With the new year, my life and schedule has changed a bit. I am spending a lot more time in San Salvador. I think this will likely be the case for January. The elections are only about 2 months away. They occur on Sunday, March 11th and there is much to learn and much to do. A new group of election volunteers arrived this week, 3 lovely young women from the US. Luke who was volunteering at CIS previously has now moved into the elections program. He is a Latin American studies major from England. They are a lovely group and I am enjoying getting to know them.
This week I was assigned an honest to goodness job! In addition to my other general election training and organizing I am acting as the "registrar assistant" for the election observers coming in for the week of the elections. There will be colour coding, file folders and spead sheets in my future!!! I am so excited to have a "job" that I can run with and that feels like something I can actually do, that is actually helpful. It is interesting how a year ago I was looking forward to the break from "real work" and being able to spend more time being and learning and thinking. A year later, I am thrilled and delighted to have a task of my own to do.
This brings me to what I have been thinking a lot about this week...what has happened over the past year??? It seems incredible to me that 2011 -- my year of adventure is over. This is 2012 -- my relaunch year. So if you will indulge me, I'll share with you a few of my thoughts about highlights and lowlights of 2011.
*I've lived for almost a year in El Salvador. Although there are still a few glitches from time to time, I can manage daily life here. I understand the difference between a "ticket" (a receipt) and a "factura" (itemized bill) when I pay for things at the grocery store. I understand that "effectivo" means I am paying in cash rather than using my credit card. I understand that you pay the bus driver when you get on a bus in San Salvador, but you pay the "cobrador" (other person, not the driver) when you get on an inter-city bus. In San Salvador the full-sized buses cost .20 while the smaller micro buses cost .25. Also, very important, there are two types of pupusas - rice and corn. While generally foreigners prefer the corn pupusas, most salvadorians prefer rice pupusas.
This week one day there was a protest that blocked several of the major roads in San Salvador. In order to get to CIS I needed to get off one bus, walk for a bit and then get on another bus. I sorted all of this out and while I got to CIS much later than usual, I got there with very few problems. It felt a bit like a victory - being able to sort this out on my own. It was also one of the two times that I have ever forgotten my cell phone, so I couldn't call for information...I needed to work it out by myself.
*My Spanish is much improved! I have a ton more to learn, my pronunciation is still weak and so is my grammar. However, my vocabulary is much broader and in general, I can make myself understood and I can understand the basic message from most Salvadorians (but not always!). This has been such a battle for me. I have needed to change my expectations a lot. I have had to learn about how to laugh at myself...I say a lot of things in Spanish that don't always come out the way I wanted them to. I've had to learn how to risk looking foolish because otherwise I'd never say anything in Spanish.
*Without a doubt the highlight has been having the opportunity to get to know a group of wonderful, gracious, kind and fun Salvadorians. I understand a lot more about the realities of living in this beautiful and troubled country. I appreciate their patience and care in trying to get through life safely here with a limited understanding of their language and culture.
*Gaining a better understanding of the depth and extent of the challenges here. There are such serious and profound obstacles to just about everything. Systems that I never gave much thought to in Canada are so broken here. It is hard sometimes to not feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by it all. My salvadorian friends find hope and so I need to continue to have hope too...something I remember during dark times. When I see and know things that cause me to feel very judgmental, I need to remember that there is a reason why people are acting this way. Generally placing the action or decision in this cultural context makes it seem a lot more logical and understandable but often it is still very troubling...
*Appreciating the amount of privilege I have simply by being Canadian. I have a few friends right now who are sick. I am deeply saddened by the level of health care they are able to access here. Although our system has issues, I don't think I will ever complain about it again - knowing what I now know.
*Feeling very different most of the time. In some ways this can be considered a highlight because I have learned so much about what it is like to be different, to not be able to communicate as well as I'd like and to just sometimes want stuff to be the same as home. At times I have been more lonely, bored and sad than I have ever been in my life.
Before I left Canada, I used the getting ready to have a baby metaphor for this time in my life. This week I have the pleasure of talking to a friend who recently had welcomed a baby girl into their lives. It struck me again how apt the metaphor is. Although this time away has definitely been more challenging than I ever could have imagined, it has also been more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever dreamed was possible...a lot like what having a baby seems to be like. Thanks for being with me on this journey!