News: Almost like home
Story by 1st Sgt. Michael Daigle
SONSONATE, El Salvador – Staff Sgt. Jaleny Lopez is in paradise. The weather is perfect, the food is wonderful and the pace of life just right. Music plays from every storefront. Everything she sees is a fresh reminder of her magical childhood in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Lopez is almost home, as she takes part in Beyond the Horizon – El Salvador 2013, a U.S. Southern Command-sponsored, Army South-led, joint-foreign military interaction and humanitarian exercise occurring here in El Salvador until late June 2013.
For the past three months, Lopez has lived and worked in this small city of 100,000 people in one of the country’s western provinces that is known for its agriculture and extremely fertile volcanic soils.
She is the noncommissioned officer in charge, or NCOIC, of a civil affairs team deployed from the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion out of Grand Prairie, Texas. The four-soldier team is working with Joint Task Force Jaguar in support of Beyond the Horizon.
Their mission has been to visit local schools and churches, markets, pupusarias, and farmacias, spreading the word about the free medical and dental clinics being offered through BTH, and to assist on the engineering sites where Joint Task Force Jaguar is building schools.
But 18 years ago, when Lopez was 12, her mother saw home differently. She thought her daughter and son should have a better life so they moved to the United States, a place where she believed more opportunities awaited her children. Life is good, but different.
“I have achieved all of the goals that my mother hoped for me,” Lopez said. “I finished high school, have my own home, and the thing that my mother wanted most for us, security.”
Her mother was mostly worried about crime and wanted her children to be safe, but she also wanted them to have economic security.
Lopez returned to San Pedro Sula for Christmas in 2007. She was able to see members of her family that she hadn’t seen since childhood and enjoy the food that she missed so much.
“It was funny going home too, because when you are young everything is so big and when you go back as a grownup all those things are much smaller than they were in your mind,” she said.
El Salvador reminds her of her former town in a thousand different ways: the fruit, the music, the weather and the people. But there are differences. In Honduras, there are more people from different races, there are more pine trees and there are no volcanoes.
“The Salvadorans always ask me where I am from, because I speak Spanish just like they do,” she said. “I tell them Honduras and they are okay with that. I think they like it that I have a similar background to them.”
And in El Salvador, on a warm humid afternoon during the warmest part of the year, life moves a little slower. There is time to stop and say hello, share details of the day’s events. There is time to enjoy life.
“We are here to train and to help the people of El Salvador,” Lopez said. “But we can learn from them too. Learn to take the time to slow down a little and enjoy what they are doing at the moment.”