That JUST happened.
I find that I can fit in references to Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby almost everyday. I mean, it just applies to so many life situations with which I’m confronted on a regular basis. Especially in El Salvador.Sometimes I find myself in a situation that is so surreal — so a-year-ago-I-never-would-have-thought-I’d-be-doing-this — that I think to myself (or more likely, say it aloud to Kail/whoever is with me), That JUST happened.Some things I’ve gotten used to, like waking up every morning in the largest apartment I’ve ever lived in with a beautiful view of a volcano. Other things I still think back on and ask myself, Did that really happen?Top 10 That JUST Happened Moments in El Salvador:1. Sitting at our beach club (having a beach club, period?), coconut water in hand, less than 24 hours after arriving in country. One day we’re in DC, saying goodbye to friends, noticing a slight chill in the air as summer comes to a close and autumn begins, and the next day, we’re at the beach in El Salvador.Like all things, the beach club has become less exciting now that we’re “used to it,” but I still remind myself that it’s pretty awesome that we can pretty much go to the beach whenever we want. Like last Tuesday, for example. And we promise all visitors that, depending on the time of your flight, you can be sitting at the beach, coconut drink in hand, within an hour of landing at the airport.http://instagram.com/p/QsipUpoVcT/An Olympian!2. The day I practiced English with students at Hilasal Supérate, toured a maquila (and had lunch there) and met a Salvadoran Olympic speedwalker. You know, just a typical day in El Salvador. The first day I volunteered with the American Women’s Association at Hilasal, I was picked up by the AWA President, Pamela, who also happens to coach Emerson Hernandez, a Salvadoran race walker who competed in the 2012 London Olympics. He was in the car, as they had just finished their morning training session, and would be accompanying us to the supérate, as he often did.We stopped at the TexOps maquila on our way home because they designed all of Emerson’s official Olympic uniforms and training gear. It was there that I braved the cafeteria lunch, toured the facilities and learned about the Garrobo Project, a workforce training program for adolescent girls. I had mentioned previously that TexOps is different from other maquilas in its level of transparency and its good treatment of workers. TexOps even provides onsite daycare for their employees’ children.Because why wouldn’t there be a celebration of German beer in El Salvador?3. El Salvador Oktoberfest. I think the above photo speaks for itself. But I’ll provide a few more details. It was maybe our third or fourth week living here. My friend Vanessa happened to be in town on a business trip. El Salvador’s annual Oktoberfest — serving not a drop of German beer, but plenty cerveza nacional — was going on at CIFCO. The first night was a VIP night, which we managed to finagle our way into. Everything was free. Highlights included: Salvadorans dressed in Bavarian garb, Salvadorans dressed in Bavarian garb demonstrating “the six ways to open a Grolsch bottle,” Salvadorans dressed in Bavarian garb leading a congo line and free beer.The first time we ran a race on a volcano.4. Reto del Volcán Santa Ana. Even though running up and down volcanoes is old hat for us now, this first volcano race remains one of THE coolest experiences we’ve had in El Salvador so far. The physical challenge, the amazing views, the sense of utter disbelief that I was actually doing this … I’m still like, Did I really do that?5. Off-Roading near Parque Nacional Montecristo. We have put our little Rav 4 through its paces: camping trips through rugged terrain, a five-hour trip to Copán (involving some harrowing Honduran roads), an 11-hour trip to Granada (also involving some harrowing Honduran roads). Not to mention just regular Salvadoran city driving. But the worst road conditions we experienced were on our first camping trip near Montecristo, when we put our as-yet-unused four-wheel drive to good use.The shirt stayed on.6. Meeting Smith Jerrod at a school renovation in rural El Salvador. Through my job, I participated in an “Extreme School Makeover” with actor Jason Lewis, who played Smith Jerrod (Samantha’s boyfriend) on “Sex & the City.” American celebrities are a big draw for Salvadoran media, so we held a press conference the day before, complete with photo-ops (i.e. demolishing a wall). Did not expect this to be part of my life when I thought about moving to El Salvador for Kail’s career in the Foreign Service.I was smiling, but I wanted to die.7. Running (and training for) a half marathon in El Salvador. On the hilliest, most challenging road race course I have ever run. And I ran my first half marathon in San Francisco. Sure, the aforementioned Reto del Volcán was also 21km, but I didn’t actually “run” it. Or train for it. The road race was an actual race during which I was trying to go fast, not just put one foot in front of the other until this
godforsaken thing amazing race was over. After all my fretting about whether I would be able to run in El Salvador, the half marathon was definitely a That JUST happened moment.Antigua’s streets are packed during Semana Santa.8. Holy Week processions in Antigua. With USAID, we’re always going to be living a little off the beaten path. Not London or say, any of Western (and pretty much Eastern) Europe. Moving to El Salvador, I knew we’d have opportunities to see and do really amazing things. But I didn’t think we’d have the opportunity to visit The Number One Place in the World to [fill in the blank].That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by Antigua, Guatemala, which is near the top of the list in word-of-mouth rankings of best places to spend Holy Week (for tourism, not religious purposes). I had never seen anything like it before: the day and night processionals, the alfombras carpeting the streets, the sheer number of people pouring in from all over the world to see it all. (It helped that we were staying at a super-nice coffee estate and resort).Camping during rainy season: Not the best idea.9. Buying firewood while camping at Parque Nacional El Imposible. In the Foreign Service, particularly in USAID, there are a lot of former Peace Corps people, including our camping companions. Our experience of having to stop and buy firewood from a local resident was described by them as “a very Peace Corps” experience.After hiking off the main path for a good while (in pouring rain), we arrived at a very primitive dwelling: two separate “rooms,” one area a kitchen with a makeshift “stove” of sorts, and the other area I imagine contained living quarters for sitting/sleeping. After explaining to a woman that we were interested in buying some firewood, we waited in the kitchen area. It was raining buckets outside yet somehow the wooden walls and tin roof managed to keep the interior dry.I remember thinking how different our lives were, yet there we were: three Americans — two of whom had never lived abroad or set foot in Central America until a few months before — and a Salvadoran family who most likely have never traveled outside of El Salvador or even the department (a geographical division akin to a state) in which they live. But we were united for a brief time in the most basic of ways: the desire to be dry and warm, to cook and eat. It was a very unique and surreal experience and something I’ll always remember.O hai, do you have any food?10. Island tour and monkey-spotting on Lake Nicaragua. Our trip to Granada was actually the experience that inspired this blog post, even though looking back at this list, it’s not necessarily the strangest or most unique thing we’ve done since moving to El Salvador. Kail and I will often just be sitting somewhere — our balcony, a restaurant, driving in the car — and we’ll look at each other and say, “A year ago, did you ever think we’d be [doing whatever we’re doing at the moment?]”In Granada we had a few of those moments: Sitting outside our hotel on Calle La Calzeda, enjoying a couple beers after an intense 11-hour journey. Touring islands owned by rich people on Lake Nicaragua. Having a monkey jump on our boat during said tour.It’s easy to forget, surrounded by all these other Foreign Service people who are also living similarly unique lives compared to most Americans, that our lives are different. Our days are filled with bizarre, hilarious, scary, fun, [insert other adjective] experiences that can only be summed up by one Ricky Bobby.Have you ever had a That JUST happened moment?