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In my community, we have a gang. But this is no ordinary gang. This is “Mara Gallo.” … or rooster gang. And they are hilarious.
The Mara Gallo is a group of 7th, 8th and 9th graders. They were given the name “rooster gang” because of the obnoxious noise that they make at all hours of the day. Their older brothers decided to call them the Mara Gallo because they’re always together and they’re all over the neighborhood.
Just to give you a couple examples of what it’s like to live in a community with the Mara Gallo:
- It’s 9:30pm. You’re nestled into your bed with a good book. It’s been raining since 2pm and everyone has been hiding away in their homes. Super anti-social. All of the sudden you hear shouting of at least 10 different voices coming from down the street. They’re running towards your house and spreading some sort of news. “It’s not raining! It’s not raining! Ki-kiri-ki! Ki-kiri-ki!” (That’s the Spanish version of cocka-doodle-doo!) It’s them…the Mara Gallo….informing the neighborhood that it is no longer raining. What would we do without their incredible service to the community?
- You and a few other friends are down at the community soccer field watching some kids play a pick-up game. A crowd emerges from the darkness. They scale the 15-ft tall metal fence on the other side of the field. They’re singing. They’re shaking the structure. “Ki-kiri-ki! Ki-kiri-ki! The cheerleaders are here!” They jump down from the fence and start shouting and cheering and singing for the next 10 minutes. They decide to form a band. They break into the school (shh, don’t tell my director) and rummage through the trash. They find old broken pieces of band instruments and form a Banda de Paz and proceed to march and perform for the next half hour. When it’s time to go back home, they escort you to your driveway. All the while performing parkour on every wall, step, railing and rock that you pass.
They’re the ones that dressed up in mini-skirts and performed for everyone for Mother’s Day. When they saw that I had taken a video of them performing as the “Banda de Paz” that night, they bombarded me the next morning at school and made me show the video to everyone.
There is such variety in these kids. They’re absolutely obnoxious and hilarious. They bring so much life to the community. They’ve been at every meeting that I’ve held, they’ve signed up for every class or workshop that I’ve offered, they talk to me every time I walk by or am near them, and they’re generally just friendly dudes. It’s like having a community pep squad.
This weekend I had the opportunity to meet…drumroll please…Carrie Hessler-Radelet! She spent the morning visiting with the Santa Ana Volunteers and later made her way to La Palma to eat lunch and hang out with the Chalatenango Volunteers.
We presented her with some artwork from Ataco (an artsy town similar to La Palma) on behalf of all of the Volunteers currently serving in El Salvador.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to show her my community! My beautiful little school, the members of the Women’s Association and my wonderful Community Guides!
Niña Emilia gave her a tour of the school to show off some of the projects that the previous Volunteer (Katherine) completed - the painting of a world map and the creation of a more modern computer classroom. Katherine used grants along with community donations to purchase windows, a ceiling, lighting and an air-conditioning unit for the preexisting computer classroom in order to prolong the life of the computers (keep out dust and keep them from over-heating).
Carrie showing us where she served with her husband in Western Samoa from 1981-1983.
After the tour of the school, Carrie presented Niña Emilia with a Peace Corps pin. (And gave us all some delicious chocolates!)
Ariel, Claudia (Project Manager, Youth Development), Clelia (Project Manager, COED), Carrie, Mayra (Safety and Security Coordinator) and Jaime (Country Director, El Salvador).
It was such a pleasure to meet Carrie and show her my favorite place in El Salvador, my community! She is so encouraging and down to earth. Though I started the day shaking with nerves, by the end it was all hugs and handshakes. The crew she brought with her were incredibly friendly people and I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to meet all of them. I hope they’ll all come back to visit sometime!
This post is a little dated, but I’ve been a little busy/lazy lately. A few weeks ago, I hosted two Trainees for Immersion Weekend. It is so strange to scroll back through my blog and read about my experience for Immersion Weekend and that now I’m in the opposite role!
My Trainees were Alex and Amanda, and they are THE BOMB. These girls were ready for anything!
On Thursday afternoon, we all went out to eat in La Palma. Afterwards, we went up to my site for my Manualidades group. I’ll be real with you, it was one of the most boring meetings we’ve had. We made paper beads out of newspaper and used them to make necklace, bracelets and earrings. Though it was interesting (the project), no one was talking. There was no music. Just 6 kids and 3 adults sitting in a room together rolling paper. It was kind of awkward. But that’s just kind of how life is sometimes here.
Friday morning, we loaded up on the bus and went up to Meghan’s site to participate in our Volunteerism Activity (we need to come up with some kind of name for it…). Basically, we gave little presentations and mixed in some games/activities for the kids to kick of the formation of a Volunteerism group. My girls and I led “Simon Says.”
Ariel, Alex and Amanda
Emily and Andrea during the chaos of one of the activities. The students had to walk to one side of the room which was marked “True” if they agreed with the statement or to the side “False” if they disagreed.
After returning to my site that afternoon, the girls and our new friend, Joe, helped me teach an English class to my community. We taught the parts of the body. Alex led the class by singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and the trio led everyone in playing Simon Says.
SIDE NOTE: You might be asking, “Who is Joe?” Joe is an Englishman that is biking through Central and South America. Through an RPCV friend (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, he just finished his service and is making his way back to the states by traveling through Guatemala), I was connected to Joe through Facebook. My RPCV friend ran into him a couple times and told him that if he wanted to pass through La Palma, I could host him. I was kind of weirded out at first, but Joe turned out to be really cool. My host mom LOVED him and decided to starting calling him Chepito. Regardless of the fact that Joe was gigantor compared to her, she still added the diminutive to the name Chepe, which is a nickname given to people named Jose (Joe—>Jose—>Chepe—>Chepito).
Saturday was a chill day. We made plans to go to a local Country Club to hang out by the pool, but being that we are in the middle of rainy season, plans usually get shifted around. We went to La Palma in the morning to shop around in the market and stop by the cafe before we got poured on. We decided to just hang out at my house the rest of the evening.
Sunday morning the girls were packed up and waiting at the bus stop to head back home. I had a great few days with them and I loved having the opportunity to show off my site!
NOTE: This is a story written by myself, Meghan, Lindsay, Patrick and Andrea. Pardon the French. It was almost necessary to use the language, considering how angry we were at the time we were writing it. Enjoy!
Meghan turned 23 on a Wednesday. On Friday, the five of us planned to go to a hotel atop Miramundo that was recommended as being quite glamorous, by Salvadoran standards. We were promised: great customer service, a decently priced menu, tablecloths and unbarred windows with impressionable views of the valley.
The day started a few notches down from glamorous. One member of our group woke up and, unfortunately, trusted a fart. For their dignity, a name won’t be mentioned. Three other members, Andrea, Ariel and Patrick, fared only slightly better than this, as their ascent up the mountain on the bus was abruptly halted when the bus died. Kaput. KO’d. Down for the count. All of the men on the bus unloaded and went to look for giant rocks to chock the wheels of the bus. Patrick did not.
After about 20 minutes of sitting on the bus, the Georgian trio realized the situation was hopeless and decided to commence the eight kilometer walk up to Rio Chiquito. Obviously this plan was not thought through. About 4.5 seconds later, they passed a tienda where they decided to buy ice cream and wait in the shade. It was at this point that Andrea and Patrick realized their dire needs to urinate. Patrick chose to occupy the nearest tree, while Andrea went back to the tienda to ask for a restroom. She was directed toward the house across the street, where she was received with open arms into a home with tiny chickens scattered across the yard.
A few cars passed by before Ariel whipped out her truck-tailin’ skills and nabbed a ride up the mountain. With one swift gallop, Patrick mounted the truck. Ariel somewhat graciously tumbled into the back. Andrea got one solid foot in the truck, leaving the rest of her body flailing out the back, swearing at everyone and pitifully whimpering “help me” before her successful face-plant into the bed. The driver must have been having a contest to see which gringo he could swing off the back of his truck first, as he charged each corner like a bat outta hell. By the grace of God, the Georgians made it to Rio Chiquito in one piece to begin the 40 minute walk to the hotel, La Posada del Cielo, glamour central.
Upon arrival, our first welcome was a steaming shit on the front steps. We weren’t sure if it was human or animal, but we were still excited for the fanciness that awaited us just beyond the stench of the poo. When the trio arrived to the hotel, Meghan and Lindsay were waiting in the room - 4 beds for the 5 of us, an “impressive view” of the road, and sweet mountain scents of shit, flavored with a hint of pine. We passed some time playing cards down on the restaurant patio, reminisced about grassy knolls, and questioned the study of Vulcans. At 5 o’clock, after a rather violent game of spoons substituted with bobby pins, we became the only guest at Chez Posada del Cielo.
Although a bit pricey, we were excited by our menu options. As we were preparing to order, our waiter explained to us that we needed to pay for our rooms. In the most polite tone, he explained that they needed to close down the hotel register at that precise moment, and that we had the next 5 minutes to go down to the register and pay. Ariel went to fetch the money from the room while the rest of the group enjoyed flavorless coffee. A few of us had ordered pupusas, but our waiter somberly returned to deliver the news that the order of pupusas “queda mal…ya no hay.” The only restaurant in El Salvador that had run out of pupusas. We exchanged out $0.80 pupusa option for $5.00 hamburgers. The token vegetarian ordered a grilled cheese. Or so she thought she did.
When the food arrived an hour later, we received 2 stale/moldy, ice cold burgers, a plate of french fries, and order of nachos, and two untoasted slices of white bread with questionable looking margarine and a dollop of cheesy jizz in a perfect circle on each slice. The waitress must have noticed the sheer disappointment in Meghan’s eyes, as she realized she was about to pay $2.75 to eat cheesy shitpies on bread. She graciously brought out two more slices of white bread with cold, but intact slices of American cheese. Lindsay watched everyone else gag down their food as she continued to wait for her order to arrive. She even coveted the original “grilled cheese” that had been cast aside. Once we were all finished eating, her cold burger arrived. She soaked it in hot sauce to disguise the taste.
We were all on the verge of tears, pitifully laughing at the sad state of our glamorous dinner out. We asked for the bill and discovered that they didn’t really even know what we had ordered, as half of our items weren’t even on the ticket. We weren’t about to bring it up, but when it came time to pay, they had no change anyway. They asked us to come back in the morning to pay for our dinner.
After dinner, we went out to the fire pit to warm up, since the temperature had dropped significantly during the 2 hours that were spent in the dining room. The “fire” consisted of 3 pieces of wood and a flame that wasn’t big enough to warm a squirrel. Lindsay, Patrick and Ariel tried to use their Boy Scout/camper skills to keep it going by blowing on the embers at the same time, to no avail. As they were hopelessly trying to keep the flames burning, another Salvadoran hotel guest peered over the balcony, shamelessly laughing and calling to his girlfriend to “venga a ver los gringos.” We retreated to our room out of shame.
A little while later, we heard someone singing. The sound intrigued us, so we followed it. At the other end of the noise was the waiter, singing kareoke. We brought our gringo parade into the room to join in with 6 other Salvadorans (including two staff members and a very affectionate couple). While we all sang a little, Andrea definitely stole the show, belting the high notes to Bohemian Rhapsody and Hotel California. We thoroughly embarrassed ourselves, even attempting to sing along to a Spanish song that we had never heard before. The night ended with a giant snuggle party in order to keep warm while we reflected on how ridiculous our day had been. Though it was a rather pitiful attempt at a semi-glamorous getaway, it was the perfect opportunity to make memories with friends.