This blog is written solely by Max Greenblum. The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I´m Literally Dripping Sweat on the Keyboard As I Type This...

This is my first time to ever enter a Salvadoran internet cafe. It´s been five minutes and I´m fairly positive I never want to step foot in one of these places again. This is what I imagine those booths in the red light district of Amsterdam being like on the inside. For some reason all the computers are in these small, cramped closets, it is super-sweaty hot, and I´m fairly positive there are diseases crawling on the walls. However, I´ll try to persevere.

I´m also now convinced I´m going to look into the mobile internet cards you can purchase here. There are fairly cheap, plug into the USB thing in a laptop, and pick up internet anywhere.

As for life since my last post, I have now been living in the small community of San Esteban Catarina for about 6 days. It is just a quick 15-minute, $.30 bus or pick-up ride from San Vicente, which is the town Peace Corps training is based out of. The 30 Peace Corps trainees in my group are now spread out in the surrounding area, with between 3 and 5 trainees living in 7 different small communities around San Vicente. 4 or 5 days a week we have about 6 or 7 hours of Spanish class in our communities and spend a few hours on various community activities. 1 or 2 days a week, always at least Tuesdays, all 30 trainees unite in San Vicente for larger lectures and activities at the training center. This is when we get our weekly dose of new immunizations, talk to the Country Director, chill out a little, and catch up with each other´s adventures. This past Tuesday I found my new favorite place in the world. It is a little bakery where you get little pastries for $.08. I had 6 Tuesday. Literally, heaven on Earth if you can ignore the fact that your in a shack with 6 Salvadoran women, a blazing hot oven, and about 22 cats. But really, the pineapple pastries are to die for.

We usually get Sundays off and are expected to spend time with our host families working on our Spanish and becoming more integrated into the community. I am already a proud member of San Esteban´s basketball team. I showed up last Sunday while they were playing, and I now will be playing with them every Sunday afternoon for the next two months while I live here in San Esteban. Basketball here definitely is run a little differently, but it is great to be able to hang out with some guys at least close to my age and do something that resembles my old American habits.

San Esteban is a pretty sweet little place located on the side of the still technically active volcano known as Chuchotepeque. No worries though, no one here seems to remember the last time anything deadly came out of it.

I have really enjoyed the activities I´ve been getting involved in around the area. Sunday I went to work with a pretty strange dude named Adelmo who has no teeth. He has a small farm where he grows green chiles and tomatoes. I´m still not sure if he even speaks Spanish, I literally didn´t understand a single word he said, but he put me to work weeding and chopping around in his fields with two huge machetes, so I considered it a real success. I did also manage to learn a little about the basic crops and farming techniques around, which I´ll need to know when I start my work as a Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer. Tomorrow morning I´ll also be going to work with a farmer in the morning. I talked to him earlier today, but I´m a little fuzzy on the details. I know he has a corn farm, the most popular crop in El Salvador, but I don´t know what his name is or where his farm is. Just gonna be meeting him at the central park and seeing what happens I guess...

I´ve also been working to get to know the community in other ways. Today was the second straight day I spent at the local parochial school. Yesterday I met with the director and just chatted a bit, but today I went and observed a class then talked more about the differences of the Salvadoran and American education systems. Although my Spanish is far from perfect, it is really amazing how much I am able to converse with people already. Being completely immersed in a place where no one speaks English is definitely a quick route to a headache, but it has also been invaluable for my Spanish skills.

Saturday I´ll be visiting a current volunteer about 75 minutes away. He is a Sustainable Agriculture Volunteer, has had some real success, and I´m looking forward to seeing more of what life is like once you get to your permanent site. It should be pretty fun and a great chance to spend a day speaking English with a fellow American.

Sorry to end this post. I´m not literally drenched in sweat. Doesn´t make sense because today has been one of the nicest days since I arrive, but this internet cafe is just too much.

However, in an interesting update for my loyal readers about the random Salvadoran man I met last week with the Texas for Obama shirt...I saw him again Tuesday. He had on an Austin Tennis Academy shirt. It´s getting weird now. When I tried to talk to him, he told me he was from Texas, but from looking at him, I´m fairly positive, about 99.9%, that that is not true. I´m heading back into San Vicente Saturday morning. I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for him.

I hope I get another chance to write soon. I have tons of great stories and cultural adventures to tell about. Training is just a real busy time, but apparently once this is done in two months, I´ll have all the time in the world to spend communicating with people back home.

Thanks for the emails and stuff I´ve gotten the past week. It is always great to hear from you guys. Also, I have pictures to put up, but apparently putting a memory stick in a Salvadoran internet cafe computer is a 100% positive way to get the thing a virus, so I´ll have to figure out how I want to handle that. Pictures to come in the future...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Armadillo Hunting!

A few pretty awesome notes from the past day or two:

- Had an exciting conversation with a guy earlier tonight who has been serving as a Volunteer in El Salvador for almost 3 years (he extended his service an extra year). He informed me one of his favorite hobbies was to go on night hunts with some of the local young men in his village. They hunt ARMADILLO, RACCOON, and IGUANA! Apparently, the technique involves three men: one to shine a flashlight so the animal freezes, another armed with a sling shot to hit them with once they've been caught in the light, and a third to run up to the frozen, stunned animal and chop its head off with a machete. I truly couldn't me more excited to get in on these kind of adventures as soon as possible. The volunteer told me he especially liked the taste of the armadillo, which he compared to barbacoa meat from Chipotle, and iguana, which is cooked by grilling the spine along with the meat attached to it then topping it with a sauce made from local flowers and peppers.

- Forgot to mention it in earlier posts, but I met and hung out with Jozy Altidore, from the U.S. National Soccer Team and a star of the recent World Cup, in LAX Airport. He was in line right next to us for the ticket counter, was surprised we recognized him, and was real cool. This might end up being the most memorable moment of my entire 27-month Peace Corps experience (kidding...kind of).

- Earlier today I saw a local Salvadoran man wearing a "Texans for Obama" shirt. Immediately, I stopped and told him I liked his shirt. He looked confused so I told him I was from Texas. Still looking confused, I tried to explain in my limited Spanish why I also had a "Texans for Obama" shirt. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure the dude had no idea what his shirt said, but it was great to realize the shirts I worked to get all around Texas two summers ago have already made it down to a small village in El Salvador.

Today was another busy day, with us waking up at 6:30 for breakfast, then being at the training center from 8 am to 8 pm. Among my activities was a trip to a local government office to get a NIC card (basically a Salvadoran Social Security card), learning how to make pupusas (the national food of El Salvador), receiving a lecture from the director of the Agricultural Sustainability and Environmental Education programs in the country, and receiving another 90-minute lecture from one of the Peace Corps Medical Officer's titled "Diarrhea & Dehydration: What To Do." That last lecture was real gem, but apparently is pretty serious, as basically 100% of volunteers in El Salvador has at least 2 or 3 problems with that during their 27-month service. Awesome.

Also, in case your interested, I've officially made it big. I even got a picture at the top:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sweaty in El Salvador

So I have officially arrived in the country of El Salvador and began the whirlwind that is the first few days of in-country training. We took a red eye flight from LAX, arrived at the only airport in the country, which is located just outside San Salvador (the capital city), at 5am, took about two hours making it through customs and out of the airport, then took a bus to San Vicente, where the Peace Corps training center is located.

Peace Corps selected San Vicente as the location of the training center because it is one of the safer cities in the country and is located almost directly in the middle of El Salvador. It is one of the larger cities in the country outside of San Salvador, with a population of around 40,000.

Upon arrival we were fed breakfast, then began quite a bit of paperwork and other introductory speeches. We met the Peace Corps Country Director, the Assistant Country Directors, the Medical Officers, and the Security Officers. I also met the person who will become my boss, or "jefe" as he called himself, when I am done with training. He is in charge of both the Sustainable Agriculture and Environmental Education programs, so will play a critical role in assigning my site placement, training me in technical areas, and helping me develop sustainable and helpful projects. He seems like a really great guy, is a native Salvadoran, and has a Master's and PhD from Mississippi State in Environmental Studies.

After many more meetings, we ate lunch, then were led on a tour around the city by two current volunteers who had a lot to tell us about their experience and were extremely helpful. Both had finished their original 27-month commitments, but had extended another year, and were now serving as regional directors of other volunteers. I took these pictures of San Vicente from a tower they brought us to the top of in the middle of the city's main park.

The pictures don't really do justice to just how different life here in San Vicente really is. The levels of poverty are very stark and you quickly realize how much more raw life is without the comforts of America. Instead of manipulating the environment with large air conditioned buildings and refrigerators, life here really is shaped by the weather and geography, which is especially difficult since it is the middle of the rainy season.

Life is also extremely inexpensive here when compared to America. Carrying $20 bills around, basically in anywhere outside of San Salvador, is useless, as no one will want to give you change. The entire economy basically is derived by transactions with $1 and $5 dollar bills. While it certainly makes life easy, it also makes me wonder what I will end up doing with the $50 bills I brought with me. Basically, bills above $20s are not even legal tender, as no one wants them and no one wants to give you change for them. For instance, if you spent $3 on lunch anywhere outside of San Salvador, you would be mocked and laughed at. Pupusas, the staple of the Salvadoran diet, and definitely a full meal with just two or three, are only about $.30 each.

For now I have to go, I have a real early morning tomorrow, but hopefully I will get a chance to write some more in the next day or two. For the first few days we are at a relatively nice hotel, which has wireless internet and A/C (I've never been more thankful, as I think I have already sweated out at least 5 gallons of water in the first day I was here...and everyone else kept insisting it was one of the coolest days they've had in weeks!). However, on Friday we will be moving in with our first host family, and the chance of even having running water (and certainly internet) are slim to none. I will have to go to internet cafes to communicate and, especially during training, we have almost no free time. However, for now I'm just trying to enjoy the relative comforts I have and really take in as much as I can these first few days in El Salvador.

This is a picture of my hotel room, which I am sharing with my friend Adam, who is from Minnesota and is also a Environmental Education volunteer in my training group. It definitely is funny how quickly I would consider such a small room a comfort, but I guess in El Salvador you quickly realize how many things you can take for granted in the US certainly aren't very common here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

Well, my departure date for Peace Corps has finally come, my bags have been packed, and I have officially hit the road. I am now in LA awaiting the beginning of our orientation and training.

Tonight we have registration, which mainly consists of tons of paperwork, such as signing our life insurance policies and filling out numerous waivers and contact forms. Tomorrow morning the orientation continues with a full-day of meetings about what to expect and what's next. And at 11:40 pm tomorrow night, I will be on a flight taking off from LAX and landing in San Salvador, the capitol of El Salvador.

From everything I have been told and read, the first few days in El Salvador will be madness. We will be receiving immunizations, be put through spanish language placement tests (uh oh...), dropped off at the home of our host-family with little or no introduction (guess that is part of the training), and be expected to remember hours of information thrown our way. After the first few days, a more normal and regular training schedule emerges, which will include multiple sessions of about 3 to 5 hours of both spanish language training and more technical training in agricultural, environmental, or health-oriented issues. This training lasts roughly 11 weeks, includes various types of trips around the country, and if all goes well, will end with a swearing-in ceremony, when I will officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer and will receive my service placement (where I will live and work for the next two years).

Unlike a former roommate of mine, I don't think I will ever feel completely comfortable blogging (this is my first ever attempt) or manipulating my readers into clicking on advertisements and making me some cash to use out at the bars. However, I do hope I can not only keep all those interested in my experience in El Salvador up-to-date with my life, but also share with anyone who is willing to read this the numerous cultural discoveries, mishaps, and adventures I am sure I will find myself in.

While I hope to write every week or two, it is impossible for me to know what my internet connectivity situation is going to be like. However, I have heard that there will always be at least one internet cafe within an hour or two or me, no matter where I end up living.

Please feel free to comment on these posts or email me anytime you want...I'm sure any connection to home will make me feel great. I'm already missing everyone out there, but I truly am extremely excited about all the new foods, places, people, languages, and challenges I will be facing in the next two years and am equally excited about being able to share them all with you.

Also, in case you were wondering where exactly El Salvador is in Central America (don't worry, I was too when I heard that is where I would be living for two and a half years following college graduation), I've decided to include the following map.