Bring the Girls over – Before It’s too Late   10 comments

My husband mentioned this week that our brother in law wants to bring his daughter over to the U.S.  She is a pre-teen.  “Bringing her over” must be in quotes because of the journey it entails.  He will not fly down to El Salvador to go pick her and her suitcases up.  “Bringing her over” means getting her here the long way.

I spoke with his sister at a party last night who has a pre-teen, too. The urgency of their family situation unfolded for me.

fotonica tv - mujeres y violencia

From FOTONICA.TV: guerreras-mujeres-y-violencia-en-el-salvador/. Click on Photo to link to site.

She also wants to bring her daughter over here, because she is “metiendo en la mara” and is “mas tremenda” than my brother in law’s girl.  Her daughter is more the rebel, and starting to run with a gang.  She wants to get her out of there before it’s too late.

These cousins live in close conditions and are near each other all the time.

Running with the wrong crowd in America can mean screwing up your life – getting bad grades in school, maybe not making it to college.  In some cases it can mean getting into drugs and possibly dying.

Running with the wrong crowd (La Mara) in El Salvador is several notches higher – very often it means death down the road for your child and/or anyone who lives or spends time with them – even ones who want nothing to do with the gang.

As much as I’d like them to remedy the situation there, in this case I agree – Get the Girls Out of there Before It’s too late.


There is No Fart ( Speaking Salvadoran – Lesson One )   11 comments

A literal translation of a common phrase used by Salvadorans:  “No Hay Pedo”,  means ‘There is no Fart.”

Makes absolutely no sense but they get it and that’s all that matters.  Now you get it, too.

For us, it really means ‘Don’t Worry About it,’ or ‘It’s Ok’, ‘That’s Fine”, et cetera.    For example, my husband is going to a friend’s house and is running late to bring over beer, or there will be a change of plans, or something of that matter.  So he’ll say “No Hay Pedo.”   So don’t worry man, there’s NO FART!     HA HA!   Being a non-native Spanish speaker, I have to giggle sometimes when I think of the actual words.

Pedo is used in a other expressions, but often to mean “What’s up?” or ‘What’s going on?” with:  “Que Pedo?”

It is slang so you wouldn’t use it anywhere, just like you would not say ‘what’s up Dude!’ to an elder at a church event.  But in the street with your buds, hey –  no hay pedo.

Posted December 29, 2013 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

My brother in law   1 comment

My Brother in law prefers to sleep with a glass of water next to his bed.  He says you should always have water next to your bed because if while you are sleeping, your soul becomes thirsty, it may wander too far looking for water – and who knows what bad results could come about with that.  So keep a glass of water next to the bed, for safety sake.

Beliefs like this are surprising to most westerners, but very common among Salvadorans.

The Best Chicken I’ve had in my life   2 comments

My husband is tired of me saying it over and over again, so I’ll tell someone else now.

Last night we ate roasted chicken that our in-laws sent with the “Viajero”.  It was the BEST CHICKEN I’ve ever eaten in my life!      (The Viajero is a person who travels back and forth, bringing packages and gifts, with him or her to and from the United States and El Salvador).    My sister in law prepared it, and had roasted it with some kind of amazing spices.  I wanted to know if it was from the house or the store.  The bones were shorter, so it seems like a home-raised chicken.   They sent a roasted chicken some months back, but it was from my mother in law, and this one from my sister in law – it’s even better.

They also sent Queso Seco – a huge chunk of it, and some Alguashte – ground up pepitas, and Maize Joco – ground up toasted Maize for drinking in the morning.

We dug into the Queso Seco, which went well with our red wine – I splurged on Blackstone instead of our normal candy-tasting ‘Kangaroo’ Merlot.   Meanwhile, my husband ate almost the ENTIRE chicken.

Listening to the Radio in El Salvador   Leave a comment

In El Salvador I was spoiled with all the radio stations playing Latino music.  Just like American radio, they run the spectrum from top 40 style like in the U.S., to oldies, Christian, and public radio.  Talk radio does not seem as pervasive, but maybe that’s a good thing (no Rush Limbaugh).

Radio “La Mejor 98.9” is a top hits station, you can get all the playola you want there with songs like “Corre!” by Jesse & Joy, repeated frequently throughout the day (I still like it despite the overplay).  If you want to hear American music, there’s a couple stations with English language songs.  I can’t remember the number, but one station in the “90s” numbers plays Metal Rock – it’s good.

I loved Radio Fiesta, 104.9, with its older dance-able hits of Salsa, Merengue, and Cumbia.  I would tune in nights and dance in the kitchen to cumbia while cooking, in my ginas (sandals), my husband laughing at me.   106.5 plays Ranchera and similar genres (Radio Ranchera), like Vicente Fernandez.   One thing that would always make me giggle was hearing an “American” song start to play, then suddenly hearing it sung entirely in Spanish, often with lyrics of a different meaning.

I found Radio UCA (Universidad Centroamericana), 91.7 similar to National Public Radio, but with religious overtones.  I know it sounds weird, but a blanket of religious sentiment snows on everything in El Salvador, you get used to it.  Radio Nacional is the official public station of El Salvador, also good.  I need my fill of left-wing babble even if it’s only a murmur in the background – has a soothing effect, like womb sounds do to a newborn.

My FAVORITE time to listen to radio in El Salvador is on weekends.Radio UCA and Radio Nacional both have music shows playing oldies style Latin hits including Boleros, old Ranchera, old Salsa Vieja like estilo Cubano, Cumbias, Mambo, Cha-Cha-Cha, the whole gambit.

Here is a video sample of the programming, sampled from Radio Nacional 96.9.


We live in a major metropolitan area, but there are almost no Spanish language stations. You’d think there would be several, yet so far I’ve found one AM station.   So we went to the internet.  My husband used to listen to “Radio Chevre” streaming live.  We looked for it and found something better – a site with (almost) every station that streams live from El Salvador!!  So…


ESCUCHA RADIO VIVO de El Salvador! – Haz un click

I used to hear great Salsa vieja on Radio La Klave in El Salvador.  Then it became radio Guazapa, but the station still exists.   La Klave does not appear on the website above, so go to the link below.  ( I’m listening to La Klave right now, it’s 11:25am in El Salvador, and they’re playing a Cuban style Salsa Vieja tune !! )

Listen to Radio La Klave here  – 

Escucha radio La KLAVE en vivo de El Salvador  

Listen to Live Radio from El Salvador / Escucha Radio en Vivo de El Salvador   1 comment


Para escuchar radio en vivo de El Salvador, por el internet, sintoniza a emisoras Salvadoreñas aca:


( Radio UCA 91.7,  Radio Fiesta 104.9, Radio Ranchera 106.5, Radio La Mejor 98.9, y mas )

—-  —- —- —- —- —- —- —- —-

Para Radio LA KLAVE, haz un click por aca — La Klave


If you live in South Florida and like Spanish language and Latino music, you’re in luck.   If you live in New England, like we do, you’ll find…. one AM radio station.   So we reached out to the internet.  We found a website with (almost) every station that streams live from El Salvador!!


They have Radio UCA 91.7,  Radio Fiesta 104.9, Radio Ranchera 106.5, Radio La Mejor 98.9, etc.

La Klave does not appear on that website, so go to  to hear them.    I used to hear great Salsa vieja on Radio La Klave in El Salvador.

Listen to Radio La Klave here

The Staying up all Night on Christmas Eve Thing   8 comments

Image from – click pic to link

I somehow cannot get used to it, but know I would have been better at it had I met my husband in my twenties.  It would be old hat by now.

First I will explain that when Latinos talk about “Navidad” they are really talking about the 24th of December.   That’s the big day for them.   The 25th is really just a day after the big party to rest day.

My husband and I planned to go to a party at Maria and Javier’s house.   I asked beforehand how long he wanted to stay.  “Oh, till 5:00 am!”    Remembering that I’d woken up at about 5:30am this same morning, we decide to go in separate cars, so the “old lady” can bail when she needs to.   Party is within a longer walking distance, but Jesus can opt for that if he’s had too many and the taxis are not answering the phone.

I can’t tell you how fantastic of a party Maria always throws.   There is a GIANT casserole on the stove filled with rice – it’s about two feet wide – and I am not exaggerating.   Inside of the oven were all the “meats.”   She had – a Chumpe Pollo  (one of those insanely large chickens they have these days), a Turkey, and a Pork Roast.   They also had nice jumbo shrimp everyone was picking at.   We got there late (almost midnight) – which I learned later was really EARLY – he he he.

The party had, I thought, “thinned out” – there were about 10 people or less, and Maria’s family, including her daughter, son in law, and grandkids.

All of a sudden, Javier walks into the kitchen, dressed as Santa, with the suit and all, and even a pretend plastic pipe.   They had bought small gifts for everyone attending, and next thing you know we’re being called up to sit on Santa’s lap, Maria’s yerno taking pics with his i-pad, and we’re all cracking up at the guys who have to sit on Santa’s lap, too.   The funniest part was how Maria’s nieto (grandson) was pitching a fit about not sitting on Santa’s lap – she tried, but could not get a nice posed picture with him on Santa’s lap.   Meanwhile, the big burly guys were hamming it up, some even kissing Santa on the cheek!

I don’t know how Maria does it, but every year she buys gifts, maybe at clearance or big sales, but every SINGLE person who goes to her party walks out with a gift.   And she works at a factory sorting potatoes, onions and fruits.  You know what they say, it’s often the poorest people who are most generous.

Sometime around 1am a couple of guys walk into the party, carry instruments.  One guy was a funny character and spoke his best English with me – he was the guitarist.  The other gentleman had an accordion.  They sat in the family room and started jamming famous Mexican / Latino songs.  I recognized a couple of them, but Javier knew them ALL – and was singing along with all the words.    Those guys were AMAZING!

I chatted with a guy from San Vicente (in E.S. they call it “SanVi” for slang) about the different places I got to know while I visited and lived there, and it was nice.  His keys were absconded from him by Maria, so he was definitely there for the night, and had decided which couch he would crash on.

So I’m coming back to the point of my story, about staying up all night.  Some time after the “Dos Musicos” (2 musicians) arrived, a family and a couple of other friends of theirs walked into the party, maybe 1:30am.  The thinned out party was now building back up again.

At 2:00am I decided to bail.  Recovering from a cold, my throat was not pleased with any cold beer I doused it with, and all pooped, I said my goodbyes and left hubby and my brother in law with the rest of them.  No one was even close to leaving when I left.

Maria told me about the party the prior year – that finally at 3:00pm she went to sleep – a core set of people basically never went to bed.

I was not witness to how many people or how long they stayed up this year.   But Jesus (my husband, a great name to have this week) made it back some time around noon and crashed out completely at 1pm.

So that’s the STAYING UP ALL NIGHT on CHRISTMAS Latino thing.   My friend and I talked about it the “day after” on the 25th and he was in disbelief – “You can’t stay up all night like that”, he said “You’d have to be doing Cocaine or something.”

“No”, I explained to him, “Actually they have this amazing capacity to stay up all night without any mind altering substances because many people (mostly women) that are non drinkers / druggers are up right along with everyone, until very late.”

“It’s just a common practice of theirs”, I told him.

Latinos, at least the Salvadoran Brand, also stay up all night at wakes.   They drink coffee and eat sandwiches, the women chat with each other while the men play cards (and pull out bottles of guaro [cheap rum] , surreptitiously, to take nips at).

The tradition of staying up late, or Staying up all Night on Christmas, along with setting off firecrackers, is a Latino tradition which is almost the direct opposite of the “gringo” style tradition of stayin’ home and chillin’ with the family, eating home baked cookies in your pajamas.

“And guess what?”  I said to my friend, ” They’re going to do this all over again on New Years Eve!!”

Reflections Upon Re-Entry: life after El Salvador   8 comments

It’s been two months since my imminent return to the U.S.  I’d been in El Salvador so long, a number of people asked me “Hey, why did you come BACK?”   Yes, some people thought I was there for good.   And I do miss my dear El Salvador.  The climate, the people, the tempo of life…if I’d had a steady stream of income to live on that could also help save for retirement, and a husband not needing to return to the U.S. , well heck, I’d have STAYED.

Coming back to anyplace you haven’t been to for three years will take some adjusting to.  The first two weeks were downright WEIRD.   When you’re out of the country for several months or more, those initial moments in the airport are like entering a parallel world, or an episode of the twilight zone, and you watch what’s around you like an outside observer because it IS so foreign to you at that moment.    From those first few steps in the airport until now, two months later, I’ll recant my reflections upon re-entry for you, dear readers.

COMPLAINERS.   Americans speak their mind.  Verbal and expressive, they have few qualms about displaying opinions publicly.  I’d gotten off the plane, shuffled through immigration, made it through customs without being inspected, and was ready for a cup of morning Joe.  The reasonable priced breakfast was at Nathans, you could tell from the long line.  Us econo-travelers took our places, waiting stoically together.  But one woman, a few spots ahead of me, was starting to stir.  By the time she got up front, she started ‘stinkin’.  “Look at how long this line is!  Where is the MANAGER?”   And remarking to the waiters in line about the cashier, “She doesn’t know what she’s DOING?”   Apparently a ‘frequent’ traveler, she seemed to know more about how Nathan’s should be run than the employees working there, and of course, had a “special” preparation for her coffee, HAD to have EXTRA ice cubes, which she placed in her special coffee mug, AND the sweetener was not the brand she wanted.  The girl at the register got flustered, which made her move even slower from fumbling.  She’s probably new, I thought, and the second register was noticeably absent a cashier, which would have been a help.  The Complainer got the extra ice she wanted, holding the REST of us up even longer, and I know most of us were relieved when she made her way out the door.   Public displays like this rarely happen in El Salvador.  Number one, people are so accustomed to waiting in line that this would have been nothing to a Salvadoran, and secondly and most importantly, people tend not to chide, denigrate, or complain about service as much down there.  So back to America, home of public complaining loud-mouths.

SPONTANEOUS CONVERSATIONS WITH STRANGERS.  Americans are classic for this.   I was walking with my friend Kai in Eastie, and we suddenly became engaged in conversation with a woman who had been walking a few paces ahead of us, about what I cannot even remember.  It struck me as unusual, since people in El Salvador will greet one another, but tend to be very careful about not talking with strangers, for various reasons.   Then in October, when my sister visited, I noticed how quickly she broke out into conversation with cashiers, clerks, and people waiting in line or seated next to her.  It’s all perfectly natural here, delightful in fact, since you can meet people in so many different ways and places, but certainly not the norm for me anymore.

So many things are different at home in our living space now.

OUTDOOR SPACE?    What outdoor space?  We have none!   Excepting of a tiny ‘balcony’ about 2 feet x 5 feet, we have no outdoor space.   Thankfully there is an asphalted patio down below, where we can sit in if we feel like walking down two flights of stairs, but that’s it.  NO outdoor space.

Instead of looking at blue sky, feeling the sun and a warm breeze on your face, or watching the birds, butterflies, and corn stalks sway in the wind, you look at walls.  And furniture.  Which means, that suddenly, INDOOR SPACE becomes VERY IMPORTANT.

My husband could not understand my new ‘obsession’ with needing to paint the kitchen walls and moldings to make the room ‘tie together’ better.  The nearly neon ultra-white walls and sickeningly pastel pink moldings, intended to match the counter-top were like two sore thumbs needing removal.  It had to happen.  The walls were my new blue sky, and the moldings replaced the clouds, birds, and wind.  They are done, I feel better now.

Americans, unknowingly starved of outdoor space and an outdoor life, will make up for it in various ways, to achieve comfort and perfection within their homes.  So there’s always a project.  And the next one.  And the next.   You could stop all that nonsense by quitting your job and becoming a farmer, but it’s a hard life.

WHAT do I do with VEGGIE CUTTINGS and BONES now?
No dogs, chickens, and creatures to share our scraps with.  What to do?

WHERE ARE THE INSECTS?   Back “home” in El Salvador, at every turn I’d see a spider, a wandering ant or bug of unknown origin, inside of my house.   No sign of any bugs here in old New England.   Even when moving furniture from walls, which often yielded a sly scorpion in El Salvador.  It’s like there’s no ‘life’ in the house here – deadsville.  I did see a potato-bug looking thing in the bathroom once, and a tiny spider – few and far between exciting moments.   I miss the bugs.

HEY WOW,  BLACK PEOPLE !!    Though people in El Salvador range from white as paper European style (not very common), to various shades of tan, to very dark skinned “Indian”, seeing people of African descent is not very common.   This is in part due to geography (no Carribean cost, only Pacific), but primarily bc of racist policies and even laws.   I was surprised to learn a couple years after moving to El Salvador, from my friend Rolando, that there was an actual law which banned black people from moving to the country up until the 1980’s.  A reader on this City Data page also mentions the same:

Originally Posted by gwillyfromphilly
El Salvador once banned blacks from immigrating to their country. This was a law that was tolerated up until the 1980’s.

So when I walked through the Fort Lauderdale airport, I was almost startled to see people of African American origin, not having seen them for so long.

A CONSUMER MECCA.   It describes the United States well.  The first few days, I was insulated from it, wandering from the house to get small items from the grocery or convenience store.  Then, I took the bus to Chelsea, to make a ‘big grocery trip’ to Market basket.   While away, the shopping center had grown, and it now had a number of stores, like TJ Maxx, Radio Shack, Super Cuts, and what’s this?   Hmmm.. I went into Home Goods to check it out – first time we’ve had stores this close to us in this part of the city.     I must have looked like a small child in a large toy store, I stared at everything, which seemed so new and fancy and sparkling.  I almost needed sunglasses for the ‘new stuff glare’.   Home Goods, a “discount” goods store with pricing designed for middle and even lower income people, had more gorgeous items in one place than I’d seen in a long time.   I walked around in awe and said to myself:

“Wow.  This is like a RICH people’s store in El Salvador!”

CONVENIENCE.  Oh how I’ve missed you.  It’s everywhere here.  The world accommodates you in America, even if you have just a little bit of money.  [But you must have money, really].     From the convenience store next door, to the ability to buy almost everything I need, excepting furniture, at the grocery, it is fairly easy to acquire “things” that you need in America. One example of convenience I’ll explain is COCONUT MILK.  In El Salvador, you must go to a larger grocery store to find it.  So you’re not going to get it in the small town grocer or mom and pop ‘tienda’ down the street.  Convenience store next door.  Selling them for $1.70 or so a can.  I remember making a ‘special’ trip to the Selectos to buy them down in El Salvador, and paying up to $2.50 a can for it.  Oh Convenience, how I’ve missed you.

Heeey, no 2 hour time difference to call my family now.  Nice.

TMI?   In El Salvador, they do have radio shows talking about sexual behaviors, often an educational kind about how to avoid STD’s or even (wow, E.S. is moving up in the world) talking about birth control.  But what I heard on the radio last month went beyond this.  It was a call-in radio show, on a Massachusetts station, and not sure if broadcast nationally.  A  girl called in to talk about she and her boyfriends’ sex life.  She mentioned they used to do it like every day.  Now that they’ve been living together, it’s gone downhill.  The radio personality asked to what degree.  “A couple times a month.”   What?  Both hosts were surprised, and the discussion continued.  I clicked the button off and left the car, going into the bar for a drink and happy not to hear the rest.   I’m used to a high level of modesty now in El Salvador.   I can be frank with a few friends about how often hubs and I do certain things.  But the RADIO?   I’ve been away too long for this, its  just Too Much Information for me!

SO MANY TOYS.   I walked into the apartment on the first floor, where cute little Dylan was playing.  With his – oh so many – toys.  Don’t see a pile of toys that big in El Salvador.  Like, ever!    American Kids, be grateful.

Some things, are, well, the same.  CABLE COMPANIES.  Comcast, Tigo, two worlds apart, but how similar they really are.   Different cable company, different country.  Same pinheads.  Some things are the same, wherever you go.

AND SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE (in metro Boston, that is).   Looking out my window, on a Sunday no less, I saw a tow truck, retrieving a car across the street that must have broken a parking rule.  In sympathy for them, my stomach sank, watching the wheels pull up higher, as the crank lifted the car, ready to wheel it out of site.   Parking in the city.   Every day a new set of car owning victims.

Posted November 20, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

What Does Your Garden Grow?   1 comment

Coming back home, I was delighted to find the window box had a couple of thriving vines, greeting me with at least 5 or 6 morning glories when I sip my morning coffee.  The planters are on a 2 foot wide balcony that my husband and I jokingly call our “patio”.     Basically, this is our garden.   Three stories below, a faux sumac tree has also, amazingly, thrived, growing from a small break in the asphalted-over back patio of our house.   It’s trunk has vined and wormed into a small labyrinth, but managed to upright its branches.   An emblem of natures struggle to survive, the tree has emerged victorious, filling part of the former ‘dead zone’ with its greenness.

I now recall the unbelievable garden at our house in Los Planes de Renderos, El Salvador.  It is like night and day, but I will confess, growing is an almost effortless task for plants down there, with constant sun and rain.   Our garden in Los Planes was like a small rainforest, with numerous varieties of ferns, flowering plants, and fruit trees.   Here is a photo gallery of what was in our garden, as we left, on moving day.

Ground cover and Spreaders

The first plant on the left, the pink and green one, can be picked up at almost any Home Depot.  I planted this with the hope it would ‘spread’ and it did, via vining and reseeding itself.  Once, when we visited a friend who lives very close to the Puerto del Diablo, we passed by literally a “field” of these on the way to his house.  That day we sat at Martin’s house, in a sparsely populated neighborhood, with a view of hills on one side, filled with a ‘cafetal’, or rows of coffee trees.  The land around his house was full of banana and orange trees.  The plant in the middle is a nice ground cover whose nickname is “mani” because it resembles the peanut, or ‘mani’ plant.  On the right is a purple and green ground cover/spreader that covers ground well and grows like a weed but is best grown in the shade and not nearly as sturdy or hardy as the mani, which can withstand more sun and longer periods without water.

Flowering Viners

I couldn’t believe I was living in a home that had jasmine in it.  This jasmine was planted by the previous owner, and was winding its way up and down the stair railing, its scent welcoming us every time we came home.

The Veranera, known in English as a Bouganvilla, is a classic in El Salvador.   This plant/bush/tree is ubiquitous, seen coloring yards and entrances, and road edges everywhere.   It is a well chosen plant for the climate, as it withstands extensive dry periods and as its name suggests, blooms most during the nearly rainless six months of dry season (“verano”).

It is a peculiar plant in that, when first planted, is a simple vining bush (see orange colored veranera on the left), and during that phase can easily be ‘molded’ to fit a design.  For example, my brother-in-law trained the vines of two bushes on either side of the garage entrance to arch over it.   Later, the lower vines will thicken to become the main trunk of a tree, but the branches furthest away from the main trunk will continue dancing in the air, searching out new frontiers, with a zest for conquest.   More than once I have seen veranera vines 30 feet or higher from the ground, climbing on top of other plants as they reach towards the heavens.  Take a look at this pine tree, on the far right.  This pine is seen as you drive down the mountain from Los Planes, probably four stories high – and fully entwined in veranera vines.

young veranera vine in the garden

veranera tree near entrance of our house

a successful conquest

The Jungle

Have you ever seen bamboo close up?    Look at the stripes on this bamboo tree – they look as if they were painted on.   The edge of the neighboring property was full of bamboo, which shot up over two stories, and dropped its thin leaves into our garden.   This is a perfect habitat for the famous “chorcha” bird, whose coloring matches the yellowy beige wood of the bamboo, and we’d see them hop in and out of the bamboo branches.

Below this are a few more jungle celebrities we found  in our garden.   The infamous ‘elephant ear’ which my sister was also growing in her garden in Florida lives up to its name. The plant quickly takes over a huge amount of space with its vast leaves, and will grow child shoots around it, popping up out of the soil to unfold even more vast leaves.

Pictured in the middle is a jungly viner which climbed from the lower garden up onto the patio of the house, over nine feet higher, and vined everywhere in the patio’s edge. It fared best in the shade and took over this banister and railing.    Pictured on the right is a plant with deep green heart-shaped leaves that resembles plants I’ve seen growing indoors in North America, but much, much larger in size.    With plants like this around me, I really felt like I was in the jungle.

looks so happy, I didn’t have the heart to cut it back

China (impatiens) and Coleus – both grow like weeds in temperate climate areas of El Salvador.

These two plants were all over my garden, and literally grew like weeds.  They are very fond of the rain, shade, and ‘fresco’ (brisk) temperatures of Los Planes.   Both grow from small plants into basically large ‘bushes’ if you let them.

the ‘china’ or impatiens starts off as a cute little plant

and grows into a giant bush, exploding with flowers

Bright and Exotic.   Pictured below on the left is the gorgeous heliconia, which inhabits our old neighbor Sabas’ yard, and propagates itself with child shoots.   Sabas gave us one of the ‘hijos’, but when Don Jorge, the dueño (owner) of our house, and his helper Don Andres came by one day to groom the yard, Andres must have ripped it out.  I enjoy the overgrown jungle look which is in contrast to Don Jorge’s idea of a manicured garden.  Fortunately, the dynamic duo only came by to perform their “masacre” once every six months or so, yanking out spreading plants and ripping off gorgeous ferns growing from the brick walls.

A blue hummingbird drinks the sap from these heliconia. One day when I spoke with Sabas over the fence, the same picaflor would zip away in fear of us humans, but kept returning to drink the sap.

The croton can also live in sub-tropical climates, and I was fond of this one, as it reminded me of the crotons along the walkway in my late grandmother’s Boca Raton home in Florida.

Commonly seen trees in El Salvador
Below are trees you will see often there.  The Guarumo, to the far left, tends to grow out of rocks or on side of cliffs or steep inclines.  This one is growing right out of the wall the runs from the patio to the lower garden.  It has to be routinely trimmed back or its roots will break the wall.  The left-middle picture shows leaves of a tree that can grow very large in El Salvador.  I do not know its name, but it is has really beautiful leaves.  The middle-right photo is part of a “Pascuas” tree, and is named as such because it flowers with pretty red leaves right around Easter (Pascuas), which look like the pointsettias you see everywhere around Christmas.

This photo does not do the pascuas (pointsettia) tree justice. Check out the link below to see a yard full of these flowering trees.

Check out these Pointsettia trees in Vietnam!

The owners lined the yard with Izotes, which are easily propagated by planting their spiny bunches in the ground. The izote flower is the national flower of El Salvador

Ferns – what would a rainforest garden be without them?   Our yard was filled with at least a dozen different types of ferns, growing happily out of every crack and crevice.  Here are a few of them.

Spreading bushes?

wish I knew their name. Very good in El Salvador bc they withstand dry season well.

A heinous plastic version of these plants is found in office building lobbies and shopping malls throughout North America. I laughed every time I saw these, saying to myself, I’ve got REAL ones right here in my yard – eat your hearts out up North!

This plant grows pretty white flowers, but they are often picked before they bloom in El Salvador.  The buds, called “chufles” are eaten in soups. People steal chufle buds from these plants all the time during its flowering season.

Plants that feed you.   Last, but not least, are plants that feed you in our garden in El Salvador.   On the left is a tree with juice oranges – not too sweet and very  juicy.   A mango tree that grows large melon size mangos in the middle.   A pacaya plant on the right.  Pacaya is another wierd flower vegetable Salvadorans like to eat – it has long medusa-like strands, and is eaten dipped in egg and fried.  You find it bottled in the states.

There’s nothing like going out to pick oranges from a tree in your own yard and making juice, or just eating them straight.

The lima orange tree. Though its oranges are a bit bland, the best fruits it bore were the birds who visited. Early morning and late afternoon, birds would perch and hop around its branches, just ten feet from where our table sat on the patio. I got to see chorchas, hummingbirds, torogoz, and amazing blue birds every day.

I may have missed a few, but I think this is a fairly thorough ‘catalog’ of what we had growing in our yard in Los Planes de Renderos in El Salvador.   When we moved back to Chalatenango for a few month after that, our property there was filled with more serious agricultural plants – maize and frijoles, two major food mainstays in El Salvador, that our brother in law planted for the family to eat from.

Three Years, Three Suitcases   10 comments

I have some big news to report.   My husband and I are moving back to the United States.   In fact, our move is halfway there,  – I flew back in on September 7, and my other half – husband – arrives late tonight.

Photo by digitallatina, on

Some of you dear readers are new to my blog, thanks to the wonderful and surprising press I got at the Daily Post here at WordPress.   I didn’t have the heart to tell anyone yet, and well heck, though it’s ironic to get the PR just as we were moving back, I sure wasn’t going to turn it down!

For those who did not see it yet – I’ll toot my horn since I never do – I’m about 3/4 down the page:

El Salvador from the Inside makes it on Daily News

Also, as my husband was ready to throw my laptop in the river (a bit too much time on the computer, eh?), I did not keep you up to date during the move.

I am still coming to grips with the return “home” – as my definition of home has changed so much.

It was standard move, as much as you can call a “move” via airplane.   One detail that kept ringing in my head was:     Three Years, Three Suitcases.

Before moving to El Salvador, I was fortunate to know  someone who transported cars and large belongings, and he moved 200 pounds of my stuff on one of his trips for only $2 a pound (he doesn’t do it anymore, bummer).    For  my return, I so smartly (not!) chose Spirit Airlines for the trip back.  Not only did I get to leave at the brisk hour of 1:00 am, but I was contained to 40 pounds per suitcase.  Maybe not the best move to save 150 bucks or so.   My husband chided me as I got on and off the scale, repeatedly, for a week and a half, agonizing about leaving a book behind to bring jewelry, or shoes instead.   I laughed while talking with my husband in these recent days, as he, too, had to make ‘executive decisions’ based on weight – we decided on United for his return flight, giving him 10 more pounds a bag.

How do you move three years of your life back with you in three suitcases?   Easy, most of it is memories!   Though the decisions about what to bring back were painful, what cannot fit into the suitcase is what I will miss the most.

The constant sunshine, pretty much every day.  El Salvador beats the the “Sunshine State” of Florida hands down.  The sound of the river down the hill, and roosters crowing at intervals throughout the day and night.   The never-ending supply of cool and colorful insects and plants.  Our family, so close by, and our neighbors and friends who became family to us.  Greetings given and received by people on the street whether they know you or not – including “Buen Provecho” when someone passes your table in a restaurant as they enter.    The warmth and smiles of vendors we saw daily.   The undying happiness and generosity that lives inside of Salvadorans who have so little, and share so much without a gripe.

Is the move back to the States Permanent?

We certainly hope not.   Our plan was always to return to the States within a few years, my husband especially, for better prospects in the construction industry.   Had we set up a business, we may have stayed longer, perhaps permanently.  Retiring in El Salvador is a dream of ours.  I kept telling my neighbors in Agua Caliente (Chalatenango) that I’m going to come back and buy a cattle ranch – and “Primero Dios” (God Willing, as they say there), it will happen.   Not a bad segue down the road between life in full time employment and complete do-nothing retirement in ones late 70’s.   Why not run a farm with employees happy to help and work for you, that gives you a small income and something to do?   You can grow it as large or small as you like.

What about El Salvador from the Inside?

Well, for starters, if I pull out and tackle my backlog of diary entries starting with the “early days” when we first lived with the outlaws (err, I mean in-laws) , I’d have a good 50 entries.  So don’t worry, I still have lot’s of material to share with you.

Secondly, life in El Salvador continues, and as our family and friends there share their experiences with us, which we will share with you.  Our visits (with hopefully some extended stays!) to El Salvador will continue.  I have to go back at least once a year to maintain and renew my residency (Definitiva).

I joked many times with my husband that he can stay in the U.S. while I go back to El Salvador, and  send me remesas (remittances)!   That’s a reverse on common reality – the Salvadoran sending remittances to the gring@ in El Salvador.

So stay tuned, for more, dear readers, we’re not shutting our doors.   El Salvador from the Inside will continue, and we will keep you up to date, and may even start a series on Salvadorans who live on the Outside here in Boston and elsewhere in the U.S.

Los aviadores por my Pila   2 comments

Spanish FridayHoy es Viernes “Español”.   Que disfrutan los hispano-hablantes!

Spanish Friday today.   Post in Spanish, English version at the bottom.

Nunca es aburrido lavando por mi Pila.  Muchas personas podría pensar que es solamente otro tarea doméstica.  De hecho, para mi es una terapia; el movimiento, estando afuera en el aire fresco, y algo mas – cada dia algunos aviadores pasan por la Pila.

Cuando nos mudamos hasta el caserío por las acercas de Agua Caliente, pensé  que el nuevo mundo nuestro sería mas aburrido que el mundo de maravillas en lo cual habíamos vivido en Los Planes de Renderos, con sus lluvias constantes y aire fresco.    Pero me equivoqué.    Les muestro, queridos lectores, que hay tanto maravilla en el occidental de Chalate como la montaña donde vivíamos.

Aquí vea el colibrí, picaflor, o como dice mi vecino, el gorrión.  él  nos visita a diario.

Aun era oscura cuando el colibrí apareció. Haz clic para agrandar.

Después del amanecer, lo veo mejor. Esta foto captura el movimiento de sus alas.

Y mas luego, cuando ya calienta el aire y mas de las criaturas despiertan, veamos la mariposa.  Sus colores de negro y naranja combina perfectamente con el charral (matorrales) de chichipince nativa de El Salvador:

Si les muestro todas de las fotos de palomillas hemos encontrado aqui, no las van a creer.    Pues, las guardo para otro dia.

Que tengan un Buen Dia.


It’s never boring by my washing sink.  Many people might think it’s just another housework task.  In fact, for me it’s therapy; the movement, being outside in the fresh air – and what’s more – each day various aviators pass by.

When we moved to the neighborhood on the outskirts of Agua Caliente, I thought our new world woudl be more boring than the world of wonder in which we lived in Los Planes de Renderos, with its contant rains andf resh air.  But I was wrong.  I show you, dear readers, that there is as much wonder in the West of Chalate (Chalatenango) as the mountain where we lived.

Here see the hummingbird (and a couple other names for it in Spanish), he visits us daily.

<< Pictures of the hummingbird >>

And later, when the air warms up and more creatures awaken, we see the butterfly.  It’s black and orange colors combine perfectly with the chichipince bush native to El Salvador:

<< Pictures of the butterfly >>



A Trip to the Molienda – see how Panela is made   Leave a comment

We stopped in at the Molienda on a  trip to San Vicente one day.   I was working at Habitat, and driving with Don Nico.  We arrived before the regional office was ready, so we had a few moments to kill and this was right on the road there.  Don Nico was a fantastic guide, explaining how everything works, because when he was a boy, his family had a small Molienda of their own.

It all starts with actual sugar cane, about the thickness of a large broomstick, harvested locally. The cane branches are fed into a machine that squeezes out their juice.

(Click to Enlarge) – Check out the machinery. (Click to Enlarge) –  This is a tough job.  This guy must be hot with all that steam coming up. (Click to enlarge) – cane juice flowin’


In Agua Caliente, in Chalatenango, we often see a vendor with a small hand-crank squeezer sell cane juice in bags as a “fresco” drink.

After the cane juice is squeezed out, it flows into one or more large vats – see the pipe above where it comes right out of the can press.  Then it is boiled down in the vats, for several hours, to evaporate:

(Click to Enlarge) Here is the skimmer. (Click to Enlarge) Another steamy job.

From the start, Don Nico was telling me how we were going to “chupar la espuma,”
or drink the foam from the cane juice.   He was very enthusiastic about this, and
I definitely had to partake in the drinking. 

I didn’t care for the espuma as much as he does, but I never let on.

Here is Don Nico, chupando la espuma.  He must have loved this when he was a little kid, just look at him here with his little kid face, drinking the foam.

As usual in El Salvador, almost nothing is wasted.

After squeezing out the juice, the remaining parts of the cane have multiple uses.   The cane is given to cows to eat, like hay, and guess what fuels the fire to boil the vats of cane juice?    The post-squeezed sugar cane.

(Click to enlarge)
Here, gathered in bundles for the fire
Fuel for the fire – from the actual cane sticks. (Click to enlarge)
The cane is spread out to dry


Once the cane juice is thick enough, it is poured into molds, and left to dry:


Here is a nice group of ladies wrapping the panela in corn husks, ready to be sold:

Finished product!  Panela wrapped in corn husks. Another product from the Molienda is Batido. My mother in law loves it.  Much softer than panela, it’s eaten as a candy/dessert.


Making panela at the Moliendas is a colonial tradition that nearly died off in El Salvador after the invention of granulated sugar in the mid 20th century.   But panela and other products of the Molienda are very distinct and more healthy than processed sugar, so the tradition lives on today.  In fact, they have even formed associations, such as ACOPANELA (la Asociación de Productores de Panela), established by panela producers in San Vicente.

Here are a couple of articles, in Spanish, about the tradition of producing panela in El Salvador:       Moliendas: a sweet tradition of Verapaz    –    La Molienda – San Vicente

Posted September 20, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

Jugo de piña – BEST cumbia song ever   Leave a comment

Jugo de Piña is a CLASSIC cumbia song.  It is a latino parallel to famous rock songs like Stairway to Heaven, and also one of the BEST pieces of Clarinet music you will ever hear.   Check it out with Youtube videos below.   The group is called “Los Vaskez,” their full name, “El Super Show de Los Vaskez”   Did they deliberately misspelled the last name for fun?   They were big in the 1980s.   Though it’s a Mexican group and not Salvadoran, I must pay tribute to them as they are listened to throughout El Salvador and played on the radio a lot.

Jugo de piña  as recorded on the LP /vinyl:  
( especially check it out starting from 1:40   )

A very good live version:  

This guy is phenomenal.    When I first heard this song, I couldn’t help but think of Jewish songs with clarinets in them.    Did Rafa ever get to meet great Jewish Clarinet players (and vice-versa)?

Here is a young aspiring group called the Aten Boys doing their version of the song  – look how YOUNG that kid playing is! 

For a look at famous Salvadoran Cumbia artists, go no further than Aniceto Molina, whose famous songs like El Peluquero have been resounding in El Salvador for decades:

Some of my other favorite Salvadoran Cumbia groups are Orquestra San Vicente, and Los Hermanos Flores.     Here’s a mosaic of Orquestra San Vicente songs and with photos of El Salvador:

Posted September 13, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

Afflicted with Hope   Leave a comment

Dear Readers, I want to introduce you to a website called “Afflicted with Hope.”  It is a project that relays life stories of Salvadorans.   They are positive and beautiful, and I encourage you to visit their site; you will enjoy these biographies.

I will let these quotes from Caroline and Don tell more about their project.

“After returning from my initial trip to El Salvador, I allowed time to assimilate the Salvadoran experience and let my meandering thoughts that were percolating deep within me begin to take hold and gel into a plan.  The feeling that kept haunting me was to create an oral history project of some of the intriguing life stories people had shared with me in order to 1) preserve them for posterity and 2) raise the awareness within readers who would otherwise know nothing of these people.  I wanted these stories to be told in first person.” – Caroline J. Sheaffer

“It is our hope that the details of each life, forcefully and truthfully told, will allow you to see the spirit of the teller.  There is neither an attempt here to offer a prescription to the world you will see, nor a polemic to the unfairness that life can bring.  The world seen through the lens of the lives here told will painfully spell out resentments, negativity, pitfalls of bitterness, wounded pride and more.  Against this backdrop you will see lives that kept on growing in goodness, service, generosity, and love beyond belief.  In hearing these stories, I came to understand the saying “to be born Salvadoran is to be afflicted with hope.” – Pastor Emeritus Donald J. Seiple

Posted August 21, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

Jilote, Elote, Mazorca – las fases del maíz   3 comments

Spanish FridayIt’s Spanish Friday today.   Post is in Spanish, English version at the bottom.

Para la gente que provienen de países latinoamericanos, esta entrada será graciosa, porque (creo que) la mayoridad ya sepan bien de las fases del maíz.   Quizás para algunos que creaban en la ciudad, será algo nuevo.  Ojalá que sirve educacional, o por lo menos divertido.

Después que la plata de maíz crece suficiente, empieza dar el fruto.  Aparecen los jilotes, que son mas pequeños que el elote.  Esta verdura aparece en Norteamérica en muchos platos de comida china, y se llama “baby corn.”   Les diré la verdad, los jilotes son mucho mas sabrosos cuando sean frescos; creo que todo los “baby corn” que he comido eran de lata.  Aquí en El Salvador nos gusta comer los jilotes en una sopa de gallina india. Tambien se cocinan en un guiso.  Ayer hice un giuso con pipianes, y luego mi esposo aggrego los jilotes de la milpa alrededor de nuestra casa.  Bueno, aunque la milpa es jodida este año, por lo menos hemos comido algunos jilotes y elotes bien frescos.

Cuando la milpa en El Salvador aun esta verde, se comen el elote del maiz.  Aunque el uso alimentario mas mayor de las plantas de maiz el para maiz seco,  los paisanos acá disfrutan mucho comer los elotes antes que se doblan la milpa.  Lo mas común manera de comer el elote es asado, con limón y sal.  También se meten en sopas.

En varios lugares por el internet he encontrado paginas que refieren a un sentido intercambiado entre ‘elote’ y ‘mazorca’, sobre esta parte del maíz.  Aqui en Chalatenango, El Salvador, cuando la gente dicen “mazorca,” están refiriendo al elote maduro, que se pondrá a maíz en granos, para hacer masa, y echar tortillas o tamales.  No se sacan la mazorca hasta después que se dobla la milpa.

Porque se Dobla La Milpa?
Los agricultores doblan la milpa, o sea, doblan cada planta de maiz cuando ya esten maduros todos de los elotes.  Se hacen eso para prevenir la pudrición del maiz.  Si no se dobla la planta, los aguas de la lluvia caerán encima de las mazorcas, y se quedaran mojados, y de alli se pudren.  Doblando las planta deja que el agua cae al suelo, no atrapado dentro de los elotes / mazorcas.

Vicio – no estoy segura del ortografía, pero he oído esta palabra de personas Salvadoreñas cuando les explique que pasó con una espiga de un maíz enfrente de nuestra casa.  En vez que ponerse como espiga normal, con gránulos pequeños, los gránulos crecían hasta muy grandes, apareciendo como granos de maíz, y algunos agrandaron al tamaño de un fin de dedo.  No encuentro esta palabra por el internet, entonces sea palabra de los lugareños o de náhuatl, pero si existe la palabra y la verdura. Se dicen que los Mexicanos comen la espiga cuando crezca así.

—  English Translation —

For people who come from Latin American countries, (I think) this post will be funny, because most of them already know the phases of maize well.  Maybe for some who grew up in the city, it will be something new.  I hope that it serves to be educational, or at least entertaining.

After the maize plant grows enough, its starts making its fruit.  Baby corn appear, which are smaller than corn.  This vegetable appears in North America in many Chinese plates.  I’ll tell you the truth, the baby corn have much more flavor when they are fresh; I think all the baby corn I have eaten were from a can.  Here in El Salvador we like to eat these young corn in a nice soup of free-range chicken (called ‘gallina india’, a nickname for chicken from the house, or free-range).  They are also cooked in stews/sauces. Yesterday I made a saucy dish out of pipianes (similar to zucchini) and later my husband added the baby corn.  Well, although the milpa is screwed this year, at least we’ve eaten some ears of fresh and baby corn.

When the cornfield in El Salvador is still green, fresh corn is eaten.  Though the primary food use for maize plants is  to generate dry maize,  the countrymen here enjoy eating fresh ears of corn before the cornfield is folded over.  The most common way of eating the corn is grilled, with lemon and salt.  They are also put into soups.

In various places on the internet I’ve encountered pages that refer to te and mazorca as  interchangeable meanings for this part of the maize plant.  Here in  Chalatenango, El Salvador, when people say “mazorca” they are referring to the mature ear of corn, which will become maize in grains, to make cornmeal, to cook tortillas and tamales.  They do not take the mazorca off the plant until after the cornfield has been “folded”

Why is the Cornfield folder over?
Farmers “fold” the cornfield, that is, they fold each maize plant over when the ears of corn are mature.    They do this to prevent the maize from rotting.  If the plant is not folded, the rain will fall on the ears of corn, they will stay wet, and then rot.    Folding the plant lets the water fall to the ground, so it is not trapped inside the ears of the corn.

Vicio – I’m not sure of the spelling, but I’ve heard of this word from Salvadorans when I explained what happened with the tassel on a corn plant in front of our house.  Instead of becoming a normal tassel, with small grains, the grains grew to be very big, looking like grains of corn/maize, and some enlarged to the size of the end of one’s finger.  I don’t find the word on the internet, so then its a local word or one from Náhuatl, but the word and the vegetable do exist.  They say that Mexicans eat the tassel when it grows like that.

Garbage Wierdness   4 comments

Just about everywhere you live in El Salvador, you must get accustomed to weirdness with water, garbage, or both.  When we were living in Los Planes, I got used to the sound of the bell ringing the garbage truck riding in.  There was no set day for them to come, so when you heard the bell, it was a scramble for the bags and mad dash for the door, and hollering “ya voy” (I’m coming) to they wouldn’t pass me by.  I joked to myself that like many things in El Salvador, if you don’t have someone in the house all day, you’re S.O.L., and gee what woul I do if I were working full time?  Well that day came, and the garbage bags piled up in the corner for that special moment when the stars were aligned and I happened to be home on a weekend day at the same time they happened to pass by.  Of course, our garbage didn’t have the stench it would have from sitting for days like it would back home, because all of the organic material like fruit and veggie peels were gifted to the garden.  Meat and bone scraps were saved in a tub int eh freezer of rhet dogs on our visits to the in-laws.  Heck, all of the scraps in the garden attracted animals like possums, but I say all the better.  Why have a garden when you can have an ecosystem?

What to do with you now that you’re empty?

Now that we’re back in “el campo” (the country) my husband remarks that it’s nice to have the chickens to feed the veggie scraps too.  Agreed, I say, what a shame all the food that gets tossed into garbage trucks to go needlessly wasted to the dump.  As I’ve mentioened before, at least among the poor and middle class in El Salvador, very little gets wasted.  But one downside to garbage collection in the country is there IS NONE!  That’s right, no one comes to pick it up.  You are left to your own devices, to sort, pile, and burn your own trash and Lord help you if you’re downwind from burning plastic.   If it’s made of metal, you can usually get it off your hands by selling it to the “Chatarra” guy who wheels into the hood with his truck and loudspeaker, rattling off the scrap metal items and old TVs and radios he’ll trade you for a handful of coins.  Cheaper broken down items like crappy old phones – who knows?  My husband got rid of our old phone because my mother-in-law gave it to my sister-in-law as a gag gift.  Don’t know what she did with it.  The most troublesome item to eliminate from the household is broken glass or non-returnable glass bottles.     Anyone have a neat craft idea for this so I don’t have to break and bury broken glass?  Or shall I goto Nueva Concepcion and discreetly throw them quickly into a public can?


“Uncle Gito” as I like to call him (my brother-in-law), fumigando el monte in our backyard. Crazy son of a gun planted cornstalks almost up to our door.


Right after the rains begin, all over El Salvador one can see men sporting “fumigación” gear.  The “agricultors” wear a big plastic jug like a backpack, with a pump and hose attached, to spray insecticide and kill weeds and growth to prepare their crops for planting.

My father in law explained the process to me, as I did not understand if it was good or bad for it to rain right after the fumigación.  He says if it rains right after you fumigate, it helps with the “quemando” (burning) of the “monte” (weeds).  He said one chemical is so powerful, it is “criminal” – almost illegal – you have to wear a bandana on your face or it will poison you while you spray it.  He said its name, and it was something like alcitran, or alcatran.  Sounds almost like Alcatraz.  I think I’ll stay away from it if I ever decide to fumigate monte.

After you kill the weeds by “quemando el monte con fumigación” (burning the weeds with the weed killer/planticide) you are ready to plant.


Each year around this time, an army of pink and green shirts marches home from the fields to eat a late lunch at the end of their workday.   Yesterday (May 17) and the day before, my husband and the rest of the crew returned home with big rose colored spots on their shirts, rose on their trousers, and all over their hands.  They each carried a long stick they were using to pierce the earth before laying the hot pink maize seed in it.  It’s colored because it has been pre-treated with chemicals like fertilizer and insect-kill.  There are pink seeds and green ones, and I was told they are different treatments.  It’s government subsidy maize for planting, and nearly all farmers I know of out here are eligible to receive it.  The color also helps people to know, visually that it’s treated seed, so they don’t mix it up with harvested maize and cook it.  A couple years back a news story many people in El Salvador will probably remember came out.  A family was so poor and hungry they tried to wash the government maize as best they could and used it for food, and sadly, two of their children died.   Today’s “siembra” (planting) crew consisted of my husband, two brothers-in-law, my nephew, and 76 year old father-in-law.  My father in law Cletro is in better shape than 90% of the office tubbies my own age.  He could have given Jack LaLanne* a run for his money.


This is the final part of the start-up cycle for the maize crop.  Abono is fertilizer, and farmers here walk around with a sachel on their waist and spread fertilizer onto their crops by hand.   Thinking about how so much is mechanized back home with giant machines, it’s amazing to see how much is done here by hand.  There are probably farmers here with large fields who do work with large machinery, but since labor is so cheap – around $8 a day for a farm hand, it might be a toss up between the machine and the man.

“Agricultors” will repeat both fumigacion and abono at various points during the growing season, as need sees fit.


Another Spanish word to add to the list:  Sequia, which means drought.  We too, are having a drought this year in El Salvador, but maybe not as bad as the one they’re having in the United States.   From my observation it’s been quite bad (and I’m typing this entry from May in on July 25, so can say it’s been spotty with rain until now).  It was raining right around the time of the siembra, but did not stay steady.   From there it would go three, sometimes four or five days without raining.   That’s not a good way to start a crop.  It’s gotten a bit better in the past few weeks, sometimes going two or three days without rain, but it’s still quite dry.   Gito, my brother-in-law, planted the milpa (cornfield) with all enthusiasm, but probably a bit too early for the weather conditions.   The idea was to be able to have two crops and harvests this year.  With two crops, you may end up with dryness at the beginning of the first crop, and soggy wetness towards the end of the second crop.  But it’s often a crapshoot, and this year is definitely an anomaly because it should be raining almost every night and it’s not.  So the price of maize that went back down to a comfortable place after it skyrocketed in late 2010/early 2011 will probably come back up again this year, too.   Many of the crops are already “jodidos” (screwed) but  there’s always a chance of a second crop – let’s see what happens for the remainder of the rainy season.

 >> Note: this post is from a journal entry written on May 18th, 2012.

* I just read the bio of Jack Lallane on Wiki.  An incredible guy, he lived to be 96 years old, and did his regular 2 hour workout routine until one week before he died.  It looks like he was practicing a modified version of the raw food diet, which has become popular in the last several years.

Real Estate Fraud in El Salvador – in our neighborhood   6 comments

Photo from La Pagina

It happened here, in our innocent rural neighborhood in Chalatenango.  We’d heard about real estate fraud in the papers and on TV news, and not long ago even the mayor in La Palma was accused of being involved in a string of real estate scams.   Television newscasters reported about and warned of real estate fraud in El Salvador, but it was always “someone else.”

Today the problem hits home for us, as a neighbor who is also distant family of ours was defrauded of $50,000, and lost close to that much more in what he invested in a property he bought in our neighborhood.

What we knew up until a few days ago:    Last fall, the family of “Freddy” (I’ll give him this pseudonym) purchased a set of two side-by-side lots that were a “ganga” (bargain).   The owner’s mother-in-law walked around the neighborhood and visited families whom she knew could afford to buy them, and even came to my in-law’s home offering my husband the two lots for $40,000.   “I wish I had that kind of money,” was his response.  She then spoke with Freddy’s family and made the offer, upping the price to $50,000.   They went for it.  This was perfect timing, as Freddy was planning to return to El Salvador soon, and wanted his own home.

The purchase was done quickly, as it was such a steal and they didn’t want to lose the opportunity, not to mention how close the two lots are to Freddy’s parent’s and brother’s house.  It was perfect!

Yesterday, my husband learned that the sale of these two lots was a scam.  Here is the story as he relayed it to me:

A man in our neighborhood who was a cattle/dairy rancher owned or owns a large piece of land – enough for  60 – 70 “ganado” (livestock) to graze on it.    He is a Christian, and so decided to donate a small piece of his land to a church about five years ago.   A church and house for the pastor to live in were built there.  The cattle rancher was a regular parishioner at that church.   About two years ago, he sold all his cattle and moved to the United States when his family petitioned for his residency.  After he moved, the church began to lose attendance.  The pastor had no other form of income than the donations and “diezmo” (tithe) he and his family were living off of.   Things had gotten bad so he decided he better close up shop.    He called up a local attorney and the two of them drafted two “escritura” (deeds) together.

The pastor and his family offered the two plots with those deeds together as a deal – one plot had the pastor’s house on it, and the other had the church.   The two plots are the size of a modest suburban home with a yard around it in the United States.   Considering they had structures already built on them, this was a good deal for both the land and building.    The purchase was ideal for Freddy since he did not have to build a house, but only make renovations.  On the church side, though, he dumped a ton of money into it, to run a business.   He invested probably $40-50,000 after the land/home  purchase between renovations on the house and the major changes to set up his bar/restaurant, which he opened less than two months ago, and is a raving success.

The deeds the pastor and the attorney drafted had one major problem:  they forged the owner’s signature.   Though the owner had donated the land, had NEVER gave them any kind of paperwork or a deed.  He was simply allowing the church to build and hold its masses for the congregation on his property.  Nothing more.  Someone must have called him to ask  what happened to the church, which has become the home of someone else, with a very popular restaurant/bar beside it.

The owner, who was not even present in El Salvador at the time of the sale, said that was not his signature on the deeds.   The pastor and his attorney are now in jail.

Freddy’s family had an attorney look at the documents and said they were legitimate.  I do not know if this was before or after their ‘rushed sale’.  I would like to unearth more information to see how responsible the second attorney may be.   I’m thinking he may have glanced at them after their hasty purchase, but as the story unravels and the ‘chambres’ (gossip) run wild through our neighborhood, we’ll discover more about this, plus we are friends with the family.   Along with following it in the local news, if they decide its worth covering the story.

So, buyer beware:  When buying property in El Salvador make SURE that the deed is legitimate.  I do not know all the ins and outs of buying property, but I learned that an “escritura publica” (public deed) exists here, but that also an escritura privada (private deed) exist.   Where possible, do your own do diligence and get as much public information as possible, even if you’re working with a trusted lawyer.  Never hurts to double-check in case they happen to overlook something.

The agency where property deeds are registered in El Salvador is the Centro Nacional de Registros.  (National Records Center).

I’m hoping there will be some type of a happy ending for Freddy and his family.  I asked my husband if the owner and they know each other.  “Do they get on well?,” I asked.  “No,” my husband said.  Oh boy.

Mi Sobrina tuvo un niño   Leave a comment

Spanish FridayIt’s Spanish Friday again, readers.  I hope you enjoy this post.   English version of post here.

Hoy será el cuarto día que vamos al Hospital Nacional de Nueva Concepción.  Martes dejé mi sobrina ahí, a las 3 de la tarde, porque ella tenía dolores empezando a las 1 de la mañana, y decidimos a llevarle al hospital mejor.

Hace días la Carmen tenia lista su “mochilla,” para llevar al hospital con todo de sus necesidades mientras estar allí, y allí estábamos, juntándola para el gran momento.

Lo bueno es que no era tan precisa; aunque sentía dolores no eran tan fuertes todavía.  Llegamos con tiempo.   Le dirigió a la Carmen a un cuarto de examenes.  El Doctor le chequeo y le decía que parece empezará a dar luz en la madrugada.   “Hmm,” yo le decía a ella, “faltan muchas horas.” (solo eran las 2 de la tarde cuando el doctor le decia eso).

Mientras esperar, una enfermera me llevó a la mesa de información al frente del hospital para buscar las tarjetas de visita.  Dan dos tarjetas a cada familia.  Luego me hicieron firmar un papel como testigo y de ella.    Llegó el momento llevarle ella a la sala de partos.   Un trabajador del hospital caminaba con nosotras y cuando llegamos a la puerta el me dijo, “Solo hasta aquí.  Ud. No puede entrar en la sala de partos.”  Le di un abrazo a Carmen y le dije “Buena Suerte!”

Estaban dos hombres enfrente de la sala de partos.  Uno de ellos, pobrecito, me explicó que el había pasado tres días en el Hospital esperando a su esposo tener su bebe, él dormía por bancos dentro del hospital y solo salió una vez.  El viaje es mas que una hora por cada lado, en bus, y aunque no puede estar en la sala de partos, parece que él no quiere perder el momento de estar allí cuando nazca el bebe.  Que buen esposo.    El me preguntó si mi sobrina “Es Primeriza?”  “Si,” le conté a EL, es la primer niño va a tener.  De la mía también, me decía.

Miercoles:  Llamamos al hospital el próximo día, y me dijeron que llame de nuevo después de la una.  Hable de nuevo con ellos, y me dijeron que ya tuvo el niño y estaba en recuperación.   Mi cuñada y yo anduvimos por el hospital por la segunda hora de visita, a las 4 de la tarde.  Lastimosamente, no pudimos ver a la Carmen.  La hicieron cesárea, y no estuvo lista tener visita.

Robé esta foto de ella; lo siento Carmen, no podía resistir.

Jueves:  Me fui por el hospital de nuevo, pero sola.  Mi cuñada no podía ir por estar enferma.  Cuando llegue a la área de recuperación de mamas, vi la Carmen dormida con su niño nuevo.

Carmen estaba en un cuarto grande con 5 otras mujeres, todas esperando dar luz.  Casi todas estaban muy cerca de dar luz, menos una, que tenia 2 meses de embarazo, y no podía comer sin enfermar cada vez.  Me noté un momento muy bonito.  Los papas de una mujer joven estaban visitándole a ella.  La joven acabó de bañar, y su mama estaba peinándole el pelo de su hija – tiene pelo muy bonito.  Yo podía ver que la mama le cuida muy bien de ella, quizás le adora a ella.  Como Americanos, somos tan independientes que casi no se ve cosas así, como mamas peinando el pelo de su hija adulta.  No era nada de fea.  Era bien cariñosa, y me gustó.  Había un plato de comida por le mesa a la par de la cama de Carmen.  Las otras mujeres me decían, dígale ella que coma su comida, tiene que bajar la leche.  Eso hice, pero Carmen no quería mucha comida.    Estaba muy cansada, muy fuera de normal, y parecía un poco drogada.  Me daba lastima sabiendo que la rajaran así, tan joven (solo tiene 16 años) como es.

Pues, Carmen me explicaba la historia de su parto.   Como el doctor decía el martes, Carmen empezó a dar luz alrededor de la una de la mañana.   Pero no la atendieron, me decía, y solo había una enfermera con ella durante esas horas.  Me decía que empujaba mucho, pero en niño no bajaba.  Estaban dos doctores, uno que quería hacer el parto cesárea, y el otro, no.  El que no quería cesárea intentó a empujar el niño por abajo, pero no podía ayudarle a ella.  En el fin, Carmen me dijo, la hicieron la cesárea a las 4 de la tarde.  Que raro, pensé yo, porque cuando hablé con alguien del hospital poco después de las 2 de la tarde, me dijeron que ya tenia el niño.   Quizás ya decidieron hacerle la cesárea.

De todas maneras la mama y su niño nuevo, que se llama “Andy” estaban bien.   Nos mudamos a otro cuarto después, donde estaban 5 otras mujeres con recién nacidos.   Yo pasaba un rato mas allí, fascinada con el bebe tan pequeño.  Lo bueno es que parece contento.  Carmen me dice que tiene ojos grises, pero no los podía ver – mientra que estuve allí, nunca los abrió.   Creo que Andy no va a ser chillón, no lloró mucho dentro aquella hora y media que pasé con ellos.

Viernes la vamos a traer a la Carmen y Andy para la casa.

Will you help write history for El Salvador?   2 comments

Readers, can I ask you for help today?

I recently learned of a mother-daughter team who began working over five years ago to document an important part of El Salvador’s history.

They are Inez and Ruby, and they are documenting the stories, as told by the families, of people who disappeared before and during the civil war here.   The organization behind this effort is CoMadres, which stands for the Committee of Mothers, one of the first human rights organizations in El Salvador.

Ruby and Inez have come to El Salvador on numerous trips for this project.  They are in the final stages of the research for this tremendous project, and are fundraising to support this work, which will help pay for airline flights and supplies to complete two trips this year.

They are close to their goal.  Can you help them reach it by making a donation?   They have a few weeks left before their fundraising campaign ends:

Learn more about the project, Writing the history of CoMadres, at their website.

Co-Madres was initiated by a group of women in the 1970s in response to extreme political repression and violence. They have struggled continuously for human rights for all in El Salvador and internationally.
Ruby visited their office in 2005 to learn about their work. When they suggested that perhaps one day someone would help them write their history, we decided to be that someone — despite having no experience or formal training. This blog chronicles the joys and tribulations of that effort.

Someone will be home, right? (Agárrelo el suave hasta mañana)   Leave a comment

In El Salvador, it’s important to remember a blanket assumption that applies to most deliveries and service visits to your home:

There is always someone at home

This means that garbage trucks come by without any regular schedule, and the water turns on at an hour that may not coincide with your non-working hours.   Bills get dropped off at your home literally three days before you are supposed to pay them.   Things are scheduled for a specific day, but not necessarily a specific hour, but that’s because someone will be home, right?

Companies delivering appliances or furniture come by “whenever”.  I’ll never forget how aggravated I was when our refrigerator needed servicing.  It was a brand new fridge we had just bought at a “Comercial” in Chalatenago, but it was not cooling at all.  They were to come by “tomorrow” but they never made it.    “Oh, there was an issue, and they couldn’t make it,” they said when we asked what happened.  “Someone will be there tomorrow morning.”    When morning became afternoon, I called the store where we’d bought it, and they said that “Primero Dios” they’ll make it, which means, “God Willing.”    “Primero Dios?” I said, all huffy and uptight (I was a newly-moved here expat gringa), “This has nothing to do with God,” I said.  “Get them over here, my food is ruining!”   The fridge fix-it crew did finally make it later that afternoon.

I’ve calmed down considerably since then, but at that moment I was so annoyed with them behaving like I had all day to wait around for them.  But it goes back to that greater assumption people make that either you don’t work, live in a house with many people – at least one of whom is not be working, or you have a “muchacha” who can let them in (muchacha is the Spanish word for girl, but here in El Salvador, it’s used to mean a maid).

Fortunately, when I was working full time, no major emergencies or deliveries were required.   My husband’s schedule was more flexible so he could be home if a landlord or housing related issue came up.    We figured it out.  It’s all part of re-adjusting to a different mode of life in Latin America, which has a good side to it:

Agárrelo el suave

Take it easy, man.  Don’t get so uptight, because as annoying as it is to hear someone say they won’t make it until tomorrow, it’s just as annoying to deal with an ants-in-the-pants person with high expectations bitching to the high heavens about it being put off until tomorrow.    But guess what?   For most people, tomorrow ALWAYS comes.  Agárrelo el suave is a nice change in attitude compared to the typical American response, which is to fret and stamp feet at the slightest inconvenience one must endure that cannot be resolved within moments. It’s annoying for Salvadorans (and Latin Americans in general) to be around Americans when they are in that state. When you learn to separate wants from needs, and luxuries from necessities, there are a less appointments and requirements, and you can begin to take it easy, and relax.

more here


How to Deal with the Ministry of Health in El Salvador   Leave a comment

Cow in a Creek

Vaca en Quebrada / Cow in Creek – rural El Salvador, Oct 2006, Jen Bauer

Como Manejar El Ministerio de Salud en El Salvador.

This is an instructive article on how to deal with the Ministry of Health in El Salvador.

I’ll start with a definition of  “Gallinaza” (pronounced guy-ee-nah-sah).  Every Salvadoran knows what it is, but gringos will know it best as Chicken Sh*t.  OK, so in the rural areas of El Salvador, near farms, you see a lot of flies.  This happens when one lives near livestock, farmers and agricultural people are accustomed to it.

There are certain seasons and times of year when the “fly problem” is worse than others, depending on heat and other conditions.  BUT – there are other times when an acute and painful infestation will take place.  This is often a result of farmers or ranchers “tirando Gallinaza” – discarding the crap on the side of the road secretly, in the dark of the night, or using it as fertilizer on their land, out in plain view, for everyone to see.

Our story focuses on the use of Gallinaza as fertilizer.   There’s a family of cattle ranchers who live close to my husband’s neighborhood in Rural Chalatenango (Chalate).  Ironically, but not surprisingly, they are related to the infamous “medio millon,” a notorious narcotrafficker and general malevolent person (persona malisia) who was trouble even in his youth.  (Yes, Medio Millon grew up in my husband’s neighborhood and my husband has some colorful stories about him). But anyway, let’s get back to my story.

These brothers own HUUUUGE tracts of land – we’re talking ridiculous in size – that they ranch on.  Some of this land was acquired during the epoch of President Duarte, who was more of a socialist style president. He essentially gave land that was not in use by various rich owners, some of them high up military members who did not use it – to local people, for agricultural use.  This is how my father in law got his ‘parcela’ and how these ranchers got most of their land, indirectly (the story of how they actually got their land is also colorful, but I won’t post it here.  ‘Nuff said ’bout them in this article alone).   Their ranch is SO big, my husband says, that 5 or more adult cows die every day there of natural causes, and about 10-15 calves (chibos) also die.   This gives you an idea how much cattle they have.

To grow hay better, they fertilize land with Gallinaza, since its cheaper than fertilizer – and who knows, maybe works better.   My husband says its about gluttony, that rich people always have to have more – and likens it to a very drunk man taking yet another shot of alcohol, when he least needs it.

My in-laws neighborhood is a little ways down the road from the ranch, on the other side of the river, and let me tell you – when they throw that chicken sh*t down, its like the seven plagues of Egypt – you’ve never seen so many flies in your life.  For a gringa from a happy middle class upbringing, it’s grossifying.  So I said to my husband, if they live down the road, what’s it like for the people who live close by?!

And those  neighbors began to complain.   So, El Ministerio de Salud came out to check on the situation, and paid the ranch a visit.

My husband spoke with some of the ‘corraleros’ – farm hands on the ranch – on his recent visit to El Salvador last month.  According to them, this is how things went:   officials from the ministry of health arrived, and a steer was slaughtered immediately.  The brothers had it roasted and put together a nice welcome lunch for their visitors.  They enjoyed this wonderful meal, and as a going away gift, were given a live steer to take back home with them.  What nice guys these ranchers are!

So that’s how the Gallinaza problem was ‘taken care of’.   A friendly visit,  delicious lunch, and a handshake.

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend   Leave a comment

Dug this photo up from the archives.

Was visiting El Salvador at the time, before I even lived there, and thought it was the funniest thing to see these two turkeys gobbling in unison.   Didn’t know that about them, but that’s something they do.   Most of you ate a distant cousin of theirs a few days ago.  They are quite beautiful in person, with their coloring.

This shot to the right shows the two male turkeys and a female in the middle: 

Going Shopping! Comparing prices, U.S. versus El Salvador   Leave a comment

Here is another cost of living article, noting differences between El Salvador and the U.S.

I’m taking you with me on a “Tour du Store”.  We’ll walk through the aisles together, and I’ll point out things I bought, and saw, and tell you how it compares to  products and pricing in El Salvador.

Our shopping trip takes place in the Market Basket, a fantastic grocery chain in New England, famous for its low prices and international product selection.  They beat the pants off the stupid Publix my mom goes to in Florida, that store would never have my business.  Pics are from late September, 2012.

Mmmm BUTTER. In E.S. it’s $1 (a dollar) a stick,
usually sold a stick at a time.   67 cents a stick in
U.S.   Are Dairy Subsidies helping this?
EGGS.  Same or More $ in El Salvador.
Package of 15 about 2 bucks or 2.25+ in E.S.
Farm fresh at mom-in-laws 8 for a dollar – exact price
as seen here.

There’s a “weird” egg thing I finally figured out in El Salvador.  Eggs are sold in stores at room temperature, which I always thought was, especially when the air temp is 80 or higher in most places there.   Here’s WHY:   if you refrigerate eggs and then stop refrigerating them, they spoil fast.  People in El Salvador usually have smaller fridges or no fridge at all, so stores sell them at room temp to accommodate this.   Eggs will also spoil fast if you get them wet, according to my husband.

Here are the CHICKENS that laid those eggs.   Based on this grocery trip, chicken in El Salvador costs MORE.   At Super Selectos grocery stores in El Salvador, as of August of 2012 and long before that, the cheapest price for “leg quarters” I could find was 1.49 or so.   The picture above shows that here in the U.S. I find them for 20 cents cheaper.    Now, you CAN find cheaper chicken at the MARKET in El Salvador – look for the “Pollo Indio” there, for probably 1.25 or 1.30, so that is one option.  MARKET food in El Salvador is lots cheaper than the grocery store, so make use of it when you can.

I mentioned the Chicken pricing difference to my husband, and he reminded me that in El Salvador the price of chicken feed is probably more, comparatively.    Corn is a big component of chicken feed, and most people know about the corn subsidies we have in the U.S.   Also, farmers in general get a lot of assistance from the government in the U.S.

Personally, I think mega farm factories need not have so many subsidies, but that’s a discussion that belongs on someone elses blog, so I’ll stop there. Ya’ll can watch Food, Inc. and Forks over Knives on your own time.

YOGURT – same price in El Salvador.   It’s not quite mainstream in El Salvador, and I’m not sure it’s produced there if at all, so the Yoplait yogurt pictured here has an exact same price and quality corollary in E.S. called ‘Yes’.   Say yes to yes if you like yogurt, it’s good.    TUNA – wow, what a great price the U.S. has – on sale for 80 cents a can.  I NEVER found Tuna for less than $1 a can, and almost always 1.25 or 1.50, and often “mixed with vegetables” at that price.   The poor man’s best protein option in El Salvador is still, by far, BEANS.

Let’s make a sandwich and have a snack.    PACKAGED HAM  – about the SAME prices as El Salvador.   I used to buy packs of ham down there for around 3 bucks each, and they were ‘higher end’.  “DANI'” brand ham, which is not as good as this Market Basket kind, was 2 dollars and change, about the same as this 8 oz bag of ham, $2.29 at MB.   CHEESES of European or American Style kind, as in hard or sharp tasting, cost MORE there.   This Muenster cheese seen here is cheaper > in E.S. and you’re also getting the “store” brand discount, $2.99 for 10 oz, so about 5 bucks a pound.  El Salvador?  $7-9 a pound, much MORE for Muenster cheese.   Because it’s not made there far as I know so you’re paying for an imported product.   Hard sliceable style cheeses are hardly ever made there, and when so, a niche product.  There’s a store called “Greif” or something like that which makes cheeses and specialty packaged meats.  European food, and European style prices.   The cake on the far right is more of an American-style sweet, I found cakes the same size for around $2.50 or $3.00 in El Salvador.   Most Salvadorans eat “pan dulce” which are bakery-fresh cookies sold at the grocer or often on the back of trucks or bicycled around the neighborhood.

Onions and Potatoes.  SAME price in El Salvador.  American price =  about the same as the “veggie” truck in El Salvador.  Market price in El Salvador would be slightly less.    I was surprised to see I was getting about the same amount of vegetable’s worth for a $1 as I would back in El Salvador.

Bathroom needs.  El Salvador’s pricing is EXACTLY or ALMOST the same!   Shampoo and other GROOMING products offer no 3rd world discount, so be prepared.   Colgate – manufactured in Latin America, and maybe right there in good old Salvy-land, is sold for pretty much the same price as here – I don’t remember seeing regular size tubes of toothpaste for < $1 in El Salvador.    TP – the “Nevax” brand I bought in El Salvador was somewhere between the Quilted Northern and Angel Soft brands here in terms of quality, and cost about $2.50 – 2.70 or so, depending on the store in El Salvador.  Sometimes I’d catch a sale at $2.25 a package, and would buy extra .

And now for the GOOD NEWS:   El Salvador beats the United States HANDS DOWN with tropical fruits and veggies.   I would hope so!

These PLANTAINS at 3 for a buck in Market Basket are much smaller  > their Salvadoran counterparts.   Plantains are about 5 for a dollar in El Salvador, and way bigger.   If you go to the market you get an even better deal > the veggie truck.  AVOCADOS are either 3 for a dollar or 2 for a dollar at the most down there.   Since I was in the great Market Basket food haven, these avocados are a buck each, but in other stores would be $1.29 or 1.50 apiece.   Avocados are considered a pricier vegetable in El Salvador, and not always available, but often grow on people’s trees, along with bananas, oranges and mangos.

This PAPAYA in the U.S. is about $3.25 after weighing it in.   I selected one the same size as I’d find down there for anywhere from $1 to $1.50 total.  Nice to see they’re less than half the cost in El Salvador.

Gee, CABBAGE heads are a wee bit SMALL in the United States.   They grow cabbage in the mountains of El Salvador, way up in places like La Palma, or Las Pilas, or El Pital or San Fernando de Morazan, all mountainous areas of Chalatenango.     We drove by patches around there.    Cabbage heads in el Salvador are MONDO sized compared to the ones here, and cost about $1 each, maybe $1.50, $2 tops for super big mondo size.     This head in the U.S. is about half the size, maybe 2/3 tops of what you’d find down there and cost a total of $1.20.      So like the papaya, the cost for cabbage in El Salvador is half or less > the U.S.

BEANS and SUGAR:   El Salvador wins.  Heck, they better, stuff is grown there, right?   When we left El Salvador, beans were .60-.75 a pound.   They’re about $1.50 a pound here.  I cannot remember the exact price for sugar down there, but it feels like we’re paying twice as much here.  No problem,we make lots more, right?

COFFEE  – a mixed bag.   Coffee SHOULD be cheaper down in El Salvador, but I did not observe that while we were there.  Bags of coffee for a coffee machine range anywhere from $4-$7 a bag there, about the same as here, I think.   Instant coffee seems more expensive here > in El Salvador, and that’s a good thing, bc most poor people I know drink Nescafe Cafe Listo down there – a product you don’t find here.

MANGOS.   El Salvador WINS the mango prize.  In El Salvador, during season, mangos are ubiquitous, and there  a dozen or more varieties.

This type of mango pictured above sells for 3 for $1, sometimes 5 for a dollar in El Salvador in the market and via street vendors.  Super Selectos might be as high as 60-70 cents a mango if not mid-season, but you always pay more for produce there > at the market.   Even so, mangos are half or less than what they cost here.

What’s more, in many places in El Salvador, mangos are FREE!  They grow all over the place so people are picking them off of trees everywhere, and selling them on the roadside, you almost cant get rid of them.

A good mango story for you:  When my husband and his friends get together and talk about hard times between the two countries, they almost always mention mangos.  “Yeah,” one will say, “When I’m out of work in the U.S. I’ve still gotta pay rent, insurance, the whole bit.  But back home I can always live free with family, and if I’m hungry, I can ALWAYS EAT MANGOS OFF THE TREES.”   There’s no free fruits and veggies growing wild (or considered common property) over here.   Prices are cheaper in the U.S., but like they say, there’s no such thing as a free lunch!


Two other Cost of Living in El Salvador (versus the U.S.) that may interest you:

Sticker shock going both ways for a Thanksgiving tribute to American consumerism, and
Some Stuff Costs Less, Some Costs more  with lots of details to help expats living in El Salvador

Sticker shock in reverse, from here to El Salvador   Leave a comment

Being it’s Thanksgiving week, this entry is about being thankful for what I/we Americans have. All you have to do is walk into a store in the U.S. after going to El Salvador to feel grateful, any day of the year.

My first big trip to the grocery after returning from El Salvador was an eye opener.  It showed how much we have as Americans, at least in terms of very low-priced food and easily accessible consumer items.   Until you leave the borders of the U.S., you have no clue what it’s like to live in another country, and vacationing in one just glazes the surface.

Living in El Salvador and being a consumer there, I had to live with what the country provided and offered, except for a few boxes of items I’d sent to El Salvador ahead of time, and whatever I brought with me in my suitcases.   The selection in stores is limited, and prices of many things are comparable to the U.S.    That’s OK if you’re a baby boomer living off social security and 401k distributions, or just making good money down there, but for the general Salvadoran populace, paying about the same price as you would for something in America  – ouch!

Here’s one example.    I’ve mentioned how appliances and electronics seem to cost more in El Salvador, but was reminded of it first hand when I went into Target this past weekend.  Though many a Salvadoran household can happily live without a coffeemaker or a microwave, the blender is an appliance found in every kitchen.  My husband, beaner that he is, cannot live without the beloved veggie.  We’ve eaten them lots since we’ve gotten back, but after two months without frijoles molidos, boy we need a blender.

A price starting with a “2” for this
blender caught my eye.
But wait, there’s more!  A total of THREE different
blenders, all under $30 each.  Woweee!
Yes, the black and decker die-cast blender is on sale.  In El Salvador you’re LUCKY to find one single blender  under $30, if that, and no way is it a black and decker.  It’s some funky brand you’ve never heard of. The nice brands will start at $40, and work their way up. Used blenders start at around $25.  No kidding.

The biggest bargains you will find in El Salvador are with services and labor – honestly it’s almost too cheap.  $100-$150 for a LIVE-IN maid who only goes home one weekend a month (?).  $20 to fill a cavity, $40 tops.  Electricians make $15 a day, and savvy landscapers make $15 too.   Doctor visits are $20-$30.    But consumer goods in El Salvador?  Naaah.

Going back to the United States, I came to realize after being away that we live in a Consumer’s MECCA.   This is probably because we have more money > most other countries, demand a lot of items, and expect a lot of variety.  And because we buy in such large quantities, we have immense power to negotiate prices and get great deals.  At end of the season sales, “everything must go!”   Shelves and racks are cleared out at give-away prices because store owners know that ravenously consumptive Americans will engorge themselves on more, and as soon as shelves are stocked again with shiny, new, colorful items, they’ll “buy! buy! buy!”.  While walking through a Macy’s in Florida with my mother recently, we saw two different very long carts in two different departments full of new stock ready to be loaded onto the floor.   At Charlotte Russe, another rack appeared, full of   shiny and sequined clothing that will soon be donned by buyers at holiday parties.

In El Salvador, there is no Target or Home Depot, but thankfully, there is WalMart.  Stuff doesn’t go on clearance sale like it does here, because the pool of hungry buyers is smaller, and what they can buy is less.  EPA, the Home Depot look-alike in El Salvador is an expensive imposter, selling the same things you’d find at HD, only much pricier.  You can get some foodstuffs cheap at the market in El Salvador, and market clothing is priced about the same as cheapy clothing stores in the U.S. but it LOOKS like you bought it at the market.  Ironically, there is a plethora of malls in El Salvador – more than in the Boston metro area where we live.  The parking lots do fill up, at least in Metro Centro, so I can’t figure it out, cuz there’s lots of poor people in El Salvador, I know many of them.  Do the same people with $ or remittances go to the mall over and over or are they just window-shopping, and/or are the malls a fantastic way to launder money for the narcos?   Who knows.

Oh, and CARS – since arriving, we bought two cheap used cars, each for less than $3000 apiece.   I’ll admit, we got a killer deal on the 2001 Toyota Corolla for $2700 last month, a giveaway at a thousand dollars less than it’s worth.  We owned the same exact car in El Salvador, a 2001 Corolla, but more beaten up looking, and people down there were willing to pay us $4000 for it, as is.

So yeah, food, clothes, small consumer items, and cars in the U.S. – whoopee!   I make five-ten times what I made in El Salvador and yet what I buy here costs waaaaaaay less.  No wonder people are crawling over our borders to get in.

One big ‘sticker shock’ I did feel since coming back was on my visit to the dentist(s) to check my ailing teeth.  $150 was the cheapest quote for a filling – silver ones – in my local town.   So I thought why not give my $ to my good old friendly dentist.   Well, it was that visit which was really the shocker.   I don’t have any medical or dental insurance yet, and you know what I realized?   It’s a GOOD THING to feel the pain of paying out of pocket once in awhile so that you pay attention to HOW MUCH you are actually PAYING for services.  It’s amazing how ignorant one becomes when, “no worries, the insurance is paying for it.”   Take a look at the bill sometime, you might be amazed.  So back to my story:  my friendly dentist knows I’m paying out of pocket.  So, a consultation that was all of 30-40 minutes, including three x-rays, discussing the problem areas (he says there are very few), then checking my bite with the chewing gum waxy stuff and making a tiny adjustment with the drill for 15 seconds – no anasthesia, just a quick shave-off of the white resin to change my bite, and on my way out the door….

“That’ll be $220.”

Does he think he’s a LAWYER or something???

Posted November 19, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

My New Pila   2 comments

I miss my Pila  from El Salvador.   This must be hard to believe, considering the hardest part about doing laundry in the U.S. is carrying it to the machines, or to and from the laundromat.

I’m like one of those old people now who shake their head at new inventions.  I’m convinced the washing machine can’t clean clothes as good as  ‘the old fashioned way’.  It shakes and stirs them, makes a lot of bubbles, and ultimately perfumes your clothes about 80-90% clean.   Don’t get me wrong:  the washing machine was a great invention, but chances are your clothes wont hit the 100% clean mark.   That extra 10-20% the machine misses has to be caught by you before getting baked on in the dryer – but how to when you don’t have a Pila?

There’s simply nothing like the Pila for:  just a few items or very small loads, isolating bright dyed items that run (heck, almost all do these days), washing stinky socks separately, etc.

I tried bending over the bathtub, cleaned two very soiled jeans and a few pairs of socks, but my back was not happy with me later.

My new Pila

So…I came up with something:

This table, set near the back door sits at an angle, so the soapy water does down the drain, which runs into the sewage pipe (no, it doesn’t go back into natural waterways or the harbor).

Mind you, this will work 8 months out of the year in New England, tops. After December 1st, fingers will turn into frozen sausages and the back patio a skating rink.    We’ll see what I come up with later.

East Boston’s first ambulatory Salvadoran Vendor?   Leave a comment

I was headed towards the subway, and I saw her about 15 feet in front of me.  She appeared to be raising her voice, and was speaking towards someone passing by.    As I approached her, the words became more audible and intelligible.    “Tamales Calientes,” she said.  Or did she say it in English?     So accustomed to hearing Spanish spoken, I often mistake it for English, and vice-versa.    Also so accustomed to seeing and hearing mobile vendors in El Salvador, it took a moment before I did a double-take.   Wait a minute, I said to myself, we’re in BOSTON, what is this woman doing trying to sell her wares informally outside of the subway station?

I don’t know what your city is like, but here in Boston, they are very strict and it takes forever to get a permit to sell anything on a cart in a commercial area, IF you get one.   Knowing this, and seeing her walking and selling her wares in a small metal cart she towed, I felt a little cheerleader inside me, saying, You GO, girl!     You see, after living outside of  the United States for three years, I am now aware of how it has elements of fascism.  Everything is so orderly and structured and defined.  If one veers even a few inches, let alone feet, out of their ‘range,’ it is noted, may be reported, and oftentimes, you will be CORRECTED!    So I wish for ambulatory vendors to descend upon bustling town squares, subway and bus stops all over America.  May informal vendors find profit in their disordering of the orderly as they color our days with a variety of products and fill our tummies with sundry food items.

I did not buy hot tamales from the brave woman selling them in Maverick Square, but next time I will.  I was delighted to see her and hope to again.   I strongly suspect she is Salvadoran, would almost bet on it, though I did not get the chance to ask her.   It was as if she were airlifted from an urban corner in San Salvador, and carefully set down here in America, even donning the infamous “delantal” (waist-apron) that nearly all Salvadoran marketeers wear during their daily activities.

It was a little taste of the El Salvador I miss, brought to me unexpectedly this week.

Posted September 27, 2012 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

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