Archive for the ‘A Previous Life’ Category

Moving On

One would think that after 6 years of schooling in higher education institutions on three different continents one would be able to find a job. There are two things that haven’t been the fun they were advertised to be: job hunting and apartment hunting.

I’ve never picked up a newspaper with a red marker in hand and sat there scanning the ads in hopes of a job printed on the page jumping out at me as if to say, “This job was made for you! Apply! Apply!“. I refuse to work in retail or hospitality, perhaps I’m being to picky, but I feel like I’d have to dumb down my achievements to even get considered for one of those jobs. Many jobs advertised in the newspaper request that you sent in a covering letter and resume to the provided address. I didn’t even know that was still an option these days. I though Career Builder and Monster.com were the leaders in job hunting this

All of the jobs I’ve applied to and been hired for have been found online and I’ll continue on that route, actually. I find it to be a waste of paper, time and effort to send in a covering letter and resume to every job you think MIGHT be a fit for you. Applying to jobs onlines streamlines the whole process. I’ve applied to 10 jobs today so far: 6 ESL instructor jobs in Boston and 1 in Providence, 1 reserach associate position and 3 administrative positions.

I’ve gotten three responses so far: 1 called me in for an interview tomorrow, the data-entry position turned out to be a working-from-home scam and one of the ESL instructor positions responded with an automated response of “if your resume suits our needs, we’ll contact you with in two weeks”. That means never.

My interview tomorrow is for an administrative position at an event marketing company nearby and it sounds really promising. It really sounds too good to be true, but I’ll believe it until they say, “actually, what you’ll be doing is going door-to-door with this box of lime-green brochures in your hand wearing this festive hat”.

We’ll see.

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As I sit here enjoying the aircon at the in-laws I can’t help but feel like a failure. How is it possible for one to feel like while one has made the right choice, but at the same time not be able to deny the feelings of failure seeping out of one’s pores? Perhaps that’s a rhetorical question best left unanswered.

Yes, Peace Corps is hard. Yes, I had days where I hated El Salvador and could only think about being in Australia. Yes, I even felt depressed because I knew that I would not be able to return to Australia. Yes, I had plenty of great experiences. And yes, our time with Peace Corps/El Salvador was brief. However, none of these reasons have to do with why we ETed one week short of site placement or three weeks before the end of training.

The brutally honest reason is that we found an alternative way to live and work abroad for longer: Migrate to Australia!

We could have stayed in El Salvador for a year and then decided to migrate to Australia, however we decided that to be fair to both ourselves and our future community and counterparts, ETing before they had found a permanent community for us, which is next week, seemed like the most responsible choice. Everyone wins, our future community won’t miss us or think poorly of Peace Corps and Peace Corps staff wouldn’t have used their time in vain.

Peace Corps will be an opportunity that will be available to us later down the road, however, the chance to migrate to Australia most likely will not due to many reasons, of which age and lack of directly applicable work experience are two.

You might be thinking, “How can you spend a year working on an application process, get there and then just leave?”. That’s exactly what I said. But it’s only until you get there that you can figure out whether Peace Corps really fits into your life plan or it doesn’t. And for us, right now, it doesn’t.

So fellow readers, during the next week this blog will be undergoing some changes to accommodate the witty documentation of our next adventure: migrating to Australia

Adrianna the rogue ex-Peace Corps volunteer

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The past 7 days have been a whirlwind of emotions – both positive and negative. As of July 27 Will and I will become RPCTs, also known as Returned Peace Corps Trainees. That acronym doesn’t exist in the Peace Corps glossary, I just made it up because better than labeling yourself as an ETer (a volunteer or trainee who chooses an early termination of their service). I remember saying that I would not be one of those ETers, I wouldn’t be one of those statistics, “I just spent a whole year trying to get through this application process! There’s no way I’m backing out now!”. That was until we knew that we actually KNEW there was an alternative way to live abroad. Our two years in Peace Corps were probably going to be our last two years living abroad for a while and we were going to go out in style!

I’m sure everyone is interested in knowing why we we’re now labeled as “the volunteers that couldn’t”, so here’s the story…

As many of the loyal readers of this blog may (or may not) know, before Peace Corps/El Salvador we were post graduate students in Australia. In late 2004 we bought a one way ticket to Australia with the intention of staying there after our studies. As our studies were drawing to a close we didn’t see how there would be any way that we could extend our stay with the resources we were able to access at that time. We both wanted to continue working and living abroad and Peace Corps seems like the perfect way to continue doing that, and do some really good work for the global community along the way.

Everyone in my training group will agree with me on the absolute fact that Peace Corps is hard work for several reasons and you WILL and DO have days where you simply don’t want to be there and can barely remember what possessed you to apply to Peace Corps in the first place. On one of those such days, instead of just complaining about the millions of flesh eating mosquito’s that attack you when you visit the spider infested bathroom, we tried to be constructive about the situation. “What can we do to make ourselves feel better and feel like we can do this?”. I knew that once we moved to our sites everything would turn out just fine because we’d have control over our lives again and wouldn’t have to eat beans for the third meal in a row or rice with dead ants in it if we didn’t feel like it.

If your plan was to live abroad while achieving the most stable life-style possible and you had the option of living abroad for 2 years earning $265 or 5-10 years earning $1,500+ per month, where in both options you’d be doing something you enjoyed…What would you choose?

Stay tuned for Lesson #2: The Juicy Bits: Why We Really ETed

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Having “normal” fun for a day at the 4th of July BBQ at the Sheraton in San Salvador.
Making chicha, a fermented alcoholic beverage, behind the alcaldia or mayor’s office in what appears to be an empty petrol drum. Don’t worry, we didn’t have any.

I’d wanted to be an English teacher before coming here, but I never thought I’d be able to get in front of a group of kids and talk without getting so nervous that my heart beats out of my chest and lands on a student’s head. I’ve taught heaps of 1-to1 classes before in all types of settings. Yesterday I complied with a favour my host-brother asked of me: to help his with “to be” and “to have” in his class. My host-brother is 45 and is a math and/or science teacher at one of the schools in my town, by the way. However, the Ministry of Education here has this marvelous plan called PLAN 2021, where one of the components is to have all Salvadorans have a basic understanding of English by the year 2021. So everyone and anyone is teaching English in schools, that includes Math teachers and it doesn’t matter whether you know English or not. Being that I enjoy languages and am excited about teaching English I accept.

This morning my host-brother takes me to the school. It’s recess time and there is salsa music blasting from the PA system and kids running around, not to mention staring at the morenita. Before heading over to the class I ask him what exactly I’m meant to be helping him with and if he has any resources. I would not be helping him teach, but teaching a 45-minute class by myself and the “resources” he had was a horrible book on how to learn random things in English through singing songs that no highschooler in their right mind would ever sing in front of their classmates. I’m lucky I had spent a few minutes actually going over the details of how to conjugate “to be” and “to have” and when they are used. Turns out “to be” is troublesome because it means “haber”, “ser” and “estar” in Spanish. Anyone who has studied Spanish knows that “ser and estar” is a tricky lesson.

By the end of the second class, which had at least 35 students in it, I thought I was getting through to the students and felt pretty good about myself. That was until we did an activity called True or False with the following question:

Q. Which of these two sentences is true and which one is false?
I have hungry OR I am hungry

“I have hungry!!!!”, the students say. “Who can tell me why that’s correct?” I reply. “Because have means tener in Spanish!”. I wanted to say, “ERRRRR! WRONG! You lose.” But instead I just smiled and said. “Let’s review the definitions I gave at the beginning of the class. Now, is hungry something you can buy or hold in your hand? Is it something you can posses?”.

“No, maestra.” I didn’t think so.

Schools are crazy here. For those of you who had your formal education in non-developing countries be glad because you wouldn’t want a Math teacher trying to teach you English. And you probably wouldn’t want disease-stricken stray dogs roaming around the school grounds or want to have to sweep and mop your classrooms after you used them because the government doesn’t have enough money to pay janitors.

In case anyone was wondering, my heart didn’t end up beating out of my chest and landing on a student’s head. I did go home with a hoarse voice due to the fact that schools here have zero insulation from screaming children at recess and one must scream to be heard. For some reason every single school I’ve visited is built around a central courtyard/playground that always seems to be hosting a perpetual recess while other classes are in session.

Ah, the joys of teaching in El Salvadoran schools.

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Man weaving manteles (table cloths) in San Esteban, a town once known for its bustling textile industry near my town of San Rafael Cedros.

The ground immediately behind my bus stop where I take the bus 3 times a week to the training centre in San Rafael.

The view from the same bus stop when one overlooks the rubbish at one’s feet.

Having reached the 1-month mark in our new lives as Peace Corps trainees in El Salvador, I think it’s time for some reflection.

I’ll be honest, my immersion weekend experience -dirty campo, volunteer town and capital- affected me greatly. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly happened to me and why I am having days where I can’t be bothered eating another dinner of rice and beans so I over eat at lunch, so as to avoid dinner OR days where my Aralen dream world is looking much more attractive than getting out of bed and experiencing real life. I’m learning what I’m really made of out here, I guess that’s what I wanted.

El Salvador, I feel, is a country of extremes. The landscape is some of the prettiest I’ve seen in my few years of life, yet Salvadorans litter like it’s their full-time job without the pena they often exhibit during other activities. You can go to the capital and visit the richest neighbourhoods without a pupusa stand in sight and then take a short bus ride and see buildings so deteriorated they should be condemned with tired street vendors out front trying to make a living. Being that El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in Central America, the amount of new and shiny shopping centres one can find dotted around the country’s capital department would make one think otherwise. You have people living in mud brick houses with dirt floors yapping on their cellphones while they walk down the dusty unpaved roads of their countryside villages.

I never expected to have that strange feeling of uneasiness, of uncomfort that seems to be eating away at my insides bit my bit – some days faster than others. Even though I’ve never classified myself as American, everyone else here has. I’ve been stripped of my own Latino heritage because I was born in America and lumped into the gringo category. No one expects me to speak or understand Spanish, so not only do they stare at me anywhere I go and watch everything that I do, they many times whisper behind cupped hands saying only God knows what.

I know it’s out of curiosity that they want to stare at the frizzy-haired morenita (dark-skinned girl) as she walks down the street, but sometimes the eyes I see out of the corner of my eye staring at me so hard and so shamelessly actually bother me. Once you stare right back at them, they usually turn away. But sometimes…the eyes make their way back to staring at the morenita with the shameless curiosity of a child.

My father recently said to me that if we didn’t have the downs that many times accomany the ups, then we wouldn’t be normal and vice versa. Well, the ups better be coming soon!

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Useful vocabulary for the most out of one’s daily/weekly dose of The New Chronicles: In Search of Something Other

una charla: a presentation
la pena: embarrassment or shyness
la confianza: trust or confidence

Peace Corps/El Salvador is BIG on their charlas. Along with the words confianza and pena, it has to be one of the most-often used words in the Spanish language at the training centre. Today was the big day for many of us, as we had to give a charla at the local school in our community – in Spanish, on topics ranging from HIV/AIDS to Self-Esteem. It is still unclear what the purpose of this activity is and how it will prepare us for the REAL life of a Peace Corps volunteer, but it was an activity that one was obligated to participate in, lest one be afflicted with ameobas or other gastro-intestinal parasites and was physically unable to share information with youngsters in a crowded, noisy, hot school.

Public speaking, to be frank, is my downfall. I don’t like to be recognized for my individual acheivements, I don’t care for being the centre of attention and I certainly don’t like being singled out. My identity lies with the identity of a certain group. Many times I’m the most “different” person in the group, but I’m not individually recognized for my acheivements because it’s an group effort. Having everyone’s eyes on me waiting for me to fill their minds with priceless information, as if I possessed the words that would enlighten them, makes me very, very nervous. No matter how much I prepare for a presentation I get nervous and the filing cabinets in my mind begin to fly open and the documents archived in them begin to spontaneously combust, leaving me with nothing but a few random words to work with.

I was dreading this charla I had to do on “How to Plan My Life” to a class of 9th graders. I had little time to prepare for it, as yesterday I had to prepare for a workshop I’m participating in this weekend called Trainging of Trainers (ESL teachers) and an unexpected trip to the capital to take care of a medical situation that was threatening me with medical separation. This morning my mind was racing with ideas on what I could do to get out of having to give the presentation to a bunch of 9th grades who probably won’t remember anything I said.

I had no choice. I had to do it. I went in there, sweating like an animal, my heart practically beating out of my chest and gave my presentation like the rock star I’ve never been.

I tried to act as animated as possible, while waving my arms about and sauntering around the class room like I knew all the answers, imitating the behaviour all of my previous teachers and professors have exhibited in their classes. In my head I kept repeating, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ll just pretend like I do”. I exuded fear and nervousness masked with confidence. Apparently the arm waving and the sauntering (not to mention my non-accented Spanish) helped because I was able to keep everyone’s attention all the way until the end.

I discovered something about myself today: I am capable of teaching or presenting information to others, if and only when I know what I’m talking about.

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This past weekend we experienced what is called Immersion Weekend. What is it? Well, in few words it’s basically where trainees are sent to live in a cantón (a rural village of sorts) for two days for the following reasons:

* to use Spanish exclusively for 2 days
* to experience Salvadoran rural life where little contact with foreigners has taken place
* to feel the ‘aloneness’ of being a Peace Corps volunteer
* to get to know more parts of the country and the transport system

I’ll be honest, I don’t have anything positive to say about my experience. I was sent to Managuara, a small village on the outskirts of the pueblo Sesori in the department of San Miguel. I didn’t bring my camera along due to security issues and wanting to maintain my level of humildez or humility. I didn’t shower for two days and my meals consisted of 50% biscuits (cookies) and 50% of the saltiest beans on the planet and rice.

When the mayor of Sesori was driving me out to Managuara in his air-conditioned pick-up I found myself holding back uproarious laughter and heart-wrenching tears as I gazed out the window at the endless vista of green rolling hills. When the alcalde stopped his pick-up on the dirt road we has stopped at the entrance new home for the next two days: a crumbling mud brick house with a dirt floor. Almost immediately the man of the house apologized for his near poverty level life-style. No apologies needed, I replied.

The family consisted of 9 kids and the parents. One child was one the way, as it was still being carried in the mother’s belly, 1 lived with the grandparents and two were unaccounted for for the time I was there. The youngest child didn’t wear clothing and spent the majority of his day crying and having hissy fits that entailed rolling around in the dirt. Due to the fact that campo Spanish differs from standard Spanish (read: basically incomprehensible even to native speakers), goal number 1 listed above was not met. I spent my two days there reading in a hammock and having the children stare at me and whisper amongst themselves. The mother and I ran out of conversation after I said that I didn’t have any children of my own and was not planning on having any soon. Periodically she would pull up a chair to where I was and just stare at me. By the end of the second day I was so starved for conversation in ANY language that I began talking to myself in my journal. I finished reading a book in 1.5 days and began to read it again due to the lack of conversation and the stifling heat that prevented one from moving about.

For some reason or another there wasn’t any electricity and for another reason altogether the father used 90% of the family’s water supply for work purposes. The water remainingin the pila was covered with a slick film of some sort of unidentified substance, which prevented me from wanting to shower with it. The main reason I didn’t shower was that I’m not one for showering al fresco in front of construction workers or strangers in a puddle of mud – the same puddle of mud that the family’s pigs bathe in. A latrine was also absent from the property, as their garden was their toilet. The world was their rubbish bin and their garden was their toilet. The few times I went to go do my business I was followed by a gang of pigs who waited for me in the bushes until I was done so that they could rush in for the “gold”. This is the same gang of pigs that would hang out inside the family’s house and rummage through the kitchen. There was no separation between inside and outside and the family practically lived and slept with their chickens, pigs and dogs.

The last things I’ll say is that while the family did not have running water or electricity, they did have a television and a cell phone. Basic hygiene and proper food handling procedures were absent in the household.

I didn’t enjoy my experience, nor will I say it will be a highlight of my experience here. I will, however, say that it’s unacceptable that people should have to live in such poverty. At the same time, yesterday I questioned my reasons for coming here.

How is living this way going to help anyone’s standard of living? It won’t, but it will make you appreciate what you had and what you will have when your time in Peace Corps is over.

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Our site mates from San Rafael de Cedros whom we have Spanish class with in our community: (from left to right) Will, Adrianna, Barbara, Samuel

Our room for the next 8 weeks in San Rafael at our host family’s house. The mosquito net protects us from the flesh eating mosquitos and the giant roaches, as well as the family pets.

The Courtyard Garden at our host family’s house in San Rafael Cedros

The countryside of San Fransisco, a canton (rural town/village) where we visited an agroforestry volunteer at during a guided PCV Site Visit. The purpose of such visits is to see how other volunteers live their daily lives.

For more photos on our experience in El Salvador thus far, go to:


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Yesterday we were whisked off to a canton (tiny country-side town/village) blessed with the same San Francisco to visit an agroforestry volunteer and to get a feel for daily life out there. The day started out with hunger pangs and a dusty ride out to the canton full of lush, rollling green hills. We were greeted by a volunteer named Melissa (I think) coming down a dirt path. We followed here down the path she had come and down a little slope which took us to a little housing compound. Our first activity of the day was to make bread in a clay oven – a product of the previous volunteer. We got our hands dirty making Budín de Guineo, which is essentially a very, very rich banana bread. The ingredients included heaps of sugar, heaps of butter and lard amongst others. As we cracked the eggs that were to be added to the batter, which was mixed by hand rustic style, we chucked the egg shells over the fence and into the grassy area Salvadoran style. It’s very normal to chuck your rubbish anywhere you wish in this culture. When the batter was ready it was poured into latas or baking trays and pushed into the clay dome. The finished product was the most delicious banana bread I’ve ever tasted for two reasons: I was ravenously hungry due to only eating a piece of bread at 7am and it had generous amounts of butter, sugar and bananas. The rest of the day was downhill because I ate so much banana bread I couldn’t think properly. Photos coming soon!

Today I visited my first orphanage. I’ll admit it. I’m not a big fan of kids. That might seem contradictory seeing that I’m a youth development volunteer. However, these kids were great! I’ve never twisted so many pony tails, had so many kids who wanted me to hold their hands and braid their hair in my life! “Why is your hair different?” “What is America like? Can you take me?”. We played Duck, Duck, Goose and Simon Says. By the end of the 2 hours I had girls sitting on my lap and holding my hands. One girl had grown quite attached to me and when it was time for us to depart, she walked me over to our van and didn’t want to let go of my hand. She began to cry and it just broke my heart. I told her not to be sad because I’d be back next week with candies and we could play more games. She agreed to the plan and moped away. Poor thing!

I’ve never been surrounded with so many kids without parents. The NGO we visited, ALDEA SOS, is a great alternative to your average orphanage. The kids seemed happy, the orphange was lovely and they all seemed healthy.

The image of that little girl holding my hand not wanting to let go of my hand will be etched in my mind forever.

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Up until now I haven’t really reflected on what exactly we do here to fill our days. I’ll start with this: our days are chock-full of stuff.

I never thought that I’d be one of those “early to bed, early to rise” type of people, but apparently that’s who I’ve become in these last two weeks. Our day usually starts around 5:45am-6:00am. We take our pila baths and are at the breakfast table at about 7am each morning. Then we either have Spanish class in our community or we travel to San Vicente for technical training at the training centre. Each community has about 3-4 volunteers, ours has four, and one of the houses is designated at the place where Spanish class will be held -which is our house. Advanced Spanish speakers don’t participate in the classes, but instead are urged to go out into the community to get a taste of what being a volunteer is actually like. That entails making contacts in the community by visiting certain institutions and getting to know more about their inner workings. I’d just like to mention that being a native speaker doesn’t any more easy to march into an institution and ask to speak to the person in charge or chat to strangers on the street.

Technical training consists of charlas or presentations given either by Peace Corps staff or current volunteers on certain topics ranging from Salvadoran history to how to put together a lesson plan for teaching life skills. Having current volunteers come in and talk about their experience and their projects puts everything into perspective and takes the fear out of you a bit – well for me anyways.

We usually have an hour or so for lunch, during which we all line up for the microwave to heat up whatever lunches our host families have prepared for us and then comparing notes, and sometimes sharing or trading.

We’ve also been getting vaccinations to protect us from all of the life-threatning diseases we can get here such as, but not limited to: hepatitis A, Typhoid, Rabies, Tetanus and Diptheria. Once a week we also take malaria medication. They say you have really vivid dreams and everyone was really worried about the side effects – I’ll be honest, the dreams are cool.

We end Spanish class or technical training between 4:30pm and 5:00pm then find our community buddies and bus it back to our pueblos American school bus style.

Dinner is at 6:30. We chat for half hour or so. We’re in bed by 7:45pm – 8:00pm. Sleep and repeat.

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