Friday, March 22, 2013

Immersion School, it’s different, its hard, it works

Hard at Work
Our teacher Vincenta, she has the patience of Job
1st day of school, sooooo nervous
School Gift Shop
Outdoor meeting area for large events


 New Idiom – Chu cho (Pronounced Choo-choe) – Salvadorenos use chu cho for dog. Most people who know some Spanish know Perro as dog. We use Chu Cho

As part of our preparation for mission work in El Salvador we had to learn much more of the language. We did our homework (excuse the pun) and the school we chose is The Mélida Anaya Montes Spanish School at The Center for Exchange and Solidarity.

Mélida Anaya Montes was a heroine to female educators and an icon of the civil war in El Salvador for all women. In the late 50’s early 60’s she received her doctorate in Education. By the end of the 1960’s she had become one of the main members of the National Association of Salvadoran Teachers. During the Civil War she rose to the 2nd in Command of the FMLN and her “nom de guerre” (War Name) was Ana Maria. These names were used to protect their identity and thus their families and friends from government reprisals. Sadly, she was assassinated on April 6, 1983 by extremists within the FMLN who advocated a long protracted war with no negotiations with the sitting government.

The Center for Exchange and Solidarity, aka CIS was founded after the peace accords in 1993. It was created to promote person to person relationships between groups in the U.S. Canada, Europe and El Salvador. The root causes of the war, economic and social injustice along with a lack of democratic openings to make change were still present after the accords. It was agreed that continued international accompaniment between the groups was needed to address these issues. They provide classes in Espanol, English and have a host of programs and activities that explain the political and cultural history of El Salvador, as well as the present political issues. They work with communities to establish small businesses and other programs to further community development. This is their link .

We’ve had 7 days of school and we are making progress but it is definitely a challenge. The policy is that the staff doesn’t speak English to students unless communication is at a standstill or there is an emergency. We can speak English to each other but it is frowned upon. They advise that we speak Spanglish (mixing English with the Spanish we know) if we must use English.

Our teacher Vincenta is very good, extremely patient with a happy personality. In the 7 days of classes (8 am to noon) she has only had to use English 2 or 3 times. She achieves this by using muchos ejemplos (many examples). She draws, points or acts to prod our understanding along. It’s even more amazing when you realize she is teaching us verbs and nouns we don’t know while also teaching the proper conjugation and usage in full sentences. There is tarea (homework) every night. It consists of using the news words we’ve learned in sentences. The themes include describing ourselves, our home, preferred activities and family. You would think it is very teacher centric but it’s not. We have classroom activities like explaining pictures she shows us in sentence form to her or she challenges us to explain our previous day to her in espanol.

We have found that at times it can be very frustrating, not with our teacher but with our own lack of espanol. To say it is mentally draining is an understatement, it is mentally exhausting. The constant translating from English to Spanish and vice versa plus pronunciating correctly takes its toll in those 4 hours. We have been told that in the U.S. we mumble our words but in espanol they speak afuerte (hard). In order to do that you need to consciously have you mouth open wide, which isn’t normal for us. Well maybe for our politicians it is but when they do they don’t necessarily say much but I digress. J Without doing this our pronunciation of their words aren’t correct. That said, the time flies by in class but when we leave our minds feel like they have run a marathon.

        Hi…Dianne here.  Just to add my thoughts.  This week has been very hard for me. I don’t want to talk unless I can say things perfectly.  Needless to say I’ve been very quiet.  I think Tom’s enjoying this but it’s not helping me with my espanol. Trying to come up with sentences when you don’t know too many words and no verbs is very mind draining. I’ve just figured out how to conjugate regular verbs and now we have irregular verbs! These have no pattern in their conjugation.  You just have to memorize them.  I’m hoping that when I get to the community and have a chance to talk with them they’ll be patient with me and my Spanglish.  I’m over my mini meltdown and it’s onward and upward to learning espanol!


The bottom line is that it is very effective. In these seven days we’ve expanded our vocabulary and ability to communicate. It’s hard to notice because we are in the trenches but we are better. The key is to keep it facil (simple). There is no need for compound sentences in the beginning. Short, sweet and to the point is easiest.

A friend reminded us that the main language we must speak is that of “Love”.


En la paz de Dios


Tom & Dianne


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blessings to love, not changes to fear.

Andrés & Lisette with their Certififcates

Lissette Graduating

Graduation Skits

New Idiom – Chivo (Pronounced chee-bo,  B & V have the same sound in Espanol) It’s the equivalent to our cool. When we notice something interesting we might say, cool. They say chivo.
 We’ve started our immersion classes at The Melida Anaya Montes Language School of the Center for Exchange and Solidarity, AKA CIS. It’s a great school but I will save that blog for another time.
Part of the school experience is that you stay with a host family, like exchange
students. Our rent includes lodging, breakfast (desayuno), lunch (almuerzo) and dinner (cena). Our host family pays a woman who washes their clothes, so we will enter the same arrangement with her.
The host family owns a large apartment near the CIS school. It’s a 4th floor walk up… kitchen, eating area off the kitchen, living room, 3 bedrooms, bathroom and balcony overlooking the street. They’ve obviously maintained it well and keep it very clean. The pictures above are of the apartment.
 Our host family is a young couple named Andres Hasbun and Lissette Gil. They are in their late-20’s, have been married for 3 years and own a dog named Kilo, he’s a Boxer. They support themselves by owning and operating Nomadas Tours and running a private taxi shuttle service. They also attend CIS learning English. They are pictured together above with their CIS diplomas, they’ve both finished 2 years of study. Felicitaciones a ellos.
 Andres father left El Salvador at the start of the Civil War and moved to Montreal. He spent 15 years in Montreal and interestingly his 1st language is French. He also speaks English and Spanish very well. He’s an avid surfer a very friendly outgoing person who has an infective laugh. He’s also a trained chef, so are meals are top notch and the only thing better than the food is their company because we eat all our meals together. Before we leave here I’ve told them I will cook for them. Hmmmm, what should I cook??
 Lisette has lived her whole life in El Salvador. As I mentioned she attends CIS studying English but also attends the University studying English and French at a college level. She would like to be a teacher someday. She speaks English but not as well as Andres but better than my Espanol. She helps us with Espanol and we help her with English. She loves the beach. She works very hard at her studies, between all of her classes she sometimes goes from one school to the other from the morning till as late as 7PM at night.
 Upon our arrival at their apartment they were very welcoming. They let us settle in and asked us if we wanted to walk the neighborhood, which we did. We all walked to a strip mall about 1 ½ miles from the house. It was like the U.S. It had a Bank, Super Market (Super Selectos), Hardware store, Payless, Beauty Salon, multiple other stores and even a Burger King.
During the walk they told us it was safe for us to walk there. When we walked home, they walked us to the School which is only a 5 minute walk from the apartment. On this walk they showed us a shortcut to avoid an area very close to the house that was not safe but easy to avoid.
 In San Salvador the safety of the neighborhoods changes fast. If we walked the other direction from our apartment for 1/1/2 miles we get into an area that’s not very safe and another mile gets us into a Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) neighborhood which is very dangerous. Andres pointed out that if you walked through there, they would literally steal everything you have including your shoes and don’t you dare resist them!! During our stay we have heard gunshots a couple of times, not close but close enough to know what they are. It sounds scarier than what it is because our family pointed out that you just need to stay out of where you shouldn’t be, mind your own business and just be streetwise. I wear my wedding band on a chain around my neck, my watch is always in my pocket and I only carry enough $’s for what I need, $10 tops so if someone watches me open my wallet they won’t see a wad of cash.
 In a previous post I mentioned a lack of road rage. I asked Andrés about that, innocently thinking that people are used to driving like this. He smiled and said, no. The fact is that you don’t know who you might be yelling at, a gang member will not take being flipped off lightly and even if the driver is not a gang members guns are very prevalent. The potential consequences are far too dangerous. It doesn’t mean you don’t drive aggressively but just don’t lose your cool, even if the other person does.
 In the pictures I want you to note that Andrés has an extensive tattoo on his right arm, he also has one on the left. These are not gang tattoos. They are the type you would see on any young man in the U.S, yet they are why he runs a tour business. He has his Chef certifications, letters of recommendation from Marriot Corp. He was the head Chef in one of their Hotel Restaurants in Montreal but tattoos in San Salvador are deal breakers for most employers. Even with his credentials he’s been turned down every time for a head chef job because tattoos of any kind are considered gang related, no if, ands or but’s as my Dad used to say, decision final. He also gets stopped by police for occasional questioning on the street, in some wealthy neighborhoods he wouldn’t walk 5 minutes without police escorting him out and he must be streetwise about gang members who might approach him. It’s a harsh reality he lives with.
 On a more upbeat not, we were fortunate enough to be able to attend Andrés &  Lissettes graduation from CIS. They both just finished 2 years of study there. It was a wonderful event with many traditional foods, we met many other students and again, everybody made us feel right at home. In total there were about 30 graduates from different levels. Each class put on a different skit in English. It was moving to see the pride and happiness in their faces, that of their families who attended and their teachers. It’s no small accomplishment because they now have expanded their job opportunities. As we know in our own society, you need to expand your education regardless of the field because it will create opportunities.
 This whole chapter of the Mission has been one great experience after another on many levels. We are finding that if you embrace new things and experiences openly and without fear, you recognize them as blessings  to love, not changes to fear.
 Be content with what you have, for God has said, "Neverwill I leave you; never will I forsake you."  So say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
  - Hebrews 13:5,6
Tom & Dianne

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Amazing People

Amazing People


New Idiom – Va pues (pronounced - ba press) – It is the equivalent of our “sure or OK” Example – I ask, would you like to eat? You say, Va pues.

All has been going very smoothly and we really must give credit first to our Lord but also to the amazing people He has given the task of helping us. That being Bishop Barahona’s staff.

In the pictures of the Bishops staff you see Dianne and from left to right are Miriam Romero - Executive Assistant of the Bishop, Maria Montes - Care Taker of the house, Ana Gomez - Treasure and Administrative Assistant and Roxana de Velasco - Treasure Assistant. In my picture from left to right are Hamilton Villatoro – Bookkeeping and William Hernandez – Driver. Not only are they all extremely hard and dedicated workers but fun people to spend time with. We ate all our lunches with them the 1st week. We actually had Subway a couple of times before I said that we’ll gladly eat Salvadoreno comida comun (Salvadoran common food). Plus Salvadoreno food is cheaper. Rice, beans, beef and 2 tortilla’s ($2.00). Small subway chicken sandwich with Chips and soda ($5.25). So tell me, why does Subway charge almost as much here as in the U.S. when they don’t pay minimum wage, no workers comp or unemployment benefits in El Salvador??? Just saying.

Miriam in particular navigated us through the process of getting cellphones and internet service. She also advised us on safety, for instance Jewelry.  She advises not wearing much but if you do wear silver not gold. Gold sells for more here than silver. She did all she could to help us all the time.

I want to talk about William the driver too. We’ve been to El Salvador 5 times now and have had the good fortune of having him be our driver 3 of those times. This man has nerves of steel that are only exceeded by his driving skills in this traffic. This traffic I say??, Think heavy Boston traffic but without too many rules and the roads are in need of some serious work, not to mention heavy pedestrian traffic too. What’s truly amazing is that there is never a hint of road rage or exasperation from him. Matter of fact I haven’t seen even minor road rage here.

The following anonymous quote sums up most of the people we’ve met in El Salvador “You meet people who forget you, you forget people that you meet. But sometimes you meet those people you can’t forget”


Tom & Dianne

Friday, March 8, 2013


My ramblings from El Salvador

The traveling part of the trip was pretty dull and uneventful.  Thank God!  The guest house where we are staying is right next door to the Diocesan Offices.  It’s a big, old stucco house.  It has beautiful archways to the downstairs rooms.  Upstairs are 4 bedrooms.  Ours has a king sized bed…no bunk!  We also have our own bath with a shower.  Nothing elegant but everything we need.  Mima is the name of the woman who owns the guest house.  She’s a short, stocky woman who smiles all the time.  She makes us breakfast and supper each day.  So far the meals have been great.  We had some cereal and fresh fruit this morning.

The houses have no screens on the windows.  On Monday we spent all night swatting mosquitos.  Last night we thought we’d get ahead of them and put up some netting we brought.  All we had with us was duct tape!  The first time it fell down it took some paint off the wall with it.  The second time we just slept with it laying on us.  Not very comfortable!  Tonight we may have to sleep with Deet!

 I also broke down and showered this morning!  I just couldn’t do it yesterday!  The water is so cold and it comes out in a trickle.  I have to remember to use less shampoo. It takes too long to rinse!  It’s hotter in El Maizal so the water will be warmer! 

We went to the phone store yesterday to get our El Salvador phones.  We also got the thumb drive internet service.  We can’t get a contract with the company until we get our immigration papers!  That may take a few weeks.  The human rights person from the Diocese, Juan Lopez, is working on it for us.

Every one of the office staff has been wonderful.  They all go out of their way to make us feel at home.  It’s comforting.  We haven’t had a chance to see the Bishop yet.  He’s been sick and hasn’t been in the office for a few weeks.  We’re hoping to see him Sunday.  He has a private Chapel in the Diocese office and does private service on Sunday for his close friends. We’ve been invited to attend. That’s it for now.  We start school on Monday…no more English! It should be a very quiet time for Tom!

Peace to all,


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well. – St Julian of Norwich.

You know that we can drive ourselves sick with worry. In the last few days besides dealing with the sorrow of leaving family and friends, we had become a little more than consumed with the details of the actual trip.

When is the shuttle to Logan coming, will it be on time, is all the luggage under 50 lbs, we have 8 pieces of luggage will customs freak out. We’ll never make it through customs in El Salvador without emptying every tote. What if they confiscate my medicine?????????

Look at the pictures. Self-explanatory right, lots of luggage, us, family and what’s that other thing?

It’s the pants button of a gordo missionario. Well when I was putting on my pants at 2AM, pop goes the button on my pants. For some reason I didn’t completely have a meltdown (such small things can light a fuse in people, especially me when stressed). I just tightened my belt, picked up the button and walked over to Dianne and said, “Maybe this will be the worst thing that happens today and not the proverbial harbinger of what the day will be like, hah, ha we chuckle nervously.  In my head I used St Julian’s quote as a quick prayer to soothe myself.  

Then what transpires in the next 12 hours is one uneventful trip. Not a single problem rears its ugly head. In El Salvador they had me open one tote that was full of tools that probably made the x-ray machine choke. A customs agent looked, asked a couple of questions, smiled and sent us on our way. The Diocesan driver (William) was outside waiting and folks that’s it. Lo siento (Sorry), no lost luggage, no missed connections, no strip searches, interrogations or Locked up Abroad great escapes.

I believe the moral of the story is,  God does directly  intervene in our lives. Did he pop the button, probably not, for those who’ve read the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis; maybe my tempter popped that Button, waiting for my anxiety to boil into anger.  Instead, God calmed me down long enough to joke with my loving wife and then remember St Julian’s prayer so I could then just put my trust in His help. Maybe we pray for forgiveness too much, when we should pray for his help before we lose our cool, forget to trust in Him and do something we need forgiveness for.

I’m not proposing this is easy and I’d like to think I’ll always do that but I know I won’t. It’s just that sometimes his interventions to help us are just as subtle as the tempters attempt to lead us away from Him.

todos deben estar bien, todos deben estar bien, todo tipo de cosas será bien




Tom & Dianne Wilson