Posted by: Jessica | September 28, 2010

So I’ve had a little more free time lately….

SO I’ve had a little more free time……   9.24.10

I got myself out of bed this morning, which for some reason I counted as a accomplishment, having been unable to sleep well last night.  After slowly washing some clothes in the hot sun this morning and helping my host sister Caren make about 40 tortillas, I considered going to the school.  But for whatever reason the thought of spending several hours awkwardly sitting around a classroom smiling until my face hurt wasn’t very appealing today.  In fact, just the thought made me tired.  Instead, I spent 3 hours making lists of resources I needed for potential projects in the community (as well as a list of some vital and not so vital supplies I wanted to buy for myself), and wrote several poems- I have not ever really been the poem-writing type, but then again, I also haven’t had free time like this since…. well… childhood….  Also, writing poems in spanish for some reason doesn’t seem as artsy fartsy, but I don’t feel like I can really be the judge of that, so here there are:

Otono Salvadoreno

I miss fall.

I miss the bright trees that look like bonfires.

Here the leaves just turn brown,

and fall into the mud.

Here, instead of pumpkins in October there’s


It grows so tall I can barely see the mountains when I walk the dirt roads between the fields.

There’s a breeze,

and I start to hope with it is that crisp, fresh smell that’s so familiar,

but the breezes here only bring smells

of the mud, or the latrine, or burning trash, or the chickens, or tortillas, or pupusas con curtido.

I’ll find a way to plant pumpkins,

and make pie.

And every time I feel a breeze,

and that tightness in my chest that always follows,

I’ll try to remember that the ‘missing’ is a sign that though

I’m here now,

there will be other years for autumns

with pumpkins, and chilly fresh breezes, and sweaters,

and home,

just not yet.


My mind is becoming a little


I don’t know whether to pensar en

ingles o spanish,

ni escribir in one or the


My notas now parece a badly written bilingue

secret code,

a doble personality, one mitad Salvadorena,

un half me.

Es chivo, this transformation,

pero tengo miedo cuando a word es mas facil

to think of en espanol que


Sera permanente?


Josue Elias Urruella

anteayer llego,

y ya yo sabia quien era,

porque su nombre es escrito, no, pintado,

en las paredes de mi casita.

Estuve yo afuera de su cuarto por

vientesiete minutos,

escuchando a su voz:

roto, bajo, con mucho aire.

“Ven aca!” dijo Caren, y yo camine por adentro su cuarto,

para conocer esta voz y nombre.

Tuve pena yo, sentando en la otra cama,

sonreyendo cuando el me miro,

porque yo estaba mirando a las dos bolsas de papel marron del carcel:

papeles, cartas, documentos, fotografias, medecinas.

Todos estaban arreglados cerca de Josue en su cama, y a lado, las bolsas vacias.

Me dio el una carta en espanol, de un amigo suyo;

“Sabe como leer en espanol?”

Me pregunto.

” Si.” Yo dije.

Con un modo incierto, yo la lei,

le contenido mucho de la fey en Dios,

en Jesus, de el suframiento en el carcel;

fue un conmiseracion

de un amigo, para Josue.

Yo le miro a el otro vez;

Vi yo una persona rota, destruida, vencida.

El saco su telefono de su bosillo,

sus manos temblando,

“I want call ma ex-girffriend.”

me dijo en ingles.

“I haf no see ma daughterre en…

seven monf.”

“I wass en… Dakota Souf.”

” Oh,” yo dije, “Lo siento.”

El seguiendo buscando papeles en el monton de cosas en la cama.

“Bien delgadito,”

mi abuelita repitido, escurriendo sus manos, mirando a su hijo,

“Bien delgado esta.”

9.27.10 Monday

So I’m trying to think of a way to explain to everyone back home what I’m actually DOING here.  This is a question I get a lot: “So what are you DOING?”  Which is perfectly understandable considering our culture of PRODUCING, but how can I explain (without looking lazy) that for these first two months, all my sitting around on people’s front porches, smiling until my face hurts, and eating more tortillas, scrambled eggs and beans than I ever thought I could eat IS my work?  The truth is, from an American perspective, confianza building doesn’t LOOK like work…  but it is.  It’s a vital part of setting a volunteer up for success: getting to actually KNOW everyone.  My days on front porches and buses are interspersed with important info from Tim, (the volunteer in my site just finishing up his two years of service). In between porches we walk around the muddy dirt roads, and I listen as Tim mumbles quietly in English to me the low-down which girls are the most ‘high-risk’, which kids really have a gift for learning, which families have a sordid past, which fathers (or mothers) have second spouses, which are the motivated women leaders in the community, which men I can count on for supporting me, and which are the ‘bolos’ (drunk guys) I should stay away from.    Again, hard to explain to Americans that this information gathering IS my job; it kind of looks like gossip.

In reality, even THIS, (blog-writing), is part of my job; it’s part of the third goal of Peace Corps, which is to explain what ‘here’ is like to people back home.  It’s no mean feat either.  This tiny country is full of contradictions,  and deciding which parts to share and how to share them effects how El Sal will be perceived  by my friends and family at home.  Yesterday, for example, I went with Tim to the city of Santa Ana, only about 1.5 hours away from my small caserio in the campo, but the difference was astronomical.  We went to the Santa Ana mall (let me remind you this was a two-bus trip away from dirt floors, cooking over wood fires and latrines).  I was a little in shock, and in a moment of lapsed judgement at the Wendy’s counter, I ordered in English.  My brain just decided that a place this ‘normal’ to me couldn’t possibly be in El Salvador.  Tim laughed at me; I quickly apologized and made a joke to the girl behind the counter in spanish, but I felt so embarassed: I’m not that ugly American that goes to foreign countries and speaks English: what had just happened?!?  I mean for god’s sake, I speak Spanish!  But being in that mall was like space-warping back to America (almost).

But the only reason we had ended up in that mall was because the closest town to El Pital, Chalchuapa, had been without power.  We’d had a few days of rain (not even flooding, or mudslides), just rain, and a major historical city in the department if Santa Ana had lost power.  It seems strange that all three of these places (El Pital, Chalchuapa, Santa Ana) could exist in an area the size of a large county, but they do.  The story is the same with the people here as well.  Yesterday I shared a bus seat with Louisa, a young woman from the campo who, with the help of a scholarship, has just finished nursing school and has a full-time job in Santa Ana.  She’s even taking extra computer classes to help her in her work.   Then I came home to be greeted by Cecy, my host aunt of 29, who is mom to my 16 year old host sister Caren.  If you do the math, that means Cecy had Caren when she was 13, and this is not an uncommon phenomenon in the campo.  Because she got pregnant by a much older man (or in my opinion, raped) at 13, Cecy’s life has been stuck in the same place ever since.  She washes the clothes, makes the tortillas, and cleans the adobe house she lives in with her  3 girls and husband, but that’s it.  She lives in terror that her 16 year old daughter, Caren, will follow in her footsteps, and this fear has pushed Caren into being a higher risk, rebelious teenager.  Denied opportunities to further her education, Caren is bored.  She finished 9th grade last year, but without her parent’s consent to attend high school, (Cecy is afraid she’ll get a boyfriend there), Caren has begun the same daily routine as Cecy; getting up early, Caren blasts some music on the stereo, and starts washing the clothes, making the tortillas, and cleaning the adobe house on the days her mother is in the market.

With so many stories like Cecy and Caren’s, and too few like Louisa’s, it’s really no wonder so many young people choose to make the trip up ‘alla’ to the US ‘mojado’ style: any kind of life in the US looks better than cooking tortillas over a wood fire in a smoky kitchen for the rest of your life…



  1. Dearest Jessica:
    I dearly loved your poems – you have potential girl! And was also absorbed by your sharing of your experiences. Those of us who live blindly at home or only have a small notion of the rest of the world have our eyes opened by your words. God bless you and all you do. I am so proud of you. Miss you – take care.

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