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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Houston to San Salvador - Reflections on the delegation experience

CBC member John Thayer reflects on an intergenerational encounter early on in his first trip to El Salvador for the recent elections delegation:

10 March 2009

My traveling companion, Doug Norton and I boarded Continental 826 in Houston for our first ever journey to El Salvador. The experienced members of the Central Baptist contingent, Caroline Cargo, Bernie Peterson and Andy Smith had their own travel plans, but we would all meet soon in San Salvador. The five of us were registered to have training and participate as “International Observers” during the Presidential elections on March 15, 2009.

Doug’s seat assignment was near the front of the aircraft and I proceeded to the middle to 18C, an aisle seat. That seat was occupied! I rechecked my ticket, then asked the small, Spanish-speaking woman about her seat assignment. She seemed annoyed, and moved to the window seat. My sense was that if I had at least some facility with Spanish I might have handled that better. Oh, well.

Soon enough the third passenger in our row of three showed up. He was a young man who looked to be about 16 or maybe 17 years old. I saw him look at his boarding pass over and over and then he asked to get past me to the middle seat. I asked whether his boarding pass was for the window seat and he replied that it was, but that he was okay with the middle seat and would stay there. Once settled, I asked this fellow about his trip. He gladly related that he and about 30 of his classmates from a high school in Seattle would receive training from SHARE to be International Observers in the upcoming election in El Salvador. We were going for the same purpose! Secretly I wondered whether such young people would be up to the tasks that might even challenge Cargo, Norton, Smith or certainly, Thayer. Was he even old enough to vote? Likely not. As we conversed more my suspicions were eased some.

The flight to San Salvador was to take less time than from Philadelphia to Houston, so it wasn’t long before the steward brought the immigration forms to fill out and submit to officials in the airport at San Salvador. The woman in the window seat looked puzzled as she perused the form so the steward asked whether the man in the middle would be willing to help her out. The high school student said, “Oh, sure.” My pre-judging the role as observer was gathering data feedback and my view was adjusting. Soon the student and the woman, perhaps approaching middle age were conversing in Spanish about the items on the form. Okay. I get it. This guy was more mature and skilled than your average high school junior.

As we approached our destination I asked the skilled gentleman whether he was in a total immersion program and he replied, “No, but I have had classes since I can remember. And I am getting a little tired of it.” That’s when he related some of the history of his school, Northwest School of Seattle. That’s a story worth looking into. Then we landed. It was a very smooth landing. So how did the high school folks do with the observing tasks assigned to them? Sorry. This article doesn’t cover the final answer.

John Thayer
Central Baptist Church

To learn more about the Northwest School in Seattle, click here. The Northwest School has a formal partnership with the SHARE Foundation. Through SHARE, the school conducts annual trips with students to El Salvador. A large group of the school's students took part in SHARE's 150-member elections observers delegation in March 2009.