Archive for January 2010

Cell Phones, Music, and Tough Meat   Leave a comment

We went to the doctor today.  I’m in the waiting room first, while my husband parks the car.  A young couple also waits for the doctor, the appointment ahead of us.  They are sitting apart, and appear sullen.  The young woman is playing Ranchera music a bit too audible on her cell phone while everyone else in the small waiting room ignores the show of adolescence.  A roment after my husband walks in the doctor is ready for the sullen couple.  Everyone is relieved.   Perhaps an unusual scene at a fertility clinic, but as for the noise, not unusual among young people in El Salvador.

When the house was packed with in-laws and kids over the holidays and New Years, there were at least 2 different cell phones playing music at any point in the day in the house.  Since the i-pod and other imitations are too pricey for most anyone here, anyone who is a teenager runs around with a music-playable cell phone, blasting Reggaeton, M&M, American Hits, or Ranchera music.   It’s a tad noisy, but has a more festive feel than a group of i-podders walking around together in drone silence, listening to music individually but only heard when a microphone shared gets plugged into a friend’s ear.  I saw video footage of a “silent rave” some organizers had put together in a large city once.  We have come too far with individual players and screens.  I prefer the Salvadoran style of music sharing, just not in waiting rooms.

Tough Meat
We ate steak at a restaurant.  The Plants were amazing, but the meat was tough.   Nearly all meat in el Salvador is tough, but as my husband remarks, its “real” meat.  Flavor’s good, you start chewing, and keep chewing, and then chaw chaw chaw a little more.  Finally, you reach a point where you can’t chaw any darn more and either have to swallow the remaining bit, like a hard shredded piece of gum, or clandestinely discard it under a salad leaf.

Don’t get too excited about free-range here, as poultry producers have caught onto “smush-em-in-the-dark” chicken raising (see Food, Inc., a fantastically revealing documentary).  One can find superfat chickens or giant breast and leg parts in just about any grocery store.  The good thing, if you live in the country, is there’s a lady raising chickens around every corner – they cost more than the grocery store and are tougher and skinnier, but you’re happily hormone free.

Posted January 11, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Food, Noise

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Preferential Treatment for US Citizens, Birthdays, the infamous DUI   Leave a comment

It was Rosa’s birthday, and the highlight of her day was driving to Nueva Concepcion with me and her daughters to get her “DUI”.

First, I’ll explain birthdays.  Apparently no one here makes a hoot or holler when an adult makes it through another year of life.  Children get parties, with cake, friends, and usually a piñata; mothers get cake and often flowers on Mothers Day.  But birthdays, forget it.  No cake, no happy birthday song, usually not even a card.  I felt sad for Rosa and wanted to do something special; my husband said don’t make a big tah-doo so I left it be.

We renewed Rosa’s DUI, the National ID card of El Salvador (Documento Unico de Identidad) on her birthday because she thought it would cost less to renew, or maybe even be free. We learned later this was not the case, but we enjoyed our trip to Nueva Concepcion anyway.

The Infamous DUI renewal Campaign
Tremendous confusion and misinformation has been circulating about the DUI, as a result of the massive government campaign to renew, with numerous radio and television Ads.

El Salvador basically set a policy of forced renewal of the DUI card, which many are opposed to, including the ARENA political party, who wanted the DUI to never expire.  Banks and other agencies who provide services like bill payment and remittances ($ sent from the States by relatives) now REQUIRE Salvadorans to provide an active, unexpired DUI.  Big money must have been spent on the ads, as they are well put together; even I started mimicking the comical horror movie refrain played repeatedly in the Ads when someone presents an expired DUI.  Money well spent for the government, I’m sure, with $10 collected for every Salvadoran that renews their DUI.  To give some perspective:  that’s like shelling out $50 or more in the United States.

Here’s a Thought: If the government spent just 10% of the budget for the infamous DUI Campaign on Educational Ads to PREVENT GRADE SCHOOL DROP OUTS and PROMOTE ATTENDING the 10th-12th GRADE SCHOOLS, you could see a decent increase in matriculation country-wide.   To date, in the over one year I have been here (updated as of October 2010) I have ONLY SEEN TWO ADS PROMOTING EDUCATION IN  EL SALVADOR.  Do they reeaally want to help their poor?

PREFERENTIAL Treatment for Americans
While in Nueva Concepcion I drove the wrong way up a one-way street upon my niece’s directing me where to go (thank you!).  Only a few month’s back it was a two way, it seems they rearranged directions on a few streets there.  A policeman stopped me, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.  Uh-ohhhh.  He asked for my ID and I gave him my passport, apologizing in Spanish.  After seeing I was an American, all was forgiven!  In fact, I wasn’t just pardoned, I was treated like royalty.  He halted traffic, and forced a car to move out of the way to give me clearance so I could drive the wrong way up the street, to our intended intersection a half block up.  I was relieved and red face embarrassed all in the same breath.

A Neighbor, Shot and Killed   1 comment

Her name has been changed to protect her identity.  Marina is a friend of ours, and related to my husband as a 2nd cousin.    Her boyfriend, we’ll call him “Juan,” was relatively new to the neighborhood, having lived there only about 6 months.  He and Marina lived in a small house, without electricity or water.  They brought their dishes and clothes to the river for washing.  Juan was once a gang member, so it is said, and used to steal cars.  No one in our neighborhood understood why this was so, since his father is a lawyer, and had the money and desire to help his son continue schooling and become a professional.  It was probably his way of rebelling, not the best choice considering the outcome.  Looking at him, one didn’t know he was once in a gang; he dressed fairly clean-cut, had no visible tattoos, and no apparent scarring or weathering on his face from a “rough lifestyle” attributed to gang members.  But at this point he had quit the gang, met Marina, and started a quiet life in Jicaron.   They talked of plans to marry within the next year or so.

Until today, a sunny day far into the country, when three shots were heard by the neighbors, who wondered if they were hunting shots, goofing by a drunk, or the worst case scenario, as was today’s result.  As we came back from our trip to the hospital, our car packed full, my husband and 3 others raced by on bikes, and said “Marina’s boyfriend was just killed by the river!”  Carmen and I walked over after parking the car to investigate.  We must have gotten to the river not long after the shooting, as the police still hadn’t taped off the scene.  We were within several feet of Juan’s body, limp and folded over like a mannequin, with marks and blood streaming from one side of his neck and his face.  A hat was discarded part-way through the river; we didn’t know if it was Juan’s or the shooter’s.  A pair of sneakers sat at the river’s edge, he never go to wash them.  When we walked up the hillside to where Marina was sitting, a group of women around her, all crying, she was beside herself.  Later, we walked her up to the house, where for the first time she saw his belongings after learning of his death just two hours before.  I’ll never forget the feeling I had seeing a pair of his sneakers near the front door as we walked in.  How many days or hours before had he worn them?  And now he was dead, gone.

Some people thought Juan was killed for defecting from the gang.  But another theory regarding Juan’s death circulated around the neighborhood afterward; some people thought a jealous ex love interest in Marina was behind the killing, because this “dissed” interest is the brother of a particularly malicious entity from the nearby town, who wouldn’t think twice about shooting someone or sending someone over to do it.  But rumors and previous gang membership are all we will know; this death will likely go uninvestigated unless someone in the police force is given special treatment (private compensation).  With 11 murders a day in El Salvador, it’s just a number added to the body count.

A Typical Day   Leave a comment

Today was a typical day in a Jicaron* household.  I woke up a bit earlier than normal, thanks to my husband’s cousin.  As is the Salvadoran custom, one must wake up another with loud music.   So did our cousin Arturo, about 10 minutes to 6:00am, by turning the patio radio on and tuning into “Radio Ranchera” medium-high, audible for all 7 of us between the two sides of our ranch home, to enjoy. Houses in the country are built with a 6 inch gap between the top of the wall and the roof, to help circulate air in the extreme heat. This has an added benefit of circulating sound (ha ha ha haaaaaaa). So when someone here listens to music, TV, or pleasant conversation, everyone enjoys it with them!  I went to pee and asked Arturo if I could ‘lower’ the music a bit, as the patio is just outside our bedroom. He murmured no problem in Spanish. Great (genial)!

Later that morning I waited for Rosa or her mother in law to let me know if we’d be taking Rosa’s daughter to the tiny little neighborhood called “Nances” to visit the “curandera” (natural/spiritual healer) as they call her. She was to help cure whatever ails Rosa’s daughter. Our visit yesterday didn’t yield results, as the “Bruja” (witch-lady in Spanish) as I have jokingly been calling her, was not in yesterday. They didn’t come by, so I checked in with our other neighbor, Heidi, about visiting the English class being taught in Agua Caliente by the visiting gringos. She couldn’t make the morning class, so we’d go in the afternoon instead. Just as well, as I had clothes to wash and an “almuerzo” (lunch) to make.

A Trip to the Healer (Curandera)   Leave a comment

This morning my sister-in-law’s mother dropped by with our niece, her granddaughter, to bring her to a woman who can help “cure” her, as she has become sick enough to visit the hospital twice recently. Many people in El Salvador use home cures, herbs, and even witchcraft to help cure what ails them.

We drove from our home in Jicaron to Nances, only about 10 minutes, but a good 45 minutes walk by foot.  Nances is a rural neighborhood up the road from us.   The road we drove on goes through neighborhoods Jicaron and los Naranjos, then crosses through (yes, through) the river Metayate to get to Nances, which is on the other side of the river. When the river is engorged in the rainy season, the only road to get there is from Agua Caliente. A hammock bridge for pedestrians crosses the river above the road.

When we got to Nances we asked a neighbor where the healer (called a “Curandera”) lived. She told us which house but that she had gone into town to shop, it being Thursday, the big “market” day in “El Pueblo,” Agua Caliente. So much for timing. A man at the healer’s house answered the door and attempted to entertain us.  He was old and appeared to have Dementia. My relatives said he was “Norteado”. The word literally means “Northed,” and takes its meaning from the commonly used word for wind here: “El Norte,” which translates to “the North”.   One who has been “Norteado” has lost their mind in some way, affected as if the wind has stricken them severely.

Here is a video I found on YouTube of    The Curandera of Teotitlan del Valle

It is curious how this Curandera believes in both Christianity, with emblems and statuettes of Christ in her home, and the often superstitious, indigenous healing practices. Both are integrated into her personal belief and medicinal practice, and she appears to find no conflict between them. I believe these healers can be effective, especially in the use of herbs, which are natural pharmaceuticals. The faith aspect, which she stresses at the end of the video, takes it a long part of the way, when her patients believe she can heal them.


Gringo Music

Later that day, our neighbor Lupe (pronounced “Loo-Pay” and short for Guadalupe), came by and I went for a visit next door. Lupe, 2 older sisters, and 2 brothers were there with their mother. The kids were keen to ask what the lyrics in many American songs meant. They played songs recorded on a cell phone, and Magali, the oldest sister, sang verses from her favorite songs. I was impressed at how  she sang the song refrains, humming and mimicking the words very well considering she doesn’t know a lick of English. I could figure out most of the songs she hummed out, and promised to look up the titles I didn’t know. Hilda played her favorite Britney Spears songs on her cell phone, and I translated live while the songs played out. Everyone got a gas out of that. They told me there were some ‘gringos’ staying in Agua Caliente, the nearest town to us.

The gringos are here to teach English, as part of a program done every year, through the church. Agua Caliente is a rural township with a small town hall, a big white stucco church, a few small shops, and all but dead except on “market” day, which is Thursdays, when dozens of vendors come to sell vegetables, clothing, and odds and ends items for the house like plastic dishes, toilet paper, laundry soap, etc. Sundays see a few vendors, not as much as Thursdays, who come to take advantage of the church congregation.

On Sundays you will find the church in Agua Caliente full, with a small crowd spilling outside of the front and side doors. Part of the excitement is being able to “get out” of the house; a lot of teenage boys and girls stand in the crowd outside the doors, peering here and there to see which other young-folk also came that day. My niece would often ask if I’d go to church, so she could come with. Once we got there, I had to give her “mucho ojo,” or watch her like a hawk, as she spent more time checking out other worshipers than on the worship itself, and wandering off at times.  I suppose that’s to be expected of almost any teenager.

Posted January 7, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Healers

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Hospital Security in El Salvador   2 comments

We went to the hospital today to pick up my sister-in-law, whose baby was treated for an infection.  Security at the hospital is very different from what you’d see in the U.S.  It was quite curious. Each patient is allowed just 2 visitors at a time during visiting hours.  There is a rot-iron gate in front of the hospital, with an armed security guard who lets cars and people in, and checks your purse or bag before you go in. Apparently, carrying firearms is prevalent enough in El Salvador that it warrants a sign at the hospital security station stating: “Please leave your firearm in the caseta (security hut).”

Posted January 3, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Firearms, Healthcare

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Cockfights in El Salvador?   Leave a comment

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Most of us have heard about cockfights and their infamous reputation, but have you ever watched one live? Today I saw a benign version several feet in front of me. The roosters began by staring each other down closely, face to face. Then the feathers around their necks stood up, so each looked like it was wearing an oversized neck brace. From there, whoever pecks the best, wins. A rooster often jumps while pecking at the other, so between the feather-fluffing and jumping, it’s rather comical. No sooner had I spied them, and the fight was over, within seconds. Perhaps not as exciting as a deliberately orchestrated cockfight, but here each ‘cock’ walked away with at most, minor injuries. My husband and I frequented a restaurant just outside of San Salvador where gamecocks were raised, and fights were hosted on weekends. We never watched a cockfight, but did see the roosters in their pens on our visits there. Gamecocks have beautiful coloring and feathers, much more handsome than their ‘bred for food’ counterparts. Ironically, the restaurant owners son, who cared for the gamecocks, was going to (can you believe this?) veterinary school. But here in El Salvador, so few people have money for higher-education, I am happy for him that he can go to school, even if it’s funded in part by gamecock fights.

Posted January 3, 2010 by El Salvador from the Inside in Living in El Salvador

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