same deal as the sugar leche but also add in a spoonful of instant coffee).

Onto the shower situation.

So there’s no running water in Tepecoyo.  Meaning they take showers using rain water collected in large plastic barrels and use a guacal (still unsure about the spelling, but it’s basically a bucket) to pour the water over themselves.  But there was also a problem with the small outhouse/shower room because the rain ruined the roof panel.  To get to the point, we got to take our showers outside in front of the pila (large sink used for everything) in a sports bra and shorts. And to the next point, we built a lot of confianza with each other. It was wonderful.  Mostly because guacal showers are amazing, I don’t know why, but the whole just-pour-on-the-cold-water strategy is wonderful, even when it’s 6 in the morning and the water has been sitting out all night and so cold that steam actually comes off your body when you pour it on yourself.

Thursday we spent with William, one of our night guards for our houses in Antiguo.  he lives in Tepecoyo in a house that resembles both an eco-hotel and a curio shop.  he has a balcony that overlooks the mountains of Tepecoyo as well as an impressive garden containing fruit, vegetables, and chiles.  We went on a “walk” (that was really a 2ish hour hike) to Rio Shutia, which is about 1km (or around 3/4 of a mile) down a very steep hill into a valley, through the river a few times, we drank some fresh mountain water from a little spigot and then hiked back up through some corn fields to a rock that looked very similar to pride rock from The Lion King.  Naturally I sang “Circle of Life” for a little bit to set the mood.  And when we returned we had a wonderful feast of chicken, vegetables, rice, tortillas, and chiles waiting for us.

Over the week I really felt like I was becoming more and more apart of the family than during Monday/Wednesday praxis visits.  We all went to bed around 9PM, woke up around 6ish, hung out together, watched the rain together (there’s really not much else you can do when it rains because the roofs are made of tin which means that when it’s pouring you can’t hear much over the pounding of rain drops on tin), cooked meals, watched movies.  It made me homesick to have family back in my life, other than my Casa family of course. But having Angelica take care of us, tell us to put our jackets on when it was raining so we wouldn’t get sick, make us breakfast in the morning, she even put another blanket on my praxis partner one night because she could tell she was feeling cold.  And on the last night I felt like a big sister for the first time in my life of being the baby in my family when we were watching Bambi (in Spanish) and Brian (7) and Brianna (4) both crawled onto my little mattress on the floor and just cuddled up against me as they mimicked the movie, made commentary, and laughed along.

But the best things about this family are the hugs.  When we were leaving and giving our goodbye hugs the women held on for that extra second, reluctant to let go.  It reminded me of the hugs I get from my mom before I go back to school, or the hugs I give when I know I might not see someone again.  I was reluctant to let go of these hugs as well, because I felt so loved and cared for in these moments that it made me not want to leave this place but at the same time it made me long for home.

Liberar Las Tortugas

Today was the day.

The day to liberate the turtles(which is the direct translation from Spanish).

A groggy group of 50 or so of Casa students, becarios, and Casa staff rode for an hour in our buses to the beach. We got there, heard a little presentation about the status of the turtle species and their level of endangerment, and what we could do to help combat this.

The answer, of course, was to release some newly hatched baby turtles into the ocean.

But first we had to wash our hands in the ocean water really well so that we wouldn’t get any sort of foreign bacteria on the turtles, which could be harmful. Next, we were handed a very small, very adorable little baby turtle. As soon as the turtle was in my hands, it (because I don’t entirely know how to tell the gender of a turtle) started squirming and wiggling to get to the ocean. Then we got to name them.

I named mine Nike.

Just do it little baby turtle.

We all waited behind a line, as if we were getting ready for a race, and held our turtles close to the ground, and they were off! I must say, Nike had an excellent pacing strategy, and managed to avoid getting overturned by a lot of the big waves. It’s all in the name.

After all of the cheering/motivating was done we hopped back in the bus to go to a little beach house just down the road. It was very picturesque. There were hammocks and a little pool (because the tide is so strong here that people don’t normally swim a whole lot), and a ton of open space for lounging.

But back to what really matters. The beach.

The water was lukewarm, which actually still managed to be refreshing under the blazing hot sun. We swam around as much as we could without being swept away into the current. We dove into the waves Baywatch style. I made a small sand castle. And even got to go running along the beach(which was not intentionally in Baywatch style, but may have been more Baywatch than jumping into the waves).

Everybody turned a different color, for some people it was darker, for others it was slightly more reddish, and for few it was just plain red.

It was the best way I can imagine spending the day before our praxis week begins. We are all packing up and double checking that we have everything.

Tomorrow we head out to our respective sites to spend the week getting to know the families and accompany the community as best we can. This means no new posts for a while, and probably one super long post when I return, but it’ll be a good one.

Guarjilla: Fiesta de las Vacas

Before I begin I must first give a quick back story:

Last year I visited El Salvador with an Immersion Program through SCU.  During our 10-day trip we had a home stay in the small town of Guarjilla for 2 nights and 3 days.  Those days were the most powerful of the entire trip.  I met amazing people, experienced simple living, and just started seeing things differently.

Needless to say I was slightly more than excited to return with Norelby, one of the becarias living in Casa Romero for the weekend.

Groups of 3 or more people were assigned to each of the becarios for the weekend. On Friday, we split up into two large coasters(think bus, not amusement park) and headed out for our 2+ hour road trip.  After sweating, sleeping, singing, and some snacking, we arrived at our first stop, which is where two other girls(women? that just seems weird…) in the program and I headed out.

Now we get cheesy and cliche-y for a moment:

It was just like I remembered.  I don’t know why I would have ever thought it would change, but it was still comforting to know that it hadn’t. Out of all the things I remembered my favorite was definitely the fact that the cows and horses were still roaming freely around the streets. That night was even better when we walked down the street and the cows were strewn in the road, headlights on them trying to get them to move, people just standing around acting casual, and some sort of Latin Top 40 music playing in the background.

I like to call it the Fiesta de Vacas, or Cow party.

I couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

I saw almost all the women I met last year, they actually remembered me as well and exclaimed their excitement over me being back.  Every time I would see one of the women the conversation would go something like:

(hug)

I’m so happy you came back! You said you might but you actually did!

(hug)

Me: I’m so happy to be back! It’s so beautiful here how could I not?

(hug)

It’s so exciting to have you back! How long are you in Guarjilla for? When did you get here? When do you leave El Salvador? Why did you come back?

Also keep in mind that this is all in Spanish.

My head was spinning for a second with the rapid fire questions/excitement/familiarity of the situation it’s a miracle I understood them at all.

We did a lot of the same things as when I was on the immersion:

-Visit the radio station, Radio Sumpul, and learn about how they started and what not.

-Visit the Jon Cortina Museum/his house. Jon was a priest that was very involved in the development of Guarjilla and implemented the program to bring water to the town.

-Swim in the river. The gringos all wore sports attire with bathing suite under while the Salvadorans were wearing their normal street attire: jeans or shorts, a t-shirt, and in some cases plaid button up shirts.

-Eat delicious food. As if we don’t always do this.

-Take bucket showers(which are quite refreshing).

But we also did some new things:

-To elaborate on the food (as I am want to do) For breakfast, on Sunday morning, I ate pan dulce and papas fritas cooked fresh over a wood-burning fire pit (lenia is Spanish), meaning I ate cookies and french fries for breakfast.

-I watched Norelby climb a ladder up a tree to get 3 coconuts that we then proceeded to hack open, eat the meat, and drink the yummy coconut water.

-Peruse the inventory of a small snack store that Norelby’s family owns.  I had always wondered what they carried on those shelves and now I know it’s a bunch of sugar and salt.

-Discovered a cookies and cream flavored lollipop. With a brownie INSIDE. You would think that this bullet should be under the last bullet point but it was so revolutionary that it deserved it’s very own. Chocolate is a rare commodity here so that bite of brownie was pretty much magical. Yes, magical is an entirely appropriate word in this situation.

The whole trip was amazing, I just felt to welcomed and at home, and I really wished I could have stayed longer.  But the week awaited, along with praxis week coming up next week and a turtle release on Saturday.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On Saturday, I will be getting up at 6 AM to go to the beach and releasing baby turtles into the ocean.

Part of that sentence probably made you jealous, and the other part probably made you cringe a little.

The $73.50 Weekend

Now you may think I’m going to say I did about 2 things for $73.50. That seems to be the trend while you are studying abroad. But boy oh boy was I in for a treat.

It breaks down like this:

$18 for Casa affiliated transportation via micro to and from Juayua.

$11 for a large dorm-style 5 person room complete with eclectic art at Hotel Anahuac.

$15 for dinner with an appetizer, entree, dessert, and 2 drinks.

$3.50 for a typical home cooked breakfast of plantains, beans, eggs, and a half of an avocado at the hotel

$20 for a 7 hour hiking tour, including lunch, that went through 7 waterfalls including repelling down one and swimming in another

$5 for a dinner of 2 pupusas, a zapote smoothie, and a chocobanana

$1 for a cup of coffee and a coconut galleta (cookie).

Travel Channel has nothing on this.

I couldn’t imagine a better weekend if I tried to be quite honest. We stayed at a rather hip and artsy hotel. The walls were covered with some obscure art, there were painting of windows, some that looked like they came out of nightmare before christmas, and of course one naked woman sitting on a stool with her bare but cheeks visible. Laughs were had over this one.

After checking in the hunger status of everybody was determined to be, or close to being, substantially hungry. It is important to note at this time that street names in El Salvador are pretty much never used. This is my kind of system usually. However, when you are in a new town, in a new country, things can get tricky.

And by tricky I mean walking around the streets in a pack of 8 gringos searching for a restaurant whose name was something like, but not necessarily, El Cadero. It turned out to be El Cadejo Cafe. So we were pretty close. Drinks were shared, laughs were had, the gringos made a spectacle, you get the gist.

The following morning we woke up to the hotel owner or manager and another woman who worked at the hotel cooking our breakfasts in the small hotel kitchen that we were allowed to use at any time. After eating the delicious breakfast and drinking some french-pressed organic coffee (sold by none other than El Cadejo Cafe) we began our trek towards the hike of 7 waterfalls.

The hike was breathtaking. We went up through coffee plants, down towards the waterfalls, through a few of the waterfalls, took some group pictures, repelled down yet another waterfall, stopped for veggie sandwiches for lunch (Hardboiled eggs, avocado, tomato, cucumber, onions, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper), then continued to visit 2 more waterfalls that were open for swimming. We were told that one of these waterfalls had a tunnel that went to another waterfall…

Neat! Cool! Sounds awesome!

Were our first thoughts.

We arrive at the waterfall, see a sort of aqueduct/large water pipe-thing but no tunnel.

No…that’s not it….it can’t be…

It was.

I would say it was the single event in my life that most resembled a horror movie.

Our guide assured us that it went through and was short but when you are in a single file line holding onto the person ahead of you for dear life in a small tunnel whose losing light to gaining water ratio makes you very uncomfortable, things can get a little panicked. But we made it. So no worries.

We got back from the hike, walked through the market in the middle of town through aisles of fresh produce, fried goodies, plates, shoes, clothes, and plenty of other trinkets before we grabbed some coffee and pan dulce to go.

Since nobody really felt like coking after such a long day we went to Senkali (a classy pupuseria) for dinner. I ordered 2 pupusas and one zapote smoothie (possibly one of my new favorites), making my total $4. Then for dessert we walked down the street to the center square that also has a giant tree-of-life sort of thing going on to a small vendor that sells chocobananas aka frozen bananas covered with chocolate.

Chocolate covered frozen fruit is a pretty big deal here, I’m not exactly sure why…but I assume the whole tropical heat thing is a big factor.

Anyways.

So at this particualr stand they sell chocobananas, chocouvas (grapes), chocofresas (strawnerries), and chocosandia (watermelon). What’s special about this stand is that you can pick TWO toppings, say whattt?

So I picked oreos and granola. In retrospect, my original thought process of granola being the ultimate package because it had oats and nuts was a poor one because the granola ended up being stale. But it didn’t really matter once we sat down at an outside table and got to talking. I’m already going to miss these nights once 3 more months is up.

But enough getting too far ahead of myself. This weekend will be spent with one of our lovely becarios. I have been placed with Norelby, a student at the UCA whose English is fairly good. Me and 2 other girls will be accompanying her to Gurajilla, a small campo in the northernmost part of the country. So be looking out for that post when I return.

PS If you are thinking to yourself “dang, how does this girl have free time to do anything?” Then we are on the same track. I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 weeks here. I also can’t believe that I only have 2 more weekends free of Casa-planned events. Plans on plans on plans.

I See You Coco Crispies

Note: This scene takes place in La Dispensa (our grocery store).

Puchica (translation: Dang) there are a lot of weird cereals here. What the heck is that mascot? Looks like a giant orange pom pom.

All of these cereals have so much sugar…

Ooo look at those coco crispies!

Maybe I’ll get them. They would be really tasty for breakfast.

Wait…When have I ever bought coco crispies in the US? So why would I buy them here???

Oh the throws of familiarity. The desire to get that little taste of home even when you have about 500 other options much more unique (but what I really mean is stranger) than the chips ahoy sitting on the shelf (which I actually ended up buying). It’s an odd thing but I guess sometimes you just have to give in and impulse buy that chex mix (guilty).

This week has been riddled with hints of familiarity. Chicken soup on Sunday, arroz con pollo and gummy bears on Thursday, and chili last night. It appears as though week 5 is the week to start missing home. On the other hand it has also been the best week EVER.

We had dinner with the becarios Tuesday night and I actually felt like I was part of the conversation in Spanish. Me and another student also practiced our hand stands for them, which is something that has been happening here a lot, do I know why? Nope. But it’s been a heck of a lot of fun and I’ve been enjoying, the becarios have as well. After that we had an amazing spirituality night on Tuesday involving a speed-date-like session where we were given 8 minutes to discuss questions such as: What does your God look like? What does being a man/woman mean to you? And who inspires you?

Wednesday was by far the best day at praxis. We taught classes by singing “Head, shoulders, knees, and toes,” drawing, and dancing, we had some delicious veggie soup whose broth was made with some sort of combination of pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, onions and chiles. My tortilla making skills are improving drastically which is a much bigger deal than you may think. We also made some jewelry with the women who have been working to start their own little shop. (I’ll be posting pictures of this soon in case anyone is interested!) Most of the beads are actually made of beans and seeds from the fruits and veggies used in the comedor, they just got in some red beans that are really vibrant, I actually bought myself some earrings for a whopping 35 cents.

Soccer on Thursday was just a tad bit more amazing than usual for no reason in particular. Pupusas were delicious. Conversation with the becarios was less painful (the best way to measure painfulness of a conversation is to note how many times you need to pull out your charades skills). Community night included delicious treats made by one of the girls in the house. Campo style pan dulce with nutella and rainbow frosting really made that community night.

This is also the week of expansion of the girls with short hair club! 3 more lovely ladies walked on down to the barber shop and chopped their hair off.

Needless to say, I’m proud.

And to top it all off we had a talent show last night. There was a play, a rap written about one of the guys in the program, Salvadoranity (a play on the insanity workouts), a martial arts demonstration, the 4 chord song, a slower song, a love song about pupusas, dances to Willow Smith (by 3 people with short hair), and some poetry reading. I was apart of the play, the pupusa love song (done to the acoustic version of Baby Got Back), and the poetry recital (The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll). It was amazing, and soon there will be pictures.

However, first I will trek over to the waterfalls this afternoon until tomorrow for a weekend of awesome-ness.

Be prepared for pictures of Desktop-Background quality.