Last night was a struggle to sleep. I’m not sure whether to blame the 5 cups of coffee I was served throughout the day, the mucky heat that made my thin sheet feel like a thick comforter, or the unrelenting din of dogs, roosters, and heavy trucks outside my window. My family has been up for hours, which I have been aware of since I started stirring around 5am. I got up just now to use the restroom and check and see if “water fell” last night (an interesting expression that refers to whether or not the excess water leftover from irrigation turned on to fill the pilas, or cement tanks, overnight, an unpredictable occurrence that seems to happen every other day or so). The tanks still have only a few inches of water, but somebody has already transferred a shower’s worth of water into a large bucket from the reserve barrels outside the bathroom for me to bathe. My papá, now eighty-years-and-one-day old, is out removing all the leaves and rubbish that fell throughout the night with his ancient rake. My mamá is in preparing breakfast while my little sisters/goddaughters Steffany and Vanessa sit at the table working on Steffany’s homework. The only thing that is striking about this scene is the homework; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the girls working so diligently. I fell asleep around midnight last night while Steffa still sat at the table putting together this big project. She is scheduled to graduate in November and, for the first time I’ve ever seen, is really taking school seriously.

Breakfast this morning was moved to the living room where there were fewer flies than the kitchen. Dad was there waiting for me, flyswatter in hand. Pobrecita the fly that lands near my dad—he goes through more flyswatters than anyone I’ve ever met. Yesterday he caused a “fly massacre” after the birthday cake was served. Mamá joined us for breakfast today—a rarity here. I almost melted when, after she sat down, my dad reached into his pocket, pulled out three small jocotes, and wordlessly set them on the table next to her. She just glanced over and smiled shyly at him. We ate quietly, all with one hand waving dispassionately back and forth over our plates to keep the flies away, while the candle lit to stave them off burned down to a nub. Dad asked when my real mom is coming back down to visit and we spoke briefly about my now defunct previous relationship. This led to wise and welcome advice about love from a couple who just celebrated 50 years of marriage. (One gem was, “Amor de lejos, para pendejos.”) They told me about how they dated for 7 years before finally getting married (my mom vehemently declared that dad would come visit her from his town but that “absolutely nothing else happened” before they married), and how they decided to wait to marry until they had the means to start a family. (At their wedding, the priest is said to have praised their patience and told the guests that this was a model couple made in God’s image.) Mom assured me that I still have time for love, since she and don Máximo married at the age of 30. I simply giggled and told her I wasn’t too worried about it. After all, I am practically married to this project and this community.

Yesterday’s birthday celebration was beautiful. The girls did a great job keeping our secret, and despite arriving almost 6 hours later than planned (in typical Salvadoran fashion, “We’re going to run a quick errand before we drop you off — we just need to go sign some papers at the bank. 5 minutes max.” turned into an odyssey around the capital), mis papás were surprised and tickled to see us pull up. I brought a cake adorned with 80 candles, which almost went up in flames by the time we had all the candles lit. The frosting became a pool of colored wax and the “Feliz Cumpleaños – 80” looked more like Chinese characters, but seeing my dad in his party glasses effortlessly blow out the small, raging fire was priceless.


Don Máximo blows out 80 candles on his birthday

birthday cake

My papá’s cake

Last night I had the honor of delivering the news to a scholarship applicant that she has been selected for a scholarship. This is a step in the process that the FCE has purposefully removed itself from traditionally in order to ensure that the community has ownership over the scholarship program and selection process, but Yessica Beatriz was a special case. We had a potential donor approach us a few months ago looking specifically to sponsor a nursing student and coincidentally the scholarship committee simultaneously approached us asking for approval to add a new, non-traditional student to the program. Yessica is a 24-year-old who began a nursing degree in 2010 but had to withdraw after her first year due to financial hardship. We typically only accept students as first-year high school students and commit to their full education, so Yessica would have otherwise been turned away, but the parameters of the donor’s nursing scholarship and the timing of this unusual situation were such that she was the perfect candidate. We presented her to the potential donor and trustees in March and received word last Monday that they unanimously voted to support her. She will go Monday to register and will begin classes on time in July. Her reaction to the news last night was so humbling and so inspirational. I hope to post the video shortly, once I have access to bandwidth that can handle an upload.


Yessica Beatriz and President Anna Stout

I’m hoping to visit some of our students today, though I don’t have anything officially on the schedule. Tomorrow is my godson’s 2nd birthday celebration in San Martin and I’m dedicating all of Sunday to the scholarship students, so today is uncharacteristically unplanned. The stubborn, impenetrable cloud cover today is keeping the heat at bay, but already I can feel the sheen of my perpetually glistening face in this thick humidity. Today might just be a day to spend aimlessly here at the house at the computer working on stuff for the FCE. Or, more likely, it will be the unpredictable and busy kind of day that always seems to present itself to me while I’m here. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about El Salvador in the past ten years, it’s that planning can be cumbersome (and more often than not simply sets you up for frustration), while spontaneity never fails to bring you rewarding and memorable experiences.