MIIS Program: International Policy Studies, Human Security & Development, 2015
Traveling: Frontier Market Scouts
A look at an experiential learning experience… Team El Salvador 8 Recap
What woke you up in the morning? Despite being in a small rural village, the sudden arrival of apocalyptic wind rustled the leaves with rage and prompted the cows to moo and roosters to cackle all at once. If felt like the animal kingdom in uproar…at 4:30 in the morning. However, I liked it because it woke me up for some of the most tranquil morning jogs just before sunrise.
Different daily task? After waking up during the pseudo tornado, I would slip out from behind my mosquito net, careful not to disrupt its placement because I had it just right. I would walk to the outhouse to use the composting toilet, about 50 feet away. I felt the only relatively chilly part of the day in the heavy winds and passed by the animals making all of the commotion.
Surprising sight? The community where we stayed had beautifully planned public spaces and parks. However, they were completely unkempt. Playgrounds were tangles of broken plastic and grass was so overgrown that you could hardly see the concrete basketball or futsal courts. One of our projects was trying to figure out why this was happening and how the community wanted to use these green spaces.
Most memorable experience? After a long day of focus group meetings, our bus driver, Chavalo, took us to his home. He was proud, and he wanted to share it with us. But, he shared even more. He led us to his plot of land that had palm trees and used his machete to chop open fresh coconuts for us. In the intense heat, it was bliss. Then, he offered us watermelon popsicles as we sat lounging on plastic chairs in his open-air kitchen with his kids before heading back to our host communities. He was kindness personified.
Challenges? One of the biggest challenges was ensuring scheduling and adapting to change when key community leaders failed to show up for the meeting we needed to conduct for the purposes of our group research. We ended up waiting around in the heat for long spells, wandering what happened and if we would be able to reschedule. Coming from our punctual, hour-by-hour planned routines, we felt like sometimes we were speaking different languages.
Funny moment? One evening, a local dance squad of young men and women came to our meeting space to perform for us. In a country known for high rates of gang membership and violence, this group provides an excellent alternative. We did not know what we were getting into, as they urged our participation the whole time. Some of my teammates were taught how to spin and throw their partners in the air, catching or failing to catch them, the latter of which incited more laughter. One time, I was selected in a group of four to perform “the bicycle,” and I got to be the pedals. The dance group reveled in our awkwardness, but it was smiles all around at the end.
Epiphany/Insight? It is amazing how after such a terribly brutal and relatively recent civil war that communities such as the one that welcomed us fled El Salvador but then returned to start all over. Many of them returned together from Honduras or Panama to their home countries with next to nothing but the bond of experience…a long and painful one, but ultimately triumphant and full of resilience. Everyone knows everyone and looks out for everyone. It’s an amazing testament to humanity.
Tweet of Advice? While you will most definitely never miss the smell of burning trash, you can count on longing for the rooster as a natural alarm clock. Cherish it. #sensoryoverload #nostalgia