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Monday, March 18, 2013

Hola, El Salvador!

Hola familia y amigos!  As tempting as it would be to write this post in español, my mind needs a break from being bilingual, so I’m going to continue in ingles :)  Right now I’m technically still abroad (writing from 30,000 feet!), but I’m headed home to the good ol’ U.S. of A!  I still can’t believe how quickly the week flew by!  The trip was amazing – we had so much fun, learned so much, and had so many great experiences!  For those who don’t know why I was in El Salvador this week, I was selected to go on this school-sponsored “Alternative Spring Break” to help ALDES (an LGBT advocacy group in El Salvador) with a conference and prepare for its future advocacy projects.  It was a lot of work, but as you’ll see, it was tons of fun too :)

We arrived in San Salvador last Saturday and headed to the suburbs to check-in to our hotel, Hotel Alicante.  I had pre-judged the hotel (given that it was super cheap AND it included breakfast!), but it was actually quite nice and the staff was great!  Given all the warnings I had received about El Salvador being dangerous, I was pleasantly surprised not to have had a single problem, nor did I ever feel unsafe.  To the contrary, the locals were so nice to us “cabelleros” from the United States :)

Welcome to the Hotel Alicante!                                          
The streets of downtown El Salvador.
The Presidential Palace in the Center Square.
After unpacking and getting a bit of rest, we headed out and about to explore.  Annie (one of the other students on the trip) had actually lived in El Salvador previously, so it was great to have our own personal tour guide :) To start our adventures, we let our tummies guide us to the local “pupuseria” (a cheese and bean filled tortilla that is soft and fried) and got 2 pupusas and a beer for…wait for it…$2.00!!!!  Later that night we went to this little street festival with live music, yummy food, and cute pop-up stores in the streets.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how far my money got me…things there are CHEAP – especially the food, which is YUMMY!!!  After soaking in some more of the local culture, we headed home and rested up from a full day of traveling. 

The live music was a great welcome to El Salvador!
The fire in the hills, however, was not such a nice welcome!
Arli, Professor Ali, Me, and Anne...and some beverages :)
The next morning we took advantage of all the rest we got the night before and headed to the beach on the west side of the country.   This is a good time to mention our main method of travel: a pre-selected cab company of “confidence.”  Apparently the public transit and other random cab companies in El Salvador are known to be particularly unsafe, so we had our guy that pretty much took us around all week…I wish I had that at home!!!  Anyway, our day was spent watching the ginormous waves (apparently El Salvador is known for its surfing) and feasting on some fresh seafood – YUM!  You will also probably notice a common theme throughout: the food was cheap, yummy, and EVERYWHERE!!!

The beach was a nice getaway before all the work began!
Nothing like some FRESH seafood!
Such a pretty sunset!!!
With a fun weekend under our belt, the time came to get to work! As I mentioned previously, ALDES (Assistencia Legal para Diversidad Sexual en El Salvador or Legal Assistance for Sexual Diversity in El Salvador) had sought our help in supporting the country’s first ever LGBT rights conference, as well as with brainstorming proposals for how they can best further their advocacy efforts within El Salvador.  The first part of our week was filled with meetings and research.  I was somewhat surprised how being an American law student made it fairly easy to get meetings with some fairly high profile organizations, including the United Nations, the U.S. Embassy, and two Departments within the government of El Salvador: Legal Medicine and Social Inclusion.  I won’t bore you with all the rest of the details (see the Action for Human Rights blog for those details:…), but as you can see from the pictures below, it was a busy few days :)

Ernesto, Ana, Anne, Arlie, and me outside the UN building.
El Salvador's flag flying outside the UN.
The group with the head statistician at Medicina Legal.
A tour of the forensics department involved this...
and this, the missing persons board :(
The U.S. Embassy in El Salvdaor, the second biggest in the world!
Our group at the Office of Social Inclusion.
Locked up abroad...not really, just at the University :)
To wrap up the week we attended the ALDES conference.  It was two days chocked full of panels that addressed LGBT rights on a wide range of topics and from many different perspectives.  It was actually a great way to end the trip, as everything came together nicely.  It was also somewhat emotional, as it became clear (through both statistics and personal stories) how much work still needs to be done in El Salvador (and around the world) to ensure equality and basic human rights for the LGBT community.  Nevertheless, it was also great to see all excitement and potential within El Salvador’s LGBT community and it was especially fulfilling to know that I was able to be a part of their movement in some way J  After the conference was over, we attended a closing reception to say goodbye to our new friends and unwind with some dancing!  After dancing my little heart out, we all headed home and got some much needed sleep J

The conference was very well attended...actually overflowing!
A welcome from the University President!
Ernesto, me, Arlie, Professor Ali, and Anne at the conference.
Guess what I saw on the way to the club? The Temple :)
Our group with the UC Berkley group at Disco Queen :)
Today we got up and headed to the airport and, after tons of baggage searches and security precautions, we are officially heading home :)  I am so blessed to have been able to participate in this trip and will definitely miss El Salvador…but as great as it’s been, I’m more excited to get back to my hubs, pups, and family!  Now all that’s left is getting through U.S. Customs, where I look forward to hearing them say  “Welcome home!”

Better not try and traffic drugs - they are waiting :)
Ernesto, Arli, Anne, and me - safely back in DC :)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

St. Patty's Day Comes Early

Hi again!  Sorry this is you will see, the weekend was a bit too busy to get this done on time :)  In fact, things kicked off earlier than usual, as Matt (Emily's boyfriend) and his band performed at Mason Inn for our post-kickball victory party!  Check out the video below for a preview...

Matt and his band, Rounding Down!

On Friday we were too pooped from a busy week to do much, but I guess we needed our rest for Saturday :) Our friends Emily, Patrick, and Michelle are all alumni of the University of Illinois and every year they and their fellow alumni host "unofficial," a pre-St. Patrick's Day pub crawl...and this year we attended as honorary alumns :)  It was a blast, starting with a yummy lunch and lasting all day: fun, friends, and even a game of shuffleboard...hooray!

Cheesesteak from Taylor Gourmet - YUM!

Seth, me, and Em at a St. Patty's Day Pub-Crawl!

Me outside my childhood fav: New Big Wong :)
After a good night's rest, it was up and at 'em on Sunday for kickball practice.  I'm playing in an LGBT spring league with some friends and our team is tons of fun, so I'm really looking forward to it!  Although practice shows we still have a bit of work to do before the season, I think we will be pretty good...or at least I hope so :)  

Post-kickball I hurried off to Maria and Jay's to meet Dad, Seth, and the rest of the fam to celebrate Tita's birthday.  For those who don't remember, Tita had a stroke a few months back, but I'm happy to report that she is doing great and as fun loving as ever :)  

The fam celebrating Tita's birthday with dinner at Maria's.

Happy Birthday, Tita!
After a busy weekend, I'm happy to report that the week is off to a good start: wrapping things up before Spring Break, a visit to the law school from President Carter, AND a SNOW DAY (today!)!!!  Couldn't ask for anything more :)  In all seriousness, I'm one lucky boy and grateful most of all for my family and other words - I'm thankful for YOU!!!

President Carter pays a visit to WCL.
Well, that's about all for now - it's time to get ready and head with Seth and the pups down to Alexandria for a snow day with friends!!!  I'm going to enjoy this last bit of winter, as 72-hours from now I'll be in El Salvador...with much more to come :)