04 March 2004

El Sal - Week 1 of 5

It’s been a big week! I arrived in San Salvador on Saturday after a long day of travel. I went to bed almost as soon as I arrived at the Parish House. Neither the (very loud) music from the bar across the street that night nor the chorus of roosters early in the morning disturbed me.

Sunday was a fairly quiet day. I visited the canton (small rural village in the mountains) of El Tablon to see the newly constructed, concrete block sewing house complete with its solar panels and batteries, sewing machines and lots of windows for light and ventilation. The clinic will be used in a plan for systematic health care exams and medical care on a regular basis. The kitchen and bathhouse complete the community center, and have been used several times for community functions.

Monday was when all the excitement really began. I met with Facho (the English teacher at the high school) in the morning to talk about the classes and what my role would be. I said I’d like to just observe the first day and actually start teaching the next day. But, hey, get me in a classroom and I can’t not start working. I was very nervous for the first class but less so for the second. By the second day I was the co-teacher and it went fine.

There are approximately 400 students at the school. 2 years of English is required for almost all of them so during the course of the week I’ll have about 350 students. Most of the classes are 35-50 students each. Some of the classes are 45 minutes and some are 2 hours. I generally have 2-4 classes per morning and will have each individual class either once or twice per week. Classes start at 7am and the students are generally done at 4pm with a hour or so off for lunch (which is not provided by the school but there are concessionaires on campus where students can buy lunch, or they’re free to go home or buy lunch in town).

However, in the afternoons I have adult ESL classes at the Parish House so I don’t work with any of the afternoon students. I leave the high school, usually at noon, and return to the Parish House for lunch. Then I have an hour or so to prepare for the afternoon classes.

My afternoon classes are made up mostly of adults from the community. There are 3 groups that meet 5 days per week for an hour each. They’re an interesting mix of people.

The first group (2:00-3:00) has a local policeman, a woman who works at the police station and her 2 children as well as a couple young adults. The second group (3:30-4:30) is mostly teachers from the smaller barrio schools in Berlin plus a couple of 3rd year students from the high school who can’t get a 3rd year of English but wanted to continue to study it. The third group (5:30-6:30) is the largest and (I fear) still growing. This is the time slot that works for people who have jobs and as people find out about the classes, more and more people ask to join them. Milagro (the Parish Team member who has coordinated the classes for me) has had to tell people the classes are full…the room can only hold so many people and the class materials are limited. But that doesn’t stop people from sitting or standing around the edges of the room or in the doorway to listen. The third class has a woman who works at the bank, 3 police officers, and a couple more 3rd year high school students.

My days are very full!

Other things going on this week…

Monday was groundbreaking for the Monsignor Romero Chapel in the front yard of the Parish House. It will actually be a 2-story structure with the chapel on the ground floor and a large room above that will be dedicated to the sewing project but could also be used for classes or larger meetings. The parish team is very excited about this project. Monsignor Romero is an unofficial saint here. He was martyred at the very beginning of the war because he spoke out for the poor and the injustices committed against them by the forces in power. The process has been started to officially make him a saint but has not yet completed its way through the Catholic Church. That doesn’t matter to the people here. They observe the anniversary of his assassination by honoring him and the many others who were silenced. Having the chapel here dedicated to him is a very big deal for the Parish Team and the people of the community.

Salvadoran observations:

Sunday evening four of us went to a small restaurant up the street from the Parish House here in Berlin to have supper. Between the four of us, we had 4 complete meals, 3 cans of Coke, and 4 bottles of beer. The total for the bill…$13.99.

Also, I was perusing the paper one day and saw an ad for a Domino’s Pizza deal. A “gigantic” pizza, 2.5 liter bottle of pop and a 25 pound cylinder of propane for $13.99. (Free propane when you buy pizza?!?)

Yet, dinner for 4 in San Salvador might cost the same as you’d pay in the U.S. And Bob tells me that some things like cars or clothes are the same price as in the U.S. Other things, like filling up at the gas station, are markedly more expensive than in the U.S.There tends to be the top and bottom of the economic scale but very little in the middle. And even though prices in villages like Berlin are much lower, it’s very much harder for the people here to pay them than it is for the rich in places like San Salvador to pay “U.S.” prices.