...which means I am finally sitting down to write a long overdue post. It's Thursday, which means I should be halfway up the stairs of Cerro San Bernardo (I do it a few times a week now), but rain + stone steps + my inherent clumsiness = trouble. So I'm drinking coffee and staying put. While I want to see as much of Salta as possible, the hospital is not on that list.
So somehow, I have been here for 5 weeks already. Not quite sure where the time went. In some ways it feels like I just arrived, yet at the same time I'm so comfortable that it feels as if I live here. Considering I am now staying until the end of April, I guess I sort of do.
Yes, I have decided to stay here for another month. As the end of March drew near, I knew I was not ready to leave. I am working with 2 different organizations as well volunteering some time at a local English institute, and it's all just really getting going now. As mentioned in a previous post, I first headed to Salta to help out with Leigh & Noah's organization CloudheadART, the NGO that I traveled with to visit the Wichi village in the north, and I am now also working with the David Mather Foundation. "[DMF]...is working to support young people in Salta, Argentina to lift themselves out of cycles of poverty, through education and training. The Foundation works with bright young people who have the academic potential to achieve success in higher education, but who do not have the financial means to continue with their studies."
(Excerpt from www.davidmatherfoundation.org)
This year's class at the foundation totals 24 students. Given the fact that the school year just got started here about 2 weeks ago, as did the programs at the foundation, leaving at the end of March just didn't make sense. I am just getting to know the kids, they are just starting to be less shy with me and more comfortable asking for help during classes. It just isn't time to go yet.
As mentioned, I've also been visiting some English classes at an institute where a friend teaches. They have native English speakers come in whenever possible to give the students the opportunity to hear different accents, practice speaking, etc. Last night I visited one of the advanced classes, which is currently preparing for high level exams. There was an empty chair in the front of the room waiting for me, along with 18 students (with excellent English) full of questions. Um, yeah, no pressure. It started with the typical "What type of work do you do?", "How did you decide to come to Salta?", but once they knew about my year of travel/volunteer work, they began to ask me some really intense questions, some of which I honestly don't yet know the answers to myself. At some point, it shifted from a foreigner visiting an English class for conversation practice to a group of friends sitting around chatting. We talked about such a wide range of topics, it was really incredible to have such great conversation with people I had literally just met. But that's Salta. That's the people of Salta.
So let's go there for a minute. There are approximately 600,000 people in the city of Salta, yet it somehow feels like a small neighborhood. There is such a sense of community and a true love for their city and province. People are kind, helpful, genuine and they want you to love their home as much as they do. My "family" at David Mather instantly took me in and I feel as if I've known them for so much longer than just a few weeks. The permanent staff totals only 6 people so it really is like a small family. They take me places with them, I've spent time with their friends, they helped me find an apartment, and continue to help me with my Spanish. One friend refuses to speak to me in English (for my own good) and while at first I thought - 'Well this is impossible and frustrating', the other day I realized that my Spanish truly has improved tremendously in the time I have been here. Point taken, you win. I guess there is just a piece of me that feels bad putting anyone through that process. To me, it takes a lot of patience for a native Spanish speaker to 1) wait for a non-native speaker to gather their thoughts, translate them, conjugate the verbs, throw in any necessary pronouns, only to have it spill out in an often jumbled mess 2) gently correct them, and then 3) respond slowly, clearly, and simply enough for them to understand. Can you imagine how long that takes? But what I have learned without a doubt is that if I was are ever going to find people with that kind of patience, it would be here in Salta.