Wow, so great to meet you. How long have you been in the country? Three whole months? That’s incredible. I remember those days. I remember being so overwhelmed and lost three months in. I can promise you—it gets better! How long have I been here? Almost a year, actually. Well, okay, six months. But coming up on a year.
Are you just turisteando then? You might not know that word. It’s slang for “being a tourist!” So funny. Anyway, tourism is so great here. I’m sure you’ve seen the ruins, the cathedral… Oh, you work here? Really? Let me guess, you’re an English teacher? No? You must work at an orphanage then. Funny thing, I read this article online about orphanages, did you know most of the kids aren’t even orphans? You think you’re rescuing them from the streets, but really… No? Oh development work. Hmm. Development work can be so helpful when it’s sustainable. Have you read the literature on sustainable development? Give me your email, I’d love to send you some sites.
So, how’s the language coming? Haha, yeah, I remember when I first got here, it was pretty hard. Well relajate, vos. Have you learned that tense yet? It’s not one they teach you in school. It took me ages to pick up. But don’t worry too much, people won’t expect you to use it.
What an adorable headband. I have one similar, but I bought it in the mountains out west, where a group of indigenous women have a microbusiness handweaving them. Most of the textiles you buy in any old souvenier shop are actually made in the next country over—or even in China! It feels good to know the source of your purchases, you know? But your headband is cute too.
Well, what are you doing right now? We could go grab something to eat if you’d like. There’s this street stand that’s just to die for around the corner. I’m friends with the guy, so he’ll let us eat cheap. I do have to warn you, the flavor is pretty strong, so if you’re not a big fan of local food, this place is not for you.
I’d love to keep catching up. It’s so rare to find another gringa here—especially where I’m living. Not a lot of white people can handle my neighborhood, I guess. It’s a little rustic, you know, but charming, when you really get to know it. Maybe, if you’re up for it, you could come visit some time. But I totally get it if you don’t want to. Like I said, not a lot of gringos.
I just want to be a resource for you and help you out however I can. I know you must have so many things going through your head right now. I remember when I got here, it felt like the first time in my life that I didn’t belong somewhere, that my surroundings weren’t created with me in mind. I felt out of place, like I had to justify my existence here by burrowing deep into my best estimation of authenticity, wanting to belong to this place, but more than that, wanting it to belong to me.
I’m so glad those days have passed. I get it now. I get the culture. I totally get poverty. If you want I can explain it to you—it’s not so hard once you have it figured out. Oh, sure, another time then. ¡Nos vemos! That means, “see you later.”
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).