Conditions have changed here in PC El Salvador and we single ladies need to adapt. Gone are the days of dusty, dry heat, inverano has brought the rains which have turned the streets into pools of mud, brought even more creatures out of the wood work and kept you hostage in your home for hours at a time. Along with the tarantulas, I have had to learn how to peacefully coexist with the infestation of rats, which love to run across the tops of my walls. Precious. As I stated in earlier blogs, the rainy season is quite different when you are missing the comfort of your car, rain boots and a finished roof. During my hikes up the slippery dirt road to the center of the community, I started to brainstorm ways I could improve my muddy, mildew covered life, and here is what I came up with.
Dirt covered toes, dirt covered shoes, dirt covered EVERYTHING!
Make your water smart
Water, during this part of the year, is everywhere and carrying around your Nalgene’s, filled with more plain water has become a chore. Every morning I wake up and drink a full liter of room temperature water, to get my body moving. However, after that first Nalgene, I am ready for something with a little flavor. Avoiding the common sugary frescos, sodas and coffees found in the kitchens and tiendas in our sites, we PCVs are faced with limited options. Let’s face it, water, the best thing you can give your body, the thing we couldn’t survive without, tends to get quite boring. After you have overdosed on Crystal Light, I never want to see another pomegranate raspberry packet again; you need to find another thirst quenching solution. It is time to infuse your water. Infusing your water is a cheap and easy life hack that will make you feel better and help you to get your daily supply of H2O. If you Google “fruit infused water” a lot if complicated, ingredient heavy recipes will pop up, and I say don’t waste your time. I have found that my favorite mixes have come from experimentation and the times when I have too much fruit to fit into my Rubbermaid jars. Here are my four favorites, really basic, infused favorites.
- Pineapple-Orange: Throw in a handful of pineapple chunks, half an orange and mix. It is a sweet, citrusy blend that is SUPER refreshing!
- Cucumber: Light and crisp, cucumber water is fantastic! Just put a few thinly sliced cucumbers in your Nalgene, pop it in the fridge (if you have one) and enjoy!
- Grapefruit-Orange-Límon: Thinly slice your fruits and pop them in your bottle. I have found that this mix is best when you let it sit overnight, then you can really enjoy all the flavors!
- Melon-Grape: The baby in our house loves grapes, so they are usually in abundance. Peel the skin, slice them in half and pop them in your water with cubed melon’s (the one’s that cost $1 in the fruit truck)
While we are on the subject of beverages, let’s talk about the coffee. Unless you are one of the extremely lucky volunteers who lives in a coffee-producing region that doesn’t export all of it’s harvest to the US, you are drinking Nescafé. I had grand delusions, pre-Peace Corps, I was coming to Central America, and I was going to drink cups of fresh, rich coffee. I was wrong. I like my coffee dark, strong; I shouldn’t have to add sugar to taste the flavor. I was unable to accept that I would be feeding my caffeine addiction with these awful little packets for 2 years. Another volunteer, who, from Day 1 has been my role model on how to upgrade your life in the campo, finally convinced me to buy a French Press, and my life has never been the same. French Presses are affordable on a PC budget, compact and allow you to start everyday with a fresh, hot, full-bodied cup of Joe. On the off chance you have a medical visit to the capitol, you can hit the Santa Elena Starbucks and pick up a single cup French Press and a few bags of ground beans. The Coffee Cup also carries a wide variety. One of the benefits of the French Press is that you have the opportunity to try out the Salvadoran blends. On the East side of the country we have the proximity to Perquin, where one volunteer is working with a coffee co-op and I’ve heard you can buy beans. You can thank me later!
Develop a new hobby
Next up: World Cup themed pulseras, solo dos corras!
With all your time trapped indoors, you must fight the urge to bust into your American snack stash, turn away the bottomless pan dulce and avoid the tortillas at all cost. I have found that developing a new hobby, that keeps your hands and mind occupied for hours at a time is the best way to avoid gaining the First Year 15. Some people draw others dance, but my friends, I have discovered (thanks to Rachel Wolf) that my God given gift is making bracelets. So now, instead going crazy in my cement house, three hours will fly by. Trapped in someone else’s casa, no problem. I just hop in the hammock and work away. Back in May the bracelet guru RW came to visit my site and gave a taller de pulseras to the youth in my community. I wasn’t expecting bracelet fever to spread throughout San Nicolas, but sure enough, the kids wanted more classes, which meant I had to learn more than the basic “v” design. Thus began the addiction, and an organized activity for the youth in my community. I have videos, guides and semi-weekly calls to Rachel, which is how I learn to make more designs. In the States, no self-respecting “tough guy” would be caught dead in a bracelet making class on a Saturday, but in San Nicolás, it is quite the opposite. Attendance is consistent, so we meet, most Saturdays for four hours, to sit in the school, listen to American music and make bracelets. I had tried, with no avail, to start a youth group in the community, but as Peace Corps has shown me, often times it is better to let things form organically. Down the line I’ll try and make something a little more formal out of the little club, but for now it works.
Take things One Day At A Time
I keep my journal on top of my Bridget Jones DVD, for inspiration!
Sometimes, it is really hard to see the positive in your situation. A failed meeting, English class that went terrible or the stress of planning your first grant funded project. The cultural differences, host family beef or two weeks without water can put you in quite a dark state of mind, and living in a site isolated from all of your classic comfort items, makes coping a real bitch. Volunteers, for the most part, are a rather cynical bunch. We come here wide-eyed development virgins, hoping to “be the change” and then, somewhere down the line, we get a hard reality check, and our vision is suddenly clouded with the negatives. It is easy to brush off the small highs, and dwell in the vast pits of missed opportunity and laziness. That is why I love my one line a day journal. Everyday, I write one thing that made me happy, proud or laugh. Something I learned, something that went well, or a future goal. I keep it positive and during the lows all I have to do is open it up to any given day, and I am reminded of SOMETHING good. For example:
May 28, 2014: Watching little Fatima’s face as she opened her birthday present, whisper “Minnie Mouse” and bear hug her new stuffed animal.
June 9, 2014: One of my English students said “Thank You for the classes”. The first genuine “Thank You” I had gotten in a while!
June 17, 2014: During my presentation, when I asked the group of women at the Evangelical Culto who could give me an example of women’s rights, and one women responded with “equality”.
Flip through a few more dates and my mood suddenly changes. It is amazing how quickly we tend to forget the little moments that made us smile, but hold on to the ones that made us angry. All you need is a notebook and five minutes to reflect on your day.
Just three little PCV’s enjoying a weekend away.
That’s right, I said it, sometimes you just need to escape. Sure, we have integrated, adjusted and created routines. Everything has become, and I use this word lightly, “normal”. You have created relationships; even have site friends who you can talk to about more than just the weather. While these amigos may be your lifeline in the community, they, and the rest of the people you live and work with, only know a certain side of you. They know the volunteer side, and as open as you may be about who you are and where you come from, there will always be an aspect of yourself that you have to hide. Whether it is your tattoos, your sailor’s mouth or your opinions on religion and sex education, I have found that Cati and Catherine are two totally different people. When I just need to break free for a few hours, I have two spots that provide me with ample silence, fans and Wi-Fi. I have made the meeting room in the Mayor’s Office my own personal sanctuary. I’ve gotten so comfortable that the people who work there treat me like I am one of the staff, complete with printing privileges. I also discovered a small panaderia in Chapeltique where I can enjoy an orange-pineapple mixto, sandwich for under $3. But when I need a full mental health weekend, complete with English and access to a bar, I have the luxury of living in a department with a beautiful beach that is just two bus rides away. It isn’t hard to convince PCV friends to meet up and spend our three monthly personal days bumming around Playa Cuco. For a weekend we get to pretend we are on vacation, leave the charla papers and agendas behind and relax, without judgment.