© 2013 Alexander Dennis

The Trip Begins

It has now been 4 days since I first arrived in El Salvador and I must admit that the experience has been both exciting and tiring to say the least.  It has been absolutely enthralling traveling the country by microbus and seeing much of the countryside.  Our first weekend we visited a volcano, a food market, and a coffee plantation, passing through more than a third of El Salvador’s 15 administrative departments in the process.  We have passed through cities and countryside, mountains and swamps, areas of opulent affluence and abject poverty and still I feel as if we have barely scratched the surface of this country.

My transition to this area has been difficult, but not for the reasons most Americans have when traveling to the developing world.  Having spent a great deal of time in Peten Guatemala, I am no stranger to hot balmy weather, witnessing abject poverty, using a pit latrine, finding alarming large insects in my bedroom and being woken up by roosters at 4 AM.  These things have come easily to me.

What I have found more difficult however, as a natural introvert, has been doing all this traveling with a large group of extroverted policy students.  The first weekend especially I found it was almost impossible to find more than 30 minutes of time away from people to be alone with my thoughts.  I have found at last though, that as I have settled in, I have both found more time to get away from the hustle and bustle of the group, and am less compelled to force myself to engage in conversation.

While the language barrier has seldom been a problem traveling in Central America before, this time things have been quite different.  I find the Salvadoran accent slightly more difficult to understand than the Guatemalan one, and this coupled with the need to be able to understand and speak in a more technically complex manner for my project has made the language barrier immense for me.  Unfortunately this has put me in the lower quartile of the group for language comprehension and I constantly find myself falling behind on my project as a result.

Thankfully for me and a handful of other people, we have an absolutely stellar interpretation team.  They have been a godsend, interpreting a great deal of the professional conversations I have been engaged in while here, and I would definitely not be able to do a great deal of my work without them.  They have been doubly important for me as I have had a fairly vicious head cold since arriving in this country and even had I the technical language skills to get by in a more professional setting I would be too tired to do so.

Most of the other students for the most part are far better off with the language than I am, particularly in a professional environment.  Many of them are significantly more traveled than I am and the rest appear to have had a great deal of recent language study at school that has better prepared them for this situation than I.

In an amusing irony of life however I have found that some of my fellow MIIS students, having learned a great deal of their Spanish in policy school, can say phrases like “the pedagogy of the oppressed,” but are sometimes stymied by words like “spoon”, or “knife.”

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