Monday, October 3, 2011

Half way Point

Wow, there is sooooo much to tell you about.  In fact I might have to save some of it for another blog.  So it is Monday, October 3rd – Happy Birthday to my favourite Uncle- Bruce!  There is no internet as I am writing this, so I am not sure when I’ll be able to post this!  Can you believe that I have completed 9 months of my 18 month journey?  

My life here has taken a major change and the next months are going to look very different than my first.  Last week I began spending 2 days (Tuesdays and Wednesdays) at an agency called Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS), which is located in San Salvador.  I am spending the mornings in private Spanish lessons and the afternoons working on the International Observer Election program. 

CIS is a much smaller agency than ADES and is really bilingual.  The staff is a combination of Salvadorians and Americans.  They have volunteers from all over the world.  On my elections team are a Frikard from Denmark and a Ida from Sweden.  On Wednesday I was looking for a place to do a bit of work.  There is a large table in the area where we eat lunch.  There was another person at the table who looked Salvadorian.  In Spanish I asked if I could work at the other end of the table.  He responded, “of course” in Spanish.  A little while later we were joined by Frikard and Ida and the “Salvadorian” guy started speaking English with a very distinctive Australian accent!  

8 months ago at the end of January I began at my Spanish School in Mexico.  Although at times I despair about my level of Spanish it has been really helpful to think about where I am now compared with where I was when I started in Cuernavaca.  In Mexico my pronunciation was so bad that no one could  understand most of what I was trying to say.  Now it is just the odd word that I don’t say clearly.  My class is entirely in Spanish and that is not a stretch at all for me, in Mexico it was about half and half.   In general about half of the 3 hour class is spent in conversation and the other half is spent on grammar.  I had such cool conversations with my instructor - Uleyses.  His opinions on his culture and life in El Salvador are fascinating to me.  He was able to succinctly identify things that I have noticed here but would not have been able to explain as concisely.   For example, in 2009 El Salvador elected its first President from the left.  In general Salvadorians are highly critical of Mauricio Funes.  Many feel very betrayed by him believing that he was elected on a platform of “change” and in fact it is him who changed and became like those in the “right”.  I (and many other foreigners) tend to cut him a bit more slack, recognizing that the global capitalist forces such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund make it very difficult for countries like El Salvador to significantly change their economic and social policy.  Uleyses explained that while he recognizes that President Funes has a very little square in which he can work, that there are things he could do in that square that he has not.  He went on to explain an example that illustrated this point. 

In the afternoon I am part of a small team of Frikard, Ida and Vicenta (our Salvadorian co-ordinator) who are working on the International Election Observer program.  There are national and municipal elections in March, 2012.  This year there are a number of reforms that are being implemented and the election process is going to be a bit more complex.  Observers are more important than ever.  Several different organizations will have observers but our “mision” will be one of the largest and is one of the most respected.  At the moment, Vicenta is organizing an intensive training program for us.  Last week I learned about the program and the history of El Salvador.  This week we are focusing on the development of the electoral system and political parties.  While I know that for some of you, this would be about as interesting as watching paint dry, I am completely in my element.  The training is all in Spanish as Vicenta is working on English.  However, she speaks clearly and simply and I understand almost everything she says – which also feels like a huge accomplishment! 

My time at ADES is getting busy too.  Monday mornings is reserved for agency wide training.  On Thursdays I spend most of the day with two other staff who organize and lead a group for rural women.   I have participated for two weeks in this group.  At the moment we are talking about sexual and reproductive human rights.  While the idea that I as woman have a choice to say no to sexual advances from my partner or spouse is not new to me, it is very new for many of these women.  I am thrilled that they are welcoming me into their group.  I look forward to seeing them each week.

Friday mornings I have an English class with people who have an intermediate level of English.  They all want to get better jobs and speaking English is one way to do that.  The people in my class are thrilled that they get the opportunity to practice English with a native speaker.  In the rural area where I am there are very few of us and the fact that they can practice with me and for free makes our time together very valuable. 
There is internet for a few minutes, so I am going to stop typing so that I can send this.  It isn’t clear how long we will have the net today so I need to get this done.  Thanks for sharing my journey with me!

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