El Salvador Journal: Part IV

(3/19/2014 2:00pm) “Today, Wednesday, was a day off for our group. I woke up and I seemed to have lost my voice. Not sure how, but it’s already pretty annoying. We slept in a bit, had some breakfast, and packed up for a hike and an afternoon at the beach. 1236390_10152274893066550_1770760958_n We drove about 40 minutes away from where we were staying and up part of a decent sized hill. From there, we climbed up this narrow path through the rocks.   10013925_10152274899311550_183851315_n Eventually, we got to the top and enjoyed the view. 10153249_10152274894446550_791144158_n At the bottom, there were some souvenir shops, where I bought some gifts for myself and Leah- a wooden coffee mug for myself and a bracelet with Leah’s name inscribed. Part of the group had already started making their way up an adjacent hill and soon we followed. This hike was a bit more difficult, but it was worth it. Everyone was posing for pictures at the top and, of course, I needed to get mine taken, too. 1964899_10152272882311550_673637948_n

(Note: I don’t look happy, but I am. This was a really cool part of the trip.)

The sites were amazing and it made me want to go on more hikes when I get home, something Leah will like a lot. The views were unbelievable and despite my fear of tumbling don the massive hill, I enjoyed the climb. The sun wasn’t too bad and, knock on wood, I still haven’t had any sunburn. Now we’re off to the beach that happens to be near our first worksite, about an hour and half away from the hiking spot.

(8:00pm that evening)

The rest of the day was spent at the beach. We hung out at a hostile, which I learned was $8 a night, and despite the really American style lunch that was served, it was a good time. We ate and hung around until everyone was ready to head down to the water. People rented surfboards and others just went for a swim. I tried to surf for the first time, and even though I was unsuccessful, I had a good time trying and look forward to doing it again soon.

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As of now, we just got finished with dinner (spaghetti and sauce) and now everyone is sitting around a bonfire on the beach. I talked to Leah for the first time since I left today. Decided to eat the cost of a few texts and let everyone know I was ok. It was nice to see her name pop up on again on my phone. Back to work tomorrow right and early. Hopefully my voice comes back.

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El Salvador Journal: Part III

10154141_10152274903221550_1206239181_n3/19/2014 (This post will be split in to two. The first will be 3/17 and 3/18 and the second will be 3/19. All of this was written on 3/19.)

“Hopefully I can remember the last two days, they’ve been pretty long.

Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, we went to our first work site at about 8am. Our job was to build latrines (bathrooms, which are more or less 15ft holes in the ground with cinderblocks and cement on top) for the people in this remote mountain area, about 45 minutes from where we are staying.

The ride wasn’t bad other than the swerving around crater-like potholes and nearly in to oncoming traffic. The highway followed the shore pretty closely. It reminded me of the Amalfi coast in Italy- large cliffs, vein like roads connecting each little town along the way with the occasional orange roof in the distance.

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Eventually, we got to a dirt road with a bodega in front of it and the nearly 40 people in our groups exited the vans and into the back of a 1950s era Mercedes pick-up truck and up the mountain we went.

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Unfortunately, our site was only about 20 minutes up the road. Now, I say unfortunately because we passed it and went another 20-25 minutes up the mountain, nearly getting stuck and having to go backwards to try again, only to turn around and find our site. To help put this all in perspective, we couldn’t have traveled more than 7 miles all together. To say it was a slow, bumpy, and scary ride may help put this all together. Most times we wondered if the truck would make it up the suddenly steep hills of loose rock and dirt.

Anyway, on the way up, Andrew  noticed a cemetery. It was much different than what we are used to seeing in the United States. It was colorful, as if truly celebrating a person’s life.

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At the site, it was a long day of mixing concrete on the ground, moving cinder blocks, and avoiding falling into the 15ft whole while carrying buckets of cement and dirt.

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At lunch, Courtney, Tim, Andrew, Ryan and I went down to the river to cool off. Andrew and I dunked our heads in the cool water and climbed some rocks while the rest of the group sought out an entrance to this old, rickety, Indiana Jones type bridge.

Here’s a not so great picture of Courtney on the bridge.

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Lunch was PBJ on subroles and a lot of water. The school kids were huddled around most of the girls as they attempted to speak with them, only to get laughs in return.

After lunch, we were back to work. We were able to finish two latrines for the day, though we cut out pretty early, probably 3:30 or so.

Overall, it was a good experience. A first hand account of the extreme poverty helped to put a lot of the problems we face in the United States into perspective. A large portion of the country deals with these kinds of conditions. What amazed me more than anything was how happy the people, and especially the kids, were. I tried to play around with the kids as much as possible, though I was very determined to finish the task at hand. That is, after all, why we’re  here.

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At the end of our work day, we piled back into the truck and off we went back down the mountain. Here’s a video of us on the way down.

The bodega at the bottom had 40 cent sodas, which were half a liter by the way. So, as most of us did, I enjoyed an ice cold Pepsi on the way home, though I didn’t realize the size until I wasn’t feeling so well.

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By dinner time, my “not feeling so well” turned in to nausea, so I gave the rest of my dinner to Andrew and walked home to see if I could sleep it off.

Spoiler alert, I couldn’t.

A combination of some fruit I had before lunch (cocotte, photo below), the heat, dehydration, exhaustion from the flights and lack of sleep, and the giant soda I had turned me in early, only to wake up every two hours to “pray to the porcelain Gods,” “Drive the big, porcelain school bus…” you get the picture.

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(Cocotte)

The following day it was hard to each much of anything despite the amazing breakfast that was being prepared. I have to admit, I don’t remember what it was because I couldn’t even look at food. I tried to drink as much water as we could before leaving for work- another day of latrine building. I can’t remember what lunch was, though I think it was what was for dinner the night before. I forget.

I started to feel better throughout the day, which was good. I was able to eat dinner when we returned for the evening after a nice shower and my forming post-work ritual of a 20 minute nap. Our nighttime routine had us turn in at about 9:45 to prepare for the next day. Our walks back to our place were pretty scary, but no one was around, or we just didn’t see them.”

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El Salvador Journal: Part II

10153304_10152274912666550_1665488869_n 3/17/2014 (5:48am)

“I finally got some sleep after being up since 6am (est) on Saturday, so I will try to remember what I can.

After leaving the airport yesterday, and learning that a catholic high school group of 21 girls would be working with us, we went to get some food at a place called, “the corner.” The food was amazing: rice and beans, pulled pork, and vegetables.

Afterwards, we got back in the van and headed out to where we would be staying, or so we thought. The drive taught us a little about what the real El Salvador was like and why we were here. I was able to take some picture, but didn’t want to upset anyone who may have seen us driving by. On that note, driving outside of the U.S is always fun because of the lack of rules while driving.

We got to what Tim called “the compound,” which just meant it was a house with a concrete walls and barbed wire surrounding it. A lot of houses have these walls around it with big gates for security. This was what I imagine a lower-middle class neighborhood is like around the country.

After making our way inside, we put our stuff down and said hi to the people putting us up for the week. At first there was some kind of issue with where we were going to stay, so we went down to the beach, which was right out the back gate of the yard.

We all went down to the water and messed around for a bit, even played baseball with some of the local kids. My jeans got soaked, but it wasn’t a big deal considering  I wouldn’t be wearing them until our trip home the following Sunday. It was a lot of fun and I’m sure it let the locals know we were friendly.

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(Ryan, Tim, and Andrew down at the water for the first time)

Eventually, we figured out where we were staying (picture above). We thought it would be the same as the house were first arrived at, but boy were we wrong.

It was amazing.

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(Our first meal at “the corner”)

We walked two houses over down the beach and were shown our rooms. There were two available and, since Courtney was the only girl on the trip, she got her own room while the four guys shared another.

The backyard, as you can see from the first picture, had a pool and a huge yard with a balcony overlooking the Pacific ocean.

Seeing the pool meant that we needed to go for a swim, and, later on, it was definitely time for dinner.

We had another amazing meal of meatballs, potatoes, rice and beans. We also met the group we would be working with. I think we all forgot how to deal with high school aged kids, though we aren’t that far removed from it.

After dinner we built a fire on the beach and hung out for a while.

Some other people staying at the house, from Brazil, were playing guitar and singing in Portuguese. By 9pm (MT, 11pm EST), we were beat and went off to bed, setting an alarm for the sunrise, 6am.”

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El Salvador Journal: Part I

1964899_10152272882311550_673637948_nSo, I’ve been struggling with whether or not to write up my journal I wrote while in El Salvador, which you’ll learn why at the end of the series. I’ve been thinking a lot about everything that happened- positives, negatives, the scenery (the photo in this post was taken on the top of some mountain I forget the name of), and all the things I was able to learn while being in an underdeveloped country for the first time. I want to tell the story because I did, by and large, have an amazing time.

So, here it goes.

(Note: This was all written on my iPhone, which magically survived the trip. Some have timestamps and overall they were pretty short entries. Some will be more interesting than others)

 

3/16/2014 (1:49pm EST) – On the way to El Salvador – Syracuse, Atlanta, San Salvador. 

“Since someone from SUNY Oswego was going to be picking me up at my apartment at 2:30am to head to our flight in Syracuse, I thought it would be better if I just didn’t go to bed.

I’m beginning to regret that decision, though I have been able to fall asleep now and again on the flight from Syracuse to Atlanta.

The group, Tim, Andrew, Ryan, Courtney, and I, had some breakfast at the airport in Atlanta and hung out until our flight. We were all still a little too tired to get to know one another, though we didn’t take any time in ragging on Ryan.

I am currently on the flight from Atlanta to San Salvador, and having already took a quick snooze ealier in the flight and read half of the book I need for class next week, I thought I would get started on writing a journal of this trip.

I am excited for this opportunity to go to a place I find so interesting. Central America will be different, but I look forward to learning about the culture and the people. I want to let them know I am not just another American on a vacation, rather, that I am someone who is generally interested in who they are and what they represent.

I also hope that I am able to grow as a person, something I think has happened already, and I didn’t even get there yet.

After reading most of my book, “Harry Potter and History,” and taking notes in the margins and front of the book, I have come to a realization: I am becoming a real historian. The book isn’t very complicated, but it does take an ability to analyze and process what the writers are trying to put together. It’s helped me better understand historical context in novels, giving me a more board overview of what constitutes being historical.

Anyway, I have some forms to fill out for customs. See you on the ground.”

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What Does A Job Mean to Me?: An Open Cover Letter

To whom it may concern;

My name is Jon Zella and I am applying for a job at your institution/organization. I found this job after hours of scouring the internet choosing a city and a place of employment that allow me to grow professionally and personally. Our missions and morals align, and even if I am not fully qualified, I have acquired the skills necessary to pick up what I need to do to complete tasks at hand.

I have had a lot of experiences over the last few years. Some directly related to you and others that were good experiences that have made me a better person. Despite my age, 23, I have done a lot and plan to do even more. Sure, I am new to the full time job market, but that does not mean I am not capable. 

Personally, I need to be busy. All the time. I need to be challenged, to manage my time correctly, to have multiple things going on at once, and to do more than make someone’s schedule and send emails. This is probably why I am not applying for an entry level position with 0 to 1 year(s) of experience that will leave me unfulfilled when I leave the office everyday despite giving me a foot in the door to the career path I am interested in. If I am applying for your job, it is because I think it will challenge me to learn, to grow, and require me to do so in order to succeed and become a professional in that field.

I want to be involved, to work in groups, to work alone, and to combine everything I know to make sure I am doing the best job possible. I want to be put in a position do succeed and to prove myself. 

Most importantly, if I am applying for your job, it is because I have a feeling that I will learn to love what your institution/organization has to offer to its constituents. Contrary to what many people believe, there are a lot of jobs out there. I chose your institution/organization because, well, I like it. It looks cool, I like the projects, exhibits, programs, events, and topics that you cover. I like what the job description will have me do on a daily basis and can only hope that “other duties as assigned” means I will be given a chance to work on big projects from time to time. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I hope I hear from you soon to set up an interview because, honestly, meeting me in person will help show you how interested I am in this position. 

Kindest regards,

Jon Zella

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Riposa in pace, nonno.

My grandfather passed away early this morning. It wasn’t unexpected as he was sent home from the hospital with hospice care a few weeks ago.

I saw him around Christmas time after he had his knee surgery. He didn’t like the rehab facility, but he was doing
ok. A few days after, and before
I came back to Oswego, I saw him at home. We spoke a bit in Italian and English,
but as always not much. He asked his normal questions and told me the regular career path he always had. The new thing he asked, as a joke, was, “Sei professore matematica?” (Are you a math professor?). I explained that I study history, but it was close enough.

I went to Canada for a week and not too long after I came back my dad told me he got me a flight to come down to New York. He said he wasn’t sure if my grandpa would be around much longer and when school started again, he knew how hard it would be for me to come down. I visited him last weekend or so and said my goodbyes.

It was hard being there mostly because he didn’t know I was there. He was trapped in his own body. He no longer spoke and could only move his right arm. The tumor he had removed 4 years ago grew back, incapacitating him.

It was hard knowing that was the last time I would see him alive. I told everyone I was sorry for being so far away not able to help. They said that my grandpa wanted everyone to go to college and concentrate on that. Don’t worry about things at home. So I kisses him on the forehead and squeezed his hand and said, “I’ll see you soon.”

I was able to take some photos home with me from when he was a young man and from when I was a kid. Below, is a picture of my grandpa and I when I was about 3 or 4 years old at their old place in East Islip. I have a lot of memories with him and I’m happy that I have so many. I’ll miss him, but I’m glad he’s no longer trapped.

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Growing Pains: The Inevitable

So I’m sitting here in Syracuse’s airport waiting for my flight to New York (JFK). Unfortunately, this trip isn’t under the most positive circumstances.

My grandfather on my dad’s side, Rocco or how I know him, grandpa Rocky, isn’t doing so well. He was sent home with hospice care after radiation and steroids didn’t seem to reduce the golf ball sized tumor in his head. My dad said once school starts he may not be around much longer.

He’s 83.

I’ve been thinking about this type of thing for a long time; becoming the proverbial middle generation of the family. It scared me. These are people that have watched me grow. I’ve spent a lot of time with them, though I wasn’t very close with my dad’s parents. They aren’t “mushy” people. They don’t say I love you or tell you they’re proud. If they’re not saying anything, it means you’re doing well in their eyes.

My grandpa grew up in southern Italy during WWII under the fascist Benito Mussolini. He often drew comparisons between growing up in fascismo and being stuck in a hospital bed. Ridiculous, of course.

Anyway, I’m headed to see him for what could be the last time. I’m not sure what to say or how to act. When my grandma passed away last summer, I didn’t know the last time I saw her would be it. I didn’t act differently. I just was how I always was with her. This time will be different. I want to ask him a million questions and have him tell me everything he’s always wanted to say, but I don’t want to act differently. I want to be as normal as possible. For him.

This will be tough. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I’ll be ok. We’ll all be ok.

Getting ready to take off. Never flew to New York before. Always had a car and drove down. 45 minutes will sure beat 6 hours. See you soon, CNY.

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