‘Reuniones’ and the Art of Organization

How I feel half the time at meetings in El Salvador. Also, someone should make a Salvadoran version of Parks and Rec.
How I feel half the time at meetings in Spanish. Also, someone should make a Salvadoran version of Parks and Rec.

“What time is our meeting today?” I asked my host dad/grandfather as I was swinging in the hammock.

“It’s at two,” he responded as he walked across the yard to the shower with a towel around his waist.

I glanced at my watch. It read, “2:03.”

I continued reading.

Arcatao is an organized community. One way this is demonstrated is through the different committees they have who meet on a regular basis. As volunteers, Katie and I attend many meetings. It is a great way for us to meet people and see what projects are going on. Here is a list of meetings, assemblies, and workshops we’ve attended so far:

Historic Memory
Women’s Association Ana-Elsi
City Council (of Arcatao and others)
Children’s Rights
Radio Sumpul
Mining Consultation
Delegation Planning
DHP Scholarship Committee
City Youth Council
Town Assembly
Women’s Assembly
Skype call with Madison
CCR/CRIPDES workshop
Department of Agriculture Project

Department of Agriculture workshop
Department of Agriculture workshop

Although the topics of these meetings vary extensively, most meetings are run about the same. We’ll use the story above as an example:

Santos and I arrived at the meeting place at about 2:30. We were the second group there. If the meeting had already started, we would have interrupted by saying, “Buenas tardes,” and walked around the table shaking people’s hands because it is rude to just sneak in quietly.

This is common here and makes sense for the culture. My hypothesis is that Salvadorans know what real stress looks like so they do not bother creating fake problems for themselves like worrying about being on time.

Once everyone arrives to a meeting (or if it is an hour past the planned meeting time, which ever comes first) we will begin. If there is not a typed agenda, someone will suggest they make one. They will discuss it, but it always turns out something like this:

  1.  Greetings and Welcoming
  2. Introductions (Katie and I have been getting really good at tag-teaming our story so we don’t say the same thing twice. One of us talks about how long we’ve been here, how long we are here until, and how comfortable we are here. The second will say what work we are doing and that we researched the war in the university and that is why we wanted to come here. This part sometimes gets an applause.)
  3. Announcements/Report “Informe”: People list this part in the beginning when they are making the agenda. They basically have a mini discussion of each point, then discuss it again after introductions.
  4. Misc./Agreements: After the “informe,” there may be group work at a larger meeting, planning of an event, or time to resolve some problems that arose during the announcements.
  5. Refrigerio: If you are lucky, the meeting is only a few times a year, or if it is a large assembly, you get a refrigerio. Katie and I spent an entire weekend in  Comosagaua wondering what this was. Now it’s all we talk about.

So, like in the U.S., meetings have their time and place. They are a great way for communities to organize and discuss what is going on.

Also like the U.S., people get side-tracked and off topic. When that happens, it is harder to follow and we might do something like this:

Haiku’s in Spanish! (and English translations not in mitre):

El aguacero //The downpour
viene de repente//comes suddenly
Estoy mojada //I am wet

Gato pequeño //Tiny cat
Te gusta comer todo //You like to eat everything
¿Por qué tan flaco? //Why so skinny?

Katie getting a full mimed spa treatment during an ice-breaker at a women's workshop.
Katie getting a full mimed spa treatment during an ice-breaker at a women’s workshop.
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